04 August 2010, 14:53
Orthodoxy appears more comprehensible and close to many English people
Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh passed away seven years ago on August 4, 2003. He founded a unique Russian Orthodox diocese in Great Britain and united not only Russian natives, but thousands of English believers. Even Prince Charles came to his church services. The number of parishioners is still growing as new Russian immigrants are joining them. Sacristan of the Dormition Cathedral in London Archpriest Michail Dudko tells Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Verevkina how the parish has changed, what difficulties its members have to face and how juvenile justice interfered in the parochial life.
- Russian oligarchs and elite have chosen England as a favorite place of residence. How actively do they participate in life of your parish and diocese? Do you remember having problems with Russian law-enforcement agencies taking into account that Russian police are waiting for some London parishioners with handcuffs?
- I think you're exaggerating... Certainly, quite different people participate in life of our big parish, but I personally don't ask them anything except their name when they come to confess. Some people want to tell the priest about their life and problems, but it happens only when they confide in the priest. I can't say for sure how many "elite" parishioners visit our services, but basing on general assumptions, there should be some. However, such parishioners don't usually show off and our ideas of who is who at our parish are very vague.
Besides, London is a very big city. It remind me of villagers after the Soviet revolution who used to ask their fellow villager on his return from the capital: "Been to Moscow? Seen Lenin?" Now I'm in a similar situation. People always ask me about oligarchs. All for nothing. While recent tour of the Bolshoi Theatre extended our "elite" flock for some time. Actors came to the service, communed, prayed.
- How Orthodox flock in Britain differs from parishioners of an average Russian church?
- Parishioners indeed differ from Moscow and average Russian believers. Emigrants differ in their temper and inner perception of the world from people who live in their home country. They are more active, industrious and sometimes even more aggressive. They focus on achieving success, they don't want to sit and wait, they choose to act quickly, energetically, immediately. That is why they left their country searching for a better life. It's a kind of artificial selection. It's not so easy to communicate with such people. They have high opinion of themselves, they don't like to waste time, and therefore they need some other forms of pastoral care than in Russia.
- More tough?
- Sometimes, yes, but in some cases quite the contrary. General culture of interaction and behavior in England differs from rules accepted in Russia. English people are champions in everyday courtesy, polite forms in speech. Russians and other immigrants from the former Soviet Union take over them.
But don't be mistaken: the form of communication is more polite and delicate, but the core of it is far from being so, at least it is more concrete. They don't use to open their hearts even to close friends. The question "how do you do?" is used to greet each other, but don't even think it is an invitation to a real talk about the problems bothering you. However, if you accidentally push someone on the street, you should do your best to be the first who says "sorry" as there's race of excuses, no matter who the pusher was.
- And what about appearance of your parishioners, does their manner of dressing differ from parishioners in Russia?
- I can say only for our parish, and here we face the same tendencies as in Russia. The things considered impossible become acceptable. For example, a woman in trousers. I remember there was a time when women in trousers were not allowed into the church in Russia, and there still are some churches that won't let her in.
Our parish doesn't practice expelling such women. You'd better not try to out some of them! Our parishioners have various opinions on the question and they actively share their thoughts with us.
Advocates of strict manner of dressing want women to cover their heads and don't put on trousers. Sometimes they are not newly arrived people, but newly converted Englishmen, who came to the Russian Orthodox Church because they lacked such health conservatism in the Church of England.
One Englishman, a member of our parish, was outraged when journalists accused newly arrived Russians in Puritanism and extreme strictness. Media alleged that we made all women cover their heads while in England it associates with Islam rather than with Christianity. This Englishman assured that it was he, not mythic Russian Orthodox believers, who demanded women to cover their heads. He was fed up with liberalism in the Anglican church and converting to more conservative Orthodox Church, he wanted it to remain conservative, in good sense.
- By the way, are there many English people who come to Orthodox Church from the Anglican Church?
- I wouldn't say there are many of them, but they make a significant part of our flock in London and especially outside of London. Majority of diocesan priests outside of London are Englishmen. Services are celebrated in English with only some exclamations in Church Slavonic, priests almost don't speak Russian in some parishes.
Certainly, major part of them are people who married Orthodox Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs and so on. This step - to adopt Orthodoxy - was natural for them. First, they came here because they wanted to share interests of their beloved, then they became keen on it and adopted Orthodoxy.
Some Englishmen consciously choose the Russian Church. Metropolitan Anthony said that of all Orthodox Churches represented in England, the Russian Orthodox Church gives maximum freedom to newcomers. For example, Greeks coming here position themselves not as just Orthodox, but as Orthodox Greeks, services are celebrated only in Greek. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the services both in Slavonic and English even in the cathedral, and in some parishes the English language prevails.
- What attracts the English in Orthodoxy? Is it conservatism they fail to find in the Church of England or anything else?
- Certainly they are attracted by positive component of the Orthodox teaching, Metropolitan Anthony stressed that Orthodoxy is return to yourself, to the faith of the ancient undivided Church that existed in the territory of England for many centuries.
However, processes developing in the Church of England give impulse to search for a new religious foundation of life. Female priests and bishops, homosexual marriages and ordination of people who promote "non traditional sexual orientation" bother many believers. Some of those who can't accept it just put up with it, others leave the Church - it is not by chance that England today is a very secular country - and some people search for something new and come to the Russian Church to find themselves in it.
- If I get it right, Anglicanism is closer to Orthodoxy than to Catholicism, there was the Oxford movement in the early 20th century that stood for uniting with Orthodoxy...
- There were attempts of closing in with the Anglican Church made by Orthodox believers who were forced out of Russia. For example, Fr. Sergy Bulgakov was searching for meeting points with Anglicans. Renowned Orthodox activists such as Nikolay Zernov were enthusiasts of restoring church unity. Zernov was a founder of English-Russian fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, today the fellowship is still working. A lot of interesting things have been done. Orthodoxy appears more comprehensible and close to many English people.
Unfortunately, today the Anglican Church has changed its teaching and practice.
- Is it true that Prince Charles came to the service? Do you think there's a real interest to Orthodoxy in the royal family?
- I wasn't here then, but there are people who saw him coming. Our parishioner who then worked for the royal family told me about it. It happened when Metropolitan Anthony was alive, at the Passion week. It is known that Prince Charles visited the Mount Athos, and shows interest to Orthodoxy. However, he has a wide circle of interests and visits various places. I wouldn't pay much attention to it. By the way, monarchs here are heads of the Anglican Church, so modern principle of religious freedom are not for them.
- Juvenile justice flourishes in the Great Britain. Do your parishioners fell victims to abuses connected with it?
- Certainly, the things I see in England bother me a lot. I have feeling that local experts, parents and teachers share my anxiety. Modesty, obedience, respect to parents are passing. Teens' behavior is provoking as they know no one will dare to mess around. It's quite routine to call the police and complain of parents' smack, even if it was deserved.
At the same time, children are still very vulnerable. England has recently faced a terrible incident when a baby was systematically beaten by his adopted father and social workers who were guided by juvenile justice haven't noticed anything, though they came to visit the family many times. Last time a social worker and a doctor came when a boy had his ribs and spine broken and was covered with chocolate to hide the bruises. However, they still saw nothing. The boy died without help.
I believe today Russia has all possibilities to protect children from violence according to the law, it is necessary just to apply law properly.
We can invent new laws to see that they don't work because people don't properly use them. At the same time these laws can become a repressive instrument against "extremely religious" parents, and it worries me much.