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Bishop Hilarion of Vienna reflects on Chukotka’s Diomid, opening the doors to other faiths

In recent weeks, the word has spread about a possible schism in the Russian Orthodox Church organized by Bishop Diomid of Chukotka. Some refer to the bishop as a bomb threatening the unity of the Church or a fighter for a purer faith. Others call him an Orthodox ayatollah and provocateur. In late June, the Bishops Council of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate suspended Diomid from his episcopate.

We asked Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative branch in European international organizations to comment on the situation.

KP: Bishop, please explain why so much excitement is giving way right now due to the Chukotka letter published 1.5 years ago?

Bishop Hilarion of Vienna: There wasn’t only one letter. There were several open letters and appeals signed by Bishop Diomid and his clergy, as well as interviews and videos containing his appeals. So we’re talking about an enter series of public statements that are circulating on the Web and in other mass media. Bishop Diomid accuses the Russian Orthodox Church and all its higher clergy, including the Holy Patriarchy, of so-called “heretical ecumenism,” as well as other “digressions from the pure Orthodox faith.”

Q: Diomid backs his accusations with quotes from the holy fathers. I must admit I don’t know much about theology, like many of our readers. But I think any position needs to be supported by quotes from the Bible, Gospel, apostles and other theological works taken from their context and time frame. Just like Soviet literary critics flogged each other with quotes from Lenin…

A: I already had the occasion to talk about the materials signed by the bishop that are spreading on the Web and in anti-Church press. Both on their own and all together, they are provocative, aim to split the Church and plant mistrust in the hierarchy. These materials have been built on lies and disinformation. They target people who know little about the Church.

Q: What is ecumenism? Please explain for our readers.

A: The so-called ecumenical movement — a movement bringing together Christians of various confessions — has existed around 100 years. The Orthodox churches have participated in the movement since the late 1940s. But they refute the opinion of those protestants who believe there is a hidden international church and all orders (Catholics, the Orthodox, Protestants) are branches. The Russian Orthodox Church rebukes this “branch theory” outright. We believe the Orthodox Church is the only true church.

However, our conviction in the truth of the Orthodox Church doesn’t prevent the higher clergy from meeting with representatives from other Christian confessions. Of course, these meetings are held within the frameworks outlined by the Church canons. We aren’t allowed to worship together. This is prohibited by the canons. But we’re allowed to site together at a round table to discuss issues that worry us — for example, the demographic crisis.

Q: It would be strange and absurd if we only spoke with like-minded people — the Orthodox among themselves.

What would the Church’s mission be if it didn’t make contact with other confessions?

A: Sometimes they say: “The Orthodox faith needs no missionary work. The faith testifies to the truth by the fact it exists.”

This phrase gives peace of mind. But I think if the apostles had been inspired by such an ideology and sat behind closed doors at the Holy Cenacle, testifying to Christ’s existence by “the mere fact that he exists,” and not speaking with believers of other faiths, then Christianity wouldn’t have spread across the world.

We must testify to our beliefs everywhere we can, including with other Orthodox confessions.

Q: Return the lost sheep to the herd?

A: You could put it that way. But we don’t only need a dialogue with other Orthodox confessions; rather with all other believers. And they tell us to close the church doors to other Orthodox confessions and faiths. They say don’t let them in or you’ll break the cannons by praying with heretics.

Let’s remember the story of the baptizing of pagan Rus. Prince Vladimir sent his envoys to different countries so they would pick the true faith for the land.

Patriarch Constantinople who was wiser than other theologians of the day let the convoys into the temple even though they were pagans. The beauty of the service impressed them so strongly, they felt: “This is the truth. God is here.” After returning to Kiev, the messengers told the prince that “God is at the temple and speaks to the people.”

Let’s ask ourselves. What if they hadn’t let the envoys into the church as the Orthodox isolationists demand today? If the Patriarch had placed silently obeying the canons above missionary aims? The answer is simple. Rus wouldn’t have become Christian.

Q: Maybe there just aren’t any Catholics or Protestants in Chukotka…

Q: There are other places in Russia where only Orthodox live. Many of our bishops live in the West and they are always in close contact with representatives of other Christian confessions. We can’t ignore them and isolate ourselves.

Many among our parish are in “mixed marriages.” One of my parishioners in Vienna is married to an Englishman. She is Orthodox and he is a member of the Church of England. Their children are baptized and raised in the Orthodox manner. Some Sundays, the entire family comes to our church. The wife and children take communion and the husband prays. Other Sundays, they go to the English church located on the same street. The husband takes communion and the wife and children pray. What’s so bad about that? But if you adhere to Bishop Diomid’s ideology, then I should forbid them from doing this. He says it’s an infringement of the canons and “praying with heretics.” And generally speaking “marrying an Englishman is a sin and lechery.”

An Orthodox believer can enter another church that has sanctuaries esteemed by all Christians. The believer can also enter the church during the service. Thousands of pilgrims from Russia, Greece and other Orthodox countries go to the Catholic church in Bari everyday and pray to Saint Nikolay.

But joint services don’t take place. It’s prohibited by the Church canons.

Q: Why?

A: Joint service would create the illusion of unity between the Orthodox faith and Catholicism, or Orthodox faith and Protestantism. But this unity doesn’t exist. READ MORE

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Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin: “The Church accepts everyone including those who are partial to their own sex”

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 permjak@mail.ru

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.

On homophobia

How much longer can homophobia be endured?

Anatoliy turina@mail.ru

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, denisonaas@yahoo.com

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?

Olga asir213@gmail.com

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?

Aleksandr sagrados@rambler.ru

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?

Karteneya Karteneya@rambler.ru

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?

Alla vlacova@mail.ru

“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?

Valentina valentina-29.08@mail.ru

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?

Bob kbp@utec.ru

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.

AVM zxptr19@mail.ru

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.

Roman savelev77@gmail.com

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