An Interview with His Eminence HILARION, Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
Conducted by Sergei Jakubov
The interview below was conducted in the spring of 2010 and first published in Russian in Троицкое НаследиеNo. 2 (28), Summer 2010. This English translation was first published in Orthodox LifeVol. 62, Number 2 • March – April 2011. We offer it in two parts, in loving and prayerful memory of our monastic brother, spiritual father, archpastor, and primate, who fell asleep in the Lord on May 3/16, 2022. The concluding part will be published in the coming days.
How and when did your acquaintance with Holy Trinity Monastery and Seminary begin?
Even as a child in Canada, where I was born and raised, I loved the beauty of the divine services and the church very much, and therefore the desire to serve God and become a priest arose early. The clergy that served our parish in Canada helped me with this decision. Among them was the late Archbishop Panteleimon, who would come to our parish to serve as a priest. I especially respected him. From that moment on, I began to strive wholeheartedly towards the realization of my dream: I read Holy Scripture daily, collected church periodicals, and wrote to various publishers. My acquaintances gave me church literature in English. Back then I did not yet know Russian, and could only read literature in Ukrainian and English; I read most of all in English. Even then I thought of where to go after finishing secondary school. It seems that this began at an early age, when I was nine or ten. By the age of thirteen I was already absolutely certain in my goal and thought of nothing but how to choose a church path and receive the priestly order. I then collected information about the church periodicals that existed back then, and wrote to the editors to ask them to send me copies, and began to subscribe to several publications. In one such paper I read of the appearance of a new high quality journal, The Orthodox Word, which Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky) had begun to publish. Before that I even wrote to Holy Trinity Monastery, which sent me the publication Orthodox Life and other brochures. From this material I became acquainted with Holy Trinity Monastery, although I then still had little conception of the seminary. Then in the sixties, in an issue of The Orthodox Word dedicated to Holy Trinity Monastery, there was an announcement about Holy Trinity Seminary on one page. In the description of the seminary, I liked very much that it was located within the walls of a monastery. The possibility of studying in monastic surroundings appealed to me very much, because I already felt an inner attraction to the priesthood specifically along the monastic path. I was enflamed by this idea. In those years I began to communicate with Vladyka Savva, the Bishop of Edmonton, about entering Holy Trinity Seminary. Finally, in 1967, I was able to receive a blessing. I submitted a petition for entrance, although slightly late – for which reason my trip to the seminary was delayed. The admittance of a foreign student required a more extended correspondence and a series of formalities connected with the reception of a passport and a student visa in the USA. As the result of his correspondence with Vladyka Savva, Archbishop Averky, the rector of the seminary and superior of the monastery, blessed me to come. I was able to do this on November 8, 1967, a little more than a month after the beginning of the academic year. That year is remarkable in that, not long before my arrival, a brother of the monastery, Archimandrite Laurus, the future First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was consecrated as Bishop of Manhattan. Besides him, Bishop Paul of Stuttgart and Bishop Constantine of London were both consecrated to the episcopate that same year.
To what Local Church did the parish in which you grew up belong?
The Holy Trinity parish in which I was raised is located in a place called Spirit River in the province of Alberta, in Canada. Archbishop Joasaph (Skorodumov) of the Russian Church Abroad founded the parish in 1930. But in those years there were very few clergy in Canada, and especially few who could visit such a deserted and isolated place. Under these circumstances, priests of various jurisdictions ministered to the parish. Therefore, whatever priest came, services were conducted under his jurisdiction. There were priests of the American Metropolia, the future Orthodox Church in America. Later, due to the lack of pastors, our parish began to be served by priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, especially after Archbishop Panteleimon (Rudyk) was assigned to Canada, who later moved from the Church Abroad to the Moscow Patriarchate. He obtained the possibility for priests from Ukraine to come for several years to serve Canadian parishes, especially in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Such priests came to our parish in the last years, for which reason the parish to this day has remained in the Canadian Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate.
This was a Ukrainian community?
Yes, it was composed exclusively of Ukrainians, of immigrants. Services were in Church Slavonic. Batiushka spoke and preached in Ukrainian. I also confessed in Ukrainian, because the priests who had come from Ukraine did not speak English. In those years, since I had grown up in English-speaking surroundings, it would have been much easier to confess in English, because I could not express myself fully and sufficiently well in Ukrainian. Neighboring us was also the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which wanted to hold divine services in Ukrainian. In my youth it was headed by Metropolitan Hilarion (Ogienko) of Winnipeg, who had been consecrated in Warsaw by Metropolitan Dionysius for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. In this way, one can say that the church life of Ukrainians in the diaspora was divided into several branches: besides parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate, some Ukrainians were also served by autocephalous and Uniate parishes.
In those days was it possible for you to follow church life in Russia?
In that period I was very alarmed by the position of the Church in Russia. In the first place, the entrance of the Moscow Patriarchate into the World Council of Churches seemed to me a very undesirable move. It seemed to me that it served as a scandal for the faithful. I then decided to learn more about the Russian Church Abroad from the journal The Orthodox Word, in which various Orthodox hierarchs spoke out in defense of the purity of Orthodoxy and against the Ecumenical Movement. Then I decided that it would be safer for the spiritual life to seek pastoral care in the Russian Church Abroad. It was then that I became acquainted with Bishop Savva (Saracevich). He was a very spiritual person, from Serbia, where he had obtained a legal education and had served as a judge. Finding himself abroad, he transferred to the Russian Church Abroad, served for a time in South America, and then was elevated to the rank of bishop and appointed a vicar bishop in Canada, in the city of Edmonton. He provided me with very strong spiritual support by his wise counsel, especially with regard to the monastic life. He blessed me to enter Holy Trinity Seminary, hoping that, upon completion, I would return and help him – but everything turned out differently.
What were your first impressions of the monastery and seminary?
On the day of my arrival there was the first snowfall of the year; it was not much, but it was unforgettable. The monastery impressed me by its majesty. I was surrounded by remarkably beautiful buildings. I had never previously been in such an Orthodox monastery. The beauty of the divine services and the chanting especially impressed me. All this was entirely new to me, because in parishes in such distant and isolated places as my native town, divine services were very simple, often consisting only of the Divine Liturgy, even without the All-Night Vigil, because it was difficult for people to come from afar. The Liturgy would be served, and then we would talk, and sometimes panikhidas [memorial services] would be served in the cemetery next to the church. Such was our church life. Here, in the monastery, the divine services were magnificent and majestic. Not knowing anyone or anything connected with the monastery or the seminary, I felt a certain fear and trembling. It seemed to me that I could not master and grasp everything that awaited me here. Everything that was happening presented itself to me as fantastically elevated. After a few weeks I even began to be bothered by the temptation that it would be better for me to return to Vladyka Savva and be a novice under him. Immediately after my arrival the whole weight of the academic burden was laid on me. It seemed to me that I would never learn Russian.
Before this you had no knowledge of Russian?
I had previously not even heard conversation in Russian. Except that sometimes my parents would read something aloud to one another from a Russian newspaper. My parents spoke both Russian and Ukrainian, but at home they never spoke Russian. Before my departure for seminary, Vladyka Savva gave me three books in Russian to read. The first book was Unseen Warfare, by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. This was my first reading in Russian. I understood no more than half, and there were some words I did not understand, but I simply read on. Another book was Edifying Instructions by Abba Dorotheus.1In English: St. Dorotheus of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings, tr. by Eric P. Wheeler (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1977) With every reading it became a bit easier; I understood a little more. The third book was the fifth volume of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), On Monasticism.2In English: St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual and Monastic Life, tr. by Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Publications, 2012). I came to seminary with this book. One could say that this was my first acquaintance with Russian.
Studying in seminary with me was an American, Daniel Miller, who later become a monk in another monastery. We both, one may say, began from zero. The other seminarians in the first year were from Russian families and understood the course material – although perhaps not perfectly. However, it soon came about that Fr. Daniel and I began to get better grades than the other students, who may have been speaking Russian all their lives. This was much more difficult for us, and we had to be more assiduous. As a result we got better grades even in Russian grammar. When there were temptations I wrote to Vladyka Savva, asking him to bless me to return, because I had decided it would be difficult for me here. To this he replied: “If you want to be a monk, then you must endure; this is obedience, you must study.” When I received this reply, I said to myself: “If this is obedience, then I must stay.” The discomfort immediately passed, and subsequently everything became easier.
Of course, one can understand someone with no experience of the monastic life, for whom everything here is new. I can well understand how hard it is at first for an American who comes here and accepts Orthodoxy. Particular patience is required in order to learn an entirely new language in order to penetrate the liturgical life, theology, and so on. Although, glory be to God, there is already a great deal of literature in English and there are translations of all the liturgical texts. Having myself experienced this difficulty, I fully sympathize with all new converts to Orthodoxy, understanding with what labor the precious treasury of our faith is apprehended, given that it is covered under the veil of an unfamiliar language.
What obediences were you given?
In the first year I was assigned as typesetter for our English-language journal, Orthodox Life. I worked at this for an entire year under the managing editor, Archimandrite Constantine (Zaitsev), who spoke English. He was one of the few priests who spoke English at that time. He spoke English even back in St. Petersburg, where he was born and raised in the milieu of tutors who spoke with him in German, English, and French. He was from a wealthy family. I confessed to him, as did new converts needing pastoral care in English. In my second year, Hieromonk Ignaty (Trepachko), the head typesetter, invited me to transfer to typesetting Russian texts for Orthodox Russia and other publications printed here. My knowledge of the language improved significantly thanks to my work as a typesetter. The printshop became my main obedience. After classes and lunch I would always begin typesetting. Back then conditions were difficult. We used a difficult and antiquated linotype machine from the Mergenthaler Company. Lines were filled with heated metal, primarily lead. Sometimes the machine choked up and one had to clean the metal. There were frequent temptations with the machines, not like today. Sometimes they started on fire and splashed metal on one’s beard and feet.
When you go to a new place, it is always nice to meet someone who approaches you in a friendly manner, who smiles, or who shows you attention – and then you already feel more comfortable. Was there such a person when you first came to Holy Trinity Monastery?
Yes, that is indeed very important. Such attention was shown to me from the very beginning. A monk of Holy Trinity Monastery gave me a very warm welcome at the bus. This was the young Hierodeacon John (Melander), a very kind and humble person. Then a deacon, he had a very beautiful voice.
Then I was met by one of the students and brought to Nikolai Nikolaevich Alexandroff, our dean and the founder of the seminary. He and his assistant, Gleb Alekseevich Benzeman, received me very hospitably. In his seminary office there always hung a uniform of the Russian Navy that had belonged to him during his service as a first-class captain in the Russian Empire under the Tsar. Unfortunately, he died a few years later. This was before Pascha, and it was decided to bury him in precisely this uniform.
The meeting with the students was very warm, and we all gradually became friends. I remember Archimandrite Joseph (Kolos) very well. He was the choir conductor and taught singing, and always tested the voices of the new students, for which reason he was very sociable, but strict. Once he somehow noticed that I, while making the Sign of the Cross, “broke” the cross, that is, I bowed while crossing myself. On this account he called me to him and instructed me that one is to bow only after one has completed crossing oneself. Such corrections are remembered all one’s life, for which reason we were very grateful to him, and loved him. But he did not permit us to do any pranks.
Then there was Hieromonk Ilya (Gavriliak). He began his monastic path in St. Tikhon’s Monastery, and then he served for some time in Canada. I was without a cassock for about a month, and it was Fr. Ilya who sewed me my first cassock. Later Raisa Gavriilovna Zemmering, Fr. Nikodim’s mother, sewed my cassocks. He baked bread and prosphora, and died in the bakery with dough on his hands. He received his name in honor of St. Nicodemus the prosphora baker of the Kiev-Caves. His mother lived in Jordanville; she was from Latvia, a very intelligent woman who knew many people from the church circles of that time, among whom was Bishop John of Pechersk and Estonia. She was already very elderly, but loved it very much when seminarians visited her, and she would relate much about the old times and her acquaintances. The fate of her daughter, Fr. Nikodim’s sister, Liudmila Georgievna Keller, who wrote books on St. John of Riga and St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess, is interesting. Before her retirement she taught Russian Literature at the University of Pittsburgh. After retirement she worked for a period of time at Synod, after which she moved to Jerusalem and entered the Mount of Olives Convent, where she became Nun Joanna in honor of St. John of Riga. Now she has already reposed. Before monasticism she had been married to Nikolai Keller, who is buried in Jordanville.
From what you have related, can one conclude that there was a large Russian community gathered around the monastery that actively participated in the life of the monastery and seminary?
Indeed, in the sixties many White Russian émigrés were gathered around Jordanville, among whom were members of the nobility. Many simple people also lived in the surrounding areas, in order to be closer to the monastery, and they frequently attended divine services. Some later moved, and many died. Life around the monastery was very interesting. In the monastery itself there were very many old monks who had begun their monastic struggle either in St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania or who had joined Fr. Panteleimon and Fr. Joseph after the founding of the Jordanville monastery in 1930. Then the brotherhood was increased by the new monks who came here via Germany from Ladomirovo with Bishop Seraphim (Ivanov) in 1946. Among them was the future First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Laurus, then still a young man of eighteen. Many of those whom I encountered are no longer with us. Therefore when I go through the cemetery I remember old acquaintances.
Who influenced your spiritual formation?
In the first place, although for a short period, it was Fr. Constantine (Zaitsev). He taught Pastoral Theology and History of Russian Literature in seminary. His books and articles are written in a very difficult style. This put all seminarians to the test, and his courses were especially hard for students in the beginning classes. But for all this, his works were rich in remarkably deep thought.
After Fr. Constantine’s repose, Fr. Gury (Golosov), to whom I began to go to confession, was named spiritual father of the monastery.Many seminarians confessed to Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov), but I feared his strictness. All the seminarians related that he was very strict. Fr. Gury was simple, kind, and all-forgiving, for which reason I felt peaceful.
A very luminous person was Archimandrite Vladimir (Sukhobok), who ran the monastery office. He was my neighbor on the fourth floor. I always remember his kindness. He did not instruct by words particularly, but by personal example.Fr. Ignaty, my superior in the printshop, was very strict, but at the same time very kind. He taught us Old Testament and Homiletics.
I was especially friendly with Archimandrite Sergei (Romberg), who taught us Liturgics. He was an expert in all details of the divine services. Besides which he loved to remember the old days and to talk about books he had read. He had a very good memory. Back in Europe he had known many representatives of the Russian emigration, and had corresponded with Professor Ivan Alekseevich Gardner. We also baked prosphora with him in the bakery. He was the superior of prosphora baking. Such close community and coöperation were very characteristic of monastery life.
Did the students and monks feel themselves part of one family?
Yes, one can say we were all close. And then many old monks won us over by their simplicity and humility, or by some other monastic quality that they possessed. Everyone felt this through contact with them. Everyone who came into contact with them derived something valuable.
What was your relationship with other seminarians like? Have you maintained contact with them now?
We were all very close friends. In the year I entered nearly all my classmates lived together in one room; there were eight of us. Among us, I remember, was even a student from Africa, from Uganda; his name was John Obuana. The number of students grew, and at that time the so-called “big room” under the dormitory was remodeled, which had previously been used as a laboratory. In it Nikolai Nikolaevich Aleksandroff, who had been a physicist by education, had demonstrated scientific experiments to the students. Living with so many people was not very peaceful; it was hard to study, and hard to fall asleep. Gradually we dispersed. For a period of time I shared a room with a classmate, the future Archpriest Victor Potapov, who is now rector of the parish in Washington, DC. Everyone eventually got a room of his own. But, as before, every day was passed in the company of friends, and we were united by the divine services in church, classes in seminary, common obediences, and one shared goal: serving God and the Church. To this day we maintain friendly relations not only with our classmates, but also with those who studied before and after us.
You already mentioned the consecration of Vladyka Laurus. Were there other opportunities in those days for close contact with Vladyka?
After his consecration, Vladyka Laurus, then Bishop of Manhattan and secretary of the Synod, moved to New York, where the residence of Metropolitan Philaret also was. He came to Holy Trinity Monastery only once a week, to teach in the seminary. He was always accompanied by Victor Lochmatow, his first cell attendant and the future protodeacon. Vladyka’s next cell attendant was Pavel Andreevich Lukianoff, the future Bishop Peter of Cleveland. Sometimes Vladyka Laurus drove himself from New York. He was very kind and friendly. At first he taught Patrology, but only in the upper classes, for which reason we initially did not have the opportunity to become closely acquainted with him.
What memories have you preserved of Vladyka Averky?
During my student years Archbishop Averky was the rector of the seminary and the superior of the monastery. Vladyka Averky was filled with a greatness that seemed unattainable. A noble elder, very steady, everything he did seemed majestic; he was always dressed tidily, and he did everything properly. His appearance gave the impression of a very strict person. However, upon closer acquaintance with him, we began to see in him a very affectionate and kind elder, very attentive and courteous. But at first we were all afraid of him. Later he taught me New Testament, having himself compiled the textbooks for the Gospels and the Epistles. We always went to his classes with pleasure.
I, personally, got to know him only after I had finished seminary, when he had, unfortunately, grown ill. In 1974 he had his first stroke, and he was hospitalized in Utica. At that time I was already a novice. We, along with the brotherhood, arranged a watch, so that one of us was constantly with the ailing Vladyka. It happened that later on I was with him more than anyone else and thereby became very close to him. It would happen that one had to help him in various situations, to serve as an interpreter between him and the doctors, to read edifying books out loud to him.
He was in the hospital for nearly half a year before he was on his feet and able to walk again. Upon his return to the monastery he gradually began to serve. It was during this period that he tonsured me with the name Hilarion. I had been Igor in honor of Prince Igor of Chernigov, but Vladyka Averky gave me the name Hilarion in honor of the schema-monk of the Kiev-Caves Lavra who, in his opinion, was also the Metropolitan of Kiev, the first Russian metropolitan. Scholarly opinion is divided on this matter: some see in the Kiev-Caves schema-monk and the metropolitan one person, others consider them to be different people. Already then I had a certain presentiment that I would receive precisely this name. I liked it very much. I do not know how this happened, but I was not surprised when I received it.
Not much later, in 1975, Vladyka ordained me a hierodeacon. In the beginning of April 1976 he reposed. Vladyka Laurus, then a bishop, served the funeral, concelebrating with other hierarchs. After this he stayed in the monastery until Pascha. On Lazarus Saturday he ordained me a hieromonk. The night before, he came to me and said that on the next day he would ordain me. And so I became a hieromonk.
As Bishop of Manhattan, you had the opportunity to work with Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky). What impression has remained with you of this pastor?
I was consecrated on December 10, 1984, the feast day of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God; I became Bishop of Manhattan on this day. It is a great misfortune that the ever-memorable Metropolitan Philaret reposed on the feast of the Archangel Michael, November 21, the following year. As such, my collaboration with Vladyka did not last even a full year. But during this period, living in Synod, I was able to observe how he prayed and served. This was a man of God, a great man of prayer, whose soul aspired to heaven. He was especially distinguished for his sermons. He was a very gifted preacher. These sermons were recorded by some of his spiritual children and later published through the Committee of Russian Orthodox Youth by his cell attendant, Protodeacon Nikita Chakirov.
The concluding portion of this interview, regarding the contemporary mission and challenges of the Russian Church Abroad, will be published in the coming days.
At the time of this interview, Sergei Jakubov taught Apologetics and Comparative Theology at Holy Trinity Seminary.
Photographs graciously provided by the Holy Trinity Seminary Archives.