Interview with Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain
– Your Eminence, at the recent Nativity Readings, you spoke at the forum dedicated to Sunday schools. In your opinion, how should the subject Foundations of Orthodox Culture, taught in our regular schools, differ from The Law of God, which is taught in Sunday parish schools?
– I think that Foundations of Orthodox Culture must generally touch upon broader topics than The Law of God. The latter is, as we teach it in Sunday schools, a subject which is still connected with the spiritual guidance of young people, usually by a clergyman or layperson who builds his life firmly upon the teachings of the Church, the Mysteries, etc. Meanwhile, the Foundations of Orthodox Culture curriculum covers a broader area and does not need to touch upon purely spiritual matters, and therefore can be taught by those who are not necessarily so closely bound to church life. Of course, one would want them likewise to stand firmly upon the spiritual traditions of our Church, but we cannot expect this of every teacher. So taking into account this difference, Foundations is preferable for public schools. Yet these courses can still lead young people to matters of the church, even children whose families are far from the Church. Schoolchildren could simply refuse to study Law of God, or they would not be allowed to take this class, their parents may not approve. At the same time, studying Foundations can provide a wider missionary effort.
– What subject relating to the study of religion is taught in German schools?
– This subject is called The Law of God, but in fact it is closer to what they call Foundations of Orthodox Culture in Russia. Because in Germany, these courses cover general questions connected to their religious and cultural foundations, they offer information on comparative theology, and the concepts upon which their church life is based. What I refer to in fact as the “Law of God,” if it is taught in schools at all, is taught by Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, just as only our priests teach these subjects, who, of course, must have the proper education.
– Priests who teach in public schools teach the Law of God in their priestly garb, with a cross?
– Of course, and that is not a problem. But in our Church—the Russian Church Abroad—we must keep this in mind: it is rare for us to have enough of our own students in the same school to send a priest. That is why we operate in the opposite manner: we invite students to our church. For each age group, one day of the week is designated when the priest teaches the Law of God. So our priests are busy all week long, with different lessons on different days. The Greeks, who populate some parts of Germany much more, have their own schools, and the Law of God is taught there.
– In Russia, the Foundation of Orthodox Culture is mostly taught by regular teachers—men and women, and not clergymen. And of course, there is a big problem with personnel, with regard to the type of teacher providing the lessons. There is a dilemma: should this be first and foremost a teacher or a believer? How should such teachers be selected, if they are to be selected at all?
– Naturally, I would prefer that this person be deeply faithful and experienced enough in ecclesial and spiritual life. But I understand that this cannot be expected of everyone, and that is a big problem. In the 19th century, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) did not agree with a proposal made to him to submit the entire educational system to the Church. Here we must also be cautious. What is it in fact that we would like to see? I think that general courses absolutely can be taught by teachers who like the subject, find it interesting, and studied it—thank God for that. Let us hope that they will grow themselves through teaching the subject, grow spiritually and be drawn closer to the Church.
– Vladyka, while addressing an audience of children, teachers of various subjects sometimes use a measure of condescension to their students and illustrate the lesson with a light-hearted story, or a joke. How should a teacher of the Foundation of Orthodox Culture approach the topic, shouldn’t he keep an austere tone and maintain a correspondingly lofty level? Can he use humor?
– There are moments which can be treated with light humor, even when teaching the Law of God, or the Foundation of Orthodox Culture. For example, I can tell children that the Lord entered Jerusalem on a mule, not on a Mercedes. Such mild joking is acceptable, I think. Of course, there are limits to everything.
– In your opinion, should the Foundation of Orthodox Culture be a mandatory or elective subject at the option of the students?
– I think that it should be one of two mandatory subjects: either Foundation of Orthodox Culture or lay ethics. We cannot force people to take this course, which is so dear to us. And we shouldn’t wish to. This would even be, to some degree, blasphemous. We must be very careful in this matter; we must not force anyone… But I think that people who know at least a little about Russian culture understand that one cannot be half-educated, one cannot be an educated Russian person without knowing ones culture. Lay ethics will not provide this education. It can provide some rules, but it cannot provide the background which everyone who lives in Russia needs, everyone who calls himself Russian and who speaks Russian. Such a person need the Foundation of Orthodox Culture, otherwise he will not understand, for example, Dostoevsky or Gogol, or all of Russian literature, for that matter.
– Some lay critics, it is true, separate the cultural from the religious. What if the teaching of the Foundations of Orthodox Culture transforms itself into nothing more than a description of the masterpieces of Russian literature or art? For this subject should in principle give one a religious understanding. How does one teach Russian culture and religion in the same course?
– I think this depends mostly on the teacher. In any case, there should be a teaching plan: what is taught to what degree. Within this framework, each teacher is free to move left or right, and he will use latitude naturally. But I think that to study, for example, the literature of the 18th or 19th century, without the necessary spiritual underpinnings, is simply impossible. And if the teacher only says a few words about it, he will still open the door a bit, and the students can later come to experience what it is behind that door.
– So everything depends on the religiosity of the teacher himself?
– Of course, that plays a big role.
– Vladyka, teaching The Law of God in Sunday schools, one way or the other we accent the words “law” and “God.” But Christians are not under the law, but under grace, as Apostle Paul wrote. Corresponding, the question arises: should we hold to the phrase “Law of God” or can another name be found which would reflect the essence of Christianity as a religion, in which people live under the grace of God?
– I think that indeed it would be better to call this discipline something else. We now use the traditional phrase, which contains a sense of a direction which is different than we would like. But we should bear in mind that we don’t like to introduce change in the emigration, specifically in order not to separate from the Russian Church. That is why we are more conservative in many ways.
– In your opinion, what is the most important thing The Law of God can give children in a parish school?
– Children should be brought closer to the most important thing—to Communion, and to everything associated therewith: confession, a churchly, spiritual life and the Mysteries. This is the most important thing.
Interviewed by Hiermonk Irinei (Pikovsky)