Christ is Risen!
I was introduced to Metropolitan Hilarion (then Fr. Hilarion) by Fr. Luke (Bishop Luke), the present abbot, who introduced me to Orthodoxy, when the time came to prepare for baptism. Fr. Hilarion had been busy preparing one of the older professors for passing into eternal life, Professor Sergei Ivanov. My memories of Fr. Hilarion are those that are universally held by all those who had the grace to know him. He was so kind and friendly. He made you always feel that you were the center of his attention. He remained so until his last days.
When I arrived in the monastery to live, to study, and to perhaps enter monasticism if it were pleasing to God, Fr. Hilarion assisted my “orientation.” I remember how many times he would invite me to accompany him when visiting the sick or shut-ins of the community. He was sensitive to the needs of the young as well as the elderly. He truly understood the formidable task of acclimating oneself to another way of life and culture.
And of course, Fr. Hilarion was my first spiritual father. He was so kind and understanding. He was always willing to talk, despite his many duties in the monastery.
Due to our pride, at times, we are ashamed to confess certain sins. However, Fr. Hilarion with a smile and kind eyes would always say that “you should not do that. Keep struggling.”
I never remember the future Vladyka Hilarion ever condemning nor judging anyone. It would happen that I would hear some gossip about someone, even our own Bishop Laurus, which would trouble my heart. Fr. Hilarion would always offer a defense of the person being judged to help one reject thoughts of judging and come to peace in one’s heart concerning that person. Now I truly realize what a spiritual gift this is.
Fr. Hilarion was so active in the community, with the monastics, with seminarians, with the neighbors, with the pilgrims. He had this gift of truly loving all with whom he came into contact. Connected with this was this sincere and deep humility. No matter how he advanced in the church hierarchy, he always remained our Fr. Hilarion. When he visited the monastery after being named bishop of Manhattan, he would visit with Levushka Pawlinec, our monastery “fool,” as if he were a long and true friend. In the same spirit, he could relate to the rich and famous, such as the world-reknown cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. All felt as family with him.
When Fr. Hilarion was made Bishop of Manhattan and left our monastery, many of us felt at a loss, how can we continue without him. Thank God, we have had others who have continued his work here in the monastery. Vladyka always considered Jordanville his spiritual home and loved to visit us whenever he could.
I remember that shortly after he was elected as our new First Hierarch upon the repose of our dearly beloved Metropolitan Laurus, Vladyka came to visit us. I was fortunate enough to find him alone in the metropolitan’s room. I greeted him and asked him how he was faring. With the same wonderful smile and kind voice, Vladyka said, “Oh, I have so many problems!” But he wasn’t complaining, just stating the truth, but with obvious faith and a spirituality which did not let him show any down-heartedness, and at the same time, an openness and sincerity.
Even though we knew Vladyka was very ill, his repose came as a shock to all of us. The realization that now we face a future without his kind presence and reassuring spiritual guidance. However, all with whom I have had contact with of late feel the same way, that now Vladyka is even closer to the Lord, Whom he loved with all his heart. Let us sincerely pray for his repose during these forty days after his blessed falling sleep, with the assurance that he is praying for all of us, being now closer to our Saviour Jesus Christ.
By Archimandrite Theophylact