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Patriarch 's interview to the correspondent of the BBC Russian Service

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2005.12.28 Sedmitza: His Holiness the Patriarch Alexii s interview to the correspondent of the BBC Russian Service - Your Holiness, you have been Patriarch for
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2006
      2005.12.28 Sedmitza:
      His Holiness the Patriarch Alexii's interview to the correspondent of the
      BBC Russian Service

      - Your Holiness, you have been Patriarch for more than fifteen years now.
      What gives you most joy and causes you most concern in the relations
      between Church and the state, the Church and the society?

      - The normal relations that have been achieved between the Church and the
      state authorities in Russia and the majority of other CIS countries is
      definitely one of the main achievements of the last fifteen years. The
      alienation has been bridged over, and today, the Church and the state
      interact on all levels.

      But there is a mistaken idea, widely spread especially in the West, that
      the Russian Orthodox Church is trying to acquire the status of an
      established, state church. History teaches us that such a status can
      seriously impair church service, limiting her powers and getting in the way
      of her free mission. The Church appreciates the freedom that she has
      acquired and is not willing to become part of the state machine. At the
      same time, I belie that Orthodox Christians are liable to expect that the
      state authorities will co-operate with them more than with others.

      There are several reasons for this. The contribution made by the Russian
      Orthodox Church into the establishment of the Russian statehood, the
      Russian culture and national identity was crucial. The Russian Orthodox
      Church is the country's most numerous religious community, it enjoys the
      trust of millions both in Russia and abroad. Her pacifying and uniting
      word, full of internal power and moral authority, has saved the nation many
      toms from plunging into the maelstrom of ethnic conflict.

      - A number of public discussions, concerning, for example, the proposed
      school course of Foundations of Orthodox culture, or the situation around
      the Warning:Religion! Exhibition at the Sakharov Centre highlighted the
      relations between the Church and the society. Is there a gap between the
      Church and the liberal part of society?

      - Atheism could not have and has not gone in an instant. For seventy years,
      people were brought up to be atheists. The moment we start talking about
      introducing the Foundations of Orthodox Culture course into the school
      curriculum, even as an optional course, we meet instant rejection and lack
      of understanding in many places, including the Ministry of Education.
      Several regions, though, have started teaching those optional courses, and
      both teachers and parents are very happy about it. Any cultured person must
      know the history of his or her culture. Ignorance about Orthodox culture
      impoverishes a person. Our culture is rooted in the thousand years of
      Orthodox Christianity.

      - Your liberal critics say that Russia is a multi-faoth and secular country...

      - I think that citizens who are Muslims or Buddhists would also profit from
      knowing the culture of their own country. Moreover, we actually welcome the
      idea of introducing similar courses on Muslim or Buddhist culture in the
      regions where the adherents of those religions live, they way it is already
      being done in Tatarstan and Bashkiria.

      - What is the Russian Orthodox Church's attitude to human rights? Many
      Western churches have defined their attitude to them, and to the freedom of

      - We have always stood for human rights. Recently, President Putin said
      that in the USSR, the Russian Orthodox Church was the only opposition
      organisation. We are very happy about the freedom that has been achieved.
      Today, religious organisations can preach freely, and not only serve their
      rites, the way it was defined in the 1929 law on religious organisations.
      This freedom was gained a long time ago, at the end of the Soviet period.
      In those days, I was an MP, and we worked on a new law that would describe
      freedom of worship. It was very hard, because Soviet lawyers thought that
      1929 law to be ideal, whereas in actual fact it promoted discrimination,
      because it prohibited religious education or social service. Today, we are
      enjoying the possibility to teach and perform our social service, trying to
      help any person who addresses us.Â

      - The Russian Orthodox Church and you personally, Your Holiness, constantly
      remind the people about the terrors of the communist rule. Every year, you
      serve a memorial service for the thousands of people who were shot on
      Butovo test-field in the Moscow region. Are you not worried about the
      incipient tendency to whitewash the Soviet past in Russia? How should the
      past be treated?

      - We cannot reject our past completely. People in the Soviet Union had
      security, ample social help, free medial treatment etc. The people who lost
      all their savings during the sudden reforms of the early 1990s were, quite
      naturally, not at all happy about the new order. But concerning religion,
      the Soviet state was discriminating. In the 1920s or 30s you could be shot
      for your faith, and churches were destroyed as late as in the 1960s.

      - Do you think that Russia has already reached the point at which it will
      be reconciled with its history?

      - There are attempt at this reconciliation. For example, the remains of
      outstanding Russian ИmigrИs, such as writer Ivan Shmelev, General Anton
      Denikin, philosopher Ivan Ilyin have been reburied at home. I think that
      time will smooth over this confrontation. Today, German war cemeteries
      which appeared during WW2 are already being restored. On the field of
      Borodino, there are memorials both to the Russian and to the French
      soldiers, but they appeared when time had gone by. Time has to soothe and
      heal the bitterness. It will finally eliminate the circumstances that have
      kept our nation torn apart during and after the civil war.

      - What is your opinion on the first months of service of the new Pope,
      Benedict XVI? What is the current state of affairs between the Russian
      Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church?

      - It is still too early to talk about any particular changes in our
      relationship. We are happy about the new Pope saying that the dialogue must
      be continued. We hope that the words will be followed by deeds.
      Unfortunately, the practice of Catholic proselytism in Russia, Ukraine,
      Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, is still present. Catholic missionaries try to win
      over people, especially children, who have been baptised into Orthodoxy, to
      the Catholic Church. Many Catholic missionaries establish orphanages, and
      they accept children who have been baptised to be members of the Russian
      Orthodox Church and bring them up the Catholic way. The existing
      confrontation in the west of Ukraine has not been overcome yet, either,
      where the Greek Catholic Church is very aggressive towards Orthodoxy. In
      Lviv, there is not a single church where services in Ukrainian could be
      held for the parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow

      - In this connection, has the transfer of the chair of the Greek Catholic
      Church from Lviv to Kiev aggravated the relations of the Orthodox Church
      with Vatican and with the Greek Catholics themselves?

      - Yes, it has. It is clear that there are a lot of Greek Catholics in the
      west of Ukraine, but in Kiev, the flock if this church is minimal. The
      construction of the huge Greek Catholic cathedral is apparently aimed at
      developing proselytism and the Greek Catholics strengthening their foothold
      in the central Ukraine.

      - Many people think that a meeting with the Pope, held in a neutral
      country, could alleviate the situation.

      - You see, this has been discussed since 1997. But we have a different
      standpoint on this meeting from that of our Catholic counterparts. What
      shall we meet for before the TV cameras? To show that there are no problems
      between us? But there are problems. We must overcome them first, and them
      meet. Such top-level summits are not usually meant to be the time and place
      where issues are solved. They must be very well prepared. For such a
      meeting to be possible, the issues that worry the Russian Orthodox Church
      must be resolved.

      - But the problems that worry the Orthodox and the Catholic believers are
      the same. Secularisation, spreading of sects, consumerism...

      - On those issues, our positions are the same. For example, when the
      European Constitution was being discussed and they decided to exclude the
      paragraph that stated Europe's Christian roots, Vatican stood against it,
      and so did we. The whole European culture is based on Christianity. We have
      points of convergence with the Roman Catholic Church, and this gives us
      hope that the number of such points may grow.

      - Before Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, have you ever met him?

      - No, I didn't have the pleasure.

      - Returning to the situation in Ukraine. Many people in that country are
      for establishing an autocephalous Orthodox church, independent from Moscow.
      What do you think the development will be?

      - After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many newly-independent countries
      got the idea that an independent country should have an independent Church.
      But it's hardly possible for fifteen autocephalous Orthodox churches to
      emerge in the territory of the former USSR. We understand that Ukraine has
      a very large territory and millions of believers. We granted considerable
      autonomy to the Ukrainian Church in the matters of administration, finance,
      management, publishing etc. We have kept the unity in prayer and in spirit.
      As I have told the Ukrainian leaders repeatedly, we cannot break those
      spiritual ties. History and the Lord will never forgive us if do. I likes
      the words of Vladimir Litvin, Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, when he
      was greeting Metropolitan Vladimir, Head of the Church of Ukraine, on his
      70th birthday. He said that the state must not interfere with church
      affairs, but in the contrary, listen to the Church's opinion.

      - Do you feel this interference?

      - We do, all the time. For many years, some politicians have been trying to
      establish a Church independent from Moscow at any cost. But this means
      tearing a living unity apart. We have so many mixed marriages, so many
      common saints.

      - What is the state of affairs in the reunification with the Russian
      Orthodox Church Outside Russia? Many people expected the communication in
      Eucharist to be restored this year. What about next year?

      - The dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is fairly
      successful. It is premature to tell when the dialogue will end as yet. Five
      joint sessions of the Committees of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian
      Orthodox Church Outside Russia have been held. Many issues have already
      been solved, which gives us hope that the remaining problems will also be
      settled. Our Bishops Council has approved of the position of the Moscow
      Patriarchate. We are now waiting for the General Council do the ROCoR,
      which will take place in May 2006, and for its decisions. We have already
      restored the communication in prayer. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside
      Russia delegation, led by Metropolitan Laurus, took part in Patriarchal
      services during their visit. But the eighty years of division have
      undoubtedly left their scars in people's souls and minds. This division
      must be overcome. But the political reasons which led to the establishment
      of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia are now non-existent.Â

      - Will the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia remain
      autonomous if the reunion does take place?

      - Yes, we believe that they must enjoy considerable autonomy. But the
      Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church must be prayed for at the services,
      which will manifest the unity of the Church.

      - The parishes of the Russian Exarchate of the Patriarchate of
      Constantinople, of which there are many in Europe, have not joined the
      talks yet, have they?

      - Well no. Some clergymen are in favour of rapprochement, others are
      against it, we still cannot boats any great success there, but we are
      always open for dialogue and co-operation. We are still remembering the
      late Archbishop Sergius, during whose reign the communication in prayer
      between us was restored. It was a real breakthrough.

      - Your Holiness, what would you wish to the BBC audience on the eve of

      - I would like to wish the audience of the BBC, all believers of all
      confessions, to feel that God is with them. And if He is with us, and we
      are with Him, it is easier for us to overcome all hardships and trials on
      our way. I hope that the new year will bring us less anxiety, worries and
      shocks. May it be a year of peace, construction and wellbeing.
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