Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Church Abroad (1948-2022)

Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) was the sixth First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, and between 2016-2018 served as the Ruling Bishop of the then-separate Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland, which has since become an integral part of our current Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe.

His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion was the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, President of its Holy Synod, and spiritual father of the Church Abroad. His parents – his father Alexei Kapral, and his mother, Euphrosynia (née Kasyaniuk) – were from the village of Obenizha in Volyhn, Ukraine. In 1929, during the Polish occupation, the local populace was persecuted and oppressed by Poles attempting to turn Western Ukraine into a Polish province. Thus, the 19-year-old Alexei and his young wife decided to emigrate to Canada. At the time, the Canadian government afforded immigrants the opportunity to obtain large tracts of land in Western Canada; it was there that the young family settled. Upon their arrival in the province of Alberta, the Kapral family received 160 acres of untilled land, as well as $100 in cash, a hammer, and an axe with which to build themselves a home. In the developing Spirit River region there were some 200 Ukrainians, and in view of the oncoming cold, they quickly built themselves houses. The great economic crisis of 1929-30 affected the settlers, making an already hard life even more difficult. To find work, Alexei Kapral had to travel far from home, and he earned but 25 cents per day. Nonetheless, the family grew ever larger – five boys and two girls filled the house with children’s voices, speaking Ukrainian at home. Their parents also spoke Russian and Polish. The youngest member of the family was Igor, the future Metropolitan Hilarion. He was born on 6th January 1948 in Spirit River, and spent his childhood in the country. Later he transferred to another school in Blueberry Creek, but returned to finish high school. In 1966, he found a spiritual father, the Right Reverend Sava (Saracevic), Bishop of Edmonton, a Serb who greatly revered our Holy Hierarch St John – who for twelve years was the Ruling Bishop of our Diocese.

From his youth, Igor Kapral felt drawn to the Church and loved to read books and periodicals on religion and morals. In 1967, when Igor was 19 years old, he entered Holy Trinity Theological Seminary in Jordanville, NY, USA. On graduating from the Seminary in 1972, he entered the Holy Trinity Monastery as a novice. On 2nd December 1974 he was tonsured a rassaphore monk with the name Hilarion, in honour of Venerable Schema-monk Hilarion of the Kiev Caves, the famous Metropolitan of Kiev. On 4th December 1975, Archbishop Averky (Taushev, +1976), for whom the future Vladyka served as a cell-attendant, ordained him Hierodeacon. In 1976, Bishop Laurus of Manhattan ordained him Hieromonk. The same year, Fr Hilarion received a Master’s degree in Slavic studies and Russian literature from Syracuse University. The future Metropolitan worked simultaneously as editor of the English-language version of the magazine Orthodox Life, and as a typesetter for the Monastery Press.

On 10th December 1984, His Eminence Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky, +1985) and nine other bishops officiated at the consecration of Hieromonk Hilarion to the episcopacy. As Bishop of Manhattan, a Vicar Bishop of the Eastern American Diocese, Vladyka Hilarion was responsible for the parishes of Pennsylvania, and was also appointed the Deputy Secretary of the Holy Synod by the Council of Bishops of the Church Abroad. Ten years later, thanks in part to the archpastoral efforts of Bishop Hilarion, the number of parishes in the Eastern American Diocese grew to 64. Visiting parish after parish, Vladyka drew the love and respect of all those who met him. Holding a position of responsibility in the administrative centre of the Church Abroad, Vladyka Hilaron was also an active participant in the main events of its history. In 1995, he was given the title Bishop of Washington as he continued to live in New York, but due to problems in the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand after the retirement of the ailing Archbishop Paul (Pavlov), and in recognition of his pastoral talents, Vladyka Hilarion was elevated to the rank of Archbishop and appointed Ruling Bishop of the Diocese of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2003, Vladyka Hilarion was awarded the right to wear the diamond cross (in the Church Abroad, a distinct award given to Archbishops after some years of faithful service in that rank). During the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 2006, he was appointed First Deputy President of the Synod of Bishops. In 2008, following the repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, Archbishop Hilarion was elected the sixth First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, a post he filled for the remainder of his earthly while continuing to be Ruling Bishop of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand.

From December 2016, upon the retirement of Archbishop Mark as Administrator of what was at that time the Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland, Metropolitan Hilarion became Administrator of that Diocese (vacant dioceses of the Church Abroad temporarily coming under the direct administration of her First Hierarch). In March 2017, with the agreement of the Holy Synod, Vladyka Hilarion assigned Bishop Irenei, then Bishop of Sacramento and Vicar Bishop of the Western American Diocese, to assist him in the administration of the parishes in the UK and Ireland, and so the two jointly tended to the Church in the British Isles until the appointment of Bishop Irenei as Ruling Bishop of Richmond (later as Bishop of London and Western Europe) in September 2018.

Metropolitan Hilarion reposed in the Lord in May 2022, bringing to a conclusion a nearly 15-year reign as First Hierarch that will be remembered as one of the most peaceful and prayerful in the modern history of the ROCOR. Vladyka Hilarion is remembered by all who encountered him as a man of profound prayer, universal and tireless love, and a heart free of judgement that saw only the God-inspired good in all people.