Hilarion: "No longer a competitor but an ally…"

Pope Benedict XVI & Archbishop Hilarion
I mean all due reverence when I say that I have been a fan of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (his site has been in my blogroll for as long as Archbishop Dolan’s, at least) for some little while.

As a musician/composer/scholar/monk he rings my maternal bell by reminding me of my own sons. Like Pope Benedict XVI, he is a brilliantly gifted man and prolific writer, who is nevertheless an accessible joy to read.

The lack of taste for solitude and silence is one of the most common illnesses of the modern person. Many are even scared of remaining in stillness, being alone or having free time: they feel more comfortable being constantly occupied; they need words, impressions; they always hasten in order to have the illusion of an abundant and saturated life. But life in God begins when words and thoughts fall silent, when worldly cares are forgotten, and when a place within the human soul is freed to be filled by Him.
–Prayer and Monasticism in Orthodox Tradition

Hilarion and Pope Benedict
(also a musician and scholar, with a monkish bent) seem to be of one mind on many things:

Benedict XVI will soon create a new “pontifical council” expressly dedicated to the “new evangelization.” Not for mission countries where the congregation “de propaganda fide” is already at work. But for the countries of ancient Christian tradition that are today in danger of losing the faith . . . Meanwhile, one great ally has already united with the pope from outside of the Catholic Church, in this enterprise of a new evangelization.

This great ally is the Russian Orthodox Church.

. . .Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, said exactly this to the pope: that the Catholic Church will not be alone in the new evangelization of dechristianized Europe, because it will have at its side the Russian Orthodox Church, “no longer a competitor, but an ally.”

The positive relationship that has been established between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Rome is one of the most stunning achievements of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. It is also stunning for its rapidity. In fact, it’s enough to look back just one decade to note the chill that dominated between the two Churches.
One proof of how much closer the positions of the heads of the two Churches have become is given by two books published just a few months apart, and without precedent in history.

The first was published last December by the patriarchate of Moscow, and presents in Russian and Italian the main writings by Ratzinger on Europe, before and after his election as pope, with an extensive introduction written by Metropolitan Hilarion.

The second, released a few days ago, is published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana and collects writings by Kirill before and after his nomination as patriarch, on the dignity of man and the rights of the person, with an introduction by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture.

Institutionally, co-operation in the dissemination of media is always a sign of serious intent toward a strengthening of alliances. On a personal note, Hilarion and Benedict seem to enjoy a warm friendship.

Both Benedict XVI and Metropolitan Hilarion are utterly convinced that Christian art is also a vehicle of evangelization and a leaven of unity between the Churches.

Before arriving in Rome to meet with the pope, Hilarion stopped in Ravenna, Milan, Turin, and Bologna. The first of these cities was the capital of the Eastern Christian empire in Italy, and its basilicas are a marvelous testimony to this. In his conference on May 19, Hilarion said that he had admired in the mosaics of Ravenna “the splendor of a Church in harmony, not yet wounded by the division between East and West.” And he added: “If this harmony was real for our ancestors, it can be real for us as well. If we are not able to recreate the harmony evoked by the mosaics of Ravenna, the blame will be ours alone.”

Roman Catholics should make a point of getting to know Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk. He is going to be a big part of our future. And far from being an insulated aesthete, he is quite aware of the world.

Meanwhile, hooray for the pope’s desire to re-evangelize the “countries of ancient Christian tradition,” even as he also reaches out to the Anglicans. His visit to Cyprus, scheduled for next week, has raised the hopes of the Maronite community.

Read also: Storm Clouds in the Ukraine by George Weigel, on the home page!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Wonderful blog Anchoress. This immediately hits home for two reasons. (1) I’m currently in a former Soviet country (if you check out my blog you’ll see I’m adopting a child from Kazakhstan) and I hope to get to a Russian Orthodox church some time in my stay here. I would love to see the differences in the liturgy. (2) I’m currently reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and just yesterday finished the famous “The Grand Inquisistor” chapter. There does seem to be an animosity between the churches, but that could be Dostoevsky’s xenophobia. This is a magnificent novel and I highly recommend it.

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  • Nzie

    This is really interesting. I went to Volokolamsk a few months ago, actually, although I did not see the cathedral (just a local church). I am concerned, however, because conversation with a traditionalist Greek Orthodox friend has led me to believe that the hard core believers view the Russian Orthodox church with suspicion (following KGB infiltration) and view the Catholic Church as infiltrated all those years ago by Frankish politics. I pray for our reconciliation, however, and maybe Russia is how it will happen!

  • dry valleys

    Do you or anyone else take an interest in the Old Believers, past & present? I can’t say I’ve ever exerted myself to find out much about them but I have noticed, in Russian history & liteature, that they often come up & vaguely seem like an interesting lot.

    Life was a bit grim back then for the sections of society that my ancestors came from, & they had their ways of finding consolation. It was mainly humble folk that you’d have found in those old churches.

  • Roger

    For more on this development see David Mills’ short note at First Thoughts and George Weigel’s On the Square article at:

  • Steve P in La Crosse, Wis.

    From your mouth to God’s ear! I’ve had a decades-long dalliance with Orthodoxy, and I immediately resonated with John Paul’s metaphor of the church needing to breathe with both lungs. The division has persisted for so long that I’m not holding my breath for an immediate resolution — but we may be present at the most propitious moment in Catholic-Orthodox relations since the Great Schism itself.

    BTW, Nzie is correct that certain groups of (so to speak) ultra-montane Orthodox persist in seeing the Holy Father and the Catholic Church as utter renegades and heretics. But that’s ultimately an intra-Orthodox issue.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Valley, yes, some of us do take an interest in the “old believers”, and the Orthodox Church. They’re certainly not extinct yet!

    I myself am one of those “Old believers” (Syrian Orthodox, not Russian). In fact, in many American cities, you can find quite a few Orthodox churches—and Coptic ones, too. There are still a lot of them around and, sadly, life has been grim for many of them, as witness the fact they’re here, and not back in their native lands.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    If you’d really like to get to know them better, I’d suggest that you actually go to one of their churches, talk to them after the service, get acquainted with them! (Books and history are fine things, but there’s nothing like the actual, living reality.)

  • Nzie

    Being an “Old Believer” in the context of Russian Orthodoxy doesn’t refer to Orthodoxy as a whole, Rhinestone – it refers to a particular 17th century schism within the Russian Orthodox church, particularly the members of one side of the dispute (the losing side, as it were). Church leaders in Moscow noticed there were discrepancies between the Slavonic texts and the Greek texts and sought to bring their texts and practices into line with the Greek Orthodox.

    However, some believed the changes to be heretical and so wouldn’t comply. Some people were tortured and died over it, some Old Believer villages were burned, and some Old Believers cut off fingers so that they could not cross themselves in the “new” way. They gradually moved further east, into Siberia, some into Mongolia, some to Alaska, and more recently some I think went to South America.

    That’s really generalised info gleaned without particular care so someone may well be able to correct me.

  • dry valleys

    Yes, I was talking about the people who seceded from the Russian Orthodox Church because they opposed Patriarch Nikon’s policies. A charachter in The Red Wheel by Solzhenitsyn, for example, says that for the authorities to persecute them had been a mistake because they represented the true Russia and that. Having said as much, just like “Protestants”, they weren’t a uniform movement.

    Being as this post is about Russian Orthodoxy I thought I might as well ask. I am curious more out of interest in human thought & how life is lived rather than any religious urges.

  • F

    Metropolitan Hilarion’s St. Matthew Passion is unbelievable. Its outstanding music. Thanks, Anchoress, for introducing me to his music, etc. His website is also most impressive. In fact, gorgeous. God has truly gifted that man in multiple ways. One cannot help but hear the Glory of God when one hears that St. Matthew Passion!

  • Tom Grey

    It is fine that the great schism is being bridged.

    I wish you could have noted that John Paul II pushed for this in his milenium apology (that was not sufficiently sorry for the Jews in WW II).

    I also feel that Christian churches can more easily unite as the secular, anti-Christian elites become more pervasive and oppressive.

    Thanks for noting this.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Thanks for the info on the old believers—I still think it’s worthwhile getting to know the Orthodox, who are around today, as well as denominations, like the Copts.

    Valleys, to be interested in the Old Believers, or any other sort of believers, means you really can’t separate their faith in God from the way they think, or the way they live their lives. For them, it’s all bound together. Their faith is their life.

  • http://artsmuggler.blogspot.com/ Anchorite

    I agree. Mark my words, that the Unity of both Churches is happening sooner than we think, and Metropolitan Hilarion will be a Pope one day – about two popes from now… You’ll see :)