"I want to thank you once again for your kind hospitality and for the opportunity to serve and pray with you and your community. It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for me" - Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral)
Metropolitan Hilarion's visit to Holy Cross parish this past weekend was a joyous and grace filled event. On Sunday, August 23rd, the church was full, with an overflow into the parish hall. After arriving back in New York on Monday afternoon, His Eminence wrote to me saying, "I want to thank you once again for your kind hospitality and for the opportunity to serve and pray with you and your community. It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for me." It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for us as well.
Metropolitan Hilarion was scheduled to arrive in Omaha at 10:00 PM on Friday, August 21st, but his takeoff in New York was delayed for 53 minutes. He had eaten on the plane so we checked him into his hotel around midnight.
I picked Metropolitan Hilarion up at his hotel on Saturday morning, took him to the church and showed him around. We had ladies from our parish sisterhood there who were decorating the parish hall for the Reception that evening and the catered Luncheon on Sunday. They were putting white cloth tablecloths on the tables with candles and other decorations. The parish hall looked very elegant.
After a late lunch, I took his Eminence back to his hotel room for some rest before Vespers, but he didn’t rest. Instead, he studied our Western Rite Pontifical. Metropolitan Hilarion has a real gift for liturgy. He wanted to fulfill all of what a Greater Prelate says and does when assisting pontifically at the throne, and he did it at Vespers, Matins and Holy Mass flawlessly. He seemed to really love the Liturgy of St. Tikhon. After the Solemn Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist he came to me and said how beautiful he thought it was.
By the time I picked His Eminence up for Vespers late on Saturday afternoon the sky was filled with dark clouds and it was beginning to rain. I had been receiving worried phone calls from parishioners who told me that Omaha was under a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado watch. I shared with Metropolitan Hilarion my concern that the weather might affect attendance, but he simply reminded me that where two or three gather together Jesus is in their midst. Despite the weather we had thirty-two for Vespers. Fr. Stephen Walinski joined us for Vespers and remained for the Reception, and was seated at the Metropolitan’s table. Some of the faithful left immediately after Vespers because of the weather, but most remained for the Reception. Saturday was a commemoration of St. Herman of Alaska (the translation of his relics), and since we have relics of St. Herman in our church Metropolitan Hilarion preached at Vespers on the life and work of St. Herman.
Early Sunday morning Fathers Lev and Maximos from St. John the Wonderworker parish in Des Moines, Iowa, and two ordinands joined us. By 9:30 AM the church was nearly full, and soon after it was completely full with an overflow into the parish hall. Metropolitan Hilarion was greeted at the door with bread and salt. He then kissed a crucifix, aspersed himself with holy water and then aspersed the clergy and the faithful according to the ancient Rite of Receiving a Bishop at the Door. We then processed to the sanctuary for Solemn Matins. At both Vespers on Saturday evening and Matins on Sunday morning the Ordinary and the Psalms and Canticles were all chanted according to Gregorian chant tones. During Matins one man from Holy Cross and one from St. John the Wonderworker were clothed in the cassock, tonsured and ordained Reader.
After Matins we vested for the Solemn Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist. The long procession of our Schola Cantorum, two visiting priests, three ordinands, the ministers serving at the altar, the Celebrant, and the Metropolitan wound through the church while the Processional Hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate (I Bind Unto Myself Today) was sung. It was a missa coram episcopo, and Metropolitan Hilarion served beautifully. You would have thought he was a Western Rite bishop!
As usual, all of the minor propers of the Mass: the Introit, Gradual and Alleluia, Offertory verse and Communion verse were chanted to Gregorian chant tones. The music for the Ordinary was Merbecke. After the Collect of the day one Reader from Holy Cross and two from St. John of San Francisco were ordained to the Subdiaconate.
The Homilist at the Mass was Metropolitan Hilarion who spoke on the Gospel reading for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity - The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.
At Communion-time Metropolitan Hilarion administered the Body of Christ to the faithful while I assisted with the chalice. In the Western Rite Holy Communion is received kneeling at the altar rail, with the Body of Christ received on the tongue, and the Blood of Christ from the chalice. Non-communicants may kneel at the altar rail with their arms crossed (X) as a sign that they would like a blessing.
At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Metropolitan Hilarion gave the Pontifical Blessing, and the long procession returned to the sacristy to the singing of the Recessional Hymn, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. Following the prayers after Communion chanted by our Cantor, everyone went to the parish hall for a catered Luncheon in honor of Metropolitan Hilarion and the newly ordained Readers and Subdeacons.
The parish hall was filled with people. I met visitors from Omaha and Blair, Nebraska, Sioux City, Iowa, and as far away as Kansas City, Missouri. Matt Willkom, the News Director of KVSS Radio (the regional Roman Catholic radio station), and a good friend of our parish was there with his family as well. Everyone had a wonderful time.
Both Metropolitan Hilarion and I made after dinner addresses. I was the preliminary speaker and he was the featured speaker. I spoke about the amazing growth of the Orthodox Church in the United States today where 23% of all Orthodox Christians are converts, as are 30% of the clergy and 41% of the seminarians. This is the fruit of a move of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Cross Orthodox Church is a former Anglican parish. In recent years Anglicans made up the second largest group of converts to the Orthodox Church, but today they are the largest group. The restoration of the Western Rite is another sign of this movement of the Holy Spirit. Today there are Western Rite congregations and monasteries in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and on the Continent of Europe. Western Rite Orthodoxy is thriving and growing, and the Orthodox Church as a whole is experiencing explosive growth all around the world.
Metropolitan Hilarion spoke about his commitment to the Western Rite and its growth. He said that as a youth in Canada he used to listen to the Anglican liturgy on the radio and always found it very dignified. He also said that among the first Orthodox periodicals that he began reading as a youth was Msgr. Alexander Turner’s magazine Orthodoxy. Alexander Turner’s Society of St. Basil had been made up of Orthodox-minded Old Catholic congregations who wanted to be received into the Orthodox Church while continuing to use the Western Rite. The Society was eventually received into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and formed the nucleus of their Western Rite Vicariate, with Archpriest Alexander Turner as the first Vicar General. Metropolitan Hilarion had once told me that he has been a supporter of the concept of Western Rite Orthodoxy since he was a youth in Canada.
After his address, Metropolitan Hilarion presented Holy Cross parish with a hand-written (hand painted) icon of St. John the Baptist for use in our church. Holy Cross Orthodox Church then presented the Metropolitan with a gift.
It was a wonderful and grace-filled weekend and I was sorry to see it end. The Metropolitan’s visit was undoubtedly the most important event in the life of our parish thus far, and I am sure it will have lasting good effects. Metropolitan Hilarion wrote, “It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for me." We feel the same way.