"We must expect only one thing from the ecumenical movement: the baptism of all those who have departed from the Orthodox faith. There are plenty of rivers, especially in Russia"
Hello, dear friends! On air now is our program "The Spiritual Rebirth of Russia;" leading the discussion in the studio is Polina Mitrofanovna. Today's guest is Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Welcome, Vladyka, I am happy to see you in our studio!
We ask your blessing for the large audience of the television channel "Soyuz."
God bless you all, greetings on the holiday!
May the Lord save you, Vladyka! We would like to begin today's discussion with the events of 2007, whose meaning is difficult to overestimate. This, of course, is the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between two branches of the Church—the Church Abroad and the Church in the Fatherland. You have said that the turning point in the rapprochement of these two branches of the Church occurred in 2000, when the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to canonize the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, and the "Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" was developed. Why, in your opinion, did these events become so crucial, leading to the signing of the Act?
Over the course of many decades, the question of recognizing the podvig of the New Martyrs was critical in the relations between the two parts of the Russian Church. The fact that bishops and a portion of the people in Russia could not overcome external pressure and conditions, of course, gave us sorrow—they could not accept the podvig of the New Martyrs, and we knew that this was through no fault of their own, but was a symptom of external conditions, which determined the life of the faithful and in particular of all the church structures in Russia. But after the fall of the Soviet state, we naturally hoped that the time would come when they would be glorified, thereby bringing down the wall between us. We always felt ourselves to be part of the one Russian Church and were not willing to abandon this notion. Many people from different sides urged us to join some other patriarchate, to find sanctuary in some other Local Orthodox Church. We deliberately refused so as not to tear ourselves away from the Russian Church. But we could not deny the division, we could not but lament that there were obstacles to our communion. When, in 2000, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church made the decision to canonize the Holy New Martyrs, this spurred us forward, it forced us to reexamine our positions. And though there were other, maybe less important, hindrances, nonetheless at our Council of Bishops Abroad, we decided to form a commission which would work with representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate to discuss questions which we felt were divisive and where we thought that we must reach an agreement on a proper approach, which both sides could sign off on with a clear conscience. And thank God, these commissions were established, they did their work—I was the chairman of our commission—and I think that we worked conscientiously, though it was sometimes very difficult. Sometimes we did not even expect that we would return to the table the following day, but in the end we saw that we had a great deal more that unified us than divided us. And so after a great deal of work, we found a common tongue (after every meeting of the commissions, each reported to their Synod on the questions discussed and resolutions, and the Synods either accepted or rejected them).
When all was said and done, thank God, in 2007, we were able to sign the Act of restoring unity within the Russian Church. This was a decisive moment in the life of the entire Russian Church. Because, despite the existing division, we had to at some point, sooner or later, come to this unity. Very often it seemed that it was all taking too long, that we must move faster, but in fact, as is always the case in such matters, when we are impatient, as humans typically are, it turns out that this was all good and proper, that it was as the Lord desired it. This is not human will, but Divine will, which is manifested through mankind.
Indeed, a great deal of work was done before the signing of the Act, but, thank God, it did take place, and more than a year has passed since then. What are relations like now between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Church Abroad? Can one say that the people always remained unified in their Orthodox spirit? How do parishioners view this Eucharistic communion?
Of course, the people were always one and the Church was one—despite the temporary, external division, in reality, spiritually, internally, the Church remained one. Still, this unity had to be reestablished externally. The most visible moment was the participation of our hierarchs from abroad in the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church last June in Moscow. All the bishops of the Church Abroad who rule dioceses today and who were able to travel came to fully participate in this Council. This is the external side which demonstrates most clearly, most visibly, that unity has been achieved.
On the parish and diocesan level, this development takes different forms: there are places where our diocese simply mesh, and other places where dioceses or parishes are so distant from each other that they don't sense it as strongly. I can say this of my own diocese in Germany: in December of last year, we had our first joint pastoral conference. We, two bishops of the Russian Church, gathered together with our own dioceses' priests and deacons and held a three-day conference during which we discussed all matters of our daily pastoral lives and work. We celebrated Liturgy together, and before that, all-night vigil, we communed in prayer, we communed of the Eucharist, and also communed on daily affairs. Naturally, when in some city there are parallel parishes, questions always arise. They must be resolved so that it their resolution benefits the one Church, benefits all the faithful.
There may be places where it is not worth preserving two separate parishes, where it is better to free up one priest and send him to another place where a priest is actually needed. But these are all matters which should be decided gradually, organically—not so that one individual decides to eliminate [a parish]. At some point it will become apparent that parallel structures are unnecessary in one place, but good in another. In a big city, for instance, there could be three or four parishes, where there is no competition, but a common effort. This especially important for us, in the diaspora, where people are scattered throughout all the provinces, where the parish does not live around their church, but many people travel 100, 150 kilometers to attend services. Priests, of course, must visit the sick, bring them Communion at home or in the hospital, etc. This is a great responsibility borne by priests, and it is good if there are two or three priests who can coordinate among themselves that today one goes to the hospital, another to a prison, while the third serves in his parish.
Vladyka, you came to Ekaterinburg during the "Royal Days." We know about the view of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia towards the Royal New Martyrs, we know that you canonized everyone who was with the Romanov Family on that tragic night in Ipatiev House. How important for us and for future generations are the events held during the "Royal Days"? How are we to memorialize the Imperial Family of Nicholas II?
I think that first of all we must reevaluate the events which occurred here in Ekaterinburg. Much, of course, has been distorted through false history written during Soviet times—without a doubt, much of the population lives under the impression of the decades of propaganda. Rooting this out, I think, is very difficult; only the new generation can properly evaluate everything, from a new point of view. People who grew up under the Soviet state who heard untruths about how the Royal Family reigned, how the Tsar-Martyr led the country, naturally need correction in their viewpoints. But through personal experience I know that even when you correct this opinion, he will still always be left with an impression different from that of someone who was raised with the correct information. That is why we must now deal with the fact that the new generation still deals with many people who do not properly understand these events.
There are others who learned from the start not to believe Soviet propaganda, but as I have seen myself, they may also take the other extreme. Since they believed in something that never happened, we must take a careful approach. Firstly, I think, the easiest, but also the most difficult, thing is a prayerful approach to the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs as saints of our Church, who communed of the entire fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Tsar-Martyr was a shining example of this, and much of what we know of his life before his glorification attests to the fact that this was a person who acted exclusively on the basis of his Orthodox faith, that this was the ideal image of an Orthodox ruler. I think that it is very important to understand this matter spiritually. For instance, during a divine service devoted to the Royal Martyrs, a person must delve with his heart and mind into what is read and sung in church. Then intellectual work commences, lectures, other forms of information may fill in an incomplete picture some may have. In this regard, I feel, programs such as the ones now and in the next few days are very important in order to formulate an understanding for contemporary society.
Truly, it is often difficult for us, the present generation, to change our view and convictions, but it is important for future generations, to cultivate in our children the proper attitude and conception of the podvig of the Royal Martyrs. Vladyka, for you personally, what does the podvig of the Royal Passion-bearers mean, what is your personal opinion of them?
For me it means primarily the precise development of one's personal life on the foundations of Orthodox traditions, that is, prayer, the Mysteries, confession, repentance, which was very clearly expressed in the lives of the Royal Martyrs. For example, in Germany everyone knows that the Empress had been a German princess; when the Tsar was preparing to marry her, he built a church in Darmstadt for her dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. But the Tsar did not simply build a church, he brought a wagon full of earth from each guberniya of Russia so that the chapel would stand on Russian soil. Such love might be incomprehensible to some people in Western Europe. He felt that a church is needed there, although the Tsarina moved away, still, he wanted her to have an Orthodox church available whenever the rare occasion brought her back to her homeland. This church is a jewel of our diocese, we always hold services there during the Royal Days, on the day of the martyrdom of the Royal Family—this is a center of the spiritual life of our diocese. And I always felt this way, since the first time after their canonization when I came there with a portion of the relics of St Elizabeth.
Vladyka, what are your impressions of the veneration of the Royal Family in Russia, and in the Urals in particular?
I was deeply impressed by how the churches were built here. During my first visit here in 2004, when I came as part of a delegation with the now-reposed Metropolitan Laurus, he was stunned by the Church-on-the-Blood, the churches of the monastery in Ganina Yama, in Alapaevsk; all this was very impressive. I think that for our faithful outside of Russia, this is also a focal point. Many come here alone. This time I brought a small group of pilgrims, and I think that pilgrimages to the holy places of the Urals will continue to multiply. This shows that there is not simply knowledge, but a need for special prayer, special cleansing through repentance, but that contact with what is holy provides hope for the future. That is why young people, children, every day have the chance to see a church and know that not far, there is a church and a monastery devoted to these martyrs—these children are growing up in a new atmosphere, with a new understanding, and for this it will be a natural part of life and a natural world view.
We have a call from a listener. Please go ahead!
-Hello, my name is Olga, I am from Ekaterinburg. Vladyka, bless me!
God bless you.
-I have a question: I am very interested in knowing if there is a monastery in Germany devoted to them? And a second question: what is Orthodox parish life like in Germany?
There are two monasteries. A men's monastery, where I live, has existed since 1945, when our monks moved there from the Carpathian Mountains, having earlier fled the Revolution from Pochaev. This monastery is devoted to St Job of Pochaev, we have ten monks living there now. Almost all the monasteries founded in the name of St Job of Pochaev, in addition to the observing the cycle of prayer, publish books, and our small community does the same. There is a convent founded only two years ago dedicated to St Elizabeth. It also has ten monastics at this time. It is not far from Munich.
The men's monastery has the complete daily cycle of divine services, including Liturgy. The convent does not yet have a regular priest, so the daily cycle of services is held but without the Liturgy, except for once or twice a week.
Since we are discussing your diocese—has the number of parishioners increased in recent times?
Yes, because of the stream of immigrants, mostly those of German descent from Russia, our parishes have grown. Not only do we have more parishes, but the number of parishioners in each church has grown. By the end of the 1980's, our parishes actually began to disappear, we had already planned the closing of several parishes. When the borders opened in 1990, we have seen an increase in parishes, and their strengthening. Of course, a parish in the diaspora has different needs than parishes within their own populations which operate in an Orthodox environment. So in addition to the life of divine services and the Mysteries, social work plays an important role for us, too. In many parishes, people are invited to stay for a trapeza luncheon, and they socialize there. Otherwise, during the course of the week, they have no opportunity to be with people of their own faith. I think that this communal life in Russia requires strengthening.
Vladyka, let us talk about the problems or realities of our modern life. Today, the Church is actively participating in all spheres of social and even political life of our country. But, as before, there remains the danger of secularization, or of our society becoming more worldly. In your opinion, how should the relationship between the Church and the people, the authorities, the government, be established, so that on one hand the confession of Christianity be strengthened while yet avoid becoming a sort of dictatorship: some today accuse the Church of telling them how to live. Where is the dividing line?
I think that missionary work has always been an organic part of church life. The Lord sent His apostles to preach, and the apostles, I believe, had a more fertile soil than we do today. During the time of the apostles, many people recognized the futility of their pagan beliefs and eagerly adopted Christianity. In our day, much has changed in this regard, and many reject the need for such faith. But I think that in society it is necessary for the Church to act on its own initiative—let us remember how the early Holy Fathers preached, how they disseminated the faith. For example, the Kievo-Pechersky saints… St Anthony came, dug out a cave for himself and prayed, and the people came to him. We do not dig caves, but sometimes we build churches, magnificent to one degree or another, large ones, small ones, but these are the centers of our lives, they teem with life. And life itself draws people in, those people who maybe do not know that they are dead without faith, but they can come to understand this. Even passing by a church down the street, a person might become curious, might enter the church, hear something that intrigues him, and through this will adopt the faith. I think that we must naturally take advantage of every opportunity to bring the faith in Christ to the people. In Germany we do this through the teaching of the Law of God in schools—maybe, as a result of my upbringing I take this as a natural part of life. I think that to deprive the children of this source of knowledge means depriving them of an entire half of their cultural heritage. They will never then understand Dostoevsky, or even Mayakovsky, or any Russian writer. They will not read properly without the knowledge of Orthodox tradition and faith. So they will be illiterate, or semi-literate, even if they become university professors.
We must make use of every possibility. If the state has not yet matured to the point of granting this opportunity in its fullest form, I think that it will gradually come to understand that this is vital. For several years now I have heard at the Global Russian Peoples' Councils held in Moscow talk of teaching the Law of God in schools, and I am surprised at how long this is taking. I think this process, though slow, is continuing—a few decades ago one could not even speak openly of this, so we are happy that this is happening, and we must seize this opportunity. Naturally, this also means that we must prepare priests and believers, too, because priests cannot handle all of this. They have enough work—they perform divine services, they have their own pastoral work. We need laypersons who are able to teach the Law of God, who can work with children from the very youngest ages.
God willing, someday our government will accept the teaching of the Law of God as natural. But for the time being, unfortunately, there is a great deal of conflict and debate about this matter.
Vladyka, we have exactly five minutes in our program, but I would like to touch upon a problem which I know you have spent a great deal of time on—ecumenism. We know that our Church is One, Catholic, Apostolic, we know that our faith is true, we call our Church "Orthodox" and unchanging. But we hear more persistent calls towards ecumenism, which originated in the early 20th century. This concept has two meanings: one is a movement for the creation of a global religion, and the other is a narrow movement for better understanding between representatives of various Christian confessions. In your opinion, might ecumenism in the latter sense somehow acceptable, or do you see something alien to us in this principle?
Both I and all of our faithful live in countries where Orthodox Christians constitute the minority; we are surrounded by the heterodox, that is, Roman Catholics and Protestants, mostly. So we live every day in this atmosphere, where we are forced to have relations with all those around us, and we do this on a cultured, civilized level.
We have a very specific understanding of what the Church is: One, Apostolic, Catholic, and, therefore, Orthodox. She is the only one that did not depart from the foundations the Lord gave the Church. All the other communities have apostasized and are in need of healing. We are prepared to accept them, we are ready to baptize them, there are plenty of rivers, especially in Russia, so it will not be difficult.
This is all we should expect from ecumenical activity. There is another, external, or one might say, social aspect, where we can turn to the Roman Catholics, the Protestant, maybe even to Muslims, in the area of common standards, rights or demands. For instance, when we are talking about a civilized approach to human life, euthanasia, abortion, etc. We can join with everyone else who share the same viewpoints, but this does not mean that we will blend with them in regard to our faith. As far as our faith is concerned, we must stand precisely on our position that there is One Church, and we call upon all to come to this One Church, and we rejoice only when a person does. I personally accepted baptism when I was about 20 years old, I was baptized specifically into Orthodoxy, before that I was Protestant. That is why I see this path clearly, towards which I call upon all else. As far as common human values, naturally, we can have relations not only with Christians, but with everyone who supports our positions. And this is very important for a society that is becoming more and more worldly.
Thank you very much, Vladyka! Our time has come to an end, so we ask your blessings for all of us.
May God bless all of you to do the good works that you do.
Interview taken by Polina Mitrofanova
Transcript made by Elena Shonova
August 14, 2008
Pravoslavnaya gazeta, Ekaterinburg