Your Eminence, on the eve of the great holiday of Pascha, people await the joyful renewal of their lives, and of those dear to them, and of their nation. What do you wish for Orthodox Christians, and others as well, as the great feast day of the Resurrection of Christ draws near?
I thank you for the opportunity to address Orthodox people and all those seeking God during these holy days.
The first Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), would say that every church holiday is a mystery within which mankind meets God, and the “holiday of holidays,” Pascha, is the mystery of mysteries.
The Pascha of Christ should be welcomed with a renewed soul. That is the form of celebration I wish for all, by the words of the bishop of the ancient Church of Constantinople, St Gregory the Theologian: “Let your whole life be renewed, let all of your actions be renewed: thus a person is renewed in spirit, thus the day of spiritual renewal is honored.”
Almost two years have passed since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. This is probably enough time to evaluate the progress of relations with the Russian Church in the Fatherland, joint services and cooperative spiritual enrichment. What problems do you see in this area? What are the important things that have already been accomplished?
Much has been written and said about the trips of the church delegation from Russia and the Sretensky Monastery Choir throughout our dioceses, which accompanied the “Reigning” Icon of the Mother of God; about the exhibition on the recent history of the Russian Orthodox Church organized by the Publishing Council of the Moscow Patriarchate at the end of 2007 in the US capital, and the great impression it made not only on local Orthodox Christians but even on those of other faiths and even American atheists.
The “Days of Russian Culture” in Latin America made a great contribution toward the dissemination of Orthodoxy abroad. Participating were bishops, clergymen and the intelligentsia of Russia and the diaspora.
Of course, all of this has borne a great deal of fruit, but most importantly, full ecclesiastical communion has been restored between the two parts of the one Local Russian Orthodox Church. This unity, this peace strengthens us in carrying forth the work of God to which we are summoned, and to do this for the sake of the salvation of people who live abroad.
Metropolitan Laurus, my predecessor as Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, wrote: “We must serve together, pray for each other, support each other in preaching and missionary work, we must hold brotherly meetings, joint pastoral conferences, conferences for the laity, etc… The closer we come to know each other, the more we will trust each other; then the spirit of wrath cannot sow the seeds of enmity between us: through prayer, like arrows, and fraternal love we will fend off its assault.” I think that going forward, with God’s help, we will continue to manifest this legacy of the ever-memorable Vladyka Laurus.
Do you plan to visit Russia?
The forthcoming session of the Synod of Bishops will discuss the possibility of bringing the main holy icon of the Russian Diaspora to Russia: the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, which we call the “Hodigitria” of the Russian diaspora. If the decision is positive, then I hope the Lord will enable me to be a participant of this historic pilgrimage this autumn.
Do you have plans to visit other countries?
With the blessing of the Synod of Bishops, I have been left with the administration of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, which is close to my heart and which is bound to joyous years of my archpastoral service. I plan to visit it this May. During my trip I will have the opportunity to examine the life of the Orthodox Mission in South Korea. In addition to performing divine services and visiting parishes, this trip will include meetings with clergymen and believers, work with the Diocesan Council of Australia and New Zealand and other ecclesiastical organizations.
The internal unity of the Russian Church Abroad after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion remains an acute problem. Is it true that there is a schism in the Russian Church Abroad?
There has indeed been a schism. People who have been duped by the words of the suspended Bishop Agathangel (Pashkovsky) and his close aides have followed him, thinking that they are thereby “saving the Church from heresy.” In fact, in separating from us, they have done that which they accuse Patriarch Sergius of, who tried to normalize relations with the Soviet authorities in order to “save” the Church. But they are not “saving” the Church from heresy and sin, but from the will of God, which has brought the Russian Orthodox Church to the fullness of brotherly communion. If a person is concerned by problems in the Church, he must find a way to resolve them within the Church, not outside of her.
How are you attempting to overcome differences with those who have not accepted the Act of Canonical Communion? Have there been any victories in this area? What is the relationship between those parishes which have accepted the Act of Canonical Communion and those who spoke out against reunification? Approximately how many parishioners are involved?
The overwhelming majority of clergy and parishioners of our Church received the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion with great spiritual joy. Unfortunately, several hundred parishioners in various parts of the world have broken off into various schismatic entities which do not even recognize each other. Having come to realize the benefit of the reestablishment of unity, a part of those who left into schism have returned and continue to return to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Others are following events in the Russian Orthodox Church, and sympathize, but cannot overcome purely psychological boundaries. Still, we hope that this is only a matter of time. When people see that the Moscow Patriarchate is not seeking to “swallow up” the Russian Church Abroad, is not awaiting its “death” or “self-liquidation,” that Russia today needs the rich legacy of the diaspora, they will gradually merge into this unity and the process of the renascence of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Another problem for the entire Orthodox Church is the situation in Ukraine. You have Ukrainian roots, you probably suffer over the continuing conflict. What is your position with regard to the efforts of the Kievan Patriarchate to obtain autocephaly? Are you in communion with representatives of the Kievan Patriarchate? If so, what do you talk to them about? Do you have plans to visit Ukraine?
The ecclesiastical schism in Ukraine is a consequence of political intervention in the church life of the country. It is the Orthodox population of the blessed Ukrainian land that has become hostage of political intrigues. We cannot take seriously the group headed by Philaret Denisenko. The Church has strict discipline established by ecclesiastical laws. These laws must guide us. Philaret was defrocked and excommunicated for his arrogation, but he continues to perform church services and persists in his errors. For this reason his group, having no canonical foundation, cannot be treated as “equals.” The only way out of this situation for Philaret and his followers is repentance.
I am sympathetic to those who speak of fealty to Philaret. The majority of them are simply in error. We must pray for them, we must clarify the position of the Church for them and reveal the essence of the “Kievan Patriarchate” to them.
Today, the world is gripped by a serious economic crisis which is reflected in the lives of almost everyone, at least the laity. Has the financial crisis affected the Church? Do you feel, for example, a decline in donations? Are people angered by the difficulties they face because of the crisis? How are you trying to help people overcome these problems?
Of course, the Church, and our society as a whole, feels the economic crisis. People are donating less, and so we have had to delay some projects and benevolent plans. But we are encouraged that people are gradually coming to understand that the crisis is a direct result of our greed, and that true happiness does not reside in material wealth. The crisis has given us an opportunity to reexamine our attitude towards true values, such as family and the moral upbringing of our children; to help those in need; the take advantage of our opportunities, manifest our talents for the good of our neighbors and the Church; to show in practice what it means to labor, to be patient, to love, to empathize.
It has been a year since you were elected Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Millions of Orthodox Christians in many corners of the world heed your pastoral word. What is the most important thing for people to hear?
The words of the spiritual legacy of St Ephraim of Syria: “Do good to you own and to a stranger as you can; say a good word to both kind and wicked.” In our service, we, bishops and clergymen, must preach not so much in word as in Christian life. With this preaching must we go out into the people.
Thank you, Your Eminence, for your answers! We wish you good health and strength in your service!
I pray for you to have Paschal joy and heavenly aid and call God’s blessing upon you.