The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia, Metropolitan Hilarion, gave an exclusive interview for the internet site of the "Shanghai Russian Club".
The First Hierarch of ROCOR
Who could have imagined at the beginning of the 1990s that after twenty years I would find myself in Australia in order to meet Vladika Hilarion and personally thank him for a gift of his? Who could have also foreseen that in the place of the vanished at the beginning of the 1950s Russian Diaspora in China, a large part of whom has found refuge in Australia, following the dramatic developments of the early 1990s and the rapid increase in the economical relations between Russia and China, tens of thousands of young Russian people, me included, would once again choose China as their home, as the place where they could put to use their professional and creative abilities? So, it happened. I arrived in Australia as the chairman of the "Shanghai Russian Club" to take part in a conference of compatriots living in the Asian-Pacific countries. Namely, at this conference held in Canberra, I made my acquaintance with Vladika Hilarion. The communication continued a week later, when, after an invitation of the First Hierarch, I visited him at his residence, where our conversation took place:
Mikhail Drozdov: Your Eminence, our pen acquaintanceship started 20 years ago. You cannot imagine what a surprise and joy for me represented the receiving of that parcel from New York. Can you tell us something about it, how this endeavor came about, to whom have you sent Orthodox literature and how did you receive letters from the USSR?
Metropolitan Hilarion: As Perestroika was beginning in Russia, we were glad at the opportunity to send spiritual literature to the people who wrote to us. At some moment, such letters started to arrive from every corner of then Soviet Union, and we were happy at the prospect of sending parcels, answering various letters and requests. As we were sending the books, we also wrote to the recipient a separate letter reminding him that the package is due to arrive. I don't posses precise information whether all of them actually received the parcels. There were cases when they failed to get delivered. Our monasteries, among them the monastery in Jordanville, in Canada, and also other institutions printed spiritual literature for Russia, so this sort of publications were abundant among us at that time. However, sometimes the mailing costs were so great that we weren't in the position to send larger packages. When letters arrived at the monastery or at the Holy Synod in New York, we always made sure they wouldn't go unanswered. Beginning from 1984, I served as bishop in New York. Thereafter, my co-workers and I were collecting and sending books to the USSR. At that time your letter also arrived through Fr. Victor Potapov, who in those years was hosting a radio program at the "Voice of America". He used to resend to me some of the received letters, and then we sent you the books. It is truly amazing that after 20 years we finally met, and furthermore I am really glad to know that you have received those books.
Mikhail Deozdov: Yes, it was a thing of great importance for me at that time. In those years a Bible could cost up to 120 Rubles — nearly a monthly salary. When I got that parcel — it was really wonderful! In order to understand this, you just need to recall the situation in the USSR in 1989. But nowadays, in each church in every city, and even in the ordinary bookshops there is a mass of spiritual literature on sale. So, the situation has changed tremendously.
Metropolitan Hilarion shows
the mitre of Saint John of Shanghai
to Fr. Mikhail Li
Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes, and now it is us who are receiving books from Russia. Now, we don't need to make such effort to publish books here, since it is cheaper to print them in Russia. As a result, we have more ability to engage in publishing literature in the local languages — English and others.
Mikhail Drozdov: Last year, an important event came about — the restoration of communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. How was this unification received abroad? Were there people who refused to accept it, what difficulties occurred during this process?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The majority of ROCOR faithful welcomed the unification, or more correctly — the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church. However, there were some problems occurring in several dioceses: partially, in our own Australian and New Zealand diocese, also in the Eastern American, in a few of the European dioceses and especially in the South American diocese. On average, ten persons among the clergy from each of the dioceses mentioned did not accept the reunification. Here, in the Australian diocese there were seven such clerics, including deacons. They later started to organize separate communities on their own. They have found new sponsors among the unrecognized uncanonical hierarchs, and they now live separately. Such a change was unexpected to many, who found themselves unwilling to accept it. They carry their old prejudices and suspicions, that in Russia nothing has changed, that the older hierarchs are still collaborators of the secret services etc? Beside this, there were also qualms of dogmatic nature — the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches. This frightens many, and that's why we time and again have addressed various meetings of hierarchs in Russia, pointing that it would be desirable to step out of the World Council of Churches, or at least suspend the ecumenical activities with the Council, since this scandalizes many. But, glory to God, the overwhelming majority of the faithful overseas have gladly accepted the reunion, and is rejoicing at the restored communion, which spiritually enriches us.
Mikhail Drozdov: How would you express in percentages the proportion of those who accepted the reunification and those that still haven't?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I would say that the percentage of those that haven't accepted the reunion is around 5%. In reality, this represents a very small number of people.
Mikhail Drozdov: Now, the responsibility of leading the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia has been laid upon you. How do you see the purpose of your service?
Metropolitan Hilarion: My main responsibility as the First Hierarch is to be simply an elder Hierarch for our Orthodox family, which has been dispersed allover the Western world. My normal duties also include organizing the regular sessions of the Hierarchical Synod, which are held three times a year with the presence of all the bishops as well as other representatives from the different dioceses. The Hierarchical Council where all of the bishops are present is summoned for the purpose of deliberating and resolving the basic issues pertaining to the life of the Church. So, what is the role of the First Hierarch? To unite everyone, to bring them together. When in Russia there is a gathering of hierarchs or some other important Church happening, the First Hierarch is a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia. On top of it, the First Hierarch is also responsible for his own diocese. My diocese is the Eastern American as well as the Australian and New Zealand diocese. I hope that in the future there will be a vicar bishop who would help me. However, at the moment there is no such assistant, so the everyday concerns of these dioceses are also my responsibility.
Mikhail Drozdov: Since the Autonomous Chinese Orthodox Church presently still isn't in position to celebrate the Divine Services nor to consecrate new priests, we would like to know — at this intricate moment for Chinese Orthodoxy, whose area of responsibility is China, is it ROCOR's or Moscow Patriarchate's?
During the visit to the First Hierarch of ROCOR —
Fr. Mikhail Lu, Metropolitan Hilarion and
Metropolitan Hilarion: The Church of China after the Russian Revolution of 1917 found herself under the jurisdiction of ROCOR. When in turn the territory of China fully passed under the authority of the Communist government, the Chinese Church was transferred under the omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate. Soon after, it was declared an Autonomous Church. A remarkable characteristic of our diocese (Australian and New Zealand) is that here live many immigrants from China. That is why our faithful always make efforts to help the Orthodox in China. Our clergy, though lacking the opportunity to serve there, visited and helped the faithful in China, sent them, as was possible, crosses and spiritual literature. We do not consider China an area belonging to our jurisdiction, but it is an area of joint responsibility with the Moscow Patriarchate. When I used to meet with His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill, at the time when he still headed the Department of External Church Relations, we talked about the need to make joint efforts in order to work together for the wellbeing of the faithful in China, and also in whole of Asia.
Mikhail Drozdov: I am aware that you have visited China few times. What are your impressions from these visits? Did you have the opportunity to meet Chinese or Russian Orthodox faithful living in this country?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I have been to China three times. I keep wonderful memories from that country! During my first visit to China in 1997, we went to Harbin, Manzhouli and Shanghai. In Harbin I got to meet few people from the old Russian emigration — Mikhail Mikhailovich Myatov, Nina, Anastasia and few others. My guides were the "Russian Australians", former inhabitants of Harbin . It was so moving to watch their reactions when they discovered their old homes, in which their childhoods were spent. Some of my fellow travelers didn't succeed to find their former dwellings, since the city underwent tremendous changes in the past few decades. There was a remarkable occurrence when in the north of China, in the city of Manzhouli, at the desolate cemetery we found laying on the ground the only preserved monument. And it came to be that it was a monument of a granny pilgrim, who came with me from Sydney. That was really moving! In Manzhouli, we found some old men, who remembered very well the Russians living there in the past, like Tanya Chapmen from Sydney, whom they remembered as a little girl. When we were in Manzhouli, we also tried to find the place where Saint Jonah of Hankou was buried. However, his relics were dug up by someone, and now no one knows where they are to be found.
The residence of the First
Hierarch of ROCOR in Sydney
Travelling through China, I always wore a cassock and a cross. Many Chinese came to me saying: "shenfu", "shenfu" (Father, Father); some finger-pointed and said "Yesu Jidu" (Jesus Christ), and others even tried to make the sign of the cross. All in all, they treated me with great respect. Many Chinese came to me asking to be photographed together.
Mikhail Drozdov: Since 1997, China experienced great changes. I even believe that if you were to come to Shanghai today, you wouldn't recognize it. It is not only the city that has changed, the people changed too. Nowadays, the Chinese are evermore concerned with spiritual questions. When I just got in China, I thought at that time their "god" was the "golden calf" or the "Yuan". When Metropolitan Kirill, now His Holiness the Patriarch, once visited our "Shanghai Russian Club" and talked about Orthodoxy in China, he stressed that the soul by its nature is Christian. If there is such possibility, and the church gates are little bit opened, then many Chinese could embrace Orthodoxy. We are very eager to see you come to Shanghai. If such a visit is made, I think it would represent a landmark in the consolidation of our community and in the development of positive dynamics in regard of Orthodoxy in China in general.
Metropolitan Hilarion: Thank you very much on your invitation. Many of my parishioners, who are, as I said, emigrants from China, also quite often ask me: "When are we going to visit China?" I think, next year there will be an opportunity for such a visit. During my first visit to Shanghai in 1997, I met with Fr. Mikhail Li, who now lives permanently in Australia. I invited him to take part in this meeting of ours. I will introduce him to you now. Father Mikhail is a tremendous serviceman of the Church. He is 84, but he can run faster then both of us. I even used to record how Fr. Mikhail reads in Chinese some prayers — the Creed, Our Father and others. Fr. Mikhail is practically the only one who still remembers how these or other prayers are to be chanted in Chinese. Thanks to Fr. Mikhail, I can also speak some Chinese. Here, for example: "Dajia ping'an!" (Peace to all!)
The wedding of Mariamna
I would also like to show you several photos. On them there isn't only Fr. Mikhail Li, but also Fr. Mikhail Wang, well known to all the Orthodox who used to live in Shanghai. This photo was taken in 1963.
Father Mikhail Li: Yes, it is a photograph of one of the last services, and it could actually be the very last one. On the photograph is recorded the wedding of an Englishman and a Russian girl. This Englishman embraced Orthodoxy. According to my knowledge, he has already died, but his wife is still alive.
Metropolitan Hilarion: This woman now lives in England. Not long ago, our archdeacon Fr. Christopher went to England, where he met with her and received from her these photographs.
Mikhail Drozdov: What advice would you give to those Russian people, living now in China, and who by the force of the circumstances do not have an opportunity to visit a church? How should they organize their spiritual life?
Metropolitan Hilarion: When there aren't regular services and churches, each Orthodox Christian is obliged to pray at home, to lead a personal spiritual life: to read the morning and evening prayers, the Holy Scripture, spiritual literature. Be sure to read the Lives of the Saints, in order to get inspired by their example, and also to pray for one another. This means to accept spiritual nourishment for the purpose of being ready at the first available occasion of attending a Divine Service to take confession and receive the Holy Communion, thus not missing an opportunity to partake in the Body and Blood of Christ. In this way, we also pray for the Orthodox in China and all around the world. You should know that your brothers and sisters, your coreligionists are praying for you too. We shall pray that the Lord would open the gates for Orthodoxy in China.
Mikhail Drozdov: Thank you very much!
©Shanghai Russian Club, 1998-—2009.