Deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchy’s Foreign Church Affairs Department answers KP readers’ questions
On the president and transfer of power…
Not long ago I looked at your commentary regarding Medvedev’s inauguration. The essence was basically: “It’s wonderful that a peaceful transfer of power has occurred in a friendly atmosphere.” How do the upper echelons of the Russian Orthodox Church feel about the authorities’ actions?
Vadim Vyacheslavovich email@example.com
The Holy Book says that we must not slander our leaders. We are respectful of those who hold state authority if not simply because the people trust them. And the fact that the power has been publicly, kindly passed from one hand to another is a tremendous feat for Russia. This happens in few countries. And it never occurred in Russia before. Today, we see a transfer of power with kind wishes and parting words. It’s a new chapter in Russia’s political culture. And I find this most welcome.
We have gradually begun to climb out of our demographic pitfall. This is happening slowly, but the positive tendencies are there nonetheless. Natural wealth has been given to us to use. I’m certain that a large share of the revenues that these resources bring will reach the people. The Church has spoken in this regards as well.
In terms of weakening manufacturing, I’d like to mention the following. When it comes to poor Soviet production, I’m more of a radical than Chubais, Gaydar and Yavlinskiy put together. We inherited many enterprises from the Soviet Union that we had to close because they produced useless goods. Their lifespans were artificially prolonged for years. This brought no good whatsoever. The businesses ultimately died and their agony threw the hundreds of thousands of people in the balance between insufficient work and near unemployment. We need production that is effective and modern and helps our primary resource to flourish — the mental ability of our people. If we would have preserved the production that we inherited from the Soviet Union and tried to support it artificially, we would have been a laughing stock on our knees long ago.
How much longer can homophobia be endured?
The Church accepts everyone with love including those who are partial to their own sex. But the Church tells them out of love that single-sex intercourse is a sin. It’s a moral sin. On many occasions I’ve said that people who say that homosexuals live happy, joyous lives speak untruthfully. They are sincerely unhappy individuals. I know this from many confessions and life stories. It is not a coincidence that homosexuals die earlier. More homosexuals commit suicide and there are more drug addicts and alcoholics among them. They damage themselves and they need help to change. And here we see the principle “hate the sin and love the sinner.” I am not homophobic, but I consider such sinful phenomena to be dangerous for people. Hence my warnings.
On the Chinese converting to the Russian Orthodox Church
I have a Chinese friend who was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church two years ago. Now he dreams of baptizing all the Chinese. Can you? Do you have enough priests?
Andrey Denisenko, firstname.lastname@example.org
We certainly do have enough priests. In the late 1990s, millions of middle-aged and elderly people came to our churches to be baptized.
I alone baptized many 80 year-old Communists. Some churches baptized 500-600 people each day. The Church will welcome everyone despite nationality or culture. On this note, it is important to remember that baptizing is not merely a formal act. Rather, it is rooted in at least a minimal acquaintance with the Orthodox belief. Today, many churches hold lectures for those interested in being baptized. There is a great deal of available literature. So one must prepare to be baptized as a Christian not only name but in belief and similarly in life.
On lusting after one’s neighbor’s husband
I’m interested in finding out why the Bible says not to lust after your neighbor’s wife, but says nothing about lusting after your neighbor’s husband!!! Isn’t that also a sin?
Among the people who received these commandments, women were chaster than men and chaster than modern-day women…
On the workings and conspiracies of the CIA…
What’s your opinion on the scandal that broke out before Easter concerning the Jerusalem Patriarch Theophilos’ comments about the Russian presence in the Holy Land and the Holy Fire. Who would ever need such provocation?
I am certain that the scandal arose accidentally. Many people called me and said it’s a conspiracy against the Church or a CIA plan…
Several people made loud, careless remarks. And as a result, a wave of emotional commentary hit the Web. Several prominent figures are skeptical about the Holy Fire. Suffice it to say that historian and journalist Sergey Bychkov released a book dedicated to unraveling the mystery behind the occurrence. But most people including witnesses speak of the Holy Fire as a miracle and say something unusual happens in the church.
Let the comments made by the Blessed Patriarch Theophilos about the Russian presence weigh on his conscience.
Today, many people acknowledge the positive contribution that Russia and the Church made in the Holy Land. We have built schools and hospitals, and preserved ancient Christian sanctuaries from desecration. We have given up our people’s lives so that holy places would stay in the hands of the Jerusalem Greek Patriarchy. This was during the Crimean War, waged by Russia to ensure the Jerusalem Patriarchy would continue to exist. If it wasn’t for Russia, it is possible there would not be any Orthodox presence in the Holy Land. So I cannot agree with such a negative estimation of Russia’s and the Church’s role in the Holy Land.
On the sins of fathers and children
They say children pay for the sins of their fathers… Can these sins be forgiven through prayer?
There is no mystical connection between the sins of parents and the lives of their children. It’s a whole other story that these sins often have long-lasting repercussions. This means poor health and relationships with loved ones, or spiritual blackness. Some of our ancestors’ sins influence us also through bad examples or upbringing. Apostolic Patriarch Aleskey has recounted on numerous occasions how he visited Leo Bokeriy’s Center where young children undergo operations for heart failure. When he asked why this happens, Bokeriy answered: “Our parents’ sins.”
But we should not fear a curse connected to our ancestors’ sins. We need to build our own lives in communicating with God, in truth and good. We create our own fate.
On the eternal spirit… of animals
We always lose those close to us throughout our lives. We more or less know where the souls of the deceased go. But we also lose our pets — dogs and cats. What happens to their souls when they die?
“Let all things that have breath praise the Lord.” All things means everything living. Animals feel affection, pain and joy. I believe these creatures will not be left without God’s love after their physical deaths. But I do not know what happens to them. Nothing is mentioned in this regard in the Holy Scriptures.
On the freedom of will, choice, imitation and mass culture
Is everyone really able to handle free will?
Interesting question. There is no unanimous answer. A person has free will. God did not create us with a definite path in life. Predestination is not God’s word dictating what we should do; rather it is His knowledge about things.
At the same time, we see that most people do not build their lives based on deliberate choices. Most people simply look around and do as others do— their neighbors, colleagues, parents, husbands, wives… or listening to what is said on TV. The reality is that many people sacrifice their freedom to gratify crowds, traditions and habits that aren’t always good. After so many years of totalitarianism and godlessness, it is clear that much of what we consider to be “traditional” is just the traditions of rogues and spiritually empty individuals. Today, many people do as mass culture tells them to do. Thus, many people are satisfied with the freedom that allows them to press the TV remote control and from that moment forward they forget about their freedom.
Not everyone is capable of building a life without looking at those nearby, not imitating the actions of one’s neighbors, colleagues or Kseniya Sobchak, not living according to cultural stock phrases that a person hears in pop songs… And trying instead to make one’s own decisions remembering all the while that any sin and vice is destructive and a moral life makes a person happy. When I talk about vices, I do not only mean obviously disgraceful things like violence and corruption. Emptiness and idleness are also vices.
On Orthodox culture and its teaching
Why doesn’t the Russian Orthodox Church defend the interests of believers in regards to teaching its foundations at schools? Why can Muslims (Chechnya) teach their beliefs at schools and we can’t?
The Church speaks rather clearly about the rights of Orthodox believers including the rights of children and their parents to have an education that fits their beliefs. Another story is that the Church cannot and must not slam its fist down on the table, play the role of the opposition and turn into a politicized power. There are many arguments about these questions. They are fragile and serious. We need to admit that no one has thought of any system better than the one that exists in most European countries. Groups with various world views have the free choice to study what is closer to their beliefs at schools. On this note, I am happy that Muslims study their religion at schools. Orthodox children and children of other religions and children of nonbelievers should have the choice to study the foundations of their culture and people.
On injustice and patience
The Church calls on believers to be long-suffering. But what our conscience? Quietly suffering leaves the world’s injustices and violence unexposed.
Long-suffering and conciliation with evil are different things. When others insult me, when my personal interests are damaged, I must be patient. In this way I will train my spirit and receive something far more important — freedom from the evil that enslaves me if I answer insult with insult and aggression with aggression. But we can and must condemn vices in society and state. When someone close to us suffers because of someone else’s actions, we must call these actions crimes or injustice. That’s our duty as Christians.
Why was Nikolay II canonized?
I just can’t comprehend why Nikolay II was canonized. He refused the throne and drove the country into such a state that a revolution was possible. The Tsar’s family were martyrs, yes… But Nikolay II? I can’t agree.
Tsar Nikolay II was canonized not because of his government activity but because he resignedly — with a Christian’s humility and love for Russia — endured the sufferings that crossed his path. He was an honest, religious man. He could have left, saved himself and his family, but he didn’t leave Russia. Regarding his misfortunes… Soviet historiography exaggerates a great deal. Russia was on an unprecedented rise. There were many accomplishments that no one knows about. Suffice it to say that the Baikal-Amurskoy roadways were developed under Nikolay II. And the Soviet authorities could not realize the plans until the 1980s. This is only one of many facts. READ MORE