Below we publish some recent conversations concerning the current situation of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, both internationally and also locally in England.
What is the present state of relations between the two parts of the Russian Church, the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)? Someone told me that there is no real unity between them.
This is said by the enemies of Church unity, perhaps by those who are jealous of the Russian Church. To say that there is no real unity is nonsense and belongs to the stale old polemics of the past, of the Cold War. It is incredible that anyone can prefer that time and yet some do, in the USA, in France and elsewhere. We must look to the future and not to the nationalistic or sectarian views of Diaspora Church life of the past. Such are the dangers of isolation, either the isolationism of liberalism or the isolationism of conservatism.
Occasionally there may be misunderstandings between the MP and ROCOR, as in a married couple, but unity is profound and relations are excellent. Both sides have gained enormously through unity and the only people who have been against are in those tiny groups which have placed themselves outside the mainstream, in other words, among extremists (or ‘ex-streamists’). Here we are talking about tiny minorities, perhaps one in a hundred thousand overall.
Does this mean that the MP is taking over ROCOR?
‘Takeover’ is quite the wrong word. It could equally be said, for example, that ROCOR is ‘taking over’ the Patriarchal parishes outside Russia, which are, after all, Russian Orthodox churches outside Russia, therefore already in some sense part of ‘ROCOR’. But rather than any sort of takeover from either side or even ‘merger’, we should be talking about mutual reconstitution, restoration and renewal, meaning the renewal of the united Russian Orthodox mission worldwide. This has already benefited everyone and will continue to do so.
What do you think of the new Russian Patriarch and his international activities, especially with regard to the Patriarchate of Constantinople?
Patriarch Kyrill is now in his second year as Patriarch. I think that he is a Godsend, simply because he has a global vision of Incarnate Orthodoxy and he is unique in this among all the Orthodox Patriarchs since the holy Patriarch Tikhon. Patriarch Kyrill is meeting the international responsibilities of the Russian Church, which represents three-quarters of the whole Orthodox Church.
For instance, the problem with the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s potential involvement in the Ukraine has already been solved. I believe that other areas of schism and conflict with Constantinople, such as in Estonia and with the Paris Jurisdiction, may also be solved now. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is beginning to withdraw from its mistaken interventions in the Russian Church and so in the conflicts that it created in the recent past. It now realises that the stakes are too high, it has too much to lose. I think that Constantinople realises that if Orthodoxy is to present an international face in Conciliar activities in the 21st century, then it cannot base itself on a flock of two or three million, it needs the support of other Patriarchates, especially of the Russian Church. This we saw in last year’s agreement on the granting of autonomy and autocephaly, where the Russian position was accepted by Constantinople. We shall see more after Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to Russia very soon.
In general, Constantinople realises that it can do nothing without the co-operation of the Russian Church and its international prestige is dependent on its good relations with the Russian Church. It can no longer depend on backing from the USA, as we saw recently in Georgia, the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where American neo-colonialism has undergone failure after failure, abandoning its puppet regimes there. No doubt the recent Russia/USA nuclear arms reduction agreement was brokered on condition that the USA withdraw from its ‘Bushite’ colonies in the former Soviet Union and also in Eastern Europe, where we are beginning to see changes, for example in Poland, Lithuania and Greece.
Like the UK, the USA is bankrupt, it simply cannot continue to overstretch itself in neo-colonial conflicts around the world and support the Patriarchate of Constantinople or finance the incursions of its EU stooge into Eastern Europe. Now new blocs like BRIC, Brazil, Russia, India and China, are being formed. The twentieth century is over and perhaps we shall look back and see that the Iraq invasion was the turning point for the USA, just as the First World War was the turning-point for Europe in the twentieth century. All empires die through suicide, going too far, carrying within them the seeds of their own destruction, from the Roman one to the European ones, and more recently from the Soviet to the American.
The Russian Church had not been able to meet its international responsibilities since 1917. Now at last this is happening. We are seeing history in reverse, with all the problems which came up after the Revolution, being solved, one by one. They all stemmed from the lack of Church authority and presence, a lack of leadership, which came about through the captivity of the Russian Church under Communism, especially in the Diaspora. I have waited for this moment since 1974. The fact that it is happening before I am too old, before I die, is a joy. Many others did not live to see this, they lived only to dream of it.
This Patriarch resembles the way in which the previous Patriarch was also a Godsend – he was what the Russian Church needed at that time. If we pray hard enough, the next Patriarch will also be a Godsend, perhaps a man of deep prayer and traditional monastic life. God sends the Church what we need at the time, providing that we pray for it.
Some people say that Patriarch Kyrill is an ecumenist, a ‘philo-Catholic’. Some say that he is too ‘political’. What do you say?
Yes, he is political, but then we need such a command of politics at present. There have always been political Patriarchs at different moments in Church history. Another example is St Photius of Constantinople, who was a laymen a week before he became Patriarch (like St Ambrose in Milan) and famous only for his huge library and learning. The Church needed him at that time. He was the only one who was able to refute the filioque. So today we need Patriarch Kyrill’s talents.
I have not heard or read Patriarch Kyrill saying ecumenistic things about Catholicism, though it is true that Patriarch Kyrill is politically open to the Vatican. But there are those who consider that this openness is necessary now. Who is going to pick up the pieces once the Vatican has collapsed into the black hole of pedophilia, caused by its crazy - and relatively recent - policy of compulsory clerical celibacy? Few in Russia, apart from Patriarch Kyrill, yet understand the catastrophe that Catholicism is undergoing in the Western world. It is an apocalypse, the end of the road for an institution that has lasted a thousand years. Today Roman Catholicism survives almost only thanks to the Third World. I can see only the Russian Orthodox Church picking up the pieces of collapsed Catholicism in the Western world, no-one else is able to do it. Some people with very narrow vision cannot see this, those with global, long-term vision see differently.
Would you say that Catholics are heretics? There is controversy about this in Russia at the moment.
A heretic is someone who has consciously chosen a heresy, as opposed to Orthodoxy. In this context we have to say that the vast majority of Catholics are only Catholics because they were born in a particular country, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Poland, Cameroun, Ireland etc. I think it would be much more accurate – and charitable - to call the average Catholic a victim of heresy rather than a heretic.
Some say that Russia is still in the grip of adoration of Stalin and that the Russian Church is compromised by this. What do you think?
Stalin was a monster. Patriarch Kyrill knows this because his own father, a priest, suffered under Stalin. He is quite open about this, as are many other senior bishops, for example Metropolitan Vladimir of St Petersburg, who when still a child never saw his father again after his arrest and shooting under Stalin. His heart is still broken by it. Let us see our bishops as human-beings.
The real problem is that Stalin was the national leader when the Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany. Therefore old people see Stalin as a hero. It is like Churchill in England. For old people he is a hero. And yet we also know that Churchill was profoundly racist and responsible for the unnecessary deaths of millions, for example at Gallipoli in the First World War, in the Second World War, at Coventry, perhaps at Pearl Harbour, certainly for the deaths of millions in the Bengal famine and the air raids on German civilians. Some say that his invasion of Italy was quite unnecessary and prolonged the war by a year. But try telling that to eighty-year olds. They will have none of it.
Another new controversy in Russia is that many priests are poorly educated. Is this true in your view?
It is true that some priests there are poorly educated – as elsewhere, just as some are over-educated. But the apostles did not have any seminary education either, most were illiterate fishermen. Why this elitism? The most important thing is to have education from the Holy Spirit, education in the heart.
What would you say of Metropolitan Hilarion, the first hierarch of ROCOR?
We can see Divine Providence on this level too. ROCOR has been blessed with Metropolitan Hilarion of ROCOR, who has missionary vision. We should not forget that he is the first Metropolitan of ROCOR born in the Western world and after the Second World War. This is a generational change and gives us in ROCOR a window of opportunity which we did not have before. Previously, ROCOR had to be intent on surviving, on guarding our heritage of Holy Russia, which we did, despite all the attacks and slanders from the modernists. Today, with the freedom of the whole Russian Church, without persecution, we can direct these energies of Holy Russia to mission in the outside world.
I would like to add to this our own very local situation, where Archbishop Elisei, who was appointed by Patriarch Alexis on the advice of Archbishop Mark of ROCOR, is also a Godsend. For the first time in the history of this country we have a resident Russian Orthodox bishop in Great Britain who is an exemplary missionary and organiser. The Sourozh Diocese is now at last what it should always have been, what we dreamed of having 35 years ago - spiritually and politically free, a real diocese, a real mission and with a bishop, not a personality, at its centre, one who has both leadership and vision. This is unheard of for us here. We are having difficulties believing our eyes, so great have the changes been.
What are these changes?
In the 70s and 80s, we experienced a different layer of Church life, a layer made up mainly of elderly emigres, who had been though World Wars and a Revolution. They had their particular psychology and lived it heroically. Then, in an overlapping period, we experienced another layer of Church life, composed of the children of these emigres, who were dying out, together with converts, with their difficulties and complexes. Today, we have yet another layer of Church life, that of the new, young emigration, chiefly made up of those who have been baptised in the last twenty years. We are now trying to Church and marry this layer and Church and baptise their children.
All these layers, national, linguistic, sociological, psychological, overlap. The situation is complex and multinational. Here are great opportunities, great challenges. We live in different layers of the Church at the same time and we have to hold everything together. This is not difficult if people, as 99% do, follow the mainstream of Orthodoxy. But extremes, for example, converts who do not wish to integrate, we cannot contain, as we have seen in England since 2006.
To speak of a local situation, recently Fr X. in town Z. told us that after two years of missionary work, he still could not get people to come to church. What would you answer?
This is no surprise. We all warned Fr X. before he decided to start this that the last priest before him had abandoned that small group because it was not interested in Church life. As well as this, we warned him that you cannot build a church in two years. We wait for ten years and then things happen. Without patience you will never have anything. And even ten years is too little. For example, the idea of a Russian Orthodox church in Colchester began forty years before it happened! You cannot suddenly appear as a newcomer and expect things to happen. God tests us to see if we are serious. Patience, patience. You have to learn how to walk before you can start running.
I have seen many ex-Anglican clergy who join one of the Orthodox Churches and then a few weeks or months later are ordained priests. It is an error, often a disaster. Think in terms of decades and generations, not in terms of weeks and months. Anglicans have to unlearn everything before they can even begin learning. Otherwise they will carry their Anglican baggage with them throughout their lives. I know of some who even after forty years and more are still profoundly Anglican in their mentality. This is because they never unlearned before they began learning. They have to strip themselves of layer after layer of cultural prejudice first. It is no good switching a lamp on when the walls, floor and ceiling are still black, just as it is no good lighting a fire if you do not have enough fuel to keep it going.
In this sense, a priest’s life is 100 times easier in Russia, Romania and Greece, where he is surrounded by Orthodox reflexes, where the Church has entered into local culture. Of course, when I say easier, I mean spiritually easier. It can be 100 times more difficult in other ways.
What is the main difficulty in speaking of Orthodoxy in Western countries?
It is preparing people to receive the truth. Many people do not want the truth, they want an illusory, watered down, convenience Orthodoxy. They want to build the Church on illusions. This is to build on sand, and not on rock. And when you tell them the truth, sometimes they resent it and they will even accuse you of hating them! In reality, it is they who hate you, because you tell the truth – what they do not want to hear and yet must hear. As the Gospel says, only the truth will set us free. The alternative to the Church is to be enslaved by some human ideology, some ism, the obscurantism of new calendarism, old calendarism, autocephalism, nationalism, liberalism, conservatism. One of the verses from the Psalms that I quote is: ‘I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord’. This is because if you do not tell the truth, spiritually you will die.
In buying the church in Colchester, did you receive help from America?
No, nearly 90% of the money we raised came from English people. Another 5% came from a Belgian man, a generous donor. This American idea is nonsense, there is a myth that ROCOR in America is rich. This always makes American members of ROCOR laugh. Our Church is poor there too. Most of the priests there have secular jobs. I know of only one part of the Orthodox Church in North America which is rich and that is the Greek Archdiocese.
This myth about America is shared not only by some in this country, but also by some in Russia. From there priests contact me about coming here. I explain to them that first of all they need a residence and job permit. To obtain these they first need to speak the language. Then they need to find a secular job here, so as to be able to pay for the rent of a house or flat. After that they need to find premises for a church and obtain all the utensils. My bishop provided me only with an antimension. That is all they will get here. This is not Russia. The rest is the grace of God. Ready-made churches here are virtually non-existent. Of course, when priests know all this, they prefer to stay in Russia, especially if they have more than two or three children. There they have everything, even though life can be very, very hard there in other ways.
What is the greatest spiritual need in England today?
Without the slightest doubt, it is the establishment of a Russian monastery, real monastic life with daily services, matins and vespers, at first in Slavonic, then, in part at least, in English. The monks must be or become English-speaking. The ideal location for this, in my view, is near St Albans, just north of London. This is a vital need for our future.