March 22, 2010
"The mystical, mysterious Body of Jesus Christ is the Holy Church Herself, which unites all Orthodox Christians of the present world, the past, and even the future." An Interview with Bishop Jerome of Manhattan

On Wednesday, March 3, the final day of the Pastoral Conference, Diocesan Media Office correspondent Reader Peter Lukianov interviewed His Grace, Eastern American Diocesan Vicar Bishop Jerome of Manhattan, on questions involving life in the Diocese, the Pastoral Conference for clergymen and their spouses, and inter-church relations with the Orthodox Church in America.

bj.jpg (15940 bytes)- Vladyka, what are your impressions of the Pastoral Retreat and Conference that just drew to a close?

- I said at the beginning of the conference that we have a problem of dissociation, and it is beneficial when we gather, when we communicate, pray together, and communion from one Holy Chalice. It is especially good when the wounds of division are healed, the wounds that were in the Church. For instance, it was pleasant that we visited St. Tikhon’s Monastery and that the abbot, Fr. Sergius, prayed with us today. Two other monasteries were represented, as well: Holy Cross Monastery and Holy Trinity Monastery. It is gratifying to feel ourselves as one family, one Church. And, of course, we were so kindly and lovingly greeted here. This means a great deal to me and I am sure that this conference was a success.

 - Vladyka, tell us your impressions of the talk by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov.

- Fr. Artemy is a very interesting speaker, touching on a great deal of subjects. Each of his sentences, much as the Proverbs of Solomon, can be thoroughly examined and expanded to a page apiece.

- What are your impressions of the presentation by Fr. Andrei Psarev on Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko)? Did you know Vladyka Vitaly?

- The death of Vladyka Vitaly took place right on the eve of my entrance into the fold of the Mother Church. I was still a young man. But I knew many people who were close to him: Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), Vladyka Seraphim of Chicago, Vladyka Alypy (Gamanovich). They all remembered him and spoke often of him. It is important to remember, therefore: "Remember them which have the rule over you." We must remember, not forget, our roots and our hierarchs.

- We know that for many years you were Vladyka Nikon’s secretary. Did Vladyka Vitaly (Maximenko) affect Vladyka Nikon’s worldview and his pastoral service in general?

- I think so, certainly. His main influence was Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), but Vladyka Nikon certainly regarded Vladyka Vitaly very highly. I remember one conversation we had long ago. One morning I told Vladyka Nikon that Vladyka Vitaly had appeared to me in a dream. This was interesting because I had never seen Vladyka Vitaly, but nonetheless he appeared to me. Vladyka Nikon decided right away that Vladyka Vitaly had probably returned to bring about order in our Church. The order that existed under Metropolitan Anastassy and Vladyka Vitaly means a great deal. Right now we can only strive to restore such exemplary order as they once oversaw.

- Speaking of order in the Church, tell us, Vladyka, what is it from the times of Vladyka Vitaly that we don’t have today? What could we learn from him? What was his most important legacy?

- At that time our Church was strict, canonically speaking. That is, not only were the canons strictly followed, but everyone knew his place in the Church. We had obedience. We had efforts to make everything the way it ought to be. Our divine services were always carried out ceremoniously. Later we began to suffer in this respect and failed to observe order in the Church in general. Earlier everyone tried to work together for the benefit of the Church. All of this is desirable once more in our own time.

- Over the last several years after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, the whole world began paying more attention to the Church Abroad and its legacy. In your opinion, what can the Local Russian Church and her archpastors in Russia learn from Archbishop Vitaly and your abba, Archbishop Nikon?

- Of course, both of them earnestly hoped in the future spiritual restoration of Russia and that there would finally be a united Church. I remember Vladyka Nikon said that once there was one Church, one Patriarchate in Russia, then the Church would be in better order in America, as well. This would be good not only for ethnic Russians, but for others in the Church, for Americans and other converts to Orthodoxy. Vladyka Vitaly, it is well-known, hoped for the same. Despite the fact, as we heard yesterday, that it was forbidden and no one dared do it, Vladyka Vitaly commemorated the Patriarch in his time. That this was not a heresy is clear, because none of the bishops reprimanded him for it.

- Unfortunately, Vladyka, today we see the development of many schismatic groups departing from the Church. Many of these groups feel that the legacies of our archpastors, Vladyka Philaret, Vladyka Vitaly, Vladyka Nikon, have been lost. The "Synod" of former Bishop Agafangel "glorified" Metropolitan Philaret. Do you think that if these bishops were alive today, they would have gone into schism, or would they have agreed with the restoration of unity in the Russian Orthodox Church?

- I am certain that not one of them would even consider going into schism. If they were alive in our time, in their own prime, they would think similarly to Metropolitan Laurus of blessed repose, or to our current Metropolitan Hilarion. I have no doubts as to this, considering how close I was to Archbishop Nikon. It is also well known that Metropolitan Philaret willed his vestments to the Patriarch who would glorify the New Martyrs, which happened.

bjint3.jpg (18298 bytes)- Yesterday we saw the historic visit of our First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion, Your Grace, and Bishop George to St. Tikhon’s Monastery (OCA). What historical significance does this visit have for the development of dialogue between ROCOR and the OCA?

- That we feel ourselves to be one family means a great deal. Around 20-30 years  ago, when the Old Rite church in Erie restored the presbytery and returned back into canonical communion with the Russian Church, then Bishop Daniel said something that applies equally to our time: "For so long the Russian Church was divided. Now we are restoring communion and all of the broken pieces are all uniting without a hitch." The same can be said here. Visiting this monastery, we feel not only that we were once a united Church, but that we always were a united Church. Between us there was but an abnormal, unnatural division.

- The synods of both Orthodox Churches have created commissions on inter-church dialogue. What are your thoughts on the problems or misunderstandings that remain between ROCOR and the OCA? What remains to be overcome?

- Of course, the most important thing is how we interpret the past. What happened in the past is very important, namely that both sides have an understanding of what it is that took place: why the problems arose, what sociological issues. As our Metropolitan said, "Reasons existed for these divisions." The existence of these two commissions cannot be compared with the commissions that existed and exist between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, because there has always been a canonical obstacle. Until these issues have not been resolved, we could not have mutual and prayerful communion. But now we have prayerful communion. Now the issue revolves around eliminating the baggage of bygone days of mutual misunderstanding. Of course, there are individuals, including among the laity, who are still concerned. But in my opinion this is only a matter of time: let us acclimate and once more look one at another, as at brothers in faith.

- We know that you took part in the enthronement of Metropolitan Jonah in Washington as the official representative of the Church Abroad and our Diocese. We also know that the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God recently visited St. Tikhon’s Monastery and there are many other instances of concelebration between clerics of the Church Abroad and the OCA. But yet there has still been no official concelebration between our First Hierarch and the Primate of the OCA. What must happen before this concelebration takes place?

- Technically speaking, it has already taken place. Although they only co-served a panihida, you can nonetheless see on the Internet that ROCOR’s First Hierarch and the Head of the OCA were both vested. If you can serve a panihida together, you can serve a Liturgy together, as well. Both of them desire this. But they both hesitate to do this because remainders of the schism are still a problem. They fear that someone might be led into temptation by their doing so. This is the only reason. There are no theological, no canonical, and no day-to-day obstacles preventing concelebration.

- Is there any official position of ROCOR on service between the OCA and ROCOR?

- There is no official position, but concelebration is not restricted. There were efforts to establish a position restricting concelebration, but they were not accepted by the bishops. Regardless, no one can force two clergymen to serve together if they do not want to. After all, it happens that neighboring priests in the same jurisdiction do not respect one another and do not want to meet or serve together. This has happened many times in our Church. But this has no canonical significance.

- After the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion, some clerics of ROCOR felt that the Church Abroad entered into canonical communion solely with the Moscow Patriarchate, but not with the other Local Churches of the Universal Church. What would you say to those clergymen who do not consider themselves to be part of the Universal Orthodox Church?

- If someone does not feel himself to be a part of the Universal Orthodox Church, this is, of course, unfortunate and mistaken. At the Divine Liturgy on the Ascension of Our Lord, the very day of the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion (May 17, 2007), representatives of all of the Local Churches, I believe with the exception of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, were present and served. From that day concelebrations have taken place with clergymen from every jurisdiction within the Universal Orthodox Church.

bjint2.jpg (20683 bytes)- Why is it so important to be a part of the Universal Orthodox Church?

- It is important because we are all part of one Body. The mystical, mysterious Body of Jesus Christ is the Holy Church Herself, which unites all Orthodox Christians of the present world, the past, and even the future. That can be said because it is all one for the Lord God, one Church. If we do not consider that the Church is one, on the one hand we are in error, because this is not the case. On the other hand, what body does not have circulation of blood? If some organ or limb does not have blood circulation, then that means gangrene and death for that part. In addition, if you consider people in our Church who do not want to pray with others, maintaining that by refraining they are preserving spiritual purity more than others, they err for the same reason – they are still part of one Body. Either you are correct and these people are in error, or we are in error and they with us as well.

- ROCOR is considered one of the most conservative Churches in Universal Orthodoxy. How would you gauge the role of the Church Abroad in relation to the other Local Churches?

- I know that among the Local Churches there are those who respect of for this strictness, for our negative attitude toward ecumenism and modernism. The fact that we can once more pray together and have brotherly contact supports the conservative elements in the other Churches.

- So you feel that we should not depart from our roots, instead continuing to witness the official positions of ROCOR?

- Exactly. I had the following experience when I was a priest in Chicago and Milwaukee. With the blessing of our hierarchs, I always participated in pan-Orthodox clergy conferences. This always worked in our favor. On the one hand, we saw what kind of priests they were, most of them were truly Orthodox, and priests similar to us. They, on the other hand, got to know us and saw that we were not some fanatics or schismatics, but that we were building church life and dealing with these pressing questions in an Orthodox manner.

- Vladyka, the first anniversary of your consecration as a bishop recently passed. As one of the youngest hierarchs of ROCOR and one of the new vicar bishops of our Diocese, how would you gauge diocesan life over the course of your hierarchal service?

- Gauging is difficult, because for thirty-two years I was absent from these areas, serving in parishes in Chicago and Milwaukee. The period of time I do remember was when Archbishop Nikon was here, and on the fortieth day after his repose I was taken by the now-reposed Archbishop Seraphim to Chicago. From that time I have only been in touch with this area by phone or Internet, and have really not met with anyone. So it is hard to say. Of course, it is uplifting to see that progress is being made now, and it would seem that from one day to the next the situation of diocesan life and administration improves.

- Vladyka, the Synod of Bishops recently met. On your initiative, a new commission was created by the Synod. Could you tell us some about this commission?

- We have translations before that were, in my opinion, not entirely correct. This will be a controversial question, but in this regard we have taken several steps to improve order. The official name is the Translation Committee. The issue is that earlier all of our translations were done at Holy Transfiguration Monastery, which is officially part of a schismatic group. These translations were often far from being free of errors. This involves us because we must as their permission to use their translations. Right now we are completing a new English translation of the Psalter, which contains all of the hymns, prayers, and texts by the Holy Fathers, which are included in the Slavonic edition of the Psalter. I think that this is a step in the right direction. I hope that in the future we will have an opportunity to make editions with parallel Slavonic and English texts, which would not only be easier to use in church, but would also help those trying to learn Church Slavonic.

- What would you like wish the readers of the diocesan website?

- I would like to wish for them that which began our interview – communication. It is imperative that we communicate more often, be closer, share our questions and thoughts, find answers together for these problems and, most importantly, be closer to our Holy Church!

God save you!

Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese