Our Task is Not to Seek Our Own Will, but the Will of God
given by Bishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America,
Your Grace, who was the initiator of the meeting between His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus and the members of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia with the President of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin?
In September of this year, the prior of the Stavropighial Monastery of the Meeting of the Vladimir Icon of God in Moscow (the Sretensky Monastery), Archimandrite Tikhon, asked to be heard at the Fall Session of the Synod of Bishops. The Sretensky Monastery is a major publication center of the Church in Russia. Father Tikhon is well acquainted with both the internal life of the Moscow Patriarchate and the life of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. He participated in the Church History Conferences organized by the Russian Church Abroad in 2001 and 2002. At the Session of the Synod of Bishops, Father Tikhon conveyed President Putin's desire to meet with the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad.
When did it become known that the meeting would actually take place?
Initially we received a verbal invitation, but the official written invitation was received only a few days prior to the meeting itself.
What did you discuss with President Putin and what was your personal impression of him?
The President mainly spoke about Russia. Reconciliation was his main theme. For true reconciliation to take place in Russia, it is first necessary for the Russian Church to be reconciled. To that end, both parts of the Russian Church, that which is in Russia and the part beyond its borders, must find rapprochement. It is my understanding, and this brings me much consolation, that President Putin places the Church at the center of Russia's reconciliation, at the center of a revival and a healing process. I would say that this is the first time after the Revolution in Russia that a leader of Russia-Soviet Union has expressed such an Orthodox idea.
We also discussed the state of the Church in Russia, concerns regarding Church property and the legacy of the tragic 20th century. Our bishops suggested to President Putin that a special day be established in Russia commemorating all the victims of the godless terror. This would not be a holiday, an off day from work, but a day of sorrow. Schoolchildren would have talks dedicated to this subject. Regular programming on television would be canceled, and only programs on the subject of this day of sorrow would be televised. President Putin personally welcomed this idea, but said that some thought would have be given as to how to make it a reality. His Grace Metropolitan Laurus stressed that, for the Russian Church Abroad, serving Russia, laboring for the Russian Church, for the Russian people and culture, is of greatest importance. We presented an icon of St. Elizabeth to President Putin. I watched carefully how attentively he looked at the icon, how he made the sign of the cross with reverence and then venerated the icon.
I was left with the impression that the President of Russia is someone direct, open and sincere. He loves his country and his people deeply and it is clear that it pains him to see and know how difficult life is for the ordinary people. One can really sense this pain for Russia.
During our meeting, President Putin conveyed a personal invitation from the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexei to His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus to visit Russia. Metropolitan Laurus has been to Russia numerous times, but never in the capacity of the First-Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia. The Metropolitan accepted the invitation with gratitude.
Your Grace, how do you propose events will unfold in the near future?
I would like to stress that all the events that have taken place thus far have happened, one could say, on their own. We did not make any plans, and we are not making any plans now. We do acknowledge, though, that in the course of the last 10 years, absolutely unpredictable events have taken place, and also, that the division in the Russian Church continues to pain us. The Lord is merciful. He Himself leads us, He Himself arranges everything. We must not seek our own will, but the will of God.
Insofar as the future is concerned, our main focus now is on the upcoming All-Diaspora Clergy Conference and Sobor of Bishops of the Russian Church Abroad. The Conference will take place in the Holy Protection Parish in Nyack, NY, from December 8-12 of this year. This will not be simply a pastoral conference, but an All-Diaspora one, with clerical representatives from all dioceses of our Church. The main theme of the upcoming Conference is: "The Path of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Past and Future." There will be guest speakers from Russia as well. They will deliver talks on the three topics: the New Martyrs of Russia, Church life in Russia and Ecumenism. The All-Diaspora Conference will convene under the omophorion of our Guide, the Kursk-Root Wonder-working Icon of the Mother of God. She has led us all these years and we hope for and are in great need of Her Protection.
In preparation for the All-Diaspora Conference and the upcoming Sobor of Bishops, a delegation of three bishops will visit Russia and meet with Patriarch Alexei. The main purpose for the meeting with Patriarch Alexei is to meet him face to face, without intermediaries, to discuss Church matters and to ascertain his personal views on a number of issues. The bishops will share the results of this meeting with the participants of the All-Diaspora Conference and the Sobor of Bishops in December.
Do you not think that some people may feel such a meeting is premature?
There are times when we should avoid meetings, and there are times when we are obliged to meet face to face. In the past I have feared such meetings, I even preferred being isolated, but there have been too many changes in Russia. As a pastor, I have a great responsibly for the salvation of souls, and I also feel that someone has been praying hard for me. All this has caused me to have a change of heart. If we have a great conviction in our position, if God is with us, we should not be afraid. According to Apostle Peter, we must always be ready to give an answer of our hope (I Peter, 3,15).
When we meet face to face with somebody, the picture we get is much closer to reality. We can longer limit ourselves with reports from others, from internet news items and from a view from afar--the time has come for us to come into real contact with the body of the Church in Russia, with the life of the Church there, with the positive, the promising, as well as with the negative.
In conclusion I would like to say that our Lord, by miraculous means, is returning our Russian Church Abroad, the Church we are so dedicated to and love so dearly, to its original path, the path of its founders. I personally believe that this is due to the prayers of the great saint and wonder-worker of the Russian Church Abroad--Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco.
By his holy prayers may our Lord guide us!