A year ago, the sixth First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), completed his earthly journey. There is a sense of loss in the soul, but at the same time it is filled with a sense of Paschal joy that another “angel” has appeared in Heaven, who prays for all of us. And I want to collect as many memories of people who knew him here on earth as possible, so that this bright feeling will multiply. Archpriest Seraphim Gan had the good fortune to communicate with Vladyka in his last days and knows very well how he endured the hardships of his illness. I think this story can serve as a good example, to show how a person can accept the path that the Lord has prepared for him. This is a story about love, obedience and humility – this is exactly how our Vladyka was remembered.
The diagnosis for cancer for Vladyka Hilarion was made a few years earlier. He accepted this tribulation with courage, humbly and without grumbling. Besides, Vladyka was ever the optimist. His illness was discovered early and treatment commenced immediately, and he bore his cross with the mercy of God. One literally sensed his gratitude to everyone who helped him during this time both in his service to the Church and personally.
When he learned his diagnosis, he didn't tell many people about it, and I remember even asking them not to talk too much about it. Some suggested telling people to pray, but Vladyka said, "Don't. It will only make them worry about the Church." He did not want the people to be tormented by this anxiety about what will happen to him and to all of us as a single church family.
You know, I have repeatedly, in my sacred duty, met and dealt with the sick and dying, and visited people who were literally face to face with death. Many people, especially at the beginning of the disease, have fear. But then you see how the disease gradually renews a person, his inner strength. You see how he is changing, how he is gradually getting closer to God, becoming more spiritual.
Vladyka did not even have this fear. But it was clear that he was gradually moving away from earthly affairs and his spirit seemed to be transported to Heaven. I remember the last time he came to our house was on the third day of Easter: we decided to gather some of the Chancery staff to congratulate Vladyka and each other on the holiday. At that time, I felt that he was happy just to be around people who work for the Church and help him in this ministry. This is a very pleasant memory for me: despite his illness, he came to us and asked us how Easter was. It was a wonderful meeting.
Our Metropolitan never said anything special about the trials and tribulations that befell him. He endured them gratefully. What were his problems? Just think of the burden of responsibility for the Church, already a huge test, which requires tremendous patience and effort of all forces. And he never complained about the burden. He was not discouraged, angry or grumbling when faced with problems, but patiently and silently, or cheerfully and gratefully endured everything that fell to his lot.
Vladyka endured difficulties simply and without complaint. He advised me to do so, too. I remember that at the beginning of my priestly ministry, I came to him with a rather serious problem. After listening to me, he said only two words: "We must endure."
I was even upset by his admonition: "But what does it mean to endure? On the contrary, we need to do something, resolve the issue." But there are situations when questions are unsolvable, you just need to bear it with gratitude, learn something and accept the circumstances as a gift from God. Then something comes out of it. Over time, I realized this, and I am grateful to Vladyka for that advice.
I felt that after the death of Metropolitan Laurus, when he became acting President of the Synod of Bishops, Vladyka Hilarion seemed to be afraid that he would be elected First Hierarch. But he was elected almost unanimously. He did not refuse, accepted the service, and bore it patiently, never complaining.
Even when the Lord sent him an illness, he never complained either. When God gives us any trials, sorrows, or illnesses, we often ask ourselves: why is He punishing us so much? Some people say that our life is full of sorrow, that God is unfair, giving us some new undeserved grief.
But Vladyka Hilarion did not see things that way. As the Gospel says about the healing of a person born blind, such things are not necessarily God's punishment or retribution for sins. As the Savior says, "Neither he nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." In this Gospel reading, the special meaning of suffering is revealed to our spiritual eyes, the special approach of the Lord in communicating with people.
This approach was very close to Vladyka, and I think it is no coincidence that God took his soul on the Paschal days. He was a cheerful person, and was always open to communication with everyone.
In this regard, I am reminded of another Gospel story - how the Lord spoke to a Samaritan woman. At that time, it was not customary for Jews to talk to Samaritans, who were considered schismatics. But He spoke to this woman, and this is probably the longest conversation He had that is recorded in the Gospel.
I recall the last virtual meeting of the Synod of Bishops, which Vladyka held a few days before his death. At that time, he was already in the hospital and felt quite weak, but it was decided that he would lead the meeting. And Vladyka was very much looking forward to it, he wanted to see his colleagues on Zoom, communicate with them and hear from them about what is happening in their dioceses, how they met and spent Pascha. He was happy to talk with the bishops and the Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite Roman (Krassovsky), whom he remembered from the time when he was still a monk of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. In addition, Vladyka was pleased to take part in solving some of the most pressing issues of church life.
After the Synod meeting, I reminded him of my plans to go to Boston on church business. He very much asked to relay his greetings to them, to convey his blessing and that he was praying for them. That was my last conversation with him.
None of us then expected that his death would occur in just a few days, we thought that he would be released from the hospital, he would return home to his residence in the Synod, and would continue to recover and improve his health. But in the end, he returned to his Heavenly home.
When everything happened, the attending physician in the hospital was very worried that she could not bring Vladyka back to life. His heart and breathing stopped at the same time. Doctors tried, but with no success. She actually apologized for that. This woman knew Vladyka for no more than two weeks, while he was in the hospital. She said that she liked to visit him at the very beginning of her shift, and that he was a very kind, calm, gentle person. She felt that these meetings set her up for all the subsequent work.
The specifics of the work of medical staff is that their patients sometimes die, and they are used to it. I have seen many times how they inform their relatives about the death of their loved one. But I have never experienced anything like this.
She said that she did not remember that among her patients there were such as Vladyka. According to her, he did not complain about anything at all and, on the contrary, would reassure her. She saw how he approached his illness: patiently, without complaint, humbly, with gratitude for everything. He thanked her very much for the treatment, for the help. Perhaps this woman had never seen such an attitude on the part of patients, and it touched her. For me personally, this was powerful testimony that Vladyka really was a great soul.
Metropolitan Hilarion exerted a beneficial influence on people: his openness, the scope of his views, the breadth of his soul – all this was very endearing. People might not be Orthodox, they might not know anything about our faith at all, but they were drawn to him because they saw something evangelical and alive in him.
Vladyka was a very polite man. How many times have I seen him, for example, open his door to people somewhere: and not to his superiors, not to his parishioners, but to complete strangers. Or he would provide some kind of help, start a conversation – just on the street, in a store, or somewhere else. He won hearts with his openness and breadth, evangelical attitude to people. And I would say that many people who met him either became Orthodox or began to show interest in our faith. This is the most important thing Vladyka did in his life-he led people to Christ.