The Rector of Archangel Michael Church in Cannes, Protopriest Michael, Grants an
Interview to Rossiskiye vesti at the Opening of the Exhibition “Holy Russia”
— A photo exhibit titled “Holy Russia,” organized by the group Culture, Education, Orthodoxy in Cannes is now opening. In your opinion, what is the significance of this event and how is it viewed by the parishioners and residents of Cannes?
— This event is very much needed, it serves as a way of uniting people around the church. Everyone knows that parish life here has been very difficult, yet people are very enthusiastic and excited about the future. Everyone was happy to learn about this exhibition. The newly-reorganized sisterhood prepared the location and decorated the church. Announcements of this event have been distributed all around the Cote d’Azur by the parishioners.
— The group Culture, Education, Orthodoxy in Cannes was only recently formed, though other such groups exist in France, including the Cote d’Azur. In what way will this organization differ?
This group in Cannes is indeed a new one, and it differs in its character from others. Since it is closely associated with the church in Cannes, its lay character is complemented by the participation of clergymen. The Church is very much interested in the proper education and illumination of people. Of course, it is significant that this group’s very name includes the word “Orthodoxy.”
— You were just appointed Rector of Archangel Michael Church. This parish has had a complicated history. Over a very short period of time, just over a year, the rector has been replaced twice—Bishop Varnava and now Fr Maxim Massalitine. Do any problems linger today at this parish?
— Each church has its own particularities. In the Church Abroad, our clergymen have faced the spirit of the Western world, which usually contradicts the correct understanding of parish community. The Church itself is not of this world, but it is comprised of people among whom there is not a single sinless person. I think there is no need for further commentary. In the future we will strive to overcome and resolve all problems in the spirit of Christian love and with great caution.
— One other point—it was reported in the Russian press that there are claims being made on the church’s property. It has even been said that it is possible that the French government will take control of it if the conflict is not resolved. What is the present status of this?
— I don’t know where this information is coming from. In fact, the owner of the property is the Association of Holy Archangel Michael in Cannes. The Association is registered by the French government and is closely associated with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in its charter. There are no such claims on the part of the French or even Russian government. Sometimes the Association needs to resolve certain issues in court, but even then there is no question about the Association’s property. Maybe our case is confused with the matter of the Russian church in Nice.
— If possible, tell us a bit about yourself. How is it that you became a priest?
— As an 11-year-old, I attended the funeral of my first spiritual father and friend, Protopriest Rostislav Gan. I came home and announced to my mother that Vladyka Theodosius appointed Priest Michael Klebansky to replace Fr Rostislav. As soon as I heard the name “Fr Michael,” something inside of me ignited, and I decided that as soon as Fr Michael departs, I would replace him. Since then, I have preserved this vow to the best of my ability. After graduating from high school, I enrolled in the Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville in the United States. After returning to Australia, I married and was ordained by Archbishop Paul in 1989. For many years I served under Vladyka Hilarion as his secretary, and now serve here in Cannes as his representative.
— During my brief visit to Sydney, I witnessed how much esteem Metropolitan Hilarion enjoys among the parishioners of its Orthodox churches. The doors to his fairly modest residence were open day and night for those in need. No one was denied help or counsel. What can you tell us about Metropolitan Hilarion?
— Metropolitan Hilarion is a holy man, lacking any kind of falseness. He devoted his entire life to God and serves the people conscientiously and honestly. As an archpastor, he loves his flock, whether they are righteous or sinners. That is why his door is always open, he is always ready to help. Personally, during my times of crisis, he has helped and continues to help.
— You came here from remote Australia. What in your opinion unites, and what separates, Russians who have found themselves on that distant continent and here in France?
— Everyone who left Russia after the Revolution seemed to be united in their hatred for the godless Soviet Union. But this hatred cannot unite people for long. Only love and brotherly love, and unity of mind, can unite people eternally in Christ. As soon as the Soviet state fell apart and our historic Homeland rose from the dead, the question arose whether we love Russia or only seek a reason to continue our hatred. Every emigre probably saw perestroika in a different way. But the fact is that Russia was reborn before our very eyes. No one in their right mind can deny this. In the US, Europe, Australia and even South America most Russians rejoice for the Russian Church, for the Russian people.