For those of us who were gifted to know Vladyka Hilarion, it was with deep sorrow and grief when the news reached us that Vladyka had passed over into the arms of the Lord in the Heavenly mansions. The news of Vladyka’s repose was an unexpected surprise for me, because I did not know that he had been ill. I had expected that Vladyka would be with us for some time to come. I count myself among all those who are grieving with shock and sadness.
I first knew Vladyka at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY when I was a seminarian between 1977-1980. At the time Vladyka was a priestmonk. Vladyka Lavr (future Metropolitan of the ROCOR) had just been appointed as bishop in Jordanville. Vladyka Averky had just fallen asleep in the Lord. It was a golden era of the monastery. Among the monastic brotherhood there were still many of the original grace-filled and amazing elders who emigrated from Pochaev. Among these great monastics were Fr. Kiprian the iconographer, Fr. Vladmir who worked in the bookstore 1, Fr. Sergei the “econom” (эконом, financial steward), Hierodeacon Innokenty, Fr. Flor, Fr. Iov (still living) with whom I worked in the cow barn, Fr. Antony, Fr. Guriy, Fr. Nil the carpenter, Fr. Ionah, who sewed, baked bread in the fired kiln in the basement of the monastery building, and helped in the refectory, Fr. Ionah’s son Fr. Ignaty who conducted the choir, and Fr. Prokopy the cook. I can still hear Fr. Ionah yelling to Fr. Prokopy as the food was passed out to the brethren, “Davai kartoshа!” (Давай картоша), “Pass out the potatoes!” The story of these fathers is a whole story unto itself and could comprise an entire book similar to the popular book “Everyday Saints.”2
I knew that Vladyka was from Canada and grew up speaking Ukrainian and Russian. For me, the foremost remembrance of Vladyka was his perpetual demeanor of kindness, love, genuine concern and cheerfulness. He was always soft spoken and carefully chose his words. I felt that his mind was always in God. I never saw him display anger, raise his voice, or behave in a way that displayed the human passions. He always exhibited a demeanor of monastic reverence and quietude. The seminarians who comprised my class were a new experience for the seminary, because most, if not all of us, did not speak Russian fluently. At that time, all classes were still taught exclusively in Russian. Vladyka Hilarion and Priestmonk Ioanniky (the Dean of Students) were our liaison to the Russian speaking community. I will always remember Vladyka’s constant smile and cheerfulness. If you experienced a sorrow, he would furrow his brow and offer you his empathy and co-suffering love. He seemed to have assimilated all of the best traits displayed by the fathers in the monastery ~ for example, the love and concern of Fr. Vladimir, the ethic of hardworking manual labor of Fr. Panteleimon, the pastoral care of Fr. Antony and Fr. Kiprian, and the great love and national pride of our Russian heritage, which filled the hearts of all the the fathers, brethren and community of the monastery. I was a rebellious sort, very immature and full of know-it-all pride ~ a product of growing up in NYC in the 1960’s. The fathers of the monastery, however, were extremely patient and pastorally kind to me. I may have done a poor job in my life following their example, but the fathers of Jordanville have left me with an everlasting image of humility and obedience, which are the cornerstone and foundation of spiritual growth and salvation. At one point during my studies at seminary, I decided to temporarily leave the seminary and finish my college studies at the University of Indiana. The last father who I saw the day I left was Vladyka Hilarion. He deliberately came to see me as I was packing. He stood by and silently watched me pack. His only words were, “This is very sad.” His silence and love spoke volumes to my heart. I only lasted one semester in Indiana before I fled back to the world I loved and left behind in Jordanville.
Fast forward to the 1980”s, and now I am a young priest with a family serving a ROCOR parish in NYC. Vladyka Hilarion is now the bishop of Manhattan, my bishop and spiritual father. Vladyka never portrayed the image of an aristocratic or princely type of bishop. Instead of being served, he was more often found at parish events wearing an apron, sitting with the ladies and making vareniki (Russian dumplings with potato filling). No matter what high position of authority the Church entrusted him with, Vladyka never displayed any airs, but remained forever the simple and humble monk from Jordanville. He was very kind to my family. He baptized my first child, my daughter Anastasia. He was our confessor and spiritual father and he always showered us with his love and encouragement. My family and I visited with Vladyka when our second child was born. Vladyka didn’t want my oldest child Nastya to feel neglected or left out, so he took a beautiful, furry stuffed animal off a shelf in his study and gave it to my daughter as a gift. When the rite of General Holy Unction was re-established during Passion (Holy) Week in the ROCOR, our first Diocesan celebration of this Holy Unction Service was led by Vladyka Hilarion, who concelebrated with all the priests of our Diocese. At my request, I was very proud that Vladyka agreed that my parish would host the service. With two young children now, I felt that NYC was not the best place to raise my family. Having been born and raised in NYC, I always loved and preferred upstate NY, the rural life instead of city life. Vladyka asked me to wait one year before giving me a canonical release to be received into Vladyka Lavr’s Diocese (Holy Trinity Monastery and Syracuse). Vladyka offered to transfer me to a different parish in New Jersey which was located in more of a suburban location than my present parish, but after a year I still requested to transfer upstate. Vladyka gave me his blessing, and then after moving, my meetings with Vladyka were much less frequent. I miss him very much, and now I will miss him for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, Vladyka Hilarion will always hold a special place in my heart.
May the memory of our ever-memorable, beloved newly-departed Most Blessed Metropolitan Hilarion be eternal!
See the article “Archimandrite Vladimir: A Personal Remembrance” by Archimandrite Joasaph (McLellan), posted online at: https://bookstore.jordanville.org/blog/archimandrite-vladimir-a-personal-remembrance/
“Everyday Saints and Other Stories” by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Pokrov Publications, 2012.