Why Bishop Hilarion?
by Fr. Thomas Hopko, PA
In response to inquiries about why Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) might be a good candidate for service as metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America, I would offer the following ten reasons, with the additional observations.
He is young, courageous, intelligent, educated and tested.
He has a blameless record as an obedient hieromonk and hierarch.
He has an excellent record as a pastor, teacher, preacher and confessor.
He has extensive experience in international Orthodox Church activities.
He speaks English, and several other languages, fluently.
He is respected within and outside the Orthodox Church, even by those who disagree with some of his ideas and actions.
His service as metropolitan would allow our bishops to continue serving in their dioceses without one having, presumably, to assume the ministry of primate.
He can lead the OCA on its way of healing, reconciliation, renewal and reorganization as a hierarch completely uninvolved in our recent events.
He has the education and experience to oversee an in-depth analysis of all aspects of our Church’s life and work: spiritual, liturgical, pastoral and structural.
He would be a “breath of fresh air” not only for the OCA, but for Orthodoxy in North America as a whole.
On his being Russian
Bishop Hilarion is Russian. He studied in Russia, France and England. He now lives and serves in Austria and Hungary. There is little reason to think that he would be unable to understand North Americans and to live and work as an Orthodox Christian archbishop and archpastor of Orthodox Christians in the United States and Canada. One need only to think of the ministries of St. Innocent and St. Tikhon in North America. And one can also think of Archbishop Anastasios, a bishop of Greek nationality who is now the most beloved and successful head of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania.
Any concern about Bishop Hilarion’s possibly planning to take the OCA back into the Russian Orthodox Church says more about us than it says, without any foundation whatsoever, about him and the Church of Russia. Troubled and divided as the OCA may be at the moment, we know who and what we are as a church, and recent events prove that though we may be misled and abused for a time, our church will never ultimately succumb to incompetent, destructive or immoral leadership -- which we have no reason whatsoever to expect from Bishop Hilarion.
On his being a Pastor
During the past five years Bishop Hilarion has demonstrated that he is capable of governing dioceses in Austria and Hungary with the love, respect and admiration of his clergy and people who would surely be very sad to see him go if he were called to another ministry in the Church. Also, his reputation as a pastor, liturgical celebrant, preacher, teacher, confessor and spiritual father while serving as a hieromonk in the OCA “embassy church” of St. Catherine in Moscow is beyond reproach. Thus, his pastoral record appears to demonstrate that he would to find his way, slowly and carefully, with the help of his brother bishops and the faithful and good-willed clergy and laity of the church, if he were chosen and blessed to serve as primate of the Orthodox Church in America.
On his service in England
In response to the question of Bishop Hilarion’s failure to serve in the Moscow Patriarchate’s diocese in England, three things must be considered.
One is that the Russian Orthodox Church assigned Bishop Hilarion to serve its “jurisdiction” in England as successor to Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) at the Metropolitan’s request and with his approval, but without consultation with the clergy and laity of the diocese. Thus, Bishop Hilarion was not elected to the position in England by a duly constituted assembly of the hierarchs, priests and people of the diocese. And he was not assigned to serve with their prior knowledge or consent. Church. The Orthodox Church in America is a radically different ecclesiastical body, in a radically different cultural setting and with a radically different history and tradition, than the Russian Orthodox diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in England.
Second, it appears that Bishop Hilarion was never really given the opportunity to serve and to lead in the “Sourozh diocese.” It seems that opposition formed against him before he arrived and triumphed over him, ultimately with Metropolitan Anthony’s agreement, before he was given a chance to demonstrate what he would, or would not, do as the diocese’s archpastor.
Third, Bishop Hilarion’s experience in England was an event within a diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was not an event of a self-governing, autocephalous Orthodox
On his age and committment
If elected and blessed to be OCA Metropolitan, Bishop Hilarion would have to accept this ministry full-heartedly and unconditionally. It would have to be clear that his unqualified intention is to serve the OCA a day at a time, as God provides and guides, with no preconceived agenda or timetable. This would not necessarily mean, however, that if elected OCA Metropolitan, Bishop Hilarion would necessarily serve in this position until his retirement or death. It might happen that one day he and the bishops and leaders of the OCA would agree that it is best for the church to have another Metropolitan, and for him to have another ministry in Christ’s Church. Or it might even happen that the entire Orthodox Church in the United States, and perhaps in Canada as well, would one day be entirely reorganized into a new Church formed from several (or even all!) of our present ecclesiastical “jurisdictions.” We cannot predict the future.
Whatever the future may be according to God’s providence, which includes our decisions and actions, a God-blessed and God-guided future for Orthodoxy in North America, and indeed, in the entire world, can only be secured by our doing God’s will here and now, for God’s glory and for the good of all of God’s people.
May the Lord’s will be done.
Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary