From Russia, with Love
Do you believe the government is staying within the boundaries?
Yes. We don't feel any pressure coming from the political authorities.
How do you view Russia's Soviet period? Some say church leaders made the wrong choices in that difficult time.
Well, when I became a priest, the Soviet Union was still in existence. I didn't live in the time of the severe persecutions, when the church was being exterminated, when priests and bishops were killed or imprisoned or sent into exile, when churches were ruined, monasteries closed. But I started my ministry in the time when the church was still under very strict control by the state, and I remember how difficult it was for Christians to be Christians on a daily basis. Many were hidden Christians.
What insight do you draw from that period?
Some people say that the church made wrong choices. I don't think this was the case, because the church had to exist under the conditions that were set without consulting her.
This was the same situation that existed in the first centuries of Christianity. For example, we read how the early fathers tried to prove that they were loyal citizens of the Roman Empire in spite of its pagan character. Addressing the pagans, they said, "We do not bow to the emperor's statues, because this is not allowed by our tradition, but we pay honor to him in all other respects, and we are loyal citizens of the state." This is what the Russian Orthodox Church from the time of Patriarch Tikhon on tried to tell the Soviet authorities, that a person can be a believer and at the same time be a loyal citizen of the state. Of course, the situation of total control of church life by the Communist regime was a very unhealthy situation. But this was the only situation in which the church could live.
Sometimes official representatives of the church had to pay the price in order for the church to exist. For example, in the 1960s and '70s, the church was heavily involved in ecumenical activities, in what were called peacemaking activities. Representatives of the church went abroad. They engaged in various meetings, for example, dedicated to disarmament. If asked whether there were persecutions of the church in Russia, they strongly denied it. But in exchange, the church had the possibility to exist. Theological seminaries functioned. Monasteries functioned.
A choice between two evils—is that how you would describe it?
It was a choice between two evils.
What role can the Russian Orthodox Church play in world evangelization?
Christ created his church not just for private use but also for missionary purposes, and the church has a missionary imperative that must be embodied in the concrete forms of preaching and evangelizing.
Some say you can be a practicing Christian in your home and your family, but you should in no way exhibit your Christian commitments in your public life, especially if you are a politician. I believe that a Christian should be a Christian everywhere. And if he is a Christian and a politician at the same time, then his political agenda should be motivated by Christian values.
In our country, some people say the church exists in order to provide certain services to people when they need them: to baptize children, to marry couples, to organize funerals, and to do services in the church.