Patriarch 's interview to the correspondent of the BBC Russian Service
- 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
- 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 ÐmigrÐs, 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
- 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.