In an exclusive interview to Interfax-Religion, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church speaks about prospects in relations with the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, sets forth the Orthodox view of the modern mass media and shares his vision of monastic communities as they will be in the future.
- Your Holiness, the present pope publicly criticized the decision of Vatican II stating that the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches are sister Churches. He believes that the Catholic Church is mother Church that alone has preserved the fullness of the truth, and the Orthodox Church should return to its bosom. What do your think of this interpretation of the teaching on the Church and how this attitude of the pope may affect Orthodox-Catholic relations?
- Vatican II, for all its desire of changes, was not at all a deviation from the traditional Catholic doctrine, especially the principal affirmations of Catholic ecclesiology. This also applies to the 'sister Churches' expression featuring in the Dominus Jesus document and the note on this expression drafted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by the late Pope John Paul II.
We cannot agree with these affirmations. The Orthodox Church confesses that it is she who has preserved the faith in its fullness and without any changes since the time of Christ Himself and the holy apostles. History, in its turn, testifies that the Roman Catholic Church has made several deviations from the faith and life of the early undivided Church. In spiritual life, the Catholic tradition has cultivated emotionality which has been always seen as dangerous in the East which seeks spiritual sobriety. Certainly, all these differences are reflected on ecclesiology.
It is my conviction that these issues should become subjects of Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue.
- What is your vision of monasteries in the 21st century? Is it possible today to have monasteries with learned monks who combine work, prayer and science and create new generations of computers? Can the Church give society an example of modernization based on tradition?
- It is not characteristic of the Orthodox spiritual tradition to 'divide labour' between monastic communities as was done and is done to this day by Catholic monastic orders. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that many famous Orthodox monasteries made their own, specific, contribution to particular areas in the life of the Church and the people. For instance, the Solovki Monastery, along with the selfless ascetic life of its monks, was famous for the extraordinary effectiveness of its economic management. Just think, the monks of a monastery located beyond the Arctic Circle grew watermelons in greenhouses! This monastery was an outpost of civilizing and educational work among the peoples of the North. It was a powerful and unassailable fortress that repulsed, among others, an attack of a British squadron during the Crimea war.
No less indicative is the example of the Optina Hermitage that was famous for its pastoral and educational work. It carried out a large-scale program of publishing patristic writings. Many names of the early ascetics were returned to the devoted reader through the efforts of monks of this glorified monastery. Thanks to the wise and comforting instructions given by several generations of the Optina elders, many people escaped slipping into the abyss of unbelief and despair.
There is a plenty of similar examples. I will add that during the Soviet time, too, when most monasteries were devastated, the monasteries that continued monastic life and preserved the tradition remained real luminaries for all those who sought to build their lives according to the gospel. The life of monks was a testimony, sometimes tacit, to the fact people were worthy of other goal in their lives, a much higher one than having communism built by 1980.
Is it possible to revive such service of the monasteries? It is difficult to answer this question as yet. But I can say that to maintain the high level of monastic life is one of the priorities in reviving the Church. Monasics are the vanguard of the Church. One's full-fledged monastic life is always preceded by one's accumulated experience of pious life in the temporal world. The role of monasteries in the spiritual life of Orthodox Christians is very high today too. As for their influence on the life of the people in general, on the development of science, culture, etc., it will inevitably develop. But it should be realized that a necessary condition for such influence lies in the authentic inchurching of society, which is unthinkable without decades of hard work, ardent prayer and educational efforts. We have to not only revive the traditions of our ancestors but also try to apply the experience they gained in the ardent fulfillment of Christ's commandments and seeking the Holy Spirit to the present historical conditions. It is in this I believe that the principal task of monks will lie in this 21st century.
- Archbishop Vsevolod (Maidansky) stated recently in Kiev that the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognizes the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate only in the boundaries as they were in 1686. Yet at that time the Kiev Metropolitanate, as is known, did not include the territories of the Crimea, Novorussia, Transcarpathia, Donets Basin, but did include Byelorussia, the Baltic countries and the Smolensk region. What can be the consequences of calls to a total rearrangement of the boundaries of Local Churches?
- We hope that the statement made by Archbishop Vsevolod does not express the official position of the Church of Constantinople. Any one-sided review of the existing canonical boundaries, not negotiated with other Local Churches, may lead to destabilization in the entire Orthodox world and very negative impact not only on the relations between the Patriarchate of Moscow and Constantinople, but also the whole system of inter-Orthodox relationships. Such a review may affect not only the Russian Church but almost every Local Church and provoke many conflicts, thus delivering a tangible blow on Orthodox unity and on the standing of Orthodoxy in the world in general.
- It is not for the first time that the Patriarchate of Constantinople makes an ambitious step. Will the claims of this Church be given a canonical appraisal?
- The key problems of pan-Orthodox nature await their solution at the pan-Orthodox Council, the preparations for which regrettably have almost stopped at present. At the same time, there is an urgent need to bring up for discussion by the whole Orthodoxy the issues which give rise to differences. Sometimes we resort to consultations with primates of Local Churches by correspondence, in writing. Nevertheless, we believe it necessary to establish effective mechanisms for achieving conciliarity on pan-Orthodox level. This opinion is shared by many primates of Local Orthodox Churches with whom we have had an occasion to meet in recent years.
- The Russian Minister of Education, Andrey Fursenko, has declared bluntly that he is against the Basic Orthodox Culture course. What is your comment on his attitude?
- Such utterances speak only of one thing: we have to continue our dialogue with the authorities and society so that the monopoly of the atheistic worldview, which established itself in the Soviet time, may end at last in the Russian education system.
If the Preamble to the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organizations refers to the special role of Orthodox in Russian history, why then the school curriculum keeps silent about this role? Why our young compatriots have no opportunity for receiving in school some competent and reliable knowledge about the faith that underlay the great achievements of their ancestors? Haven't decades of theomachism and atheistic ideological diktat convinced the authorities and society of the destructiveness of any attempts to tear the state and the people away from their religious roots?
- Some Orthodox zealots of devotion propose to restrict access to the Internet, condemning television and other media. What is your attitude to such prohibitions proposed on behalf of Orthodoxy?
Regrettably, the modern mass media give many occasions for censure. There is a muddy flow of violence, debauchery and propaganda of irresponsible consumerism coming from TV screens and pages of the press and electronic editions. But let us be honest to the full and answer the question: Is it not the preferences of viewers themselves that determine the contents of TV programs including those which propagate licentiousness, violence and various vices? Certainly, this does not cancel the responsibility of those who bring unbridled vice to TV screens and pages of newspapers and magazines. But it should be borne in mind that the moral atmosphere in society is shaped by the moral choice of millions of people. If each person resolutely rejects the dirt infused in his or her soul and sets on the path of Christian works, then the propaganda of sin will simply lose its target audience.
It is quite clear that the Internet and television are only technical means that can be used in different ways. It is inadmissible that they should be disregarded only because somebody has put them at the service of sin and vice. In all times the Church has used every opportunity for preaching the gospel. Roman roads represented great achievements of the human civilization at that time; they became ways for spreading the gospel. Look at the map of St. Paul's missionary journeys: the paths he walked from city to city, from one community to another were military and commercial roads of the Roman Empire. The Internet is a no lesser achievement of the modern civilization. It has long become a means of brining the Christian message and I believe that our resources have been far from exhausted in this respect. The same is true for television - a powerful mass medium which is the most accessible for an ordinary citizen. The Church is extremely interested in her presence on television, for this presence gives her an opportunity for brining the word of Christ's truth to every home. It is not for the first year that the creation of an Orthodox TV channel has been discussed. Moreover, the need for such a channel is felt not only by Orthodox believers.
It should be borne in mind that there are forces in the world that would be only pleased to see Orthodox Christians locking themselves up in a social ghetto, deaf to the challenges of time, silent and unresponsive, instead of being witnesses before their neighbours and the whole world to the infinite richness of life in Christ. How shall we stand before God's judgement if we do not use the numerous opportunities offered us by our time for preaching the gospel? We have no right to keep silence, for our Christ-loving ancestors will not forgive us for silence and faint-hearted escape to isolation.