Orthodox America

“Priest” in “Moscow News”

 The interview below appeared as a full-page article in the June 5 issue of “Moscow News” which has become, in this era of ‘glasnost’, the most progressive and popular publication of the Soviet press. The article, titled simply “PRIEST” in large letters is remarkable not only in showing a priest as a real pastor – and not some ecclesiastical functionary, but also in deliberately “poking” at the Soviets’ long standing condemnation of faith and religion as “unscientific”

      I knew that at one time the priest of the Kalinin diocese, Boris Vladimirovich Nichiporov, had studied in the psychology department of Moscow University. He went on to teach and also defended his dissertation. And then, on the wave of his undisputed professional success, he left for the ecclesiastical field. This step took his colleagues by complete surprise; they found it rather absurd, his friends thought it extreme. But for the then thirty year old Boris it was a way out of a spiritual crisis. The successful young scientist was plagued at that time by many questions to which he had no answers, by many unresolved doubts.

     "Like many others, I had an egotistical thirst for pleasure; [I suffered from] moral deafness, a disregard towards the interests of my neighbor. I tormented those around me, and I was myself tormented. I found ways out from this dead end when I became a believer and, at the age of 25, was baptized. Ultimately, the deciding factor was my entrance into the seminary."

    He knew that the road he had chosen was not to be an easy one, Many obstacles met those who, already having a higher education, wished to enter seminary.

    According to Fr. Boris, the task of a priest is moral reform. But, as everyone knows, to reform is more difficult than to build anew... Three years ago he was appointed to the rural parish of the Ilyinski church, not far from Kokanov.

    "No, I am not a strict pastor. One cannot lead to goodness by moans of severity; it only serves to embitter people. My parishioners need to be healed, not convicted. One must be demanding of oneself. I try to give only such advice that a person is capable of accepting, that lies within his strength.

    "Among my parishioners there is an elderly woman whose life not long ago was a real torture. Her own impatience and anger collided against the difficult natures of the family members to generate such outbursts of deviltry that it seemed the only way out was for everyone to move at once as far as possible from one another. I had many conversations with this woman and those of her household, and I am glad to say that today there is peace in that family."

      One can assume that your former profession is helpful in your present occupation?

    "My former specialty was family psychology. But it was only abstract knowledge. Can a person help others if he himself is in the midst of a deep crisis, if he is exhausted from quarrels with his wife? Wearing a white coat, I advised my patients, but I was unable myself to follow my own recommendations. Not in vain does it say in the Scripture: 'Physician, heal thyself.' What could I teach others when I myself was in conflict with the world and with myself?"

    Among a priest's responsibilities is the constant care of the church, a task which he shares with the members of the church council. The warden of the Ilyinsk parish, Anna Vasilievna, showed me the annual financial statement. The church income for the year 1987 amounted to 61,888 rubles. [Average salary is approximately 250 rubles per month]. Out of this sum comes the salaries for the priest and the reader, as well as for the warden, stoker and cleaning woman. The allotment for the Millennium celebration of the Baptism of Rus' was 2,000 rubles; for the diocesan administration ( various church connected expenses, pension fund, etc.)-13,000 rubles; the Peace Fund [The Church is obliged to contribute to the Fund]--3,150 rubles. These are current expenditures. Additionally, in the past few year s the church roof was repaired (32,000 rubies), a boiler room was built (27,000 rubles), and the frescoes in the church were restored (60,000 rubies). Now we are in the process of putting a wall around the church for which we need to raise 40-50,000 rubles.

     The money for the upkeep and repair of the church is collected, of course, by the believers. But where can we get the necessary building materials? how can we manage to have a telephone installed? to get permission to build a parish hall? Everyone knows how difficult it is to solve these questions.

    "Our problems have met with understanding in the local administration. The secretary of the regional council, Maria Nikolaevna Manenkova, has been very accommodating, and she has the right in turn to expect prompt observance of current laws governing church activities in our society. Relations with the Council of Religious Affairs, which in the Kalinin region is represented by Yuri lvanovich Chistyakov, are likewise conducted on a smooth business-like basis, This is possible primarily because he acts according to the law and does not invent his own set of rules."

    It used to be that when baptizing a child it was necessary to report both parents' passport data to the district committee. Now this anti-democratic procedure has been abolished, One pays ten rubles into the parish treasury, and this is the extent of the formalities. True, in some places the officials, showing 'initiative,' insist on seeing the child's birth certificate which gives information about the parents. And there have been cases in which parents, after baptizing a child, were exposed at meetings, were taken off waiting lists for apartments, etc.

     One of the widespread delusions in recent times has been the opinion that the clergy "lures" people into church, Observing Fr. Boris, I noticed that he keeps his conversation on a calm, even keel, markedly neutral. "I have a rule," said Fr. Boris, "not to offer what is not asked for. My readiness to help a person must correspond to his desire to receive this help ....     It would be absurd to force anyone to come to church. There used to be  a saying: 'He who come s unwillingly comes not to worship God.'

 "Lately, people have become more and more interested in the history of the Church, in its architecture, painting, music. Sometimes this interest is simply intellectual. Many like to talk about how Russia needs God, about how the land is perishing without religion ... But if you ask, "Well, but are you a believer? do you pray. do you go to church?' they are stunned-as though you ruined their pleasant discussion. Indeed, the Church does not demand change in the external conditions of existence; it calls for man himself to change, to reevaluate his views, his behavior, his attitude towards his obligations.

    "I am not authorized to speak for the entire Church, but in my opinion, before mourning for the whole of our Russia, one ought seriously to attend to the state of one's own soul. It is easy to embrace the whole world with a universal love, but it is very difficult to love one's neighbor, one's wife. St. Seraphim of Sarov said: 'Save yourself, and a thousand around you will be saved.' It would not be superfluous to explain that to 'save oneself' in the biblical understanding means to constantly overcome one's sins and failings, to constantly strive towards light, towards goodness.

    "There are two ways of perfection. One consists in the art of concealing one's irritation, anger, hatred and other vices behind a social veneer, courteousness... The second--and true--way is to fight the irritation itself, the anger, greed and other vices. But these cannot be overcome at once; the battle with one's sins is a struggle of the soul over a period of many years. This path does not exclude external propriety. A Christian who is constantly aware of his conscience always knows when he is acting wrongfully and hypocritically, and when he is being simple, full of love and sincere.

     "A man unfamiliar with the Holy Scripture risks being unable to understand a great deal of the world's culture, his country's literature and creative arts. The real meaning of the works of Dostoevsky and Leskov, Pushkin and Blok, Andrei Rublev and Nikolai Ge escapes those who have never read the Bible, at least the New Testament. Whatever one's opinion of the Bible, one has to consider reality. Over the course of almost 2,000 years this book has captivated the attention of millions. And yet, in comparison with demand, these books are published in very small quantities."

    When Fr. Boris walks along the street, a majority greet him with respect; some smirk; someone approaches: "Bless me, Father"; another averts his eyes, while others, driving cars, offer him a ride.

     "I consider obscenity to be a scourge of modern life, on a par with alcoholism and profligacy. Abusive language not only soils the soul, it deadens it," says Fr. Boris, distressed.

    "St. John Chrysostom has a saying: 'Life is living.' The foundation of a fulfilled, spiritual and blessed life is love. This word has been played out: there are songs about love, poems about love... But I think that love is not increasing among people; on the contrary, it is shrinking. As to the reasons for this--that's subject for another discussion. But each man certainly knows whether his soul is 'living,' or dying, rotting...

     "The term 'ecology' has many meanings. It came to us, as did many other words, from the Greek. (It is difficult to imagine the extent of the heritage received together with the Orthodox Faith from the Byzantine civilization 1000 years ago.) This word can be applied to the complex interaction of our spiritual being with the realities of life. Dirty and deadened souls--are these not responsible for having caused the destruction of our forests and rivers?"

     And what counteraction can the Church offer?

     "The Church understands the nature of sin. A man knows: if he sis he will be punished. You may object that fear is a poor teacher. Apostle John the Theologian writes: 'In love there is no fear,' and 'perfect love casts out fear. ' There are however, things one should fear to commit, and that, if committed, one should fear not to repent.

    "Just now in connection with the return of Optina Hermitage to the Russian Orthodox Church, people eagerly recall that Dostoevsky, Gogol and Tolstoy visited this monastery; but the reasons which prompted these renowned writers to go to this monastery are hardly ever mentioned. Why did they go there? Each was seeking his own. They went to repent, to cleanse their souls; they sought advice, support, consolation; they sought those wonderful spiritual gift s--hope, faith, mercy.

    "I am immensely grateful to Metropolitan Alexis of Kalinin and Kashinsk. He saw fit to ordain me to the priesthood and thus gave me the opportunity to serve God, to serve the Russian Orthodox Church and our greatly beloved fatherland--Russia.


(Translated by Vera Kencis )

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