Our hearts responded with acute pain to the news that, on May 16 of this year, the day of commemoration of Venerable Theodosius, Abbot of the Kiev Caves, and the eve of the 15th anniversary of the re-establishment of liturgical communion within the Russian Orthodox Church, our Vladyka Metropolitan Hilarion, ruling archpastor of the Eastern American Diocese, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, had departed to the Lord. How we shall miss the opportunity to be with him, to hear his soft but cheerful voice, to look upon his kind and disarming smiling face.
I am often asked what Vladyka was like in his youth. I always give everyone the same response: he was born to become a monk, and his entire life was a convincing apologia for the institution of monasticism!
After the announcement of Vladyka's death, social networks were instantly filled ‒ and to this day continue to be filled ‒ with numerous reminiscences about Vladyka. And this is wonderful, because it will give the future biographer of our deceased First Hierarch the richest material for describing his life, his vita.
Many considered him to be a close friend, and so he was. He had many friends but, as far as I am aware, practically no foes – except, of course, the common enemy of our salvation.
I first made the acquaintance of Igor Kapral, the future First Hierarch of ROCOR, 55 years ago, in 1967, when we both began our studies at Holy Trinity Seminary at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. He came from the far-Western Canadian city of Edmonton, AL, and I from the city of Cleveland, OH. Igor was a quiet, deeply pious young man, who had been so brought up by his parents and by the ever-memorable Archbishop Sava (Saračević; +1973), a "special" friend and spiritual ally of St. John Maximovitch.
Initially, we first-year students were housed in the large so-called "common cell" in the old seminary building. There were nine or ten of us in that common room. Later, we were moved into separate rooms, each for two people. Igor and I ended up as roommates. For more than six months, we lived side by side. As they say in Russian, in cramped conditions, but without offense! ("Въ теснотѣ, да не въ обидѣ!")
The future hierarch spent little time in our common cell. He devoted most of his time to reading in the library or working at a variety of obediences. In those days, the monastery had a large farming operation, with enormous fields under cultivation, cows, chickens, etc. There was no end to the work, and the small monastic brotherhood depended upon help from the seminarians. Each student was expected to devote two to four hours per day on obediences to work off the cost of his education.
Igor never refused a single obedience. He was always ready to help everyone, whether in the kitchen, in the printshop, or on the monastery farm. And, for many years, he cared for the paralyzed Archbishop Averky (Taushev; +1976) day and night. In this manner, he tirelessly spent his entire monastic life in Jordanville, until he was called to an even more responsible hierarchical service.
The future Metropolitan studied well (straight As), read a great deal, and gradually improved his facility in Russian. By the way, in the 1960s all subjects at the seminary were taught in Russian, and at the time, neither of us spoke Russian well.
In the evenings, Igor would take a book and climb into the upper bunk. (I spent the night in the lower one). He would often ask me to listen to an excerpt from a book he was reading. He especially loved the Lives of the Saints. One day he read to me a description of the excruciating tortures inflicted upon the martyrs during the early centuries. He was reading aloud while weeping, and unwittingly transmitted that feeling of compunction to me, as well.
Sometime later, we were moved to vacant cells on the fourth floor of the large monastic residential building. We had adjacent cells. His door was always slightly ajar. From my room, I often heard monks and seminarians coming to him to talk or to ask for his help. And I would often stop in, either to discuss personal or general problems, or just to chat. That did not seem to tire him out; if it did, he did not show it.
He always listened patiently and lovingly to everyone, and even if he did not tell his visitors anything particularly special, they nonetheless left feeling reassured and at peace. He had the rare spiritual gift – an ability to listen.
After graduating from the seminary in 1972, we went our separate ways, I as a deacon to a parish church, and he remaining under obedience at his native monastery.
While living in a monastery during my years of study at the seminary, I would often think of the nature of monastic podvig [ascetic struggle], and what prompts a person to undertake such a difficult struggle. During my years of study at Jordanville, I observed young novices who came to the monastery, and some who could not endure and left, having realized that they did not have a calling to such a way of life. My close association with Igor convinced me that there are rare people like our future Vladyka who are born to lead such a life. In conversations with people who doubted the expediency of the monastic path, I would always point out Vladyka Hilarion as an example of true monasticism.
Our friendship continued to grow stronger, and we even became kumovya [the relationship between a child’s father and the one who is godfather at the child’s Baptism] when he became godfather to my second son Sergei. My son was Vladyka’s first godchild, and how many others followed! An entire host!
In 1984, Fr. Hilarion became Bishop of Manhattan, secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and vicar bishop of the Eastern American Diocese.
He was always accessible. One could call him at any time. He always picked up the phone, patiently listened to requests and complaints, and would find solutions.
Vladyka was a missionary-minded hierarch. During his time as one of the monastic brethren at the Holy Trinity Monastery, he diligently translated our Russian spiritual literature into English, and became editor of the quarterly magazine "Orthodox Life." During his administration, many English-speaking communities were formed in our Eastern American Diocese.
Vladyka was Ukrainian by birth and Russian in spirit. He was a total human being, someone who made no distinction among people based on ethnic origin, skin color, or gender. All were precious to him, and in each person he saw first and foremost the image and likeness of God. He was convinced that every soul was equally in need of pastoral care and salvation.
Vladyka was always attentive to the needs of others. If you asked him for some kind of written reference, he would always fulfill the request by the end of that day, or at the very latest, the next day.
Several years ago, Vladyka was diagnosed with cancer. The faithful of the Church were quite alarmed by that circumstance. Yet Vladyka did not pay much attention to the state of his health. To the very end, he continued to visit parishes, to receive visitors, and to be involved in church matters.
Knowing of the worsening state of his health, I would like to bring to your attention the Beatitudes that applied to him. It is no coincidence that that Gospel passage is read on days of commemoration of venerable saints, the holy monks.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." Blessed poverty, which Vladyka possessed, represents the absolute openness of the person before God, freedom from all pride and belief in the power of one’s own spirit, one’s own ideas and opinions, freedom from the vain speculations of one’s heart. Our late Vladyka possessed that quality in abundance.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Meekness is the spiritual force that removes anger, malice, enmity, and condemnation from the heart and adorns the soul with a quiet disposition. To be meek means to be gentle and kind, free from all selfishness and worldly ambition, and in everything to reject the possibility of coercion and violence. And to have the firm and calm conviction that good is stronger than evil, and that sooner or later, it always wins.
Was not our late Vladyka such a person?
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The heart is the source and guardian of our spiritual life. The heart is the spiritual eye with which we contemplate what is invisible to bodily eyes and incomprehensible to the mind. The ability for spiritual contemplation depends exclusively on purity of the heart.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said: "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness" (Matthew 6:22-23).
According to St. John of Kronstadt, a pure heart is "meek, humble, simple, trusting, not deceitful, unsuspicious, not malicious, kind, unselfish, not envious, unadulterous” (My Life in Christ, v.1 p.81).
Vladyka was sincere, and with that quality, he calmed and encouraged his flock. How he disliked hearing condemnations! I witnessed how in his presence someone was "washing other people’s little bones" [nitpicking, condemning others’ faults], and he felt uneasy, for words of condemnation wounded his pure heart. He listened in silence, perhaps while mentally reciting the Jesus Prayer. One could often notice that an accuser would tell Vladyka everything he wanted to, and suddenly, inexplicably, would lose interest in expressing further condemnation…
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." To be merciful means to be like unto God, for, according to Psalm 102, "compassionate and merciful is the Lord, long suffering and plenteous in mercy." Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks about the same thing in His Sermon on the Mount:
"…Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Be ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:35-36).
To be merciful means to have compassion for those gone astray and pity on those imprisoned by sin. To forgive those who do wrong, who not only harm others, but first of all destroy themselves, destroy their own human nature.
How much mercy our late Vladyka demonstrated over the course of his 74 years of earthly life! He helped everyone, both prayerfully and financially. Quite often he gave his modest funds to the needy, and hid that fact from others. How many amazing stories of his generosity could we tell!
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, [Vladyka,] for great is your reward in the Heavens!" (Matthew 5:12).
One could continue to consider in the same spirit other Beatitudes and how they applied to our deceased archpastor, but the above is already enough to outline his image.
The earthly wandering of our Metropolitan Hilarion has come to its conclusion. For us here on earth, it is a loss, but for the Heavens, it is a gain. I am certain that even there, "where there is no sickness, no sorrow, no sighing," our dear Vladyka will not leave us, and will continue to prayerfully care for us and for the Church Abroad which is so dear to his heart.
Memory Eternal to you, my dear brother in Christ, friend, kum, and archpastor. You will be sorely missed!
Archpriest Victor Potapov
May 21, 2022. New York