Orthodox America

  “Round Table” in Moscow

Archpriest Victor Potapov conducts a discussion with Orthodox activists; Moscow, June 11, 1988 
(Continued from last issue)


Fr. Victor:. Zoya Alexandrovna [Krakhmalnikova] raised the question of the Russian New Martyrs and Confessors. In the keynote lecture given by Metropolitan Juvenaly as part of the program at the Bolshoi (June 10, 1988) in celebration of the Millennium, he himself raised this question in roughly these words. He said: we are asked why the New Martyrs of Russia were not canonized at the Local Council. 

And the Metropolitan replied to the following effect: "We did not want to inject political emotions into the spiritual celebration of the Millennium." As you all know, several years ago the Russian Church Abroad joined to the choir of saints the whole multitude of Russia's New Martyrs and Confessors, believing that by their blood they had, as it were, baptized Russia with a second baptism. And now, approaching the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus', the Church Abroad considers it essential that believers be reminded about the New Martyrs and about this second baptism. I should like to hear your thoughts about what was said by Metropolitan Juvenal Was the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia a political act, as he claims...? And not only he, but even some Christians in the West hold this opinion. All of you are familiar with the journal "Vestnik" [published in Paris]. Just prior to the glorification of the New Martyrs there came out an issue with a rather interesting discussion on this subject; even the editors of this journal expressed the opinion that this was more of a political than a spiritual act.


Fr. Gleb Yakunin: For us, of course, this is a crucial issue. It is an issue which is very painful and close to our heart. Already in the '70's we turned several times to the Moscow Patriarchate requesting the glorification of the New Russian Martyrs. And I am deeply persuaded (this is one of my principal religious feelings) that those positive processes which are taking place in our country--what is now taking place at the political and historical levels and which can in essence he called a' miracle this is undoubtedly the influence of the Russian New Martyrs. The fact that only the Church Abroad glorified the New Martyrs is, of courser extremely disappointing. But, as we know, in the Church there is a canonical foundation: if even three bishops, who have the grace to perform an ecclesiastical act, this is surely an act which has a powerful echo and a reflection in the heavens... And the glorification of the New Martyrs has surely opened the way for them to act upon the course of Russia history. What is now taking place in our country, the inner renaissance, this is precisely in the spirit of the New Martyrs. In our country we are now witnessing a rebirth from a deeply fallen social and political life; suddenly some flowers have poked through; a spiritual renaissance has appeared. This is, of course, a miracle which was surely influenced by the New Martyrs.

     Concerning the words of Metropolian Juvenal, forgive me, but here, of course, one cannot agree with him. To glorify the New Martyrs now would be a courageous move. But if, let us suppose, suitable political and historical conditions for their glorification are lacking... Well, the very fact that he spoke on this subject, this is already something positive. But if these conditions are lacking, then the Russian Church should at least serve a memorial for those who were killed and perished, at least during the period of Stalinist repressions -- something which not long ago we petitioned the Patriarch and the bishops of the Russian Church to do. And note--Metropolitan Juvenal says that our hierarchs do not want political passions. Well, here is a plain fact: at the Local Council a pannikhida was served for the soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Of course, we sympathize with those mothers who suffered a senseless loss of their children. And if there are Christians among them, of course we should pray for them. But there exists a definite hierarchy of values, and the Russian Church should first of all pray for the New Martyrs, or at least the millions of innocent victims of the Stalinist repressions. The more so since political conditions today are favorable. One has the impression, unfortunately, that the Church is still influenced by forces from the period of stagnation, from Brezhnev's circle, who want to cover up this unjust war with the authority of the Church...


Fr. Georgi Edeishteim I would suggest that the tragedy of the Russian Church is not that she doesn't want to get mixed up with politics. The tragedy is that in our country the Russian Orthodox Church is politicized through and through. Our Church is becoming more and more occupied with political matters. At no time in the entire course - eight years-of the Afghan war did the Church say a word about this war, which from the very beginning should certainly have elicited the most severe condemnation from the Church. The New Martyrs were not glorified precisely because the Russian Orthodox Church finds itself entirely within the power of an atheist state, and the Council for Religious Affairs does not approve such a glorification. I have no doubt that the glorification at the Local Council of the nine saints was thoroughly discussed beforehand in all the official circles outside the Church. The glorification of Dimitry Donskoi was a purely political matter; the question of the glorification of Metropolitan Makary--purely political. When the Russian Church will in actuality be separated from the State, then I am sure that the question of the glorification of the New Martyrs will immediately be raised. /.../


Victor Aksiuchits: In the jubilee issue of the journal Vybor, an editorial preface is titled "A Millennium Crowned by Martyrdom." And truly, universal Christianity began with martyrdom. Rus' accepted Christianity very peacefully; within a hundred years it was a traditionally Christian country. But this thousand-year formation of an amazingly unique Christian culture ended in catastrophe. Now we are faced by the question: what are the historical and spiritual muses of this catastrophe? This naturally raises another question: how are we to get out of it?


What are the means of rebirth? Martyrdom! According to the words of the Holy Fathers, we know that [the blood of] martyrs [is] the seed of the Church. Martyrdom has given us the way out, an exodus. We exist today only because millions accepted tortures for the sake of faith, for the sake of preserving the dignity of the individual. In fact, martyrdom is the spiritual foundation of our existence, of each person individually and of the Church as a whole. And for this reason the recognition and glorification of martyrdom will be for the Church simply a recognition of this fact. The Church will be free and will reach her full stature only when she acknowledges this mystical and spiritual fact concerning the foundation of her existence.


Andfei Bessmertni: ...I am deeply persuaded that the Church is awaiting a directive from above, for them to say: You may, you may glorify. Then she will do so. Why are we so passive? I understand that our hierarchs were brought up, unfortunately, in the period of stagnation and frightful persecutions. But still, we should; it's obvious that it's also pleasing to God. Is it really that difficult for our hierarchs to make an independent decision? They are waiting for orders from above...


Priest Valery Lapkovsky: I don't understand why in the West, and specifically in the journal Vestnik, the act of glorifying the New Martyrs is regarded as a purely political and not a spiritual act. They seem to be trying to diminish the very significance of the glorification. When will we at last cease to divide religion from politics? Several here have expressed the opinion that whether or not the Church is silent or engages in current events, she in any case finds herself in a political relationship with what is happening in the world.        /.../


Victor Antonov: In glorifying [new saints] the Church always relied upon popular opinion. And it seems to me that in this case popular opinion is in favor of the glorification of the New Martyrs. I personally know, from meeting with various people, how greatly those who suffered martyrdom in the course of the last 70 years are venerated. And it is not only intellectuals who are gathering information about them; one can find unique testimonies about the New Martyrs even in the hands of simple people. For this reason, the glorification of the New Martyrs--this is the voice of the people.

        What served at one time as a point of division and elicited criticism that this was a political act... this was the person of the Tsar. It must be said that this approach belonged by and large to the intelligentsia; among the common people veneration for the Tsar is actually quite widespread. I know, for example, people who have icons of him hanging in their homes and who are trying to have some chapels dedicated in his memory. Concerning Metropolitan Juvenal's claim that this was a political act... it seems to me this can be turned around: it is the non-glorification which is the political act.


Zoya Krakhmalnikova: I think that this is a spiritual problem, although it stems, as all do and as has already been stated, from a political problem. Today the communists are glorifying the martyrs of their own communist ideas. Today we hear that persecutions affected all spheres of our society science, culture, writers, absolutely all areas of social life. Our hierarchy claims that our Church alone was untouched by persecution, that in the course of 70 years---judging from all the epistles which our hierarchs address to the flock--our Church has been flourishing. We are always "grateful" to everyone. At first we were grateful to comrade Stalin, then Brezhnev, Andropov... We are grateful to the Leninist norms. Our patriarch said that he was grateful to the government for observing the Leninist norms. But under Krushchev, during the time of the so called "thaw," when there was the fiercest persecution of the Church, there wasn't a single newspaper that didn't mention the triumph of Leninist norms. And at that time 10,000 churches were closed. I repeat, this is a spiritual problem.

      The Fathers of the Church teach us that there is coming a time when there will arise a so-called "insensitivity to the loss of "virtue" that which is foretold in the Gospel: and God will send them strong delusion (II Thess. 2:11). If this were not so, then Metropolitan Juvenal would have recalled the Gospel passage in which it is said that all those who suffer for Christ will be slandered.... You will recall that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was proclaimed an enemy of Caesar. He was the first political criminal, the first "extremist" in the religious sphere. It was the high priests, the religious leaders who gave Him over to death. This is the life of the Church; this is the life of faith; the Church consciousness must always elucidate and explain this All the apostles were "political criminals," all confessors were "political criminals" or "traitors" or "spies". Look at the lives of saints. There is scarcely a single martyr, or a single confessor who was not accused either of being a traitor or of engaging in some kind of counterrevolutionary conspiracy--the same accusations brought against our contemporary martyrs...


Felix Svetov: I would reply differently to this question. It seems to me very important to formulate for myself the question of the New Martyrs and our martyrs and confessors in general, central to the celebration of Orthodoxy in our country, today, when the jubilee of the Baptism of Rus' has taken on such amazing and unexpected, for us, proportions. In a Moscow crowd there are priests walking about in cassocks and pectoral crosses, something we haven't seen before; we've seen big black limos out of which step magnificently clad church hierarchs; conference-halls hold readings, discussions of theological questions; theologian-philosophers make presentations, our writers; on television screens these same cassocks flash before our eyes constantly, jeweled crosses, churches, cathedrals. My neighbor, an elderly woman, asked me: "What is going on? I'm not a believer, not baptised. I remember when I was a Pioneer, we ran after priests shouting insults. I remember being taught in school that religion is the opium of the people. What is going on today?" I think that in order to answer this question, one must answer it first of all for oneself. This is more important than entering into polemics with these theologians, philosophers, Soviet writers, even with our hierarchs.

      I think that this jubilee and we are its contemporaries---is a truly great occasion. This is above all a celebration of the victory of Orthodoxy, which has taken place in the course of all these thousand years that the Lord has granted to our Church. It began with the miracle of St. Vladimir; it continued with the spiritual heroism of our first passion-bearers, Boris and Gleb, with the martyric crowns of Great Prince Michael of Tver and Metropolitan Philip Kolychev. And if we go further, we draw near to our own times; then the triumph of Orthodoxy was surely in the '20's and '30's, beginning with the martyric crowns of Metropolitans Vladimir and  Benjamin, the Solovetsk bishops. If we go further, we shall recall those whose names we know and those whose names we don't know and who are doubtless written in the Book of Life, then this will be a triumph of Orthodoxy. Let us also recall the '60's, the time of the Khrushchev persecutions, that barbaric destruction of churches and religious literature, which covered the Church with blood. If we go still further, we recall.., the beginning of the dissident movement, the work of Frs. Gleb Yakunin and Eshliman, right up to that of Fr. Vladimir Rusak who today is serving a ten-year term of imprisonment [He was released October 23]....It is precisely all this put together that is the victory of Orthodoxy. To this day, when we are thinking about all of this, each of us prays for those people who have offered this sacrifice for the sake of the Church--this is the victory of the Church, our celebration. And for this reason, the behavior of our hierarchs, who deny the persecutions...

      I'll give an example to make myself clear. During the time my wife was being investigated at Lefertovo prison, a KGB lieutenant once said to her: I’ll show you an interview which a foreign correspondent held with Patriarch Pimen, in which he said that we never had and do not have any persecution of religion." Two years later, when I was in prison...my cell-mates shoved a newspaper at me in which there was printed a decree bestowing some Soviet award on Patriarch Pimen. My cell-mates said to me: "What is all this you say about the Church... Just look at your Patriarch Pimen." And I understood that this very award was the price paid for false witness, which our Patriarch, our chief hierarch, vested in authority over our Church, allowed himself, and of which he has still not repented.

And for this reason this discrepancy between the celebration of our Orthodoxy and the behavior of our hierarchs is to such an extent ruinous and frightful that it pots our Church in a bizarre situation from which we must help her find deliverance. Because until our church consciousness, the consciousness of the Orthodox people, recognizes the abyss which lies between the true life of our Church and the false witness of our hierarchs, until then our Church will be neither free, nor what she is meant to be.




Fr. Victor:. From all that has been said, one has the impression that the Church finds herself in a kind of Babylonian captivity. Should she, under such circumstances, celebrate the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus' at all? Is it proper? If yes, then how?


Victor Antonov: I think that it should have been celebrated above all because there is here, of course, the will of God, and circumstances have radically changed; the whole country has seen and has learned that which it never could otherwise have learned about the Orthodox Church. And besides, in spite of the limited conditions and the pomposity which marked this celebration, the celebration itself will have a positive effect on the spiritual atmosphere of our country. /.../


Andrel Bessmertni: ...The very fact of the celebration and its presentation by means of the mass media throughout the country--this is already a kind of sermon. I think that the majority of truly active priests and bishops would agree with this.

      I hope that this celebration is not the sum total, but rather a starting point...


Fr. GlebYakunin: One of the principal shortcomings of this celebration, in my opinion, is that believing people, practically speaking, took no part in the celebration, the proceedings. As far as I know, at the entrance to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra one

had to present a pass. And there were four categories of pass----clearly defined gradations.

      The Pope of Rome travels all over the world, and in stadiums gathers close to a million believers who together partake of the Sacraments. We've all been to Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, and we know very well that it wouldn't be difficult to organize outside the walls...some sort of dais, to set up an altar there to have a service, to set up a speaker system on the walls and give the faithful an opportunity to participate in the festivities, even those who find themselves outside the walls, beyond the territory of the Lavra. And then one could invite literally tens of thousands of people; there's a lot of free space there. And they could thereby participate in the prayer. Our hierarchs, in fact, fenced themselves off from the people, it was the same at St. Daniel's Monastery. There was an enormous crowd there, and no one knew or saw what was going on inside the walls.

      ...There was talk that a lot was going to be done by the Moscow Patriarchate, that all kinds of brochures were going to be published, leaflets, icons, not to mention medals, pins and crosses which were to be available to believers in churches; and that there were to be many Bibles and other literature. It was suggested that we spend the Vigil together with the people so that more of the faithful would come and so that they would participate in the Liturgy and, if possible, receive the Holy Mysteries. But, unfortunately, that was the extent of it... In our church the faithful were unable to receive a single cross, a single leaflet, a single icon. So the ordinary believers weren't given any help whatsoever by the Patriarchate. /_./


Vladimir Zelinsky: I think that the best way our Church could have celebrated this jubilee would have been a mass printing of the Bible for the people. /.../


Zoya Krakhmalnikova: In all our discussions today a distinction should be made between the atheist authority, which in each case grants or denies permission to the Church, and the episcopacy, which effectuates the celebration...

       When I recall this feast and how it was celebrated, I am reminded more and more often of the prophetic legend of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor. There the Church is transformed into an obedient, comfortable herd. The Inquisitor says in all honesty: "We have eased your struggle." In this legend the people weren't supposed to read the Word of God...to have access to Christ... to know the Sacred Scriptures.

       Zelinsky said that it should be important at this feast to present everyone with a Gospel. But just think, in churches a Bible costs 150 rubles [Equiv. to $240, or more than half an average month’s salary]---a Jubilee Bible which was published for the occasion of the Millennium. For 70 years there have been no prayer books, no writings of the Holy Fathers, no soul-profiting Christian reading materials; just yesterday people were thrown into prisons and camps, into psychiatric hospitals on account of books. The priests themselves... I know a case in which a priest saw in the altar a book of St. Ephraim the Syrian's writings and called the warden. The warden in turn called the KGB workers who came and conducted a search and removed the book. This is what we have come to today ....

       It seems to me that there has been a great deal of propaganda in this jubilee. Nevertheless, this jubilee is for us very dear, because it is our celebration, a spiritual celebration. We repeat this again and again. But in the barrel of honey there is a spoonful of bitterness--and that is that we did so much for show... Our visiting bishops travel to the West in order to take there a pack full of false ideas, in order to tell about the "freedom" of the Church, to give false witness, and in doing so they harm not only our Church--in fact the Church cannot be harmed, she is spiritually free they harm first of all their own souls, and they also harm Western Christians....Why distort Christianity, why deprive it of its glory, its profession of faith, its martyric exploit, its affirmation of the works of Christ on earth? Why invent a new, propagandistic Christianity? I would call it Christianity according to atheism, something the atheists are imposing [on us] today. Yesterday they imposed it and today they are still imposing it upon our preachers who visit the West.


Fr. Georgi Edelstein: I should like to differentiate the celebration of the Millennium as a festival of the Orthodox Church and as a festival of the State. We all saw that at the Local Council, to the right of the Patriarch sat comrade Kharchev. What is he doing at a celebration of the Millennium? In all its years of existence, the Council for Religious Affairs has been concerned with only one thing--to crush the Church by all means available to it. In every photograph, to the right of His Holiness the Patriarch there was always Kuroyedov [Kharchev's predecessor as chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs M. note]. He was present at every banquet. Why should Orthodox Christians wine and dine comrades Kharchev and Kuroyedov?

      ... We have celebrated the Millennium because for 70 years the Russian Orthodox Church has been praying that our government come to its senses. And I am deeply convinced that today's perestroika is the fruit of the prayers of the Russian Orthodox Church and the fruit of martyrdom--about which so much bas been said today. '


Priest Valery Lapkovsky: What is the life of a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church? It is the unceasing joy of serving our Lord Jesus Christ in every place of His dominion, but above all in the altar, in God's temple....In these memorable days of the Millennium, in our atheist plagued country, there are many, many priests who are groundlessly barred from serving at the altar. And for this reason, on June 6, in a private apartment in Moscow, these priests--who were denied the opportunity of sharing the Paschal joy on the occasion id the Millennium--served a Liturgy. This was not simply a Liturgy according to the rite of St. John Chrysostom, it was a Liturgy of the persecuted. At this Liturgy the clergy and laity prayed for the release of prisoners of conscience, for those whose grief has yet to be mourned, for those who boldly, not fearing any persecution, confess Jesus Christ Crucified. We likewise offered the Bloodless Sacrifice for our persecutors.    I hope that the approaching second millennium...will lead to new, more positive changes in the politics of the State with regard to the Church.


Lev Timofeyev: ...I think it would be appropriate here to consider another question. Why has the government suddenly shown such seeming goodwill towards the Church? Has it come to its senses? What has happened? I do not think that the atheists have come to a greater appreciation of the spiritual value of the Church. I think, very simply, that they have been driven by necessity. Let us, after all, recall that Stalin turned his eye upon the Church at a time of crisis--during the war. Is it not a similar time now? Is the government not seeking to gain esteem in the eyes of the people by means of the Church's authority? Is it not seeking an ally? In itself, such an alliance is not bad, but, of course, without [the government's] acknowledgement of its sin such an alliance is very dangerous. Without [this] confession one mustn't agree to such an alliance; it is fraught with dire consequences... 



Fr, Victor Potapov: Fr. Georgi Edelstein said that the prayers of the faithful and the blood of martyrs are responsible for today's perestroika. But what has perestroika given the Church? This is my  next question.


Gleb Anishchenko: _.I think that now is a time when our Church--  speaking here of the whole Church—is coming out of the catacombs where it has been of late, with all the pluses and minuses which this departure entails. On this path I see frightful deceptions  which are now opening up before the faithful, before ordinary believers, before priests, before the top-level hierarchy. We have already touched on some of the temptations that are facing the hierarchy. Truly, the position of the top hierarchy has already resulted in its constant repetition of "we are exceedingly grateful'' in addressing the government. When the General Secretary received Patriarch Pimen, he criticized the Patriarch for the fact that the Church does not ask for anything. And truly, the Church itself doesn't ask for anything--I have in mind here the top-level hierarchy-, it doesn't do anything, and is satisfied with what the government offers. Moreover, as far as we know, the government does this not on its own but at the suggestion of the intellectual and cultural communities.

      If we are to speak of those frightful temptations which are opening up before the rank and file believer, then I think that this is above all the secularization of spiritual values. Especially since the secular authority began to devote a lot of space to religious questions, one can observe an unremitting process: religion is being replaced by culture, history. If in earlier times religion was persecuted and mocked, nevertheless it was still called religion, it was still Christianity. Now they are trying to effect a substitution. In other words, if earlier they destroyed churches, today they want to give us empty churches. Maybe they will even have services, but it will be like looking at a temple of Zeus, or at some theatrical performance. I think that this is one of the very dangerous processes which perestroika has brought. /…/


 Fr. Gieb Yakunim As always I usually begin with stressing the reality of perestroika, the very fact of this unique discussion, the fact that Fr. Victor was able to come to our country, and many other guests. For us this is a great joy, an unexpected joy; we didn’t expect that they would be allowed. This is the first sign. And such a wide representation, this "round-table," is surely a result of prrestroika.

      The celebration itself, of course, has enormous positive significance because, as someone here already said, in the rural areas there are people who have never seen a functioning church, who have never seen a living priest... And the fact that this has been systematically broadcast over radio and television-this is an enormous and positive sermon, a witness. To a certain extent we have had our differences of opinion. But it is a fact that the attitude of the State towards the Church is changing, and for many fearful Soviet citizens the very fact of the celebration..., the fact that Kharchev and other official personages attended the festivities.., for many, even this was a Positive sign, a sign that the State has a good attitude towards the Church. Many who were afraid to enter a church have begun to come; they have begun to ask help of the Church, sermons on the Holy Gospel, and many come to be baptized, those who earlier were simply humanly- afraid to come to church. This is certainly Positive.

      The celebration itself has in many ways been Positive. The foundation stone for a new church in honor of the Millennium has been laid. If one church can be built, why not a second, why not a third? Officially we have been given these figures: 70 churches have been opened this year. Last year there were far fewer--17. And the year before ---10. Unfortunately, the statistics are still negative, the balance so far is not in favor of religion. But when the balance becomes Positive, when the opening of churches becomes a mass phenomenon, then we can testify that the communist party tolerates the growth of religion. This will certainly be something positive.

      In Kharchev's speech in the Literary Gazette, he said--I don't recall his exact words--that, "it would be desirous," for example, "to publish an Orthodox newspaper." This is an extraordinarily important fact. If Kharchev says this openly, publicly, it means the question of the newspaper has been decided. We have now learned – and this is very disconcerting-that not long before, Metropolitan Pitirim was somehow declining [the opportunity]. This, of course, is absurd, frightful. Unfortunately, it is not the only such case.

      Concerning the martyrs, again there is an echo of glasnost. The very fact that Metropolitan Juvenal mentioned the New Martyrs at such a great reception--this is already positive. Metropolitan Theodosius, the head of the [Orthodox Church of America], said that it was necessary to canonize Patriarch Tikhon. This is wonderful. The archbishop of Canterbury said that it was necessary to canonize the Russian martyrs; he gave them their due. This is also wonderful. Although these are foreign visitors, it is only under the conditions of glasnost that they were able to speak so openly. And we welcome their statements, because they sustain all those who await the glorification of the New Martyrs. There are, of course, many examples. What is important is the very fact of a turnabout, a change in the attitude of the government towards the Church. The fact that we consider our hierarchs to be insufficiently active in promoting this process-this is another matter. Let us hope that what we see is only a beginning, that it will lead to further positive and healthy results for the Church.


Vladimir Keidan: We are always talking about expectations and demands for changes to be made at the top levels But great deal depends on us. We live in the world, we all have families, we work, we meet with friends. In the course of the past 70 years, normal Christian existence, the normal Christian world-view, Christian attitudes towards the family, work, friends--all this has been cast into oblivion. And all this isn't going to be lowered down to us from the powers that be. We can't wait for Kharchev to tell us to raise our children on Christian examples, or to conduct Christian discussions with others, or to spend our vacations in a Christian manner. We must do all this ourselves. And there now lies before us a great opportunity for doing this, in conjunction with the fact that all kinds of informal associations are in general welcomed by the government. We can organize children's camps, groups for studying the Bible; at work we can organize discussions on catechetical subjects. People are waiting for this. I know this by my own experience. One can take part in the work of clubs, which are so popular now. And truly, perhaps it is time to stop talking about offenses, to stop criticizing and move on towards some constructive work. /../


Victor Aksiuchits: Strictly speaking, that which is now called perestroika is not the beginning of a new era, but rather the culmination of what has preceded, the result of martyrdom and the people's sp ritual opposition to the destruction which has befallen Russia. It is evident that all the ideas behind perestroika were formulated not now, but over the past 20-30 years. One can say that today is not an era of perestroika but of a new choice. What will be tomorrow--the dominant ideals and values of tomorrow---depends precisely on the choices made today. It seems to me that more than ever before the future of our country and our society depends on Christians...

      I don't think one can say that the government is welcoming initiatives. Of course not. It is being forced to yield. Then, one mustn't confuse the press with the government. The press is really writing a lot now. But the government is behaving inadequately even in respect to the pronouncements of its leaders, and even more so in respect to the press; a proof of this lies in the persecution of our historico philosophical gatherings...


Fr. Georgi Edelstein: Fifteen years ago, when I was an instructor at a pedagogical institute, the head of the department called me in and said; '"The day before yesterday you stopped in front of a church and stood there for about ten minutes, observing attentively. Who allowed you to do this?" I am sure that today not one department head would ask any teacher such a question.

      Second: I think that perestroika should have begun with the publication of the epistle of the Solovki confessors, because to this day the Church has not once made known its relationship to the government. The only such document is this Solovki epistle. Discussions of all problems should begin precisely [with this document] [1].

      Third: I should like to bring to attention the language which is used today. The Church is always being given this or that monastery. I think that the crux of the matter is that what belongs to the Church is being returned to her. In point of fact, the Church already has the legal rights of an individual; the church buildings and monasteries are her property, and the government is uner obligation not to give over this property to her temporarily, but to return what belongs to her, the Church.


Andrei Bessmertni: I agree both with Fr. Gleb and with Fr. Georgi. At the same time I should like to say that to a great extent Victor Papkov is right when he speaks of the legal situation of the Church. This is a very serious problem which concerns not only the Church. It is not that I am deeply persuaded, I cannot even conceive of there being another Point of view. For example, our legislation should re-institute such practices as trial by jury; the principle of contestation should be restored to the judicial process, the autonomy of attorneys, access of attorneys from the very start in cases against an individual. These are subjects which also affect the Church, because we know that Old Testament ecclesiology was tied to an understanding of the law, and this law stands to this day. So, when ours becomes a society based on law, then we will be in a Position to speak about what perestroika has given the Church. But now, it's true, those who are writing are mostly laity and priests. Fortunately, Archbishop Theodosius of Astrakhan has proved to be courageous, but in general, even Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who is a free man--he lives in England--he didn't really say anything, didn't ask for anything in particular, didn't intercede. In a sense he even--I have great respect for Metropolitan Anthony--but in a certain sense he even poked a stick into the wheel. Of course, we don't presume to speak for the entire Church community, but we can assure our opponents, whoever they are---believers or unbelievers-that behind us stand a great many people, and we have the moral right to speak out.

      And finally: we want freedom, we want a free Church. We don't want to become again a state Church. At the same time we see how they are quietly trying to use us as a state Church. Orthodoxy should be absolutely independent from any authority whatsoever, whether it be a monarchy, communism...    She should be independent and ...loyal.


Felix Svetov: ...I am somewhat disturbed by what Fr. Gleb said in answer to Fr. Victor's question. Forgive me, Batiushka, but the tone of... not contrition but some sort of... not enthusiasm perhaps, but a kind of joy, sounds strange coming from you. You say, "Kharchev said... Kharchev promised... [Metropolitan] Juvenal said..." As if we are speaking about a Church which appeared yesterday and not one which has existed for a thousand years. We are not aborigines who have just begun to talk about something, to make promises for one another. We know that the Church must suffer persecution. The Saviour told us, They persecuted Me, and they will persecute you. This is the basis of our conception of Christianity. They will cease persecuting us only when we cease to be Christians. We know that bloody persecutions will be replaced by other persecutions, more complex, more refined, and, perhaps, more dangerous. When one is faced by a wild beast everything is obvious, but when there are these nice, seductive perestroikas, when we talk about Christ on TV screens, when the Church is supplanted by culture, history, literature, aesthetics and God knows what--this is dangerous. We seem to forget that the devil is present in the world, and not only is he present, but it is in these refined, complex times that he is especially active. For this reason I think it is crucial to remember this, to know this, because the danger is r~-ally very serious. It is precisely in this, shall we say "Byzantine era" that [this danger] is especially complex.


Victor Antonov: I would call perestroika the regularizing of relations between Church and State. And like any phenomenon, perestroika is for us on one hand an appeal, and on the other a warning. An appeal, first of all, because we ourselves must understand how we can conduct ourselves in these conditions, what new demands, what new plans we can promote. Because for a long time we existed in such a state of crisis, of repression, that now, in the face of perestroika--which, as we know, is taking place primarily in the pages of newspapers and magazines some people are very confused. I can give an example: in Leningrad most of the associations which applied for registration have come up against difficulties. One registered association in Orienbaum, Lomonosov, cannot get a church because, according to local authoritics, a functioning church in the center of the city is an ideological defeat. I think that the situation in rural areas is much worse. Furthermore, perestroika is for us a warning because of reasons which have been discussed here. It is possible that the joining process of Church and State seems to be much stronger, more intense and more propitious under these new conditions than in times of persecution or seige! We must remember this. Above all [it is a warning] because the government remains militantly atheistic, and it doesn't plan to renounce this.


Fr. Victor Potapov: A final question. The Moscow Patriarchate invited many Christians from Western Churches to the celebration of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus', in particular, the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, quite an imposing delegation from the Roman Catholic Church; here is Billy Graham, Ari Brouer, the General Secretery of the National Council of Churches of the United States, and a whole rostrum of other prominent leaders of the Western Christian world. If they were to ask you the question: "How can we help you?" what would be your answer?


Fr. Gleb Yakunin: For us this is a very pointed question, and for me in particular. Among those whom you mentioned was the name of Billy Graham. I remember when I sat in the camps, when I was on hunger strike for a Bible----I was in an isolation cell next to Yuri Orlov--I read in some newspapers that Billy Graham said that everything here was wonderful, all was well.: "I didn't see any cases of violation of freedom of conscience." Well, to answer personally to the question as concerns Billy Graham, if I had the chance I simply wouldn't let him into this country. Because this is a monstrous lie which is harmful to everyone and to his own soul.

       I would tell them: "Brothers and sisters, if you spoke in defense of our Church, then I embrace you and say to you a big 'Thank you'. But if you were silent and did not participate, did not lift your voice: A great pity; in the future carefully observe what goes on here and help by speaking out, by defending our interests, by defending the Church, help us. For here, the powerful of this world listen attentively to what you say. The principal help you can give is by means of your word, by raising your voices in our defense.


Leve Timofeyev:  I should like to return for a moment to the former question. I just received a long distance call and a man asked: “Is this “Referendum'? Is this the editorial office of 'Referendum'?" "Yes," I replied. "You know, I already phoned you several times. I'm not going to say anything. We are just verifying. If you exist, it means that there is perestroika." And he hung up. Here's an answer to the question about perestroika. People actually judge by our activity, how alive we are, how alive society is. We are obliged to bear this responsibility...


Fr. Victor:. And what about aid...


Lev Timofeyev: Concerning the aid of Western Christians... Here, first of all, the possibility of sending in Holy Scriptures has opened up. This is the most important, the primary area of help. Right now it's still a trickle. We need every Christian who travels to the Soviet Union to bring in a quantity of Holy Scriptures, as many as is physically possible...


Zoya Krakhmalnikova: ...When people here were being imprisoned for the Word of God, who helped us? Christians of all countries. And therefore this help should not dry up. We have need of books. We have no publishing houses. The newspaper, which Fr. Gleb is so pleased about, will be a replica of the Moscow Patriarchate Journal. We won't have any voice there. It will be a long time before we have any input. Metropolitan Theodosius, the head of the American Church--I heard him when I was in exile, when they were still jamming the Voice of America--he said: "We are your ears, we are your voice." It was so moving to learn through the howling, the demonic howling of the jamming, to hear that there are Christians who are our voice. May this continue. This is a world process. We are one, and to destroy us is impossible.


Valery Borshchov: You named those invited to the festivities. It seems to me that another person should have been invited, someone who played a significant role in our religious process, i.e., [today's] religious renaissance--Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn. His role, his written works and the man himself as an individual mean a great deal to us. His letter, “Live not according to a lie," the Gulag Archipelago...we were raised on these. Alas, neither the hierarchs nor the clergy taught us. There were some priests, of course... We were educated in the Christian life, in Christian activity, thanks--to a great extent--to the works of A. I. Solzhenitsyn. And when we are asked how Western Christians can help us, I think that if they were to carefully read what Solzhenitsyn says and writes, they would understand a lot. It's a pity, of course, that Alexander Isaevich is now silent. We are greatly in need of a word from him; but even that which he has already said--this will help Western Christians understand a great deal.


Victor Aksiuchits: I think we are of one mind here. We congratulate Alexander Isaevich with this great feast of the Millennium. We all consider that he is with us. Truly, all of us, each of us individually, all of us together as a country, as a people, as a culture, are in many ways indebted to his titanic activity.

       It seems to me that many Christians in the West are still living in the period of stagnation, and not perestroika. I don't want to criticize, but to issue an appeal....Today many are coming to visit, but they are not taking advantage of those opportunities that have opened up. From both sides we must join forces to widen those cracks that have appeared in the concrete monolith. Now it is possible to bring in literature, now it is possible to send in literature by mail; we should have contact with one another, like free citizens, write freely to one another, visit one another, talk things over on the phone. We must form an entirely different atmosphere, that atmosphere called perestroika. So far, this hasn't happened.


Fr. Georgi Edelstein We have no other sources of information for contemporary news than, first, the Woice of America" and second, the BBC. For example, in March there was a Bishops Sobor, and not a single Orthodox, not a single priest of the Russian Orthodox Church had any news of what was going on at that sobor. Only the talks of Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) [via radio broadcast---ed, note] made it possible for us to receive any information.

      There's a second point. A lot has been said here about the need for our brethren in the West to give us books. This is very important. But just now we received 150 thousand commentary Bibles, and these books are being sold on the Black Market. How they got there we don't know. There they cost from five to six hundred rubles. At the same time clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church have no chance of obtaining these books, That is to say, if books are brought in, they shouldn't simply be given anywhere; one should make sure of their destination.

        And, finally, a third point: for us, the two names which were mentioned here have become symbols: the name of A. I. Solzhenitsyn----a symbol of truth, of confession; while the name of Billy Graham--for us is a symbol of falsehood and slander. It is not by chance that everyone who speaks about Billy Graham does so with profound disrespect. We insistently ask Mr. Graham not to show his face in our country again until he has repented. (Applause)

 [1] Written in 1926 by a group of bishops imprisoned in Solovki---a monastery in the far north, turned concentration camp by the communists, the document insists upon the separation of Church and State in view of their “irreconcilable ideological differences”; Russian text in Pravoslavnaya Rus”, 10/28/88

Switch to: 

Subscribe (and order back issues) to Orthodox America
Order Books from Orthodox America

If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
© 1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society