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Orthodoxy in the modern post-Soviet region

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2005.05.22 Sedmitza: Orthodoxy in the modern post-Soviet region. His Holiness the Patriarch s interview to the Patriarchia.Ru portal - Your Holiness, many
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      2005.05.22 Sedmitza:

      Orthodoxy in the modern post-Soviet region. His Holiness the Patriarch's
      interview to the Patriarchia.Ru portal

      - Your Holiness, many children of the Russian Orthodox Church are citizens
      of neighbouring states, and they are celebrating Easter today having been
      though serious social turmoil this year. How could you formulate your
      attitude to the processes within the CIS that have put the Russian
      government before the necessity to solve a new sort of tasks?

      - First of all, I would like to greet all children of the Russian Orthodox
      Church in our country and abroad on the great holiday of Easter. "Christ is
      Risen!" This redeeming news renders all evil in the world powerless. And if
      we partake of the triumph over death and sin that Christ's Resurrection
      brought to mankind, there will be no place left in our lives for divisions,
      passionate opposition or fretful struggles. "I have overcome the world",
      says the Saviour (John 16:33), and in the light of the redeeming feat of
      the Risen Christ our visible victories, based on our self-will, greed and
      mutual antagonism are but illusion and dust.

      The year that has passed has seen serious change in many of the former
      Soviet republics. Our attitude to these processes is defined by the fact
      that the Church is separated from the state in all these countries. It is
      based on the understanding of the fundamental difference between the goals
      set before the state authorities and the Church of Christ. The state takes
      care of the material side of social life. The world at the start of the
      21st century is a very complex structure, within which, various economic,
      ideological, social and cultural factors operate. In this situation, the
      difference in views held by different social groups regarding the optimal
      routes of their societies' development is unavoidable.

      The process of globalisation that Russia and her neighbours are now
      involved in has a very high potential for conflicts, which was shown
      clearly by the situation in the Ukraine and in Kyrgyzstan. We recognise
      this sad fact and testify that the Church of Christ, by her divine nature,
      provides the redeeming truth to everyone irrespective of their political
      beliefs. It is opposed to any forms of division and to the falsely
      understood unity based on belittling man's ontological dignity, on the
      ideology of consumerism and the principle of equality and relative
      importance of any values, - all the things that try to act instead of the
      traditional moral spine of society.

      - Your Holiness, do your words imply that you withdraw from giving direct
      appraisals of the events that took place during, say, the "Orange
      Revolution" in the Ukraine?

      - The Church cannot bring in a political verdict. This is our firm
      position. The 1994 Bishops Council stated that not a single political
      regime or doctrine was preferable for the Church. The 2000 Bishops Council,
      using the 81th Apostolic rule as a basis - "it is not meet for a bishop or
      presbyter to involve himself in popular governance, but may he remain
      unfalteringly dealing with the affairs of the Church" - prohibited
      clergymen's and canonical structures' involvement in political struggle.
      Apostle Paul defined the principles of Christian attitude to the earthly
      powers thus: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there
      is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever
      therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they
      that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (Romans 13:1-2)

      At the same time, we can and must give a moral appreciation of what is
      happening, especially if we are talking about a people whose history was
      sanctified at the very start by the holy Orthodox Church and was for
      centuries accompanied by her pastoral care. This is what defines our
      attitude to the recent events in the Ukraine. We did not support any of the
      candidates on the elections, but we were very worried by the fact that the
      change of authority was accompanied by enmity and opposition. Sometimes,
      people try to realise their own political ambitions playing on the feelings
      of thousands of people who go out into the street to demonstrate their
      tiredness from everyday difficulties and their hopes for a better future.
      The society is cleft in two.

      Such events do not contribute to forming a reasonable attitude to current
      affairs, even less so in a country where the situation is further
      complicated by the opposition between the canonical Church that the
      majority of the nation belongs to and the schismatic fringe groups that are
      often supported by certain influential political forces. But we hope that
      the present political leaders of the country will have wisdom and
      moderation enough to heal up this breach.

      - What is the current ecclesiastic situation in the Ukraine?

      - When I had a meeting with President Yushchenko this January, he pointed
      out specially: "We are not going to order people which church to go to". It
      was also what Mr. Poroshenko, the Secretary of the Ukrainian National
      Security and Defence Council, told me when we had a talk recently in
      Moscow. It was also what President Yushchenko told Vladimir, Metropolitan
      of Kiev and all Ukraine. We can only hope that this is exactly the way
      things will be. But the recent weeks brought worrying tidings form the
      Ukraine, there were cases in certain dioceses when the churches of the
      canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate were
      overtaken by the schismatics. Their property claims were also rendered more
      active. Not infrequently, such actions are backed by the local authorities.
      But we hope that the Ukrainian President and ministers will deal with these
      issues effectively.

      The country's present leaders have repeatedly stated their loyalty to the
      European values, and it gives us hope that they will stand by the policy of
      non-interference in church affairs. The ecclesiastic situation in the
      Ukraine is much too difficult and painful. Any false step may be
      disastrous. That is why we cannot but be worried about the regularly heard
      appeals to give independence to the Church in Ukraine and - which is
      canonically impossible - for it to unite with the schismatic groups. Today,
      such decision would invariably be connected to a surge of nationalistic
      passions and would jeopardise not only the church peace but also the
      political stability in a country most of whose population considers
      themselves to be the citizens of a politically independent state that has,
      at the same time, a strong spiritual union with the whole Russian Orthodox
      Church.

      - Your Holiness, could you comment the recent words of Vsevolod, Archbishop
      of Scopelos, the head of the Ukrainian diocese of the Constantinople
      Patriarchate in the USA: "The Mother Church, the Constantinople
      Patriarchate, believes that her daughter, the Moscow Patriarchate, has the
      canonical territory within the limits that this Church had by 1686. The
      submission of the Kiev metropoly to the Moscow Church was performed by
      Patriarch Dionysius without the consent and affirmation of the Holy Synod
      of the Great Church of Christ."

      - The only reaction these words can provoke is perplexity. Moreover, there
      are still no grounds to think that it reflects the position of the
      Constantinople Patriarchate rather than a personal and highly suspect point
      of view. I would like to remind you that the letter sent by Dionysius,
      Patriarch of Constantinople, was signed by all members of the Holy Synod
      including the Metropolitans of Chalcydon, Lycia, Thessaloniki and others.
      This letter was sent to Tsar Peter and Tsar Ioann, to Joachim, Patriarch of
      Moscow, to Hetman Samoylovich and Gedeon, Metropolitan of Kiev. The
      decision was also co-ordinated with Dosipheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who
      sent his own letters to Russia containing his agreement to the union of
      Kiev and Moscow.

      The dangerous ideas that Constantinople considers the Ukraine to be her
      canonical territory have been voiced by schismatics before, but the
      Constantinople Patriarchate's official reaction has always been direct and
      clear. For example in 2000, such insinuations were called "false" and based
      on "incorrect information" in an official statement. Patriarch Bartholomew
      himself stated officially in 1993 that he only recognises one Kiev
      Metropolitan, namely Vladyka Vladimir, the Primate of the Ukrainian
      Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

      We hope that the Constantinople chair will keep to the canons in solving
      all debatable issues within the Orthodox world. But we were worried by the
      news that Patriarch Bartholomew had a meeting with the Ukrainian delegation
      that came to discuss the possibility of the schismatic groups that had left
      the canonical Local Church in the Ukraine joining his jurisdiction. In this
      sphere, any hasty decision is liable to have grievous consequences. When,
      in 1924, Gregory VII, Patriarch of Constantinople, severed the
      communication with His Holiness the Patriarch Tikhon and stated his support
      of the Bolshevik-backed "Renovation" Synod as the legal authority of the
      Russian Orthodox Church, this decision brought serious problems to the
      canonical Orthodoxy in this country. In time, this misunderstanding was
      cleared up, but such lessons of the past must teach us to be very
      circumspect and measured not to follow the up-to-the-minute political
      trends in our actions.

      I would also like to add that the words of the Archbishop of Scopelos are
      inaccurate not only from the point of view of history and canonical law,
      but common sense as well. It will become clear if we remember that "by
      1686" the independent metropoly of Kiev included the whole of Byelorussia
      and part of the modern Russian Federation's Smolensk region.

      - Some people say that the schism and other church divisions in the Ukraine
      are provoked from the West, including the country's closest neighbour,
      Poland. Do you share this opinion?

      - There is a certain truth in it. But we should better be thinking not of
      what our "well-wishers" from the West do, but what we do not do. Every case
      of an ordinary believer leaving the canonical Church and going over to the
      side of the schismatics is a case of our pastors lacking zeal, of us not
      showing enough Christian love and failing to teach this person the awe
      before and profound understudying of the mysterious nature of the Church. I
      think that Russia as a state must also be more careful about the
      Ukrainians' national self-identification. At the same time, Russia should
      increase tenfold her care to protect our common spiritual and cultural
      heritage in the Ukraine. Deeds, not words are needed to strengthen the
      values that bind our nation together, the values that were formed in the
      common historical swaddling-clothes of the Kiev Russia and were tempered
      during the centuries of our co-existence within one state.

      - Sadly, it is not only in the Ukraine that the problem of schism in her
      canonical territory is urgent for the Russian Orthodox Church. What is the
      current situation in Moldova?

      - Spiritual guidance is given to the Orthodox believers in that county by
      the Moldavian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose ruling bishop
      is Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kishinev and all Moldova. However, as long ago
      as in 1992, the then archpastor of the Moldavian diocese, Bishop Peter,
      places his own nationalistic predilections higher than church discipline,
      following the centrifugal tendencies after the collapse of the Soviet
      Union, and went into schism by proclaiming that a so-called Bessarabian
      diocese under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

      We believe that decision to be illegal, because Moldova is apart of the
      canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church. But the Patriarch of
      Romania deemed it possible to accept Bishop Peter, who was by then
      forbidden to perform services, into his jurisdiction without any letters of
      release, together with his Bessarabian diocese. This created certain
      tensions in our relations with the sisterly Church of Romania. The majority
      of Moldavians have remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, which has
      1080 parishes in the country, compared to the 24 belonging to the
      Bessarabian diocese of the Romanian Church.

      In 2003, the Bessarabian diocese was officially registered in Moldova and
      placed claims on the Russian Orthodox Church's property in the country, and
      then created a "Moscow deanery" which included several clergymen who had
      not been canonically ordained. Thank God, this appalling trampling on
      established church canons was not supported by the Romanian bishops, and
      the Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church charged Metropolitan Peter to
      stop such actions. The remaining problematic issues in our relations with
      the Romanian Church will be discussed at a meeting of a joint working
      group. I hope that we'll be able to reach the proper decision in the spirit
      of love and brotherly concord.

      - Can the recent change of priorities that has clearly been seen in the
      policies of the Moldavian President, Vladimir Voronin, have its toll on the
      country's relations with the Russian Orthodox Church?

      - The relations between us have always been built upon mutual understanding
      and I hope that the interests of the majority of Moldavian believers will
      be taken into account by the state authorities.

      - Last year, Abkhazia and South Ossetia also had to go though serious
      disturbance. Today, the communication of the Orthodox believers in those
      republics with the Georgian Church is discontinued. Many would like to
      enter the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. What is the Russian
      Orthodox Church's reaction to such wishes?

      - We are sorry that the past fifteen years brought the peoples of Abkhazia
      and South Ossetia so many trials, and we are praying for peace and calm to
      reign in those lands again. But we definitely consider Abkhazia and South
      Ossetia to be the canonical territory of the Local Georgian Orthodox
      Church, and we believe that any attempts to reconsider this situation is
      liable to worsen the already unstable church and political situation in the
      region. The Russian Orthodox Church does not dare to produce new schisms in
      Orthodoxy, for we have learned too well what the pain of separation is
      during the course of the 20th century.

      - What consequences can the recent revolutionary turmoil in Kyrgyzstan have
      for the religious life in Central Asia?

      - The revolutionary turmoil could disrupt the normal parish life in some of
      the churches in the Republic. 18% of people living in that country are
      Russians and Ukrainians, and the majority are, naturally, Orthodox. Their
      fate does not leave us indifferent, of course. A lot will depend on how
      well the new authorities will manage to stem the tide of Islamic
      fundamentalism in the Ferghana valley. The threats it carries are well
      understood by the authorities and the traditional clergy of the
      neighbouring Central Asian countries. Recently they have come down very
      hard on religious extremism and terrorism. It is very important now to draw
      a distinct line between the popular movements aiming at the renewal of
      social and civil institutions and the attempts by radicals to use this
      process for destabilising the situation in the heart of Eurasia, which
      could result in a spiritual, cultural and social and political shock that
      will resound all overt the world.

      - Today, there is a stereotype existing in the popular mind that Islam is
      the religion of aggression. What can you say about it? What are the
      relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community in
      this country?

      - I do not think that I, an Orthodox bishop, am in the position to
      characterise other world religions. Al I can say is that, whereas the Old
      Testament has the commandment "thou shalt not kill", the Qur'an has the
      following ayat: "He who kills an innocent man, it is as if he killed all
      men". The adherents of traditional Islam understand these words in this
      way: in the eyes of the Almighty, any human life is more precious than the
      whole material universe. For centuries, Russian people have lived together
      with Muslims in peace and concord. Today, we fond mutual understanding with
      the leaders of the Muslim community in Russia as we discuss the main social
      and political issues.

      In the unique Russian civilisation, a mechanism has been created for the
      peaceful co-existence and even mutual enrichment of Christians and
      adherents of other traditional religions. Russia is the planet's largest
      country, it is a conglomerate of different national cultures and religions
      which gradually filled the space of a united country and accepted its
      values naturally without turning their backs on their traditional ways of
      living. These values were formed during the thousand years of state
      construction, which was led and inspired to a great extent by the Russian
      Orthodox Church.

      Fundamentalism, religious extremism and terrorism are opposed by their very
      nature to the Russian civilisation model. They only appear at the point
      where the living link of centuries-old spiritual experience is broken. In
      this respect, they are direct fruit of this very globalisation.
      Globalisation is the ideology of total secularisation of world-view and
      life. As a result, whereas a person of the traditional culture could raise
      their eyes to heaven and join their own appeal to God with the words of the
      prayers that had been formulated by the generations of their predecessors,
      the modern man often sees just coldness and emptiness. But as a man will be
      a man, the craving for faith and sacrifice is alive in him or her. And that
      is where the falsehood comes in, in the shape of the temptation to give
      simple answers to eternal questions and simplified behaviour. We must
      conclude that the modern Western world, afflicted by terrorism, is in many
      respects reaping the fruit of its own tragic delusions.

      - How do you think is globalisation connected to the religious processes in
      the modern world and what are its particular traits in the post-Soviet region?

      - This issue is much too broad and requires a separate discussion, I can
      give you a few general points. Globalisation, as the consequence of the new
      communication technologies, new opportunities for human communication, is
      not good or bad in itself. What is dangerous is the existing tendency to
      couple it up with the aggressive attack of the western post-religious
      liberal civilisation, which tries to create a new Oecumena which is only
      true to one commandment - the absence of any absolute truth. Its
      persistence in introducing its principles are sometimes worthy of the last
      century's worst totalitarian regimes, smarmed down with hypocritical
      rhetoric. This grindstone threatens to eliminate dozens and even hundreds
      of cultures, in which the variety of human responses to God's design in man
      are reflected.

      Globalisation means a change to the whole system of spiritual and material
      culture. In this respect, Russia and the other countries that once made up
      a united state together with her, are, paradoxically, both the most
      vulnerable and the most well-protected testing field for global
      experiments. They are vulnerable because the changes that are common for
      the whole world were here preceded by internal problems of social
      disruption caused by the collapse of the communist structures. This gives
      certain powers a temptation to try out their most risky geo-political
      projects - for instance, integrating the nations of the eastern Christian
      tradition into the Euro-Atlantic structures and others - in the former
      Soviet republics as the easiest targets.

      None of these projects, however, has been implemented yet. And there are
      reasons to believe that they will be impeded by our recent history. The
      peoples of the Soviet Union had to experience the downfall of their
      traditional civilisation structures almost by a hundred years earlier than
      the rest of the world - in 1917. Seventy years of worshipping man and
      experiments in building the new Babylon have given thousands of people the
      clear understanding that the way out lies not through the synthetic
      religion of the future, not in the thoughtless consumerism or the desperate
      protest of the antiglobalists - there is only one way, and it lies in the
      return to Orthodoxy, to the church tradition and the Fathers of the Church,
      in the appeal to the Risen Saviour, to the jubilation that we express
      during Eastertide with the happy words: "Christ is Risen!"

      - Truly He is Risen! Thank you, Your Holiness, four your detailed and
      profound answers.
      Moscow Patriarchate press service
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