This year, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) is marking its centennial. Although most of the celebrations were postponed until better times because of the pandemic, some of them have already taken place, locally. Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of ROCOR, discusses what has been accomplished over the century and what challenges the Church faces today.
‒ Your Eminence, most of the centennial celebrations had to be postponed until next year. Is there a general understanding of how this will happen?
‒ We planned to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian exodus, which occurred in 1920 but, because of the coronavirus, the celebrations were postponed. We still cannot discuss concrete plans, since we do not know what is still to come. The pandemic forces us to mitigate activities for the sake of the people’s health, so we need to wait and adjust to circumstances.
But we are conducting local events. For instance, at the end of December, the St. Herman’s Youth Conference will be held via Zoom, and on December 25, when the Church celebrates the memory of St. Herman of Alaska, Liturgy will be celebrated at the Synod in New York City. Our youth can watch it via the Internet.
‒ What in your view is the main outcome of this century for ROCOR and why?
‒ The main thing is that the spiritual wealth of the Russian Church is always active by the grace of God. It is important that we preserve it today. We strive to continue this spiritual path, chosen by Metropolitans Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and Anastassy (Gribanovsky) and other First Hierarchs, and of course by the episcopacy of the Church Abroad. This allows us to keep the flame of faith and spiritual traditions burning.
‒ What events in the history of the Church Abroad do you deem most noteworthy?
‒ I think that every year of the century played an important role for our history. In the first years, the hierarchical structure of the Russian Church Abroad was established, the First and Second All-Diaspora Councils convened in Sremski Karlovci, Yugoslavia, in 1921 and 1938, which became foundational for our continuing Church life. After that, unfortunately, some disagreements and schisms arose, especially in Europe. But, on the whole, the Russian Church Abroad continued upon its path of preserving the holy Orthodox Faith and spiritual ministry of the Russian Diaspora in various countries throughout the world, where our compatriots found themselves.
‒ Recently, we marked another jubilee—the 725th anniversary of the appearance of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, which is the Directress or Protectress of the Russian Diaspora. In recent months, it has rarely left New York, and for the first time in many years it was not brought to Russia, where hundreds of thousands await this remarkable icon. Does the Church plan on restarting these pilgrimages?
‒ As I already said, because of the pandemic, we are making no plans. Still, I suppose that Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, who is the guardian of the icon, is pondering this. I can assure all of the faithful that as soon as the danger to public health of those who fill churches and gather in large crowds to venerate this amazing icon passes, we will renew the pilgrimages, both to Russia and other countries where our flock lives.
At the same time, I would like to point out that, this year, the Kursk Icon visited many parishes in the U.S. that it had never, or rarely, gone to before. For local parishioners, this was a great celebration. So, the icon is always visiting the faithful.
‒ Your Eminence, you have prayed before this icon for many years. What does it mean to you?
‒ I sense spiritual warmth and strengthening emanating from the icon. It is very beautiful, it has a special spirit, exceptional in holiness and imbued prayer. I think that the Russian people always treated such icons with trepidation and a sense of their own unworthiness. In my view, this sense grips all believers who approach the Kursk Icon.
‒ This icon’s history is connected with many events, many Russian saints prayed before it, entire generations of Russians. Can you share some exceptional instances that moved you personally?
‒ Several decades ago, when I worked in the printshop at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, we collected reports of contemporary miracles that happened through the Kursk Root Icon. I think that very few copies of this booklet still exist. It contains testimonials of people who, from prayers to the Kursk Icon, were miraculously healed or, for instance, saved from bombings in Yugoslavia or Germany during World War II.
There were situations when the icon was in someone’s house during bombardments, which would remain unharmed. Unfortunately, we have not published this lately. I think it is very important that when people receive help through the prayers of the Mother of God before the Kursk Icon, that they tell people about it.
‒ We live in difficult times. What is the main challenge facing the Russian Church Abroad, and how should we Orthodox Christians respond?
‒ I think that it is important to preserve young people and children in the Church. Many people who never received timely spiritual nourishment, who did not learn to pray and attend church, gradually move away from the Church. For this, a person must be taught from childhood, but many people are too busy with contemporary life and do not pay due attention to spiritually preserving their children and other family members in the Church. It is important to remain true to Orthodoxy, not to succumb to errant confessions and false influences. Of course, it is important to bear witness to Orthodox Christianity wherever we live. Many people are noticing that the Orthodox Faith preserves piety, they fall in love with it, and accept Orthodoxy.
‒ You touched upon a topic of concern for many, including me. How can I help my little children remain in the Church; what is needed for this?
‒ It is important to teach children to make the sign of the Cross at home, for the Cross sanctifies us, and it is good for children to understand this at an early age. It is important to pray out loud together with them, so that they learn the simplest prayers, would hear them, so that they come to love to read them. Study the Lord’s Prayer with them, perhaps, so that they read it together with their parents.
Besides that, there are illustrated books which can make Holy Scripture interesting for children. These little steps can help interest them in Orthodox Christianity, and when they grow up, the Faith, the Bible, and prayer will be commonplace for them, customary parts of life.
‒ You have contact with an enormous number of believers. What is their biggest problem now, what is their main concern? What do you advise them as a pastor and wise in the ways of life?
‒ Many face all sorts of troubles, illnesses, lack of means, or family problems. If we do not pray and turn to the Lord God, to the Most-Pure Virgin Mary and the holy saints of God for help, we feel alone and our soul is burdened. One must rely on God, fulfill the commandments, repent of one’s sins and pray. If there is prayer and repentance, the Lord will pour forth His grace.
Interviewed by Dmitry Zlodorev