14 May 2009, 14:07


Prepared by Tatiana Shvetsova On March 31, 2009 Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev was appointed Chairman of the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchy. Master Hilarion is a muscovite, born in 1966. He is the youngest and most well-known theologian of the Russian Orthodox Church. He represented the Russian Orthodox Church at diverse International and Inter-Christian forums.

Prepared by Tatiana Shvetsova

On March 31, 2009 Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev was appointed Chairman of the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchy. Master Hilarion is a muscovite, born in 1966. He is the youngest and most well-known theologian of the Russian Orthodox Church.

He represented the Russian Orthodox Church at diverse International and Inter-Christian forums. He is highly esteemed abroad. In 2000 he was conferred the title of rector of the Holy Sergius Institute in Paris. He read lectures in educational establishments of the USA and Great Britain.

Bishop Hilarion is known as author and translator of theological books and, finally, as author of church music compositions.

“I was blessed with a very happy childhood,” says Bishop Hilarion. “I was brought up by my mother, who gave me a great deal in life. I thank God for such a childhood.

I spent a major part of my childhood years studying music. While all the other youngsters ran around playing in the yard, I spent hours practicing the violin. So you could say I spent a busy childhood.

Ever since that time, I have grown so accustomed to working hard that life without it would seem strange to me.

We had a long-standing tradition in the family – everyone nurtured dreams of becoming a musician. My grandmother studied at Conservatory, but afterwards preferred to become a Communist Party official. My father studied music, but eventually became a physicist, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics. And when my parents discovered certain musical abilities and an ear for music in me, they rejoiced in that now I would finally see their family dream materialized and would become a musician. However, I did not become one. From the age of 15, when I first turned to the Church, I felt more and more drawn within its fold.”

Grigory (that was the Bishop’s secular name) was christened in 1977, at the age of 11. Moreover, this was done at home. To avoid unpleasant repercussions with the atheist regime at the time, many opted for such a clandestine ceremony. From the age of 13 he started regularly attending church, and at 15 was summoned to serve as altar boy. Grigory began to attend all church services and read texts from the theological books. He derived great joy from this.

“The Orthodox church service enchanted me with its profundity, an ethereal beauty, the tremendous significance of every word and every liturgical action,” Bishop Hilarion says.

Young Grigory lived near the church. Two blocks away from it was Moscow Specialized Gnesin’s Music school, where he studied.

At the start, nobody at school knew of Grigory’s altar service duties. However, once, during the church service, he saw one of his school teachers in the crowd. He later recalled:

“When her glance met mine, she seemed much more frightened than I was. She pretended it wasn’t her, and hurriedly left the church. Some time later, my harmony teacher during the lesson announced with great agitation that I had been seen “there”. He asked me to stop going “there”, or they would have me expelled from school. I replied that it was impossible for me to grant their request.

The incident was swept under the rug, and I was allowed to calmly finish school. After that I even entered Moscow Conservatory,” says Bishop Hilarion.

“The society back then, atheist and godless as it was, was stifling. Everything we were told at school, everything they taught us (with the exception of music) was somehow lifeless. However, when I came to church I came into contact with something so alive, genuine and real. This could be likened to the sentiments of a person who suddenly finds himself up in the mountains. The air there is so fresh, so pure, that you even feel short of breath to begin with, and you feel dizzy. That is the reaction I had upon encountering the Russian Orthodox church. And to this day this is how I perceive the Orthodox Faith.”

While still studying at the composing department of Moscow Conservatory, Grigory spent a lot of time in the so-called archeological room, where he scrutinized the ancient Orthodox singing manuscripts. This work interested him far more than work in his specialization.

That was a time when Conservatory students were not granted draft deferment, as is the case today, so Grigory had to break off his studies and serve his stint in the army. Afterwards, he returned to the Conservatory. However, having returned, he began to have doubts about the expediency of continuing his studies there.

“For several years I faced the difficult choice: whether to dedicate the rest of my life to music or go over to serve the Church,” Bishop Hilarion goes on to say. “For a while I longed to find some happy compromise, such as being a precentor in a church choir. However, eventually I realized that I needed to make that choice. So I chose the Church.

I recall how after I had taken a final decision to leave the Conservatory, I came to Professor Leman, in charge of the department of Musical Composition, and informed him that I intended to drop out. He inquired about the reasons for this decision of mine. I told him that I wished to serve in Church, and his response was: “Oh my God! How terrible! They are all liars and bigots! They are brainwashing the population! Let us meet for two hours daily and I shall tell you all about religion.” However, I said that I had a clear notion of what the church was all about, and had made my choice. Professor Leman started saying that I had wonderful compositions, and tore up my leave notification.

So then I went to Professor Zadiratsky, who chaired the Composition Theory faculty. He met me quite affably and pragmatically. He said that Moscow Conservatory was not the sort of educational establishment where they kept students under duress.

And so I left the Conservatory. Although, to this day I recall it and the music school I studied at for 11 years with great warmth and gratitude. After all, music was something very important in my life. To a great extend I believe it was classical music that molded my personality, my outlook on life, my perception of art and beauty. Music made such deep inroads into my consciousness, that if I am speaking to a person, and suddenly classical music begins to sound, my mind instinctively turns to the music and I lose the thread of the conversation.”

In January 1987 21-year old Grigory left the Conservatory. He joined as a lay brother the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in the town of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, which was then still a republic of the USSR. In June that year he took the monastic vows, receiving the new name of Hilarion. And in August he was ordained and became a hieromonk. Three years later he was appointed Father Superior of the Annunciation Cathedral in the old Lithuanian town of Kaunas.

He received an in-service religious education. Master Hilarion recalls:

“My theological education proceeded quite strangely. I didn’t really get any systematic theological education at all. I graduated from the seminary, and then Moscow Theological Academy extramurally. Later in Oxford, where I was sent by the Academy’s Academic Board, I studied Theology. However, there in the course of 2 years I wrote my doctorial on the Venerable Simeon the New Theologian. So yet again, there was no systematic education course.

The principal school of theology for me were the works of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church and church services.

In the two years that I was at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, I either daily participated in church services, or attended these, or read and sang in the kliros.

When I was later sent to serve at a small rural Lithuanian parish, beginning with 2.30 am every day I performed all the requisite for church canonical services without abridgement. This was remarkably nourishing for the spirit. In the texts of the church service you will find in refined form all the dogmatics, asceticism and mysticism of Orthodoxy. Through the texts of the church service I revealed to myself such depths of theology, which, in essence, became my principal School of Theology.”

Another important formative factor for Master Hilarion were the works of the Holy Fathers of Orthodoxy. In his youth he read all the main patristic works existing in Russian.

In the words of Master Hilarion, in Oxford, working on the book about Venerable Simeon, he received such a powerful scientific impulse, that it served him well for several consecutive books. In particular, books about Saints Grigory the Theologian and Isaac of Siria.

Bishop Hilarion began to study the works of venerable Isaac of Siria in the original under the guidance of outstanding scientist, Professor Sebastian Brock. The Professor taught him the Syrian language and together they read discourses from volume 2 of the works of the venerable Isaac of Siria. Later Bishop Hilarion translated them into Russian.

“I first became acquainted with the literary works of venerable Isaac of Siria in my youth,” says Bishop Hilarion. “And when I was a lay brother at the monastery, it was in his works that I discovered spiritual guidance which a lay brother, a monk required daily. The walls of my cell were covered with white wall paper. As a reminder to myself, I wrote on them the more noteworthy dictums of Venerable Isaac. In a year all my walls were covered with his texts.

What Venerable Isaac wrote was, indeed, daily bread, which gave me spiritual nourishment. This Saint wrote in a way as no one else did. Some of his words are so profound that a whole lifetime would not be enough to try and understand them fully.

His works are so inspiring, so permeated with Christian hope, that I am convinced for contemporary monkhood he remains one of the greatest, most important teachers.

I wanted to write a book about Venerable Isaac Sirin, and here it came out at last.”

Master Hilarion says that he never once regretted having chosen monkhood for himself. Even in the most difficult moments of his life, to be a monk, he says, is a “great joy, because monkhood gives you an opportunity to give all of yourself to serving God, the Church, and other people.”

“A monk is one who is not of this world,

Who only speaks to God alone,

Who, seeing God, is himself seen,

And loving Him, is loved by Him,

And turning into light, shines forth forever.

A monk is praised – he still remains a beggar,

He is invited in the home – a pilgrim he remains.

O miracle! Amidst all riches, I am poor.

Amidst the water springs – I thirst.

And when food is plentiful I go hungry.

Who shall give me what I have already?

And where shall I discover Him that I can see?

How shall I hold on to the One Who breathes in my heart,

Yet is unseen, invisible in His eternal presence?..”

O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.

Music for this chant from the Vespers was written by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev. This, and a number of other chants written by the Bishop, was first heard in 2006 in the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory. They were performed by the choir of the Church of Sanctifier Nikolai the Miracle-Worker on the premises of the Tretyakov Art Gallery. The chorus was conducted by Acclaimed Artist of Russia Alexei Puzakov. There was such a great interest in this concert that people flanked the Conservatory asking for a spare ticket. The hall was packed. The success was overwhelming. Sharing his impressions from the concert in an interview for the correspondent of the Orthodox radio station “Radonezh”, Father Superior of the Church of Sanctifier Nikolai the Miracle-Maker, Archpriest Nikolai Sokolov said:

“Of the compositions that we heard today at the concert, I would gladly introduce many into the daily service at my church. It seems to me that only in the context of a church atmosphere can you fully appreciate a church chant. Generally speaking, it’s a most gratifying thing that Bishop Hilarion, who is a theologian, a philosopher, a wonderful translator, turned out to be not only a musician by education, but also a wonderful church composer. It is a great rarity to combine all these aspects together.”

As for Bishop Hilarion, in his interview for the radio station “Radonezh” he said of himself the following, in part:

“When at the age of 20 I took the monastic vows, for me renunciation of all earthly things first and foremost presupposed renunciation of music, since music was what linked me with the secular world. I had initially received a musical education. I graduated from the Gnesins’ Specialized Music School, and later studied at Moscow Conservatory. So as you can see, the first part of my life was dedicated to music. I was quite radically disposed, as it is often the case with young monks. And so, after this renunciation of the secular world, after taking the monastic vows, for 20 years I served the Church and was quite convinced that the music page of my life has been turned over for good and I would never return to the realm of music. And then there occurred seemingly accidental events which eventually led me to begin writing music.”

In the spring of 2006 the chief editor of the Ukrainian magazine “Regentskoye Delo” addressed Bishop Hilarion with a request to give an interview. Incidentally, he informed that at the end of the 1980’s he was a precentor at one of the churches in Lithuania, where he performed some of the compositions of the Bishop, written prior to his having taken the monastic vows. The Bishop had long lost the music score of those compositions, while the Ukrainian precentor had kept them and sent them over to Master Hilarion. The latter sent them on to his childhood friend, presently precentor of the choir of Sanctifier Nikolai the Miracle-Maker on the premises of the Tretyakov Art Gallery – Alexei Puzakov. The choir performed the Bishop’s compositions in the summer of 2006 at the festival of Orthodox music in Moscow. Bishop Hilarion attended this festival together with then Metropolitan Kiril, who is presently Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

Upon hearing his music, Bishop Hilarion as if rediscovered it anew.

“It made me reflect,” says Master Hilarion, “on why I do not write music. It must have been the outward impulse that set me into motion, because the inner processes had been maturing inside me for years. Thus, I always had an underlying desire to write the music of the Liturgy. In my 20 years of serving in Church I invariably paid attention to what the choir was singing.

Ever since the synodic epoch we have had a tradition that a church precentor prior to every service selects a repertoire to his taste, in the manner of a concert one. Often this repertoire consists of works by composers of diverse epochs. Sometimes stylistically they differ one from another and do not correspond in spirit to what is taking place during the Liturgy. It even seemed to me at times that there was one service taking place in the altar, and quite a different one in the kliros, not necessarily connected with it. If in the altar the Liturgy was perceived as one sacrament, a submersion into prayer, an encounter with God, what was unfolding in the kliros resembles a series of concert numbers not having any direct bearing on the prayer. I heard many complaints that the choir was singing in too ‘concert’ a manner.

And that is why I always had a desire to write the kind of music that would enable me to calmly conduct the Liturgy without having to redirect my attention to the singing of the choir. And so that the believers, hearing this music, would not be diverted away from prayer, so that the music prepare them for prayer and draw them into it with greater profundity.

So the moment I decided to write something, I immediately stared writing the Liturgy as one whole. I completed it very quickly – in ten days.”

After the Liturgy, and then the Vespers, Bishop Hilarion decided to write the “The Passion according to St.Matthew”. Johannes Sebastian Bach has a composition of the same title. So why did this idea occur to Bishop Hilarion: did he want to compete with Bach? Or imitate him?

“Neither the one, nor the other,” responded the Bishop to this question. “Bach,” he said, “is an absolutely unattainable summit. No composer can rank alongside him. There is a distinct presence of the Heavenly Sprit in his music. All of his music, even secular, is permeated with love for God, and a humble devotion to Him.

I quite consciously selected this particular sample – Bach’s “Passions according to St.Matthew”, so that already in the title this connection with Bach would be declared,” Bishop Hilarion goes on to say. “However, from the outset I wanted to write an Orthodox narrative of the history of Christ’s Passions. After all, the Orthodox perception of the Passions differs from the Catholic or Protestant. For the Western tradition, musical and artistic, the characteristic feature is an emotional sympathy with the sufferings of the Savior. This difference is very clearly illustrated, on the one hand, by the Orthodox icon, and on the other – Western religious art. On an Orthodox icon Christ is always depicted already dead, not suffering. His eyes are closed. In other words the very suffering is left, so to say, ‘behind the scenes’. Yes, you know of Christ’s suffering, you sympathize, but never in the Orthodox tradition is the attention of a believer focused on some emotional aspect of the event. Such a perception is reflected in church service texts. They are less emotionally expressive than the Western ones, and draw attention to the theological and spiritual significance of Christ’s Passions. It is stressed that suffering on the cross was not simply a Man, but God incarnate. The theme of Christ’s Passions was always consonant with the theme of the Resurrection. This peculiarity is reflected in my music: the spiritual-theological component is predominant in it.

As opposed to Bach’s “Passions according to St.Matthew”, in my composition there is no libretto. There are only liturgical texts, sometimes somewhat modified. The dramaturgy also differs from Bach’s. A composition is divided into four thematic parts: Lord’s Supper, Gethsemane, the Judgment, Crucifixion and Burial. In each part there is one aria for soloist and orchestra, one orchestra fugue, music for chorus a capella, for chorus with orchestra and for orchestra without chorus.”

The premiere of Bishop Hilarion’s “Passions according to St.Matthew” took place on March 29, 2007 at the Vatican under the aegis of the Papal Council on Cultural Affairs. Those who attended the Roman premiere stood to applaud the author. The success of the premiere was given generous accounts in the leading European mass media.

The following day no less successful was the Moscow premiere of the “Passions” at the Grand Hall of the Conservatory.

The year 2007 turned out to be “fruitful” for Bishop Hilarion from a musical aspect. Already in December Master Hilarion had another premiere. In the loftiest church in the USA – the National Cathedral Basilica in Washington – his “Christmas Oratory” for soloists, boys’ choir, mixed choir and symphony orchestra was performed for the first time.

Taking part in the performance of this oratory were 180 musicians from Russia. In the finale the Russian musicians were joined by the Washington boys’ choir, which sang in Church-Slav language.

The concert was attended by over 3.000 thousand listeners. After the final note, the ovations continued for several minutes. The concert was broadcast live by the television company EWTN, with a viewer audience of over 200 million families in 140 countries of the world.

On the heels of the American premiere of the “Christmas Oratory” came the Moscow one, yet again at the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory.

How did Bishop Hilarion find time, amidst his various duties and responsibilities, to write music? It transpired that it was during his numerous trips. In planes, trains, airports – in a word, wherever the music came to him – it was noted down.

In conclusion of our narrative about Bishop Hilarion, we would like to quote one of his statements, that could be perceived as a ‘tuning-fork’ for his whole life:

“Man’s life has value in respect to God. In other words, from a position of just how closely a person was able to achieve proximity to God in his lifetime. In this respect man never stands in one place. With every day, every thought, every word or deed man is either approaching God, or is distancing himself from Him. Man never stands in one place, and man is never neutral in respect to God. Man is always, in every specific moment of his life, making a choice: either for God or against Him, in other words, either in the name of Goodness, or opting for Evil. It would be wonderful if every person made this choice in favor of God.”



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