Monitoring news media reports about religion in Russia
countries of CIS
Copyrighted material. For private use only.
If you quote material, please credit the publication from which it
came. It is not necessary to credit this Web page for any print use of
If any electronic reproduction is made, please
the URL: http:www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/
Religion News Current News Items
Orthodox spokesman challenged on church's
REPENTANCE IN EXCHANGE FOR FREEDOM
Father Vsevolod Chaplin, Viktor Bondarenko, the founder of the "Russia
for All" movement, and publicist Roman Bagdasarov gathered in editorial
office of The New Times to debate about "Pussy Riot"
The New Times, 25 June 2012
Irina Yasina: Father Vsevolod, how does the Russian Orthodox Church
view what the security forces and the judicial system are doing with
these young girls? They acted out the first time in Epiphany cathedral.
And the church did not pay any attention to them. But now in the church
of Christ the Savior it took one minute for their action to be brutally
suppressed. Then on the web there appeared a video clip with the song
"Mother of God, Drive Putin away." And now they are being tried for the
clip and not for what they did in the church of Christ the Savior.
Moreover, I am profoundly sure that if they had sung "Mother of God,
Preserve Putin," they would not have had any problems.
Father Vsevolod Chaplin: The problem is not what and when they
did it. The problem is in their position. They spoke out against Putin
earlier also, but there was not such a negative reaction. In the church
of Christ the Savior the name of God was associated with a vulgar word.
Impermissible actions were performed in the church. Understand, a great
deal has been said against the patriarch, and you yourself know how
much has been said against Putin. But here it is that a blasphemous
action was committed. Actions which offend religious feelings are very,
very dangerous and now blood is flowing in the world because of them.
We know that it is after such incidents, as for example the burning of
the Quran, this happens. It is because of this that it is necessary to
react with all severity. It is the government's business how it reacts;
the church is not the investigator and not the court. But it is
necessary to do everything so that such actions will be absolutely
excluded. There are numbers of expressions that are completely
impossible to state in one or another country. It is impossible to
praise Hitler in Germany, for example.
Roman Bagdasarov: Notice that the longer the members of "Pussy Riot"
remain in custody, the more people understand them and support them.
Father Vsevolod mentioned several states in which such action are
impossible by definition. And I would even mention one such state where
attacks on religious feelings are very harshly punished. I am not sure
that our government should take Iran as its model at this stage. In
light of our multiconfessionality.
Chaplin: Iran also is a multiconfessional country and a very successful
country, more successful than the contemporary West.
Bagdasarov: In Iran these harsh actions are backed up by a specific
religious authority and a specific continuity of tradition. For
example, the Shiite tradition that exists there. If one speaks about
our country, then those people who speak out harshly against "Pussy
Riot" are for the most part neophytes and often radicals.
Chaplin: There are quite diverse people in the church, but it is part
of the church. It is a certain part of the church like all the others
and they have the right to their own voice. It is mainly the older
generation. And at the same time it is those people who have now
learned not to be afraid to speak. After all now they are trying to
intimidate the church. For every bold statement they are trying to
arrange a public flogging. But it is now impossible to frighten us. It
is possible to complain to the patriarch and it is possible to shout
all sorts of nasty things on the Internet. But people in the church are
used to speaking independently. And they are building a society as they
Zoia Svetova: Does the church approve the court's extension of the
detention of the girls from "Pussy Riot"? Does the church not intend to
stand up and call for mercy?
Chaplin: They insist on the correctness of their position, on a
position that excludes their repentance. The court and the
investigation should work as they have been working. I do not think
that anyone should interfere in the course of their work, including the
church structure. It is now important to say that. I am sure that God
has given to me, and to other members of my church, a revelation, and I
am sure that the Lord condemns what they did. I am sure that this sin
will be punished in this life and in the future life.
Thus it is possible for there to be forgiveness on the part of the
church when there is forgiveness on God's part. But that presupposes
Svetova: Where do you find out whether the Lord God forgives them or
Chaplin: I know. I think that God revealed it to me.
Bagdasarov: And I, as a believing person, can doubt that you know it.
Bondarenko: And I, as a person who believes in God, can doubt that I
see signs of service to satanism in the action of "Pussy Riot."
Chaplin: I think that God revealed it to me and he also revealed the
Gospel to the church. He promises an extremely harsh reward for any
sin. Read the Sermon on the Mount. There is only one way out—repentance.
Svetova: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina wrote letters where
they asked for forgiveness from believers. Is that insufficient?
Chaplin: There were no words of repentance there. The only
step—half-step—in the right direction was made by Ms. Alekhina, who
quoted Mandelshtam and at the same time the quote was chosen very well
("Well, I apologize, but deep down I haven't changed a bit"). But even
while apologizing she continues to insist on the correctness of her
position. This position, it seems to me, should be changed. Ms.
Tolokonnikova wrote an even more interesting text in which the
following was said: "If someone feels offended, it is necessary
to forgive" (from Tolokonnikova's letter to Chaplin, Apr. 2012): "I
would simply be sorry if people consider me and my friends as enemies
of Orthodoxy"). In this case it seems to me it is very, very important
to reconsider what was done. And then the way will be open both for
dialogue and for forgiveness, I hope. Because what was done is, of
course, a sin that needs repentance.
Svetova: And what for you will be repentance?
Chaplin: The action was public, and therefore the change of position
must be public.
Yasina: These young women have small children. They themselves are in
prison, which more likely leads people to bitterness than to
repentance. Don't you think that internal work on a person does not
need to be done in prison?
Chaplin: The Lord can move them to repentance by various means.
Read Orthodox ascetic literature. For repentance the Lord sends a
person both sorrow, and illness, and wars, and famine, and much else.
The Lord acts in various ways.
Svetova: Is the Lord really so harsh?
Bondarenko: In the first place, I think that the Lord himself works it
out and this would be the correct position of the church. If the Lord
is offended, I think that he has the possibility of punishing—as Father
Vsevolod said here—and by other means. I am surprised at the
discrepancy and different understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. I
have read it more than once. It is said there: "Love your
enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you. And
pray for those who persecute you and offend you." Where did you see
that the Lord is calling for punishment? I did not see that.
Svetova: Father Vsevolod, you said that somebody "is always
intimidating" the church. Who and what for?
Chaplin: Every statement that deals with economics, the life of
society, and culture is met by an outcry on the Internet. For example,
the World Russian National Assembly spoke on the topic of wealth and
poverty in Russia and that the society should be more just. In
particular, it was suggested to introduce a tax on luxury and
overconsumption. That was in 2007. Then many people cried out: why is
the church meddling in economics? I think that the church should speak
about everything—both at the level of the conciliar church thinking and
at the level of individuals who, incidentally, may have different
positions. About politics, about economics, the state of public
morality, about culture.
Bagdasarov: And isn't there a danger of profanation—the church speaking
about secular problems?
Chaplin: The ideal of a silent church is a false idea. It's an idea
that was invented by a part of the soviet intelligentsia in order to
have the possibility of creating a church that was convenient for it.
One that would not challenge the mission the intelligentsia incorrectly
took upon itself as teacher of the nation, which it tried to do in the
1970s to 1990s. Here is such a silent church, invisible, hidden
somewhere there beneath the waters of the ocean like the city of
Kitezh; it was just one of the anticlerical ideas that were born in
Bagdasarov: So the church has always been silent.
Chaplin: No, it never was. Well this quiet and invisible church—that's
an anti-church. It's a ghetto into which these people have tried to
Bagdasarov: Then you must acknowledge that the history of the Russian
church is the history of an anti-church.
Bondarenko: I maintain that our church has become a part of the penal
system. We do not have law enforcement agencies nor a court, but there
is a single penal system which the rulers of this country use. I leafed
through the basic law of the state, the Russian constitution. And I
want to ask: why does the leader of the "Orthodox Church" public
organization have more rights in our country than the leader of the
Russian association of homosexuals and lesbians?
Chaplin: Oh, I did not say that.
Bondarenko: Or take the story of "Pussy Riot." Thinking people are
outraged that we, in the sense of our state, have exceeded the bounds
of the law and we are again living by concepts. Today we will try
someone for the fact that it seems to somebody that Orthodox people
have supposedly been offended. Tomorrow they will begin to try me
because I eat beef, since a cow is a sacred animal of Hindus, and
suddenly it seems they have here a religious association and they will
begin trying me for offense to their beliefs. I think that first of all
we must appeal to the constitution. The church violates the principle
of freedom of conscience. Article 14 of the constitution says
that we have a secular state. Article 14 reads: "The Russian
federation is a secular state. No religion can be established as the
state or obligatory religion. Religious associations are separated from
the state and equal before the law."
Chaplin: We do not have the principle of the separation of church from
state. Do you know about that? Let's clear up some of the myths that
have been refuted long ago, but which people still try to voice in the
public space. Of course, religious organizations, religious societies,
and believing people, including those who belong to our church, have
equal rights to express themselves just as LGBT activists. We, our
church, no, excuse me, the state repressive apparatus, we cannot force
anybody to agree with us. But we can express ourselves and we must and
will do this. The LGBT community of course will do the same and anybody
else. It is true, praise God, that now there are appearing laws that
ban the LGBT propaganda among minors, and I consider that quite correct.
Religious associations are separated from the state. That is, the
administrative structures of religious organizations. What does that
principle signify? It is interpreted in the fifth article of the law on
freedom of conscience and religious associations and it means that
religious associations are not governmental bodies, praise God. And the
state does not conduct religious functions for itself. The principle
does not mean anything more than that. The church as a worldview and
religion as a phenomenon cannot be separated from the state in the same
way as the people cannot be separated from the state.
Bagdasarov: That is just sophistry. Then even Buddhism is not separated
from the state.
Chaplin: No. Of course not. Our society is not secular. Part of it is
secular and part is religious.
Bagdasarov: You said that the church is not separated from the state.
Probably you have in mind not the state but society?
Chaplin: The church as a substantial part of the people is not
separated from the state and cannot be separated.
Bagdasarov: For me this is all news that our church is not separated
from the state. I always thought that the church cannot be separated
from society, because there are various social organizations, including
church and religious ones, and the church is part of our society; that
is absolutely correct. Just as gays and lesbians are part of our
society. But you maintain that our state is not more secular, right?
Chaplin: It cannot be separated from a worldview or from religion.
Svetova: If the church and state are united, does that mean the church
cannot criticize the authorities?
Chaplion: For Orthodoxy, the symphony of the church, state, and people
is the norm. We are not ashamed that we believe this is correct.
Bondarenko: When Patriarch Alexis (Alexis I headed RPTs from 1945 to
1970) served a prayer service for the health and later the repose of
Stalin, was that in unity with the people? I think that in its essence
RPTs is an anti-people church; it always sides with the government,
always, at all times. Under Ivan the Terrible Metropolitan Filipp was
not on the side of the government and Maliuta Skuratov smothered him.
All the rest were on the side of the government and therefore it is
Chaplin: I do not think that the people and the government should
always be in conflict with one another. Here we are faced with a
difference of ideals, if you will. You, Viktor, represent to a greater
degree a western social ideal which posits an eternal conflict among
branches of government and between the people and government.
Bondarenko: Separation, but not conflict. Independent judiciary,
independent investigation. Separation.
Chaplin: Multiparty system, continual political competition, economic
competition. The Orthodox social ideal is different; it is the ideal of
the unity of the people and the government, of diverse strata of people
and religious communities.
Svetova: When the people go out into the streets expressing their
protest against the government, whose side does the institution of the
Chaplin: That is a question to what extent there really is in this case
a popular movement and not a struggle for one side or of several elite
groups. The government should respond to a popular movement with a
change of course, as our Patriarch Kirill said. But I am for symphony,
I favor that the ideal of unity, which is characteristic of our
historic tradition and our mentality, would be expressed in all of our
political processes. And in future reforms, which sooner or later will
of course occur, including in the political sphere. I do not think that
the church should become a part of the governmental authority. There is
always discussion between the church and the government. In the first
place, these discussions deal with the concerns of the people—not the
Muscovite crowd but the majority of the people which, incidentally, now
thirst for justice, thirst for fixing the many processes that were
traumatic to people's souls, which happened in the 1990s. They thirst
for more harmoniously arranged inter-ethnic relations; we know that
this is a big problem.
Bondarenko: Do you think that the church is a good physician for
healing such problems?
Chaplin: Including for the government. It is very important that the
church speak on all these topics.
Yasina: You say that people are dissatisfied. That is true. All social
surveys show that the demands of those whom you call the Muscovite
crowd and the demands of people in the provinces are in agreement.
There are four: health care, education, good housing, and justice.
Justice is interpreted very specifically as a fair trial and normal law
enforcement agencies. This unites everybody. Can RPTs address the state
and say: "Listen to what the people are saying to you. Because
justice should be for all, both for the first persons and for their
vice-premiers, and for common people, because justice should be for all
and not for the chosen," and this is absolutely the church ideal, as
you say. So, can the church address the government with a call to
listen to just demands?
Chaplikn: That is the way it constantly talks about this.
Ysina: Why are they not listening to you?
Chaplin: For now they are not listening. Because in order for them to
listen the church needs to take a maximally active public position.
What is the difference between the church and the political opposition?
We have stood for all these topics, we have stood really for many
years, much longer than the famous rallies. But at the same time the
church, although sometimes it is accused of striving for power, does
not pursue power. We do not strive to seize political power. Why do
people not believe the leaders of the opposition movement? Because they
understand that they are doing all of this in order to take power.
Bondarenko: What does RPTs think that it has the right to judge? Why?
For many centuries, up until Peter I (Peter I abolished the
patriarchate in 1721--it was restored in 1917) the institution of the
church was not separated from the state. The church was the government.
Chaplin: And the country lived well, better than western countries.
Bondarenko: I was not there and I do not know that. I have only read
Peter's decrees and I see how the country lived and that he had to
issue ukases that one should wash once a week and not wipe one's hands
on one's beard. If we began to have something, then it was only thanks
to western custom that Peter brought from Holland. We got the canvas
frame, brush, paints, telescope, microscope. None of this could have
been done if Peter had not understood that with the Russian Orthodox
Church he never could pull our country out of the Byzantine,
prechristian slavery system.
And now RPTs is again beginning to interfere in the construction of the
state. Remember you were building it for a thousand years, and in 1917
it collapsed in two months. Why do you think that you can manage to do
now what you failed to do then? Excuse me, has your design changed? Has
your terrain changed? Once you had "God's anointed on earth" as the
head of state, and it perished. And now you are again trying to
reconstruct this building, with the same blueprints, the same methods,
on the same spot.
Chaplin: The state collapsed in 1917 precisely because the church was
torn from the people.
Bondarenko: And why was it torn?
Chaplin: Because of your Peter. Before him the people were happy, and
then they became unhappy.
Bondarenko: Have you seen "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"? There in
the madhouse, especially after electric shock, everybody also was happy.
Chaplin: People's happiness is not determined by money, nor frames, nor
Yasina: There is the concept of "civilization," and people want to live
in a civilized society, and they want to change. Incidentally, the
leaders of our country are advocating what they call modernization.
That is a movement forward, to innovations and the like. It turns out
that you are dragging us back to the time of Ivan the Terrible.
Chaplin: Whether modernization is needed, which would not agree with
the wishes of the people, is an enormous question. Technological
modernization should not be accompanied with the decline of national
consciousness. That is because modernization that is not organic for
the country always ends in tragedies. And the tragedies that occurred
under Peter soon after him only confirmed that.
Yasina: Father Vsevolod, I have a very simply question. The Russian man
does not fasten his seatbelt, he drinks everything that warms him, and
while drunk he jumps into water at undesignated places. Dozens,
hundreds, thousands of people perish from this. We know the statistics
on mortality in Russia. And if one does not change the consciousness,
does not instill a feeling of responsibility—because when you do not
fasten your seatbelt you are a fool risking not only yourself but
risking your own elderly parents and risking your own small children.
That's modernization and that's the breakdown of consciousness.
Chaplin: It is not very good when people do not buckle up and conduct
themselves irresponsibly, but it is much worse when a person all his
life in concerned only about his own health, about a carefree life and
material interests. This is worse than not buckling up.
Bagdasarov: Unfortunately RPTs has incompetently lost that enormous
credit of trust that it could have had. This is the cooperation of
church and state on which Father Vsevolod insists. It began with
Metropolitan Sergius (after Metropolitan Peter refused to pledge
allegiance to the bolsheviks he was arrested and Metropolitan Sergius
Stragorodskii became head of the church). Recall how it was bought,
what the famous 1927 declaration of Metropolitan Sergius cost. That
declaration cost those priests who did not agree with Metropolitan
Sergius and who automatically were declared disloyal to the current
governmental power. And the governmental power had the full right to
Svetova: Unfortunately, even after the end of the USSR, the RPTs did
not repent for cooperation with the government, which repressed
Bagdasarov: I agree, there was no kind of repentance, that is on the
scale of the repressions that accompanied Metropolitan Sergius'
declaration; our church did not give an adequate answer. Why did it not
give these answers? Why cannot RPTs repent? This is the biggest
question, more accurately, the biggest answer to the question why we
have come to the present situation where RPTs is losing even more of
the credit of trust. Let's say the Catholic church periodically repents
for something—the inquisition, cooperation with Nazis. Why can
Catholics do this? Because (I will use a metaphor) the Catholic church
is an adult, with a complex fate, perhaps even a warped fate, perhaps
even crippled, but it is an adult. If we speak of the Russian church,
then it is a minor, in principle, a teenager who has not developed into
an adult. It does not even understand what has happened to it and why.
And the fault is in that very symphony of church and state of which
Father Vsevolod Chaplin has spoken here.
Chaplin: The church should support certain relations with any state,
even with persecutors. The whole history of the church bears testimony
to this. With the persecutors of early Christians under the Romans and
with persecutors who in their time seized Byzantium and, being
infidels, exterminated Christians. Relations were maintained with all
Svetova: The conflict of the church with artists began after the
"Beware, Religion" exhibit in the Sakharov Museum. At the time
believers considered some displays blasphemy. The organizers of the
exhibit were sentenced to fines. Then there was the "Forbidden Art"
exhibit, and again a trial of the organizers of the exhibit. Now there
is the case of the punk prayer service of the "Pussy Riot" group. But
where is the boundary in relations between church and artists across
which the church should not step?
Bondarenko: At the end of the 1990s I collected icons and very soon
came to the conclusion that the church needed a new artistic language.
At the time I conceived the idea of making an iconostasis in code, that
is using the possibilities of computer graphics. I called this project
"Iconostasis XXI." Both the Russian Museum, the Historical Museum, and
the Tretiakov were prepared to display our project. We chose the
Tretiakov. They telephoned me and said that it was necessary to settle
with the church. Don't forget that it was the time of the soft regime.
That is also when we became acquainted with Father Vsevolod.
The church supported my project with the condition that we would not
call it "Iconostasis XXI." And it was Father Vsevolod who gave it
the title "Deisis/Intercession." At the time we communicated very well
with the church officials. Then, when the anthem of the Soviet Union
returned, I began to have doubts. I began to reread Gogol, Chekhov,
Saltykov-Shchedrin, and I suddenly saw that here is a thousand-headed
hydra that holds my country, my people and it has not changed at all.
Chaplin: So who is guilty of all this.
Bondarenkop: Neither you nor Christianity, nor Orthodoxy. It is a
metaphysical hydra that is constantly mimicking. One time it is pagan,
and then if it needs to it wears crosses, then it wears hammers and
sickles, and then the sword and shiled of KGB. And now Chekists stand
with candles in their hands at the rite of this hydra. I believe that a
divine inspiration can come to a murderer and he can repent and enter
paradise. But I do not believe that all the layers of former
communists, KGB workers, who were yesterday's persecutors and killed
priests have now become sincere believers. And here they are now
persecuting those who come to the church and sing "black limousines,
golden epaulets. . ." (a quote from a "Pussy Riot" song). And so I have
now begun a new art project.
We do not want to offend anybody; we want to present a certain artistic
statement. It will be icons in the dock. With halos. The artist who is
drawing these works is a believing girl from an Old Believer family. I
told her to take communion from a priest. We are drawing a new Trinity.
And the artist has said to me several times now: "I am afraid; Mama is
Svetova: Why draw a new Trinity?
Bagdasarov: It is because there has again arisen the problem of the
interrelationships of art with religious images that require a new,
contemporary expression. And it is very important that the topic of
these interrelationships be freely discussed. The goal is to say that
artists have the right to deal with sacred images.
Svetova: And is the church ready for renovation?
Chaplin: Much has changed in the church, and will change, and I think
that the level of public activity will change further in the direction
of its expansion and in the direction, incidentally, of greater
diversity of expression with which you will have nothing to do. So I as
a church bureaucrat should try to arrange the whole church, and public,
and information flow in the direction of some greater unity, but it is
as a bureaucrat with 27 years of experience that I understand that this
is no longer possible. Thus there will be the most diverse views in the
church, from the extreme right to the extreme left. From extremely
conservative to extremely liberal.
Svetova: Not long before Easter Nadezhda Tolokonnikova asked you to
come to see her in the SIZO. Why did you refuse?
Chaplin: A priest visited her who was visiting prisoners in that jail,
but she refused to talk with him. I am afraid that her request for a
visit was sent to me not as a priest but as an attempt at some
Svetova: In Matthew's gospel Christ says: "I was in prison and you
visited me." If a prisoner had summoned Christ, he would have gone to
him in prison. Why did you not go?
Chaplin: Prison is not the area of my pastoral resaponsibility.
Yasina: Just like the patriarch responding to the letter of Orthodox
believers in which they asked him to have mercy on the girls from
Chaplin: His Holiness the patriarch, who feels the pulse of the church
very well, listened to that pulse.
Svetova: That is, the RPTs remains on the position of harsh punishment?
Chaplin: The patriarch has said nothing about punishment; he says that
this is sin, and both God and the church await repentance.
Discussion conducted by Zoia Svetova and Irina Yasina
(tr. by PDS, posted 26 June 2012)
Russian original posted on Portal-credo.ru,
25 June 2012
Religion News Current News Items
If material is quoted, please
give credit to the publication from which it came.
It is not necessary to credit this Web page. If material is transmitted
electronically, please include reference to the URL,