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Letter #117, 2023, Thurs, July 27: Hilarion

    First interview of Hilarion & other news

    By Peter Anderson

    July 26, 2023

    Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest has given a long interview to RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency. (link — full text below)

    To the best of my knowledge, this is the first significant interview that Metropolitan Hilarion has given since his transfer to Budapest in June 2022. Most of the interview relates to Constantinople and the document presented by Metropolitan Hilarion at the recent Bishops’ Conference (link).

    However, the Metropolitan also addressed the discussion at the Conference concerning the “current armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine.”

    Thus, the Metropolitan stated:

“I would like to quote the words of His Holiness the Patriarch from his report at the Bishops’ Conference. He talks about the current armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine: “Entire territories become uninhabitable! It is with deep pain that I perceive what is happening, especially the suffering and sorrow of peaceful people, especially since on both sides of the line of hostilities there are, among other things, the children of the united Russian Orthodox Church.” 

“This is the position that clearly indicates that the Russian Orthodox Church perceives everything that is happening with pain, prays for all those who become victims of armed confrontation, both for military personnel and for civilians. The Patriarch recalled that the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church is on both sides of the confrontation, which makes this conflict particularly tragic for the Russian Church.

“His Holiness the Patriarch touched upon the now most important topic of pastoral care for servicemen and a number of other very important topics. His report has a programmatic character and at the same time incites the bishops to the appropriate actions in their dioceses. The thoughts that the Patriarch shared with the bishops are reflected in the adopted resolutions of the Bishops’ Conference.

“For each of the participants, this meeting became an opportunity not only to hear the voice of the Primate of the Church, but also to communicate with each other, and for those who wished, also an opportunity to express their opinion.”

    If one were reading the above remarks with no other information, one would assume that the Russian Orthodox Church is pursuing a position of neutrality in the Russian – Ukrainian war and is praying for the “victims of armed confrontation, both for military personnel and for civilians” on both sides of the conflict.

    However, at the dinner the night preceding the opening of the Conference, Patriarch Kirill told the bishops, “Today, we must all recognize our calling and join the fight. Fight for the Motherland, for the Church.” 

    Personally, I believe that Metropolitan Hilarion selected only the words of the Patriarch that reflected most closely the personal views of Metropolitan Hilarion himself.

    The agenda for the Conference was primarily set by Patriarch Kirill and not by the Holy Synod.

    Metropolitan Hilarion was given great visibility at the Conference by his presentation to all of the bishops and the discussion that followed.

    This exposure was not a role played by a person assigned to obscurity.

    In my opinion, this very important role indicates that the Patriarch never lost his respect for the intellectual and other abilities of Metropolitan Hilarion.

    According to a theory held by many, the Metropolitan was assigned to Budapest not at the initiative of Patriarch Kirill, but rather as a result of pressure from the Putin administration.

    Metropolitan Hilarion, unlike Patriarch Kirill, had not given public support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the Putin administration might well have been unhappy with Hilarion for this reason.

    Interestingly, Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarch for Africa, sent a message on Telegram during the actual course of the Conference. (link)

    With respect to the report given by Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan Leonid stated, “The report is strong, the theological justification is impeccable.” This compliment comes from Metropolitan Leonid, who is one of the most prominent “hawks” in favor of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. We have not yet heard Constantinople’s rebuttal to the report.

    On July 25 Metropolitan Onufry personally met with Viktor Yelensky, head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), in the Kyiv Lavra. (link) The UOC website states:

During the meeting, a number of issues related to state-church policy in Ukraine were discussed. During the conversation, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy emphasized that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, according to its constitution, is endowed with all the rights that enable it to carry out its mission exclusively independently in Ukrainian society, and refuted accusations about the influence on it of religious centers located outside the Ukrainian state. The Primate also emphasized that the general church position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church consists in fully supporting the actions of the authorities to preserve the sovereignty of Ukraine in all its territories, as well as in the fight against Russian aggression, which was repeatedly highlighted in official documents adopted by synodal and council decisions.

    DESS also posted a statement. (link). It provides:

The religious situation in the country, the issue of church life in the conditions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, targeted terrorist attacks by Russian aggressors against civilian infrastructure and the civilian population were discussed. 

The head of the DESS especially emphasized that the complete and unconditional break of the UOC with the Russian Church is not only a request of the state and society, but also, to a growing extent, of the faithful and clergy of the UOC.

    In my opinion it is exceptional for the primate himself to attend such a meeting. For example, on July 7, Yelensky held a meeting with UOC Metropolitan Kliment of Nizhyn and Archbishop Sylvester (rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy) at their request.

    A long appeal has been posted by a group of UOC clergy urging Metropolitan Onufry to make a final and complete break with the Moscow Patriarchate. The full text of the appeal can be read at (link). So far 362 UOC clergy have joined the appeal. (link)

    Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Oleksandr Tkachenko, submitted a letter of resignation on July 20. The National Reserve of the Kyiv Lavra is part of the Ministry of Culture. The resignation letter will now be considered by the Rada. (link) Since July 6 no further efforts have been made by the National Reserve to seal additional buildings in the Lavra.

    At the request of the Russian Federation, the United Nations Security Council considered on July 26 the issue of persecution of the UOC in Ukraine. At the request of Ukraine, it is also considered the recent missile strikes in Odesa. The complete proceedings can be watched at (linklink). Nihal Saad, Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, gave a report which can be watched and read at (link) The Russian Federation sought to present two non-UN briefers but the UK chairmen allowed only one with a written statement to be submitted by the second. A vote was taken with only three votes in favor of the presentation by two briefers. As a result, UOC Bishop Gideon (Charon) (link), now living in Russia, did not appear. No vote was taken on Russia’s allegations as to persecutions.

    —Peter Anderson, Seattle USA

    Here is the full text of Hilarion’s interview (in a computer translation from the original Russian).

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Constantinople’s claims are growing (link)

    By Olga Lipich

    © RIA Novosti / Vitaly Belousov

    At the Bishops’ Conference of the Russian Orthodox Church, a nearly 40-page document “On the Distortion of the Orthodox Teaching about the Church in the Acts of the Hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Speeches of Its Representatives” was approved. The chairman of the Synodal Biblical and theological commission, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev) of Budapest and Hungary. Interviewed by Olga Lipich.

    Vladyka Hilarion, what is the background of the document “On the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the deeds of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the speeches of its representatives” presented by you and adopted by the Bishops’ Conference?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: After the intervention of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in Ukraine and the legalization of the Ukrainian schism in 2018, the Russian Orthodox Church severed communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. At the same time, the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission was instructed by His Holiness the Patriarch [Kirill] to prepare a document that would set out our position on those deviations from the canonical norms that we observe in the actions of the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

    First, we collected a huge array of quotes, statements of the Constantinople hierarchs themselves, their supporters, their opponents — in total, about 150 pages. Then we submitted an abridged version of the text for discussion by the plenum of the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission, and the plenum approved it. After that, the document was submitted for consideration by the patriarch, who made amendments to it. It was assumed that the text would be further discussed by the Council of Bishops, but the council was postponed, first because of the epidemic situation, then because of the international one. As a result, when the decision to hold the Bishops’ Conference had already been made, the document was adapted to its format.

    The document also includes information about the latest events in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in particular, about the visits of Patriarch Bartholomew to Lithuania and Estonia.

    What is the main idea, the purpose of the document?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: The idea was to explain on what points the Russian Orthodox Church disagrees with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. And there were quite a few of these. We are talking about disagreement not just with some specific actions, but also with a position. This position is stated, and our arguments against it are presented. That is the purpose of this document.

    Moreover, this is not the first attempt by our Church to formulate its position. The Bishops’ Council of 2008 adopted a definition “On the unity of the Church”, where the points on which the Russian Church disagrees with Constantinople were set out in sufficient detail. But since then, many new items have been added, and they are listed in our document. For each of them, a detailed exposition of the teachings of Constantinople itself and how we perceive this teaching is given. We show in the document that the acts that led to the schism of the entire Orthodox world are inspired by concepts that we perceive as a distortion of the Orthodox teaching on the structure. Therefore, the document is not so much historical, so much theological.

    You mentioned the visits of Patriarch Bartholomew to Lithuania and Estonia – what are the goals of Constantinople in Lithuania and Estonia, and how does this affect the lives of believers?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Let me remind you that the invasion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople into Estonia took place back in 1996. And then the Russian Orthodox Church broke off communion with Constantinople. Negotiations were held, following which, four months later, communication was restored. But those agreements that have been reached have not yet been implemented by the Constantinople side. And the Russian Church has not agreed and will never agree with the invasion of Estonia by Constantinople, because Estonia is a historical part of its canonical territory.

    In Lithuania, five clergy opposed their bishop. Some of them had very serious canonical problems (I even know some of them personally), and they were defrocked by their ruling bishop. But they appealed to Constantinople, and he restored them all to their rank. All this is reflected in the latest version of the document, which has now been adopted at the Bishops’ Conference and published.

    That is, it is important that the document declares that the document is inconsistent with Orthodox teaching and that the actions of Constantinople in Lithuania and Estonia are inadmissible, in particular, the restoration by Constantinople to the rank of clerics who were defrocked in another church?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes.

    What is the status of the document?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Formally, the document has the status approved by the Bishops’ Conference. The Bishops’ Conference is not a governing body of the Church. And so the text must still be approved by the Holy Synod, and then, like all the acts of the synod, by the Council of Bishops.

    And when will the Synod consider this document?

    Metropolitan Hilarion:I think that the Synod will consider it at the next meeting.

    Will the document become widely known abroad, for example, how will it be available to the Constantinople and other Local Orthodox Churches of the world?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: It will be translated into different languages. And, as far as I know, there is a plan to officially send it to the local Orthodox Churches of the world. The document says that we recognize the importance of our position being known in the local Orthodox Churches. Because not everyone and not always knows why we do not agree with Constantinople on certain issues.

    For what, for example?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: We disagree on issues of principle. For example, when Constantinople theologians present the Patriarch of Constantinople (Ecumenical) as the head of the Universal Church.

    As an “Orthodox Pope”?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes, as a kind of analogue of the Pope. One theologian, who is quoted in our document, says directly that the main problem of the Orthodox Church today is the phenomenon of “anti-papism”. That we do not have a first hierarch like the pope in the Roman Church is a serious problem, in particular, in dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.

    We quote this and other statements and show that there has never been such a single head in the Orthodox Church.

    Moreover, we quote the statements of the Patriarchs of Constantinople themselves in the period from the end of the 12th to the end of the 19th century, where they, in a polemic with the Pope of Rome, prove that all Orthodox patriarchs are equal, that one patriarch cannot be above another. Now the rhetoric of the Patriarchate of Constantinople has completely changed, as has the very understanding of the structure of church government. This is the main section of our document.

    What other specific points on which the Russian Church does not agree with the Church of Constantinople, the most striking and important?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: For example, in the Patriarchate of Constantinople they believe that they can accept clerics from any Church without a leave letter. That they are the highest court of appeal. Some cleric has sinned, violated the canons, he was banned from serving or deprived of his dignity, and he goes to Constantinople – and there he is “restored”, they give him the right to perform divine services. This, from our point of view, is a complete canonical lawlessness.

    We examine in detail the so-called “restoration in dignity” by the Patriarch of Constantinople of those Ukrainian schismatics who have never had canonical ordination. We show that this caused a very wide negative resonance in the Orthodox world. They responded not only in our Church, but also in the Serbian, Albanian, Polish and other Churches.

    Do the provisions of the document give grounds for conciliar recognition of Patriarch Bartholomew as a schismatic or a heretic provoking a schism?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Let the Church authorities decide this. Those violations referred to in the document relate to the canonical order, and they led to a split in world Orthodoxy. Schism and heresy are two different things. I would not like to mix them up here and operate with some concepts that do not appear in our document.

    Do you believe that the arguments presented in the document will induce the Patriarchate of Constantinople to change its concept and actions?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: I personally do not believe in this, but at least these arguments will be convincing for many who see the wrongness of these actions and our reaction.

    Are many foreign hierarchs, Churches today in solidarity with the Russian Church in their views on the actions of Constantinople?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: In the document, we quoted a number of statements by primates, and Synods, and officials of the local Orthodox Churches of the world, who express disagreement with the actions of Constantinople.

    What are the overall implications of this document will or may entail for those who are mentioned in it?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: As Tyutchev said, “it is not given to us to predict how our word will resonate.” But, as the apostle Paul says, “you must be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks about your hope,” that is, about your faith and convictions. And in this case, we gave just such a detailed and reasoned theological answer.

    Did anyone else in Orthodoxy, besides Constantinople, put forward the position of the primacy of one patriarch, exaltation above all other patriarchs, metropolitans and bishops? And why is Constaninople wrong?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: The question is not in the primacy itself, but in understanding the boundaries of this primacy. We have never disputed the primacy of honor of the Patriarch of Constantinople. When the Patriarch of Constantinople came to Moscow, it was he who led the divine service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and not the Patriarch of Moscow. This primacy of honor belongs to the Patriarch of Constantinople since 1054, when communion with Rome was broken, and before that the primacy of honor belonged to the Roman throne.

    But one thing is the primacy of honor, and another thing is authority. And we prove in our text that this honorary primacy of honor does not give the Patriarch of Constantinople any authority outside the boundaries of his own local Church. That he cannot, on the grounds that he is the Ecumenical Patriarch, interfere in the affairs of the local Churches and make some decisions for them.

    Is the issuance by Patriarch Bartholomew of a tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU, created on the basis of schismatic structures) from the category of actions that violate Church canons?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes.

    And why is the Patriarch of Constantinople now acting in this way, trying to become an “Orthodox Pope of Rome”? Are these independent decisions, or imposed by some forces?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: It is difficult for me to comment on his motivation. But we see that year by year these claims are growing. We cite documents not only of the 19th century or the 16th century, we even cite the statements of the Patriarchs of Constantinople of recent times and show that they did not at all have those claims that are put forward by the current patriarch. For example, Patriarch Athenagoras said that the decision on the method and right to grant autocephaly belongs to the future Orthodox Ecumenical Council. And the current Patriarch Bartholomew, who previously agreed with this, now says the opposite: the granting of autocephaly is supposedly the primordial and sacred privilege of Constantinople.

    The bishops at the meeting, in addition to the document on the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the acts of Constantinople, considered a number of other issues – which of them would you single out as the most relevant?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: I would like to quote the words of His Holiness the Patriarch from his report at the Bishops’ Conference. He talks about the current armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine: “This conflict has already caused numerous casualties. Cities, temples, monastic cloisters have been destroyed, sometimes to the ground. Entire territories are becoming uninhabitable! people, especially since on both sides of the line of hostilities there are, among other things, the children of the united Russian Orthodox Church.”

    This is the position that clearly indicates that the Russian Orthodox Church perceives everything that is happening with pain, prays for all those who become victims of armed confrontation, both for military personnel and for civilians. The Patriarch recalled that the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church is on both sides of the confrontation, which makes this conflict particularly tragic for the Russian Church.

    His Holiness the Patriarch touched upon the now most important topic of pastoral care for servicemen and a number of other very important topics. His report has a programmatic character and at the same time sets up the bishops for appropriate actions in their dioceses. The thoughts shared by the Patriarch with the bishops are reflected in the adopted definitions of the Bishops’ Conference.

    For each of the participants, this meeting became an opportunity not only to hear the voice of the Primate of the Church, but also to communicate with each other, and for those who wished, also an opportunity to express their opinion.

    Do you now expect that the nature of preaching and communication between the clergy and believers will change, that more attention will be paid to the tragedy of military confrontation, spiritual support and help to people whose relatives and friends may be on different sides of the conflict?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Most of the clergy selflessly do everything possible to calm people down, to give them hope and faith, they treat their flock with love. But the word of the patriarch is always called upon to become an impulse in order to continue to act in this direction, to develop pastoral activity. So that the shepherds become even closer to the people. So that what the shepherds say reflects the real needs of the people and influences their lives.    

    Can the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church be held now, when bishops from some foreign dioceses cannot come to Moscow, on neutral territory, for example, in Hungary?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: I think that the Hungarian diocese will not be ready to provide such an event: to receive the entire host of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. Our resources are too modest for this. And for the bishops themselves, this will be a very expensive undertaking. For example, my economy class ticket from Budapest to Moscow via Istanbul cost me four thousand euros. With such prices for air tickets, it is difficult or even impossible for some bishops to arrive either from the far abroad to Russia, or from Russia to the far abroad.

    Is it possible to have a Bishops’ Council remotely?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: Maybe someday we will reach the point where we will use the remote format, but so far there have been no such precedents.

    Are there relocators among your Hungarian flock now, Russians or Ukrainians, what are their moods and how do you work with them?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: A feature of the Hungarian diocese has always been and remains that it is a multinational diocese. We have believing Hungarians, believing Russians, we have a lot of Ukrainians. And thank God, we do not have any interethnic and interethnic problems and conflicts. We live in peace and harmony. We understand that we are all hostages of the current situation, and the best thing in this situation is to help each other, and not try to look for the guilty and create conflict situations. We have a very good peaceful mood, both at the service and at those parish events that take place outside of the service.

    Now there are a lot of refugees from Ukraine. And some of them receive official refugee status, some live without such status, and there are a lot of such people among our flock. Of course, they need pastoral comfort, and sometimes they need material assistance. We try our best to help them.

    And how many parishes are there in the Hungarian diocese today, what are the problems, plans and development prospects?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: There are 11 parishes in the diocese. There is a temple under construction in Heviz, which, in general, has already been built, now the interior decoration of this temple is underway. There are 3 temples that are in the process of restoration. The restoration of the Assumption Cathedral in Budapest has almost been completed. This is a historical temple built at the end of the 18th century. This temple tried to sue the Patriarchate of Constantinople from the Russian Church in the very years when I was temporarily administrator of the Hungarian diocese. All three instances of the court fell on the time when I was there for the first time. With God’s help, we sued the cathedral, winning all court instances. At the same time, the restoration of the cathedral began. The cathedral has two spiers: one was bombed during the bombing of Budapest at the end of World War II, and I set the task of restoring the spire. The pedestal for the spire was then put up at the expense of the Lukoil company. Then I went to Moscow, and the restoration work stopped for several years. And then the Hungarian state allocated funds for the restoration of this temple and two more temples — in Miskolc and Tokay — it is still underway, as well as for the construction of a temple in Heviz — finishing work is underway there.

    Vladyka, could you, as an expert in the field of interaction between the Church and science, answer the question why we do not hear about research by modern scientists, together with the Orthodox clergy, of imperishable relics, myrrh-streaming icons, the Holy Fire and other miraculous phenomena, as well as the influence of concentrated prayer on consciousness and human health? In recent years, neuroscientists have been actively studying various phenomena associated with meditation in Buddhist monasteries – are there any prospects for such research in Orthodoxy?

    Metropolitan Hilarion: At one time, I made a lot of efforts to establish a dialogue between the Church and the academic community. In particular, the work we have been doing for many years to “legalize” theology has been crowned, in my opinion, with considerable success. And today there is no that wall between the Church and the academic community, which was artificially created in the Soviet years.

    Of course, the opportunities for interaction are far from exhausted, and there are many topics on which the Church and the scientific community can interact, including the study of religious phenomena from a scientific point of view. Being now in Hungary, I am quite far from this topic. But I hope that the developments that we managed to make, including within the framework of the Scientific and Educational Theological Association (NOTA), will not be lost, and that the dialogue between the Church and the scientific community will develop.

    [End, interview of Metropolitan Hilarion by Olga Lipich]