The head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, answered "Interfax" questions. On 14 March he is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his episcopal ministry.
--Master, you were only twenty-two years old when you received monastic tonsure. Wasn't it difficult to renounce what is ordinary for a young person?
--For some reason all reporters ask me about this first thing. But speaking seriously, tonsuring was preceded by certain considerations and I received very great help from the late, fondly remembered bishop Nikodim [metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod, "IF"] who shared his experience with me and helped me understand how a person should conduct himself and how he should feel in order to be able to fulfill the life that monastic rules prescribe. But I will say quite definitely that my final decision to become a monk was not preceded by some kind of intense mental effort. I simply understood then that it was impossible to analyze the situation and resolve it rationally since it is impossible to foresee what a person will become in 10, 15, or 20 years. A person makes such a choice simply with trust in God's will: if the Lord calls one to this ministry then that means he also should help. That was the view that I had.
--You became a bishop very soon. . .
--Yes, I was only thirty.
--. . . and the same can be said about the majority of other members of the current synod. Your detractors maintain that this was possible thanks to KGB, which wanted to advance young pastors so as later to have its own folk in the upper structure of the church. What was the real reason?
--I think there were several reasons, but the main one was the demographic gap in our church. It turned out that in the postwar period bishops of the Russian church were either old men who had been consecrated before the revolution or people who were born after the war. The intermediate generation, which from the point of view of normal development should have then come into ecclesiastical leadership, simply was absent since the youth of the 30s and 40s were in effect atheistic or, at least, because of the terrible persecutions of the church, were afraid to attend. Thus by the end of the 50s and beginning of 60s a situation had developed such that the Russian church had to resort to ordaining very young priests. At that time a whole series of consecrations of bishops in their thirties were conducted. When I learned that the hierarchy wanted to consecrate me a bishop I resisted a little and asked for a delay in installation. It seemed to me that I was not quite ready. But in response they said that for a person who had taken monastic status this was not a subject for discussion and that we could not request anything for ourselves and could not refuse anything. The decision had been made that my installation would take place in the 30th year of my life.
--You have been a bishop under four general secretaries and three presidents. How do you assess your personal experience of church-state relations during this time?
--As regards the soviet period, everything is quite simple. The church was controlled by the state and to speak of some kind of model of church-state relations in that time would be incorrect. There was no model! The church was denied the possibility of performing public service or conducting a dialogue with the state and with the mass media; it had the right simply to perform the liturgy, that is, to do what was permitted from the point of view of then existing laws and practice.
But in the past ten years, this undoubtedly has been an historic period, because the church in Russia never has had such freedom as it now has received. Even before the revolution, during a regime that was most hospitable and with the emperor himself as its head, the church did not have freedom since it depended directly upon the decisions of state authority. And of course the church did not have the right to express itself on any social problems. Ten years ago we really found ourselves in conditions of freedom and therefore one of our main tasks immediately became the construction of a model of church-state relations. And it was difficult to use anyone's experience because other Orthodox churches had a complex history and they could not speak of complete freedom for the church. Even Greece, where the church feels itself free, could not serve as an example for us. We were starting with a blank slate.
But what happened in the end was not the product of theoretical discussion since literally beginning with August 1991 the church was drawn into the resolution of concrete problems. Actually those decisions that were made by the most holy patriarch and the Holy Synod gradually evolved into an ordered system of church-state relations. But I think that the crowning accord was the adoption of the Bases of a social doctrine of the Russian church, where the mutual relations of state and church were clearly prescribed.
--When was it easier for you to serve as a bishop: where there was no freedom or now, when there is, but along with it a multitude of new problems have come?
--It is very difficult to weigh that out. Then it was simply a struggle for survival and there was practically no responsibility to the people. Nobody knew about us; they didn't talk; nobody wrote about our foreign statements at all sorts of peacemaking conferences. Today, on the contrary, we understand that to a great extent the shape of the church depends on our activity as does its place in society and, considering the extent of the canonical territory of the Moscow patriarchate, the shape of the homeland depends on us and in some sense even the fate of the nation. Thus the degree of responsibility today is much greater than during the soviet period, but there were problems then, while now, you can be sure, everything is very complex.
--You got the Smolensk diocese, one of the most unfortunate dioceses, if one speaks of standard of living. When you are often in Smolensk do you feel the positive influence of the church upon people?
--The situation in the non-black-earth zone really is very complex but, surely, the Smolensk territory is in a most unfortunate state. For many people the last war is a matter of the distant past and its memory is preserved only by means of literature and movies. But in Smolensk you can see actual traces of what happened to our people. Before the war two and a half million people lived there and now there are about two hundred million [sic; two hundred thousand?] The war destroyed the infrastructure and it never was subsequently restored completely because other processes began, which were connected with the destruction of the infrastructure as the result of ideas which the political leadership sponsored in the sixties. One thing led to another and as a result we have what we have. This really is a province which has suffered a lot, especially the rural population.
I am profoundly convinced that the beginning of the decline of the Russian village was connected with the closing of rural parishes. The parish always united people who lived in the village. In order to destroy the village it was necessary to break up this connection. And it was broken. We know what that led to. Thus in speaking of the restoration of the village it is inevitably necessary to speak of the restoration of village parishes.
Of course it is very difficult to do this because, in the main, elderly people live in the village and there are no special economic resources there and, unfortunately, those who still have physical strength are too prone to alcoholism.
But our allies are the teachers and culture workers. Today the priest, culture worker, and teacher are the three persons upon whom much depends whether we will preserve the Russian village in Russia's midsection, or not. I am very happy that in Smolensk province these three components are working together.
I can say that in the recent past much has changed in the province. In 1985 there were 35 churches in all in the Smolensk diocese while today there are already more than 130. It is very important that the growth occur not only quantitatively but also qualitatively.
--Do any more clear cases of spiritual healing occur to you?
--Maybe I will not be able now to give specific names, but I have in mind a whole group of people who in these years have genuinely returned to the church or have come off of the streets, very often through some overwhelming life crisis or through some tragedy. Some of them had suffered from alcoholism, some from drug addiction, and others had some cataclysm in the family. And that now these people are within our circle and they have not dropped out of public life and they are working--all of this inspires me greatly.
But of course I get the greatest joy from children and youth. If one took a picture of the parish of the Dormition cathedral church in Smolensk fifteen years ago there would be 150-200 elderly women, while now we have 300-400 children alone who are taking communion during the liturgy.
--What do you see as the future of Orthodoxy in your other diocese, Kaliningrad, considering that many residents of this enclave have looked westward for a long time?
--I shall say right away that if someone in Kaliningrad looks to the West, this would be an exotic minority, an insignificant proportion that is not worth talking about. The majority of people, on the contrary, are terribly upset by talk about the future of the province to the effect that Russia will abandon their enclave. Take as an example. Several years ago when the idea came up about erecting an Orthodox cathedral church in Kaliningrad, the residents of the city proposed building it in the center of the city, opposite the monument to Lenin where demonstrations were held. And when people of the older frame of mind began protesting, we had a survey whose results showed 74% in favor of building the cathedral on that square.
--And remove Lenin?
--Lenin can stay for now. I do not know whether he will remain later and I don't want to deal with this; let the city authorities decide. What is important is something else: in the center of what was not long ago a German city today an Orthodox cathedral is being built. Why are the people doing this? Incidentally, it is called the cathedral of Christ the Savior and a capsule of earth from under the Moscow church was placed in its foundation. This is a symbolic act of a tie with Moscow. It is no accident that in Kaliningrad they say that when a Russian church with golden cupolas appears in the center of the city it will mean that Kaliningrad is linked with Russia.
And the main issue is that Russia not renounce its enclave and that there not come to power adventurists who would advocate the creation of some Baltic republic on the territory of Kaliningrad province. Thus we must do everything to see that the links of the enclave with the "greater land" are strengthened.
In Kaliningrad there is absolute support for this on the part of the population. Absolute. I have not met anybody who is against it. There are small groups of people who simply do not like Russia. But such people exist in any country. In the main Orthodox people live there--80% of the people, whom we have baptized, although, of course, there are Lutherans and Catholics (proportionately more than in other Russian regions). But the majority are Orthodox and people who tie their future only with Russia.
--I cannot fail to ask you about another problem. It has become commonplace to say that some powerful secularization is developing in society. In this regard what do you see as the future of the church? Could it be that in the end it would find itself driven into some distant corner?
--That is a very important question. How the history of human civilization will develop will depend to a great extent on what position the church occupies with regard to contemporary problems. If the church retreats into a ghetto then secularization really will happen and the sacred will disappear from the life of contemporary humanity into small, closed groups, the family, the personal life of individual persons. But if the church under such conditions is not forced into a ghetto and does not go there, then I think at least in Russia there is hope that Christian values will be established not only in personal and family life but also in public life.
When I speak of the danger of the church's retreat to a ghetto I have in mind that in our society there are political forces which would nudge the church in this direction. It is a shame that even within the church itself there are those who call us again to return to isolation from the outside world and to be further removed from the present. To such old believers I always say: be careful. If we push ourselves into a cage then there always will be found a force that will hang a lock on the cage and confine us forever in it. I am convinced that society itself depends on what kind of place the church occupies in society and what image it has, and that means the future of Russia. These are not high-sounding words; they are reality. In some sense the survival of human civilization depends upon its religious condition because the basis of morality is faith.
I always reiterate that nonreligious morality is a very relative thing. Experience has shown that if we separate faith from morality and base morality on philosophy alone, such morality is quite subject to distortion. Perhaps some geniuses of mind and spirit are capable of remaining moral under the influence of a world view, but the majority of people are not capable of this.
--Master, in conclusion let's get back to the anniversary of your episcopacy. Does a person who heads the Department of External Church Relations, you, ever have any free time.
--Well it still would be interesting to know how metropolitans, let's say, spent a vacation or those rare moments that they devote not to the church but to themselves.
--I will not speak for all metropolitans. But I myself, for example, take athletics seriously in order to maintain physical condition. Every day I swim five or six kilometers. I love music, any music that appeals to me. I don't look down upon any styles, but I notice some changes in myself; I listen to classical music more. My favorite composers are Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, and the baroque period.
--Do you listen to contemporary music?
--Unfortunately I rarely hear anything I like. Much more often the music repels me. In my youth I liked Montavani, James Last and Dean Martin.
--And the Beatles?
--Well, they are already classics. Nevertheless in my youth their music was quite acceptable to my ear.
--What do you read?
--The situation with literature is bad because during the day I have to read an enormous quantity of papers and thus my eyesight gets weary so that at night all the lines blur together. But on vacation I mainly read historical and philosophical literature. Incidentally, I have lost interest in contemporary literature. While during the soviet era I enjoyed reading the thick journals and followed every new publication, now I hardly read these journals at all. With most rare exceptions. It seems to me that I am not alone; any of my friends whom I ask say the same thing.
--Why do you think that is?
--I wouldn't want to offend anybody. Perhaps my standards have declined. I don't know, but I do not see anything that really engages me. So if I have a minute, I read our Russian classics, Dostoevsky, Bunin, Turgenev, or Nabokov, who use noteworthy language.
--So how do you view Lev Tolstoy?
--Positively. As an artist. But of course I cannot agree with his theological views. As a writer and as a person in general, who had a great effect upon the world view of Russian society, he deserves the greatest respect. But it is a pity. Because I consider that what happened to him was a personal tragedy that he could not surmount. In some sense this is evidence of his weakness because he almost managed to come to God and return to the church, but he just could not make the final steps.
--I have heard that you are a great afficianado of art.
--That's true. Of all art I most like painting and architecture. I really like the subject of style that reflects the mood of people so that from the picture one can understand what was happening in one or another era. It's as if you look into the picture and see what you have not seen before. The same with architecture. Take the romanesque cathedrals, where on first glance you can grasp the meaning of the era of romanesque architecture. For a priest knowledge of the history of art is surely important from the point of view of the formation of its theological views. That's why I was a proponent of teaching the history of art in the ecclesiastical academy.
--And your preferences in movies?
--With regard to current Russian movies, unfortunately, I cannot say anything. But there are some masterpieces on which we have been trained and which had a formative influence on more than one generation. I have great esteem for soviet cinematography and I still consider it a special page in world art. It is amazing that it was possible to create such films under such conditions of unfreedom. (tr. by PDS, posted 15 March 2001)
Theological discussions always have occupied an important place in the life of the church. In the Byzantine epoch their impact reached even into the streets of Constantinople which became the arena of mass disorders. That's the way it was, for example, during the time of the Arian controversies. Heretics and completely orthodox people (including even those later called "church fathers") openly expressed their opinions and their opponents just as openly argued against them.
In the centuries of their existence Christians have learned how to discuss any, even the most acute, problem and to find a solution to it in accordance with an evangelical spirit of communality and love. In any case, the church has striven for public discussion so as not to create the impression that behind church decisions stand nothing but the interests of some group of priests or politicians rather than concern for the souls of those who are in error.
But the review of the theological views of Archpriest Georgi Kochetkov that was begun last summer at the order of the most holy patriarch has been conducted in an atmosphere of such secrecy and closedness that the impression is inevitably created that what is being discussed is not books but some financial documents of extraordinary importance. The "top secret" stamp has all the time accompanied the work of the commission being led by Archpriest Sergei Pravdoliubov. The only source for information about intended charges against the banned priest is the recent collection of articles by members of the St. Tikhon's Theological Institute under the ominous title "His judgment was prepared long ago." This work was reviewed for NG-religii by the head of the YMCA press, Nikita Struve. We recall that the review was published in NGR (13 September 2000 under the title "Orthodox witch hunt."
The writers in the collection accused Kochetkov of such horrible and sometimes absurd charges (including the accusation of "monotheism") that their prejudice became obvious to anybody who could read.
The commission investigating the "Kochetkov heresy," convoked by the patriarch after the book came out, amazingly consisted in the main of the writers of the ill-fated collection and their spiritual mentors. This, of course, undermined in advance confidence in the objectivity of its conclusions.
On 9 March the document of the "truth-loving" commission (which as before continued to remain terribly secret) was presented for review by the Synodal Theological Commission. Despite personal requests from its chairman, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, not to exert pressure on the work of the synodal theologians, opponents of Fr Kochetkov did not respect this request and in a number of mass media articles were published filled with hope and wishes for reprisals against the "neorenovationists." This forced the press service of the Presentation Orthodox Educational and Charitable Brotherhood, headed by Fr Georgi Kochetkov, to issue on 7 March a special statement "On pressure by secular media on the Synodal Theological Commission."
It says that "on 5 and 6 March on the internet sites 'strana.ru' and 'vesti.ru' there appeared reports devoted to G. Kochetkov which presented a detailed summary of the statement of his opponents. The recurrence of attempts to demonize the image of a large Orthodox brotherhood and its founder, whose evangelistic and catechetical ministry has brought thousands of people into the bosom of the Russian Orthodox church, cannot but evoke profound anxiety.
"Again and again it is necessary to state that these accusations, which have been refuted many times not only with facts but also with documents, and which are repeated in those materials, are based not on the real views and writings of Fr Georgi Kochetkov nor on real events in the life of the brotherhood but entirely on what his unscrupulous opponents ascribe to them.
"Using clearly one-sided and tendentious sources of information, in his article 'Theological commission will decide whether there is heresy in Fr Georgi Kochetkov's works' Filipp Taratorkin mentions certain 'innovations of Fr G. Kochetkov in both liturgical form and theological questions' and he speaks of 'the total preparation of Fr Georgi's spiritual children through a system of "proclamation" and "catechesis,"' and he also maintains that the brotherhood Fr Georgi founded is some kind of 'parallel structure' in RPTs, irresponsibly making serious accusations against many Orthodox believers.
"Is it necessary to say that by such disinformation the writer, regardless of his intention, facilitates the kindling of passions and discord within church circles? Meanwhile neither the written or pastoral works by Fr Georgi have ever been the subject of official discussion on the part of the hierarchy of RPTs. The upcoming session of the presidium of the authoritative church commission obviously is called to prepare such a discussion. In the article 'What will come of the banned priest' (vesti.ru, 5 March) Andrei Nikolsky writes: 'The outcome of the synodal commission will be positive from the point of view of patristic Orthodoxy only on condition that its decisions are based on a sharply negative assessment of Fr Georgi's catechetical works,' thus actually presenting the theological commission with an ultimatum.
In such a context, articles signed by regular writers of 'strana.ru' and 'vesti.ru' cannot be viewed as anything other than an attempt to put pressure on the work of the synodal commission and to impede an objective review of a matter that is critical for the internal life of the Russian Orthodox church."
Despite the alarm of the Kochetkovites, pressure on the commission made no sense and had no effect. The document of the "truth-loving" commission was received merely for information. In two months the commission will meet again. In the meantime a working group will function, examining the commission's document. In the end its members will draw up a list of quotations with regard to which Fr Georgi "should be defined." These quotations will in general not deal with Kochetkov's pastoral practice but only with his theological views.
The investigating commission's document itself was not studied in detail, nor was Fr Georgi's response to the text of the accusations, which he submitted.
The synodal commission was supposed to assess the works and theological studies, including the catechism Kochetkov wrote and the dissertation that he defended at the St. Sergius Institute in Paris. The members of the Synodal Theological Commission noted that in the conclusion presented by Fr Sergei Pravdoliubov there are inexact quotations and claims regarding Fr Georgi Kochetkov's works.
On the other hand, it noted various statements by Kochetkov that are doubtful from the point of view of Orthodoxy. In May they intend to invite Fr Georgi for elucidation of all questions.
The tentativeness and imprecision of the "truth-loving" accusatory document were confirmed by the patriarch himself when he sent it on for review by the commission headed by Metropolitan Filaret. The text of the accusation against Fr Kochetkov, as previously, is considered a confidential working document and nobody beside the patriarch, members of both commission, and Kochetkov himself has either read it or even seen it. It has not been read at the editorial offices of NG-religii.
But the very fact of raising the struggle against Kochetkov to the highest level of authoritative synodal theologians gives the hope that the secret treatment of the mistaken priest, for which many of his opponents wish, will not happen. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2001)
In an old letter, faded at the folds, there is mention of a convoy of prisoners from Leningrad to Magadan at the beginning of the 1930s. The writer reports that there is with him a strange young man, Mishenka Gundiaev. In contrast to many of the detainees who were depressed over their situation he was constantly cheerful and happy. When he was asked what he was so happy about he answered: "What's to lament? I am going to Kolyma as a confessor of my faith, my convictions." This moving testimony to the spiritual steadfastness of the Orthodox man Mikhail Vasilevich Gundiaev was introduced into the conversation with reporters of our newspaper by his son, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The conversation was cordial and open while at the same time polemical.
--Your beatitude. First please accept our heartfelt congratulations on the occasion of the 25th aniversary of your consecration and installation in the office of bishop on 14 March. The apostle Paul says, "It is a faithful saying; if someone aspires to the office of bishop he desires a good thing." When did you get such a desire? Who were your spiritual guides on your journeys?
--As to being a bishop I can hardly be precise, but the desire to become a priest appeared back in childhood. For all the good that there is in me I thank my priest father (long before his ordination, while he was an engineer in a military enterprise, he was repressed for his religious convictions) and my mother. At the end of the 40s the state literally suffocated the clergy with taxes and our family was materially impoverished. But I consider this to be God's mercy, because in my consciousness church service never was associated with material gains. However there was a good library in our home. By the time I was fifteen I was acquainted with the works of Russian religious thinkers of the beginning of the century and that intensified my desire to become a priest. Besides my parents, an enormous role in my fate was played by Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov of Leningrad and Novgorod, the multitalented church hierarch. After I graduated from high school in 1964 I was still tempted to enter the university. Thank God, Master Nikodim changed my mind and I went to ecclesiastical seminary and never regretted it.
--You spoke of the family's poverty as divine mercy. But doesn't it seem to you that poverty , just like the insatiable desire for wealth, can be a cause of crime?
--I agree. Poverty is by no means a "most propitious recipe" for creating the better qualities in a person. My example is specific--this was a priest's family. And we took our poverty as the result of our life and civil position. If poverty is the result of some kind of cataclysm, illness, disability, fire, it has a quite different effect on a person's psychology; he could not be "proud" of his condition but on the contrary he could be crushed and this could cripple the personality. And we see this happening now with youth who are in difficult material circumstances; it is destroying itself. Thus one should by no means understand my words as some kind of "hymn to poverty."
--You headed the working group that prepared the draft of the "Bases of the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church." In this document serious attention is devoted to the development of church-state relations. To the outside observer they now seem to be good, but if there were some slight "upset"?
--The atmosphere of current relations of church and state could be assessed with the words of the gospel, "behold, now is a time of prosperity." And we value this very much. As regards the majority of questions on the agenda of church-state relations, they still have not been settled. In the first place there are questions connected with the economic condition of the church.
Before the revolution the church had immovable property on lease. It received subsidies on which it lived. And now? A myth has been created artificially about some supposed church treasures, while in reality we simply do not have the means for our social, educational, and other programs. The state does not help us with funds; the former church property has not been transferred to our ownership; we are not able to engage in business--where will the funds come from? The term of the license that we received for developing our own television station is running out, but we have not found the money needed to open it. We need a national Christian newspaper as we need air, one that is not ecclesiastical but secular, reflecting the Christian view of the world. But you can imagine what kind of money it takes to establish such a publication.
Let's take another example. There remain unresolved questions in the practical introduction of the teaching of "theology" into higher education. For some reason in all democratic countries of Europe there can be a theological faculty in the institutions of higher education but in ours there cannot be. In Russia, up to the present, there is a monopoly on the teaching of religion from the nonreligious, and sometimes even atheistic, point of view.
I have identified only some of the problems that need resolution. In general, it is pertinent to say: "we are trusting in good exchanges."
--Would you agree with those who are advocating greater accessibility to understanding the language of the liturgy?
--You know, a good project was devised at the beginning of the 20th century when a special theological commission headed by the future patriarch Sergius began the editing of the Slavonic texts of the liturgical books leading to their russification; a number of books in the new edition were issued.
Slavonic is very musical. This language is grammatically akin to Greek. The church Greek texts included the Old Testament, hymnology, and the great literature. But we cannot appreciate them because the texts are not Greek but Slavonic. If they are translated into our conversational language, then it becomes horrible. Today the church's position is this: we are against the translation of liturgies into contemporary language because it is necessary to preserve the undoubted magnificence of the current liturgical language, its musicality and beauty. It is clear, also, that esthetics are esthetics and comprehension is comprehension. Believers must master the treasures of meaning contained in divine worship. We see the outcome in a continuation of the editing of the Slavonic texts; they must be made completely comprehensible to all parishioners.
--Here is a problem that is frustrating the whole world--the barbarian destruction by the Taliban of the monuments of pre-Islamic culture in Afghanistan. How is such absurdity to be explained?
--The cause of what is happening is as old as the world--exploitation by politicians of the religious feelings and religious emotions of people for their own interests. Throughout history this "mechanism" has been applied often. Let's recall those crusades by Christians of Europe when not only Muslim countries but also Christian ones suffered. The division of the church into East and West happened not in 1054, when some anathemas were issued, but it happened later, when during the crusades the blood of Orthodox Christians was shed. I think that the Taliban is being dishonest when it cites the fanaticism of its mullahs. If the Taliban leaders had a firm political will to protect the population from the influence of religious fanatics, you can be sure that there would be no acts of vandalism.
Besides, it is a mistake to think that here at home everything is fine in this matter. On the eve of the elections political parties resort to any devices to exploit for their own interests the most powerful human emotions--religious ones. Here is what other leaders say to us: why cannot you appeal on the eve of elections to the Orthodox population in accordance with its faith? We reply: it is impossible, it is dangerous to mix religion and politics because otherwise many processes in our society will be tragically affected. And you know, not all politicians share and take a healthy position on the church, and this cannot but cause concern.
--You touched on the old division of the originally united church of Christ. Tell me, how likely is a meeting of our patriarch with the Roman pope?
--In order for a meeting to occur, first, we are profoundly convinced, we must be freed from the burden of the problems that have arisen between us and the Catholics in the last decade, when in western Ukraine three dioceses of the Russian Orthodox church were destroyed (I am not afraid of that word)--destroyed. If the pope were to come without the prior resolution of these painful problems, this would mean that he would arrive as a conqueror on the canonical territory of another church, where the Catholics have "conquered" certain positions. Imagine for a moment that the pope comes, embraces the patriarch, speaks about friendship and mutual relations, while at that time proselytism is continuing--the struggle against our church is continuing, the Catholic expansion is unfolding. Orthodox believers will be confused--what is going on? Let them simply cease trusting their own patriarch.
This is why we say that we are not against the meeting; we are for it; but let's first solve the problems. Unfortunately, in ten years not one of them has been solved. Thus a date for the meeting of the heads of the two churches still is not foreseen.
--When we were on assignment in Chechnia we saw how much respect the Russian troops have for the Orthodox priests who visit the divisions. Tell us about the church's ministry in this troubled region.
--Just like for all of Russia, this remains an open wound for the church. I recall that in recent years there were seven of our priests murdered by bandits, most of whom accepted the martyr's death at the hand of warriors. Our clergy even now is in Chechnia, but, of course, it is difficult to arrange such trips on a regular basis. Second, we are working through our Department on External Church Relations to provide humanitarian aid to refugees; we are collecting means throughout the world and we are arranging humanitarian convoys. We are aiding not only Orthodox but also Muslims and any who are victims. Meanwhile once our mission was fired at upon arrival from Grozny; the whole vehicle was shot up, but, thank God, people were not wounded. When they got back to the office they found it burglarized. Now we are giving much help to refugees and we will do for them everything within our power.
--There were many disputes over the proposed canonization of Nicholas II and members of his family. But it happened; and there were no special "reproaches" nor "anxieties," in fact everything was even rather dull. Should one expect that the public will react likewise indifferently to the possible burial of Lenin's body with Christian rites?
--Our position is this. We are against the display of a dead person in the center of the Russian capital. I want to stress that mummification was never a part of our spiritual culture or our religious tradition. On one hand, we take account of the fact that today many people are inclined against the idea of the burial of Lenin's body. This is a kind of religious faith with a negative evaluation. Our church suffered a great deal from oppression and persecution. And now we think that nobody should be oppressed in our society. This problem can be resolved naturally, without stirring up passions. Ten years from now, and even earlier, the time will arrive when this currently painful question will resolve itself.
--Every so often one hears calls for a certain constriction of religious legislation in view of the continuing sectarian expansion. Is the danger from sects really growing?
--The danger is not growing. And here one should take off our hat and bow to our people. Bow to the half-atheist people who don't pay any attention to theology and often call themselves atheists, but who rose up as one to defend their own Orthodox church. Thus the proportion of those who have been caught in the sectarian nets is very small. On the whole our people have a "good ear" on sectarian propaganda. We consider that it would be shortsighted to conduct the struggle with sectarianism with sterner religious legislation. I am convinced that increasing the strictness of the law would be to the advantage of those who would actually want to weaken it because they would get a chance to put pressure on us. We all, including the media, like "Trud," should help people understand this. Because in the case of sectarianism the issue is not simply freedom of choice; the issue is attempts of certain forces to divide our society spiritually and to add to the currently existing national, wealth, and political divisions religious ones as well. We do not have the right to allow this in Russia, which is spiritually homogeneous and where 80 percent of the population is culturally Orthodox.
--Master. In your time you graduated from the ecclesiastical academy with the degree of kandidat of theology and a dissertation on the topic "The establishment and development of church hierarchy and the doctrine of the Orthodox church regarding its grace-bearing character." Do you now, taking a break from current affairs, immerse yourself in the depths of doctrinal questions?
--Of course, I mull over many theological questions and write something. Alas, my life has many bureaucratic matters, many trips, speeches, both at home and abroad. I won't deny that it is most interesting for me to deal with theology; I was a professor and rector of the ecclesiastical academy. But the Lord sent me on an entirely different path. As the monks say, obedience is higher than fasting and prayer. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2001)
METROPOLITAN KIRILL: IN RUSSIA THE CHURCH HAS PRACTICALLY NO PROPERTY
by Svetlana Popova
Izvestiia, 14 March 2001
Today in the Trinity cathedral of Moscow's Saint Daniel's monastery there will be the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the episcopal ministry of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. He heads the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate. In secular terms, the metropolitan is the minister of foreign affairs of the Moscow patriarchate. Izvestiia reporter Svetlana Popova met with Metropolitan Kirill.
--What does it mean to be a bishop in Russia?
--Just as Russia is different from other countries, like Greece or Bulgaria, so also the ministry of a bishop in our country is different from ministry abroad. The essence of the ministry, of course, remains the same, but the size of the country poses an entirely different responsibility and scope of work. When we are asked about the population of one or another Russian diocese the answer involves unimaginable figures--two, three, five million persons. At the same time, the usual size of a diocese is 50 to 100 thousand persons. The danger which faces a bishop in Russia is separation from his flock, going off into the clouds, and the impossibility for the simple person to communicate with his bishop. Today one of the church's tasks is the expansion of the episcopacy. There should be a minimum of 200-250 bishops.
--In the "Bases of the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church" its relations with the state are defined, right up to believers' revolutionary disobedience to authorities.
--The task of the conception of the Bases included a clear definition of the parameters of the relations between church and state. Their limits were clearly drawn in the Bases. The state must not intrude into the internal affairs of the church and the church must not try to intrude into the structures of authority in order to become a force that affects the administration of the country.
As regards revolutionary disobedience, the text of the document says that the Christian must have limits on his loyalty to the state. If it requires a person to renounce his religious views, if the state compels him to commit obvious sin, or adopts laws that contain a violation of the bases of Christian morality, the believer may engage in civil disobedience.
--How will the process of returning to the church immovable property belonging to it turn out? There is much to be said about this.
--For now the issue is not the return of church property, although there is much speculation about this. We are asking for the return of churches and monasteries. In Russia the church has practically no property. All the churches have been turned over for temporary use. Civilian items have not been turned over at all. The situation in the provinces, in comparison with Moscow, is completely catastrophic. For example, the fate of a church in Viazemsk district of Smolensk province that has been destroyed and lies in ruins. During the Great Patriotic War hundreds of thousands of people perished there, in the so-called "Viazemsk pocket." The dream of collecting funds for the restoration of the church at the site of a great sorrow could not be carried out in practice. The parish was refused the transfer of the church ruins. Incredible. Now in our time when services are being conducted in the Kremlin cathedrals.
--Twenty-five years of episcopal ministry--that is an occasion for looking back. Which stages of your life do you consider most significant for yourself?
--It seems to me that such a moment was my early departure from my parents' home, beginning my independent life. At fifteen I already had to work while continuing my studies. It was a hard, but productive time of my life. Then I entered seminary. The next period was taking up monasticism and ordination, and work in Geneva as a representative of the Russian Orthodox church. I recall with joy the ten years spent as rector of the ecclesiastical academy. That was when we managed to open a choral division and provide women the possibility of receiving a theological education. Then was Smolensk and the five hard years of work in the provinces. Contact with the distant places and the possibility of visiting village parishes gave me knowledge and understanding of the difficult life of our people. (tr. by PDS, posted 14 March 2001)
In a conversation with a strana.ru reporter Fr Vladimir Shmaly, secretary of the Synodal Theological Commission (SBK) reported that at the session held on 9 March of the presidium of the theological commission, devoted to a theological analysis of the works of Fr Georgi Kochetkov, no decisions were made since the session "was of an intermediate nature." A working group was created for the study of the entire corpus of Fr Georgi Kochetkov's works (comprising dozens of titles), which will take time. The working group includes authoritative theologians, among whom are some from the St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Institute. The draft of the conclusion of the theological commission which had been prepared needs, in Fr Vladimir Shmaly's words, further working out.
The next session of the presidium of the theological commission is scheduled for 8 May. This will be the second session devoted to an analysis of the theological works of Fr Georgi Kochetkov. In all, the chairman of the commission, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, plans to devote three sessions to a discussion of the theological works of Fr Georgi Kochetkov. At the concluding, third session, which he plans to hold in the summer, a concluding document will be adopted in which a theological evaluation of Fr Georgi's works will be given.
We recall that the task of the theological commission is to determine whether Fr Georgi Kochetkov's works are in accord with the doctrinal bases of the Orthodox faith, the tradition of the church, and the Orthodox theological tradition. In the opinion of Fr Georgi's critics, many of his views bear a non-Orthodox character. The theological commission plans to decide whether the most controversial of the statements and views of Fr Georgi Kochetkov are his private theological opinions (theologumena) or can be classified as false teaching (heresy). (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2001)
THEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF FR GEORGI KOCHETKOV'S WORKS POSTPONED
NTV, 12 March 2001
In Moscow a session of the presidium of the Synodal Theological Commission (SBK) was held, which was devoted to an evaluation of the works of Fr Georgi Kochetkov, who is famous for his evangelistic activity. The commission's session was closed and no official decisions have yet been published.
It is noteworthy that at the SBK presidium Georgi Kochetkov was given for the first time in many years the opportunity to answer accusations officially. He was not invited to be at the session himself, but he presented a text in which he laid out his answers to complaints of a Moscow commission that examined his works over the course of many months last year.
At the conclusion of its work the SBK commission created a working group that includes several members of the earlier commission. It is charged with continuing the analysis of the works of the famous Moscow priest. The next session of the presidium will be held in May of this year. As long as the resolution of this important church question is being put off the situation of Georgi Kochetkov himself remains indeterminate as before. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2001)
ZHIRINOVSKY AND CATHOLICS: WHO IS AFTER WHOM?
by Filipp Taratorkin
strana.ru, 12 March 2001
In connection with the recent call by Vladimir Zhirinovsky to investigate Catholic expansion in Russia the conference of Catholic bishops of the European part of Russia distributed on 9 March its own statement.
"Reports in the mass media that the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian federation has commissioned the Committee on International Affairs to request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) information about measures being taken for 'preventing the expansion of Catholicism' on the territory of Russia and other Orthodox states cause us confusion and serious concern," the Catholic bishops' statement says.
The bishops stress that "Russian Catholics, like citizens of their country, and the structures of the Catholic church in Russia, like religious associations, are law-abiding and loyal with regard to the state."
In the name of their entire Russian flock the Catholic bishops of Russia declared: "We strive for a constructive dialogue with society and we participate in the activity of the Council on Relations with Religious Associations of the Russian presidential administration, as well as with similar structures in other agencies of federal authority, where hitherto we have not heard accusations of expansion. We strive for the consolidation of society, the spread of the ideals of peace and harmony, and the creation of mutual understanding and fraternal love among its members."
The greatest concern of the Catholic bishops was provoked by the circumstance that "the inquiry directed to MID was sent by the State Duma, an organ of representative power, which is supposed to express and protect the interests of all of society, including even religious minorities, which Catholics are. We have no intention of making this inquiry the basis for a serious political campaign and we are inclined to assign it to the category of misunderstandings produced by inadequate information." (tr. by PDS, posted 13 March 2001)
RUSSIAN BISHOP LAYS FIRST STONE FOR CHURCH COMMEMORATING TSAR
Agence France Presse, 11 March 2001
Russia's Orthodox Archbishop Vikenty on Sunday laid the foundation stone for a church being built on the site where Bolshevik revolutionaries dumped the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, the Ria Novosti agency reported.
The new church near Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains follows the construction of a cathedral, started in September in the same city, also commemorating the killing of the Russian royal family in 1918.
The former Romanov Tsar and his family were canonised last year with over 1,000 other victims of the country's communist regime.
The country's last Tsar and his family are believed to have been shot in a Yekaterinburg cellar and their bodies burrned before being dumped. (Copyright 2001 Agence France Presse, posted 13 March 2001)
FORCE IS NOT THE WAY TO MEET CENTRAL ASIA'S ISLAMIST THREAT
by Gareth Evans;
International Herald Tribune, 10 March 2001 :
The Taleban's crazy destruction of Afghanistan's heritage is not the only new problem in Central Asia. Further north, concern is mounting about Islamist revolutionaries, apparently inspired and supported by the Taleban and Osama bin Laden's terrorists (and some drug smugglers for good measure), seeking to topple post-Soviet regimes in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Insurgents and government troops have been battling for two summers. Terrorist attacks have included bombs meant to kill President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and kidnapping of Japanese and Americans. Support for extremism is growing among a population traditionally highly respectful of authority. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are trying to coordinate security. The big powers are taking interest. China, fearful of encouragement for the revolt among Muslims in its Xinjiang-Uyghur region, is a major supplier of military aid. Russia, spooked by its Chechnya experience and determined to draw a line against new Islam-driven instability, is providing troops to patrol the Tajik-Afghan border. The United States, worried that Mr. bin Laden or the Taleban may gain new adherents, sent last year a stream of high-level visitors. There is certainly plenty to be concerned about. Unless trends are reversed, the nightmares of the regional governments and the major powers could acquire some real substance.
It is time, however, to take stock of just how serious the Islamist threat is. The International Crisis Group, active in the region since August, thinks much of the danger is the product of policy misjudgment and overreaction from the regional governments themselves. Islam reasserted itself in Central Asia as the Soviet Union collapsed. This was tolerated initially but the governing elites in the new states, little changed from Soviet days, soon concluded that independent Islamic activities threatened their power. They cracked down heavily on any religion-related activity not controlled by the semi-official religious administrations established in Soviet times. The governments justify repression by pointing to real enemies, especially the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which pledges to overthrow the region's strongest government and operates on the territory of all three. The focus for President Imamali Rahmonov of Tajikistan remains the United Tajik Opposition, the partly Islamic coalition that fought a civil war from 1992 to 1997. All three governments profess concern about Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a movement that wants to restore the Caliphate, the religious state which once united Muslim lands - and, of course, about the Taleban and Mr. bin Laden. But the evidence suggests that the threat is being overstated. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has only 1,000 fighters. A senior Uzbek official admitted privately that claims of a partnership between the movement and Hizb-ut- Tahrir are propaganda. Ethnic differences prevent much cooperation between the movement and the Taleban, with which regional governments are making their own accommodations. What is evident is growing repression of all Islamic activity not under tight government control. Hizb-ut-Tahrir's claim that 50,000 to 100,000 Muslims are in Uzbek concentration camps is unconfirmed, but the government acknowledges camps and International Crisis Group fieldwork indicates that arrests have been occurring on a large scale. Hardly a young practicing Uzbek Muslim is without a story of harassment. Entire villages increasingly define themselves in opposition to the state. Citizens have not yet fully identified with the revolutionaries but the disaffected increase daily. Moreover, economies are badly depressed. Rural distress exacerbated by drought and growing gaps between rich and poor add classic pre-revolutionary elements. If concerns over terrorism, drugs and the Taleban lead the West to acquiesce in suppression, there is a risk of repeating the Iran experience, where foreign support for an unpopular leader fostered worse leadership and provoked outright antagonism toward the West. Policy-makers must distinguish real from imagined dangers. Central Asian governments are at risk but military aid and border controls are unlikely to help. The most useful international support is economic and the best security measure each local government can take is to practice greater tolerance and more democracy. The writer, a former Australian foreign minister, is president of the International Crisis Group. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune. (Copyright 2001 International Herald Tribune, posted 13 March 2001)
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