Source: TASS Russian News Agency
Patriarch Kirill, of Moscow and All Russia, in TASS special project Top Officials
INTERVIEW BY ANDREI VANDENKO
On parishioners, occasional visitors, Pope Francis, Charlie Hebdo, and Leviathan
— In your book ‘Life And Contemplation Of The World’ you wrote that, as a young man, you asked yourself whether a greybeard in his seventies, whom a youth deciding to take the monastic vows would once turn into, would spit at the his own reflection in the mirror. You turned sixty-eight years old recently…
– The essence of the formula is that the choice I make as a youngster is the choice of what I will be at the age of fifty or seventy. When I was a young lad, I had to take a decision that would predestine my whole life in the future. I think no one who is decent and soberly minded will claim in the decline of years, even when he is alone with his thoughts, that he has lived a life free of errors or sins. And I won’t claim it either. But I never regretted my choice of service to God and to the Church.
– Is the authority over others a trial test or punishment for you?
– Authority can be perceived as a trial test, a punishment, or a gift. The problem is all these interpretations stay far away from the Church. Any clerical authority implies service, not possession, first and foremost. Service is what Jesus commanded to the Twelve. Do you remember the moment when He washed their feet and explained to them for why He was doing it? If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of al. I perceive service in the capacity of the Patriarch as a sacrifice I must bring to the Lord and to the people every day. I often tell young monks that taking the vows for the sake of career growth is tantamount to madness and spiritual suicide. A rise in the Church hierarchy means a growth of one’s self-sacrifice and commitment, not a multiplication of privileges granted to those in command. More than that. One should realize that this sacrifice is not a forced one. It is a voluntary sacrifice that is made freely and even with gratitude. Why does the Orthodox Church entrust governance only to the bishops who are monks and not to married men? Because it is impossible to be torn between two families – the smaller family and the bigger one, which is the Church. Service requires your fulltime commitment without any diversions to private interests, entertainments, hobbies, etc., that are quite admissible in secular life.
Incidentally, responsibility in the face of God cannot be put into opposition to responsibility in the face of people. A person responsible in the face of God cannot behave irresponsibly to people. Of course, nothing can be higher than the responsibility of standing in front of the Lord. This responsibility has more different sensations than it would have in the system of hallmarks of the secularized world. The life of the Church in imbued with heavenly grace and the Church cannot exist in its absence. During the ordaining of each new priest, the bishop pronounces a very profound prayer: “The Heavenly Grace that always cures the sick and makes the impoverished ones plentiful […].” The Church would not have survived the unending struggle that some people and evil forces have waged against it if it did not transmit this constant care for us from above or if it did not do a never-ending correction of inescapable errors and shortcomings. What is more, the Church is a living organism. It is not a factory where you can replace the technological procedures and get quality new products almost at once. That is why the main objective is to avoid doing harm to anyone.”
– About eighty percent Russians rank themselves among disciples of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Are you not dismayed by the fact the occasional ‘droppers-in’ prevail in their ranks over parishioners?
– For some Russians, Orthodoxy is a strictly religious category, while for others it is much more of a cultural notion. But frankly, these divisions are very tentative. The way I see the problem, the main thing today is not the size of one or another category but their dynamics. Man changes over the course of time. The answer to your question sounds like this – and any opinion poll or any scrupulous sociologist will confirm it to you: the first category (parishioners in your terminology) is growing constantly and this growth brings in predominantly the young and educated people. It is a good thing that a very considerable part of our fellow-countrymen associates themselves with Eastern Orthodox Christianity. All of them are members of our congregation, albeit with a different depth of religious practice, without regular church attendance, and with an irregular observance of the Church canon. Still they are far from hopeless. My heart aches for these people in the first place. I give my thoughts to how we can help them get closer to God, become rooted in the Orthodox tradition, develop stronger faith, get filled with the beauty our liturgy, and cognize the profound meanings of the Holy Scriptures.
We can see the degree, to which the moods in society have changed over the past two decades. This is an objective and very gladdening picture. Everyone realizes clearly today the Orthodox Christian faith cannot be ignored in this country. This is also a big victory, a victory that would be impossible without contribution by each devout member of the Church, without the good endeavors that he or she implements at his or her proper place. Besides, sociology is not precise enough as an instrument for assessing a person’s affiliation with the Church and/or faith. Some people accept Jesus Christ only on their deathbeds and thus they do not have any time to tell the sociologists about it. Any person coming to the church makes us very glad because stands in line with Jesus’s behest.
– The Russian Orthodox Church is rebuked for an excessive orthodox content compared with Roman Catholics, who look less conservative…
– It is nice to hear the accusations against the Church for maintaining fidelity to its fundamental principles. There is a clear space, within which we are not changing, and it is limited off by the Church canons and institutes of the creed. This is the space of the Holy Tradition and the Church stands on that foundation. Still, when we ask ourselves how one or another canon could be best applied in the conditions existing nowadays and what the efficient ways of familiarizing today’s young people with the dogmas of faith could be, we need a thoughtful and creative approach of the practicing professionals concerned about the situation. In this sense, the Church is transforming all the time.
And as for comparisons between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman-Catholic believers, they are unrewarding and devoid of meaning by and large. They belong to different nations with age-old different traditions. Why the Great Schism – the separation between the Western and Eastern Churches — occurred (in the early Middle Ages) and where the real border, not the declared one, between the Western and Eastern parts of the Roman Empire ran in reality is a subtle historiosophical question. Each of us should focus on their own business and should not knock about in others’ yards.
– Pope Francis spectacularly gave up his papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace and came to a meeting with Italy’s President in an economy class car. And the Ring of the Fisherman was cast of silver for him instead of gold. What do you think of this style of conduct?
— I do not think I should comment on the style of conduct of the Primate of the Roman Catholic Church. And I am confident he would not make comments as regards me either. I have sincere respect for Pope Francis and for the fact he keeps up close bonds to the monastic tradition that molded him.
– Well, let me put it differently. Do clerics have the right to stand out in terms of their affluence compared with rank-and-file people?
– A cleric should be on a par with an average level of his laymen and this is normal. It is important to remember the majority of clerics are married men and quite often the fathers of many children. Do we have the moral right to compel them to live in poverty, even out of the serenest intentions? Obviously, we do not.
Absence of neediness is a normal condition for living and this is what we daily pray for at our services. A priest’s family should have appropriate living standards so that he could give the bulk of his attention to the parishioners and to the problems of spiritual upgrading instead of immersing in the worries about daily bread. It is for this purpose that the parishioners give away slivers of their material well-being to the clergymen and thus take upon themselves a part of the clergymen’s daily material concerns. There is nothing bad in it. But it is a different story, though, if a priest indulges in secular daily routine and entertainments. However, the lay will unlikely follow a priest of this kind or help him. It is not for nothing that priests are said to be living in glass houses.
– The Old Testament commandments did not have enough space for the one that would prohibit lies. Does it mean spreading lies is a smaller sin than larceny, murder or adultery?
– But why? Do you not think the commandment saying ‘Do not bear false witness’ prohibits lying? The Book of the Wisdom of Sirach states: “A thief is better than an inveterate liar, yet both will suffer ruin.” (Sirach, 20:25). Jesus called devil straightforwardly “a liar and the father of lies” (John, 8:44). And the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians calls on all the Christians: “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor […]” (Ephesians, 4:25).
– The year 2015 started out with the killing of journalists of Charlie Hebdo magazine. The French responded to it by a manifestation in support of free press, in which three million people took part. Ramzan Kadyrov, in his turn, brought almost a million Moslems to the streets of Grozny to protest against the cartoons featuring the Prophet. Which of the two columns would you prefer joining personally?
– I have fundamental objections against an unnatural and contrived division of society in this way as regards the Paris tragedy. We unambiguously condemn terrorism and killings of people for their convictions. We are grieving for those who suffered at the terrorists’ hands. But along with it we find both pseudo-religious and secular radicalism unacceptable, and we think the problems of inter-religious and inter-ethnic relations in the context of human rights deserve the closest attention and an extremely delicate treatment. Outrages on religion and defilements of religious feelings are inconceivable in the same way as insults in connection with someone’s ethnic identity are. Today’s Europe is choking with the scum which it churned itself as it strived to combine multiculturalism and liberal values. Thanks God Russia has enough common sense at the legislative level so as to prevent actions like publication of religious cartoons in the media. Regardless of what particular religion is concerned in each case.
– And what about movies? ‘Leviathan’, a new film by Andrei Zvyagintsev has sparked harsh debates. It received the Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, but here in Zvyagintsev’s homeland the Russian Orthodox activists urged the authorities to strip it of the running license and dismissed it as the plot of a Russophobic politically motivated order. Others said ‘Leviathan’ was an anti-clerical movie, not an anti-Church or anti-Orthodox one. Do you think fighting with clericalism is work in God’s name? Does the Church have the right to claim the role of the fourth estate?
– I cannot discuss a film that I did not see myself. That is why I do not have any immediate impressions or sensations from watching it. I would only like to say that any artists claiming the right to free creative expression must be prepared to meet face to face with the freedom of criticism of what he is doing. If we defend the importance of a free discussion, we should realize that, on top of bombastic complements, we can also hear highly unflattering opinions. As for the fighting with clericalism, let us call a spade a spade. Before you plunge into fighting against something, make sure that the thing you are going to fight with exists in real life and not only in your consciousness. What clericalization of society could we possibly speak about today when the majority of schools will not let an ordinary priest come in? No doubt, some people are exasperated by the fact the clergy has stopped being a marginal group in society. But clericalism is something entirely different.
On the whole, there is no surprise that the followers of Jesus Christ irritate some people and trigger hatred in others. This has always been so. It was not accidental that Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper: “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”(John, 15:20). And this is our main solace – they will persecute us but they will listen to us, too….
Born November 8, 1959 in Luhansk, Ukraine. In 1982, Andrei Vandenko graduated from the Kiev National University of Taras Shevchenko specializing in journalism. Since 1989, he lives and works in Moscow. Vandenko has more than 20 years of experience in the interview genre. He was published in the major part of top Russian media outlets and is a winner of professional awards.