A talk with Archpriest Maxim Kozlov, professor at Moscow Theological Academy, author of the study on Orthodoxy and Western Christianity, rector of the church of the Holy Martyr Tatiana at Moscow State University.
- Father Maxim, relations between the Orthodox Church and Catholicism has become tense recently due to Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz’s statement that it is undesirable to introduce Basic Orthodox Culture in Russian schools. After the statement, bishops of the two Churches exchanged an intensive correspondence which resulted in Cardinal Kasper’s coming to Moscow. How will you comment on this episode?
- The incident provoked by the statement of Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz is rather characteristic in today’s situation, both within the Catholic Church itself and in Orthodox-Catholic relations. Certainly, we can see now a certain volte-face, in personalities as well, in the Vatican administration to run down to local Catholic administrations, too.
Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz is a clear protégé of the previous pontificate. A man who is, without doubt, also personally devoted to John Paul II and fitting in the concept of how the Catholic Church should act in Russia, i.e., the stake was made on the Polish clergy or clergy close to the Polish tradition. Though Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz himself is formally a Byelorussian, the orientation is clearly towards Polish Catholicism. There is a certain dissonance between these people and new people and their attitude expressed, say, in the statements by Cardinal Kasper or Nuncio Antonio Mennini who give us hope for an improvement in Orthodox-Catholic relations. It can be considered positive anyway that to date the Vatican administration has refused to defend Kondrusiewicz by any means for the sake of esprit de corps. And in reply to the very timely and very correct letter from DECR vice-chairman, Bishop Mark, to Nuncio Antonio Mennini, asking whether Kondrusiewicz expresses the position of the Catholic Church, Mennini, with certain sophisticated diplomacy, actually denounced Kodrusiewicz’s statement and officially stated his conviction that the Catholic Church has always supported and will support the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church for religious education in our country and has always stood for teaching religion in school in predominantly Catholic countries. He did not mention Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz by name, but actually reduced his statement to a private opinion not coinciding with the official position of the Church.
I think it is an important moment, and perhaps our policy in relations with the Vatican and Catholic clergy and administration of the Catholic Church should be to develop some positive principles which we can be seen in the new pontificate and to open the door for communication in this respect. The more so that the first statements made by Pope Benedict XVI have opened a real field for joint efforts, which will not be ecumenical at all, in the bad sense of this word, but which are prompted by the present stage in the development of the Western and, to a considerable extent, Russian civilization. These common efforts consist in opposing the modern ideology of humanistic secularism, which is essentially a new official totalitarian ideology of Western liberal society. The first serious statements made by Benedict XVI contained criticism of this ideology, since a whole serious of crises are brewing there, such as a crisis in Spain provoked by the proposal to legitimize homosexual marriages and other similarly painful situations. If Benedict XVI really concentrates the efforts of his pontificate on gathering the strength of the Catholic Church to oppose secularism, first of all, in the territories which have traditionally belonged to the Catholics, we will not be opponents here, but allies, because there is something in which we can help each other and learn from each other. God grant that this tendency prevails. Incidentally, it will be very significant, because the entire previous life of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the life of a perfectly traditionally-minded Catholic theologian. To a considerable extent, he was more traditionalist then John Paul II. It is not accidental that his office itself as president of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the successor to the Inquisition, the office in which he had to struggle with deviations from the official Catholic doctrine. We know that he did it resolutely enough with regard to both the liberals of the Kung’s type and hyper-traditionalists, such as Marcel Lefevre or, say, theologians of liberation in Latin America, who tried to combine Christianity with participation in revolutionary movement. And if he now manages to maintain this position of his as now the pope, it will indicate that the healthy forces, healthy principles, still have a chance to prevail in the Catholic Church. If now, at the age of 76, having turned from a cardinal into the pontific, he will have to effect volte-face, it must become clear to us that even the personality of the pope in the Catholic Church does not determine anything. It means it is involved in certain global processes so much that it is no longer capable of resisting them. So the nearest months or one or two years will be highly indicative.
- Father Maxim, you described Benedict XVI as direct successor to John Paul II. Can this succession be also applied to the Catholic proselytism on the Russian soil?
- Of course, if we look back at the history of the Catholic Church beginning from the second half of the 19th century in her relations with Russia, we will see how two tendencies alternated. One tendency - psychologically understandable but ecclesiastically and politically very superficial - is to play mean tricks on Russia as an Orthodox power by defending the Poles (as was the case during Polish rebellions in the 19th century), playing other minor dirty trick of diplomatic and political nature (as, say, during the Russian-Turkish war). Another tendency - a wiser one - is to come to agreement with the supreme Russian administration in the awareness that we are not enemies in principle in the context in which Europe is developing now.
John Paul II, as a man who experienced that confrontation between East and West as capitalist and socialist systems and a man who went through an atheistic system as a bishop, was certainly impelled to take the former path in everything. And he did take it. Perhaps I will now express a paradoxical point of view, but it was for us an act of God’s providential permission in some way, because to stake on the Polish Catholicism in Russia is always a complete dead-end. It was also providential that throughout the years of our weakness as state and church in the early 90s when the initial growth of our churchliness was only instinctive, the Catholics in Russia were headed by Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and most of the clergy were Polish priests not of the best kind, who were not very much wanted in Poland herself and came here either to be as far away from the episcopal authority as possible or that authority readily sent them away from its territory. They brought over traditional snobbism towards local God-searchers and were accepted mainly by some Russian intellectuals who for some reason believe that Catholicism is a kind of liberal Christianity. More people repelled than accepted them. And all those extremely unfortunate steps they made establish dioceses in place of apostolic administrations… What have the Catholics acquired except for a radical aggravation in relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian State? Well, nothing, except for Kondrusiewicz’s supposed intentions to bring them closer to a cardinal’s cap. There are no other rational reasons visible behind these actions.
I think Benedict XVI is a man free from these clichés. And for him, relations with Russia are not burdened by a set of national problems, problems of a small nation included for the last centuries in the complicated knot of relations with the Russian Empire, as Russian-Polish relations are perceived by every Pole. Therefore, this measure of freedom gives us hope that the Catholic Church in Russia will now listen in a much greater measure to what the Orthodox Church thinks. And the present activity - Walter Kasper’s visit, his meeting with Metropolitan Kirill, Mennini’s statement in reply to the letter from Bishop Mark - gives a certain hope for a development in this direction. Not everything though is so unambiguously cloudless. One of such, I would say, distressing developments in the beginning of Benedict XVII’s pontificate is the hysteria, he has supported, about a speedy beatification of John Paul II. True, the Pope of Rome in the Catholic Church is above every institution and can break all the rules established by other popes. In this case, the point is an evident break of the rule according to which the procedure of beatification should begin at least five years after the death of a person. But here he seems to yield to a certain PR pressure acting with regard to the name of John Paul II who by no means was such a bright personality even in the Catholic Church and whose pontificate was not marked with only bright features. As one of the participants in the recent conclave said, who wished to stay anonymous, ‘He was a pope under whom stadiums were filled but churches emptied’. It was really so. When he traveled around the world, hundreds of thousands and even millions would gather, but the emptying of churches went on increasingly, at least in Europe and America and, to a considerable degree, in Latin America. So one must not be charmed by the image created for John Paul II. Indeed, what has happened is an evident thing, which is, by the way, to be thought over in our addressing the mass media technologies. Though John Paul II’s personal rating and personal popularity were very high and he was repeatedly recognized as the man of the year, his personal popularity in no way helped to consolidate the position of Christianity in most countries, except for Poland perhaps, and that only within a certain chronological period. Everywhere the same retreat continued, visible in the laws adopted and in the tendencies steadily increasing in the public consciousness throughout his pontificate. It was probably not without God’s permission that the pontificate of John Paul II concluded with a notorious pedophiliac scandal in the United States of America, which was fanned up of course by the mass media. But it was not accidental though that it happened precisely in that country.
- And what in general has brought such extraordinary popularity to John Paul II? We remember this recent agitation around the death of the pontific in the Russian mass media.
- Well, John Paul II certainly revealed a certain new face of an utterly conservative institution, and this always attracts people. He did not become such as all his predecessors actually were: no pope traveled so much around the world, no pope communicated so much and so freely with people around him, no pope worked so thoroughly on his own image in the mass media. This is, by the way, a good theme to reflect on, namely, how modern mass media form the perception of a particular phenomenon or a particular person. At the same time, if you ask those in overwhelming majority whose attitude to John Paul II is positive whether they remember anything from his teaching or his admonitions or whether they read any of his books, they will answer in the negative. Therefore, speaking objectively, John Paul II was not a theologian of consequence. His treatises on ethics, which he wrote before his election and then developed in many encyclicals, do not represent anything original or interesting. His poetry puts him in the rank of secondary Eastern European poets of the period from the 60s to 80s; his plays would hardly provoke an interest, if he were not the Pope of Rome. He is an image of television more than reality.
As far as the attitude to John Paul II in Russia is concerned - in the mass media or in the membranous circle of Russian-speaking Catholics, statistically negligent and clearly not even approaching the fantastic figures of 600 thousands or a million and a half given by Kondrusiewicz - there is a classical delusion of the Russian intelligentsia that Catholicism as compared to Orthodoxy is a civilized Western democratic or liberal-democratic replica of Christianity. It is not at all so. This is an absolutely false image drawn only from some external aspects, such as availability of pews in churches, permission to wear more easy clothes to church, more free participation in the liturgy then it is in the Orthodox Church. But doctrinally, from the point of view of internal freedom of a believer in his attitude to God, his own conscience, faith and church canons, it is not at all so! The rigidity of Catholic doctrine becomes clear to anyone who opens at least the new catechesis of the Catholic Church, adopted under John Paul II in 1992. The trouble is that nobody nowhere in no weather has read these books. The image is created only on the basis of purely external factors and ideas. In the performance of my professional duty I have to read every now and then the forums of Russian Catholics. Periodically they ask themselves what has attracted them to the Catholic Church. Well, only one or two of all would write that they came to the Catholic Church by a conscious choice of faith. Through studying Scriptures and church traditions they came to the conviction that St. Paul was the corner-stone of the Church and they needed his successor, the Pope of Rome, to maintain the Eucharistic communion with the Church and to be in the church fullness. For the rest, a lot of other impulses worked: some came to like John Paul II, some clashed with malicious babushkas in an Orthodox Church, some studied Spanish culture and read some mystic, while others liked Merezhkovsky, still others Vladimir Solovyev, but nothing really profound to determine one’s choice of faith.
- Father, what is the basic difference between the Orthodox and the Catholics; what was the main cause of our rupture?
- We can say that Western Christianity, the See of Rome, during certain centuries of its existence, deviated and has ultimately deviated from the extremely hard burden of responsibility and freedom of Christ, which should be assumed by every Christian, not only the supreme bishop. It is very understandable religiously and psychologically that one wish to shift this religiosity on to somebody. Here is the Pope of Rome and it is sufficient to hold on to him and you will never err. It is much more difficult to live in a situation where you know that the Patriarch of Constantinople may also prove to be a heretic, and the Patriarch of Alexandria a schismatic, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem whatever he is now, and the Metropolitan of Kiev may suddenly turn out a defrocked monk anathemized by the Church, and nobody will guarantee anything to you, as there is only your own responsibility before God and the Church and your own faithfulness to the Truth. And this temptation to shift responsibility faintheartedly on to a senior once prevailed in Western Christianity, in the Catholic See of Rome. Hence the consequences which can be long and in detail examined in history.
- In this connection, one cannot probably speak about possible unification between Orthodoxy and Catholicism?
- I think guess-work about the future is something abstract, but I am deeply convinced that even if such unification of Catholicism with the plenitude of the Universal Church (indeed, it is proper to speak in strictly dogmatic terms of the unification of the See of Rome with the plenitude of the Universal Church) takes place, it will be effected not through a theological dialogue, not through ecumenical relations, but through such a action of divine Providence in human history in which, according to St. Paul, what we see now through a dimmed glass darkly will then be clear like face to face. And if it ever occurs, it will occur in the times close to the last ones. A very literary but still very vital image of such unification was depicted by Vladimir Solovyev in his Three Conversations, an absolutely non-ecumenical, but prophetic book about the end of the world history.
- How should a Russian Orthodox Christian perceive Catholicism?
- One should understand that the Orthodox Church cannot do without the Catholics. We can live without Pentecostals or Baptists (well, Russian Baptists are too many now to be ignored) or some Methodists or others. It is all the same whether they are or they are not. Now one of them comes, does some nodding, gives some humanitarian aid, it’s all right. If he begins doing something bad, we will turn away from him. Now there is the World Council of Churches. We participated in it and what? - Nothing came out of it, and we can participate in something else. We will unite with the Russian Church Abroad and will pull out of it, and no trace will remain of our presence in it. But in case of the Catholics it is impossible to close on ourselves or to declare war, because we have to live with them and feel their illnesses. When they recover, when they are stronger, when they have a reasonable man for the pope, all in all it is good for us.