“Even While They Teach, Men Learn”
Interview with Hieromonk Iov (Gumerov)
We have already noted that the author of many books and articles, Hieromonk Iov (Gumerov), who lives in Australia, met with the parishioners of Cabramatta. Fr Iov then visited Melbourne, where he kindly agreed to this interview with the online Russian-Australian publication Unification.
- Fr Iov, we sometimes publish your answers to “Questions to a Priest” posted on pravoslavie.ru. You manage to find simple and persuasive answers to difficult and ticklish questions which are within the grasp of people who don’t delve very deeply into religious matters. How are you able to find just the right words, what literature do you refer to, what experiences do you draw from?
- I consider myself an “eternal student.” Seneca’s dictum, “Homines, dum docent, discunt” (Even while they teach, men learn), literally applies to me. My schooling began at age 7. The Lord directed my curiosity towards those things that led me to the priesthood and theology. Philosophy fascinated me when I was in school. We lived on the outskirts of the city of Ufa [Russia]. Not far from us was a library, in which I found the classical works of Renee Descartes, Gottfried Leibnitz, Georg Hegel and other philosophers. I would take these books home to read. When I graduated high school, I wanted to enroll in the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University, but only those with two years’ employment under their belts were admitted. Mama convinced me to enroll in the History Department of Bashkir State University. There I completed four years and began my fifth. But my desire was unsatisfied. Suddenly, the University dean, who knew about my interest in philosophy, suggested that I try to transfer to that department in MSU. Everything went smoothly. I was accepted into the third year. My life became grueling: the dean of that department, Professor V Molodstov, told me strictly: “We are accepting you into the third year, but on the condition that during these semesters you must pass all the exams from the first two years.” I passed them all, but at the cost of great fatigue. After graduating MSU, I began a three-year post-graduate program.
In September 1989, I began to teach in Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, and at the age of 48-49 I took the external exams and labs first for the Seminary (finishing in May, 1990, and those for the Academy the following year).
My extended student career gave me systematic knowledge in science and culture, as well as theology (I have two degrees—lay and theological). This gives me the possibility of answering questions.
- Two contradictory currents of information come from Russia today. In the first we see the fall of morality in contemporary society, money becoming the main focal point in life. On the other hand, the Church is renascent today, churches and monasteries are being rebuilt, that is, the spiritual life of man is growing. How do we reconcile these directions, and which of them takes the fore in Russia?
- There is no contradiction here. Society in Russia has been struck by difficulties. First of all, the disbelief of the masses. This is the legacy of many years of militant atheism. The lack of spirituality leads to immorality. The Church, at the same time, is using its external freedom to be reborn. The exhibition in Manezh Hall in Moscow on November 4-7, 2011 (the Exhibition-Forum “Orthodox Russia: Towards the Day of National unity. The Russian Orthodox Church: a Summation of Two Decades: 1991-2011”), showed the scale of the work accomplished over these twenty years. But one must evaluate the situation soberly evaluation: the moral failings of our people create serious obstacles for internal missionary work.
- When the two branches—the Moscow Patriarchate and Church Abroad— reconciled, some priests thought that there were obstacles which hindered unity, and some even left the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Recent years have proven that unity has brought much good to the Orthodox Church. How do you view the unification of the two Churches?
- I saw this is a joyous and important event. The reestablishment of unity was foreseen by the great St John (Maximovich), who wrote: “The Russian Church Abroad has not separated itself spiritually from her suffering Mother. She prays for her, preserves her spiritual and material treasures and in time will unite with Her, when the reasons for division will fall away” (Kratkaja istorija Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi Zagranitsej [“A Brief History of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia”]).
- During major Russian Church holidays in Australia, thousands of people attend services. On the average Sunday you see hundreds. The number of “churchified” people among those who consider themselves Orthodox but don’t attend services regularly is comparatively low. One can hear guitar music in the churches of Catholics and Protestants. They are trying to introduce an “entertainment” factor. What do you think about this?
- There is only one path—the spiritual path. The Orthodox Christian temple is a place where the grace-filled Divine presence exists. A person must sense in the Church a special kind of joy and peace in his soul. This can be provided by the pastoral love of the priest, his pious service, the splendor of divine services.
- You accepted your monastic tonsure as a mature adult. Tell us about your life before then, what was it that brought you to the Church and then to monasticism?
- Over the course of 14 years, I worked as Senior Member of the All-Union Scientific-Historical Institute at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. My spiritual guide was Priest (now Protopriest) Sergii Romanov, which whom I had contact not only in church, but often at home, and he once told me (this was in the summer of 1989): “You should teach at the Theological Academy.” This notion would never have entered my mind. But since I had complete confidence in my spiritual father, I agreed. Everything happened pretty quickly. At the end of my first teaching year, Archimandrite Georgi (Tertyshnikov), renowned for his work of St Theophan the Recluse, said to me: “You will be offered the position of teaching the Old Testament at the Academy. Do not refuse.” He was the Deputy Inspector of the Academy and Seminary. At first I read lectures on the Old Testament for first-year, then second-year students. I was also offered to teach a course called Fundamental Theology to third-year students at the Seminary.
At the end of May, 1990, Fr Sergii told me that I should request to be ordained to the deaconate. Again, without hesitation, I replied, “Alright.” Soon after I met Archbishop Alexander in the hallway and asked for an audience. He asked “What do you want to talk about?” “Ordination.” He gave me an appointment. When I arrived, he immediately said “On the Pentecost.” Then he added “Come about three days earlier. Live at the Lavra for a bit. Pray.”
In September, my second year of teaching at the Academy began. Fr Sergii then said that it was time to ask to be ordained to the priesthood. Again, I readily agreed. And so once (this was on a Saturday at about noon), the Vice Chancellor of Education called me, his name was Archimandrite Venedikt (Knyazev). He said: “Come today to vigil, tomorrow you will be ordained.” I immediately got ready and left. On Sunday, right before the Elevation of the Cross, between two great holidays, the Nativity of the Most-Holy Mother of God and the Elevation, September 23, I was ordained. And so I took up the obedience of the priesthood. I see Divine Will in this; I did not impose my own will.
When my children grew up (both sons became priests, my daughter finished medical school and became a nurse), I decided to become a monk, to spend the rest of my days in a monastery. I asked my Matushka Elena and the children. They supported me. In 2005, I was tonsured.
- On behalf of all of our readers, I express genuine gratitude to you and hope to again meet with you on the pages of Unification.
Vladimir Kuzmin, Sydney