Vol. 3 No. 3 - Dormition 2008
A Canadian First Hierarch:
On the Busses with Metropolitan Hilarion
At the 2008 Orthodox Conference held in Erie, Pennsylvania in June, Orthodox Canada caught up with Metropolitan Hilarion, newly consecrated First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Daily shuttle bus trips between the conference site and the local Church of the Nativity provided a number of opportunities to speak with Vladika Hilarion, who gave his kind blessing to share details of his Canadian connection with readers of our journal.
"Please, have a seat," Vladika Hilarion offered in a friendly tone, as we climbed aboard the conference shuttle bus. We would soon discover that the noteworthy genuineness of the Metropolitan's invitation was one of the qualities for which he has become known.
Metropolitan Hilarion seemed pleased to discover a Canadian presence at this Church conference, yet another remarkable development in the recent history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, whose recent reunion with the Moscow Patriarchate brought to a joyful resolution decades of separation between the two jurisdictions. When the late Metropolitan Laurus reposed less than one year after the reunion was accomplished, Vladika Hilarion was consecrated to succeed him. Like the recent reunion, the elevation of Metropolitan Hilarion has been widely greeted with optimism and hope for the future of the Church.
When we mentioned somewhere hearing about Vladika Hilarion's Canadian roots, he responded in his customary gentle and cheerful way, "Yes, of course I'm Canadian!". Born in Alberta in 1948 of Ukrainian immigrant parents, he was baptized Igor. After completing Holy Trinity Seminary at Jordanville, New York, he entered the monastic community there, where he was tonsured a monk with the name Hilarion (for Saint Hilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev).
"So, do I still have a Canadian accent?" Vladika asked, smiling. Indeed, it was not hard to detect it, a tone that sang of the hospitality of the Canadian prairies, of a gentler time and place, of neighbours who were friends, of another period in history for most urban folks. "It's really the Ukrainian that shaped the accent, I think," he continued. Of course, any prairie-dweller would tell you he is right. He still holds a Canadian passport, along with an Australian citizenship.
Our talk was wide ranging, a conversation rather than an interview - which is really the best way for things to be in our celebrity-obsessed times. Though one would never know by his humble manner, the Metropolitan holds a double Masters in Slavic Studies and Russian Literature, and can match point-for-point topics as varied as hagiography and politics, language and cultural identity. Yet much more importantly, Vladika Hilarion bears a quiet, prayer-filled steadiness, so needed in our times. By reputation and in person, his traditionalism and keen pastoral love are in solid evidence.
By God's grace, the Russian Church Abroad has not been granted a celebrity to lead Her, but has been blessed with a humble and faithful shepherd. As he reminisced about prairie life, Vladika Hilarion shared also his faithful reassurance about the future, not so much by his words (since he is a man of few words, to be sure), but simply by his steadiness of faith, and his attention to each one of his flock.
And riding along on the conference bus, one could not help but think of the ways that life on the Canadian prairies helped to form this shepherd. May God grant him many, many blessed years.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Dormition, 2008)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2008.