Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs -  Confession or Compromise?

      Fr. Gleb Yakunin and Fr. Georgi Edelstein, both active in the defense of believers' rights, were among more than one hundred delegates from the USSR and Eastern Europe who attended the Second International Congress on World Evangelism held in Manila from July 11-20. Keston College reports that "at a press conference Fr. Gleb Yakunin warned against over-enthusiasm for the prospects of Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika." Together with Orthodox Christian Victor Popkov, both priests "issued an open letter to the US Congress urging the withholding of most favored nation trading status from the USSR until the legislation on religion was reformed and the Ukrainian Catholic Church legalized. (KNS 3/8/89).

      Fr. Gleb and Fr. Georgi then continued to the US, stopping first in San Francisco where they graciously granted OA the following interview.

Part II
Part III 

OA: What is most needed to aid the renaissance of faith in Russia today? 

Fr. Georgi: Obviously, this is the most crucial question for us because--why did we become priests? Our primary purpose in life is, of course, not the defense of human rights; it is nothing else than- in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, l am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matt. 28:20). This is why we became priests. And what is needed here? First of all we need faith. I am sure that this is the main thing that we all, without exception, are lacking. 

      Unfortunately, for a long time the Russian Orthodox Church existed in conditions of relative well being, and we wanted by all means to preserve this prosperity. We agreed to any compromise in the name of this prosperity. This Sergianist "arrangement", which I'm talking about, is the following: It's better to give in m small things in order to preserve what is more important. But this is the arrangement of a lackey, not of a noble man.

      In Pushkin's story, The Captain's Daughter-which always comes to my mind in speaking on this subject--there are two men: a good man, a very good man, a serf, Savelich, and the nobleman Grinyev. They are standing before Pugachev [1]. Grinyen has only to do one thing: kiss the hand of this imposter and that's all; he can go home. And Savelich, his servant, gives him a push and says: "Go ahead, kiss it. Kiss it and forget it. At least you'll save your life. After all, what's more important?" They've already hung the commandant, and the commandant's assistant; they're hanging right there, and they're about to hang Grinyev. Our impression of Grinyev is that he's still quite young. But he chooses to lose his life rather than kiss the hand of the imposter.

      And this servile theory--that it is better to kiss the hand but preserve what is important--has unfortunately permeated the Russian Orthodox Church. We are always kissing the hand of the imposter; we are forever acknowledging that he is not an imposter but rather that he is the Sovereign Emperor, Peter III. We acknowledge that the joys of this, our atheist state, are our joys. But the Solovetsk Epistle, the Epistle of the Solovetsk Confessors, clearly differentiates and says: Your joys are not our joys. We have nothing in common with you, absolutely nothing. We are as different as day and night, as affirmation and denial, as yes and no. We are different in all respects. We see the world differently, we have different world-views, we have a different approach to everything. But besides that--and what is more important-we have a different morality, different ethics.

      Today a favorite argument used by our hierarchs is: Let's live in peace with our government; there's so much we have in common: we have a common morality. Let's educate our people in the principles of a common morality. Christian morality and communist morality are identical. No, this is a lie. The Solovetsk Confessors told us that we have completely different moralities, that the morality of a Communist is not the morality of a Christian, and the morality of a Christian is not that of a Communist. The principle of communist morality is: whatever benefits the revolution, whatever benefits the working class is moral. The Church has always repudiated such morality.

      Therefore, when, today, we are asked what should be done that we might begin the work of evangelizing our people, I would say that first of all it is necessary to strengthen one's faith, and to know that we are called not to provide some sort of assistance in renovating our State, but to preach Christ.

      Second: we must realize clearly and definitely that we live in this State; we must strive to be loyal to this State; we are citizens of this State. But we are under no obligation to be loyal to this government; i.e., we must not identify the State with the government. The main task of evangelization is to begin with the truth, begin to speak about what it is we are preaching. We are preaching Christ, And this is what is most important. The Church is not called to undertake the ethical or moral re-education of the people; this is not the main thing. Christ's Sermon on the Mount, in which He gave us moral precepts for all ages, is a part of Christianity but it is not itself Christianity. The Sermon on tile Mount exists only in the words of Christ; it exists as a Church teaching, that is all. In other words, if we are to go out today and teach the people we must first of all teach the truths of the Christian Faith, we must concern ourselves with evangelizing, with preaching Christ, and, inevitably, we must repudiate Communism in its essence. This does not mean to repudiate our State, this does not mean calling for all overthrow of the existing structure. This means that we must, from the first day of our preaching, say that the ideals of the Christian Church--I repeat-- have nothing in common with the reigning world view in our country today. We must, from the start, demand that the Communist Party be separate from the State, because we now have a fundamental principle: the State is the Party and the Party is the State. This is a lie. The Party is a part of our society, but it is not the whole of our society; just as clergy are a part of our society but not the whole of it. If, in our State, atheism is taught as a science, as some world view, this is perfectly legal so long as it is done at the expense of the Party and so long as it is optional, not obligatory, like any other world view. The teaching of atheism in secondary schools must be according to the wishes of the parents. Likewise, the teaching of religion in secondary schools must be according to the wishes of the parents. That is to say, in the eyes of the State they must be equal before the law. Parents have a right to choose what is to be taught their children. Only under such conditions can we say that in the State its own laws regarding the separation of Church and State are being fulfilled. If, on the contrary, atheism is required, this means that the state takes upon itself "a priori" a certain world view, and the State becomes militantly godless. And if atheism is taught at the expense of the state, it means that my money, Fr. Gleb’s money, the money of our believers, the money of our bishops is being used for the instruction of atheism; and this is against the law. I don't want that 1/250,000,000 part of the budget that belongs to mc to be spent for the instruction of atheism. The same goes for higher education. Atheism is now an obligatory subject (the requirement was abolished for a time but is once again in force). This is illegal. Unfortunately, however, the leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate, our hierarchs, are not bold enough to publicly declare: the Church must be separated from the State. To the contrary, Metropolitan Filaret, chairman of External Church Affairs, a permanent member of the Synod, one of the more influential of our hierarchs, has several times declared that "of course" our Church is separated from the State; no doubt about it. Why is this? Is there any evidence? Yes, of course. There is such a law. A law exists, and since it exists on paper, clearly...


     And so we return to the question. The fact that evangelism is not being propagated in our country is, in the first place, the fault of us clergy, taken collectively: the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Our people thirst for spiritual enlightenment. If not all 250,000,000, at least a majority is seeking for pastors, while pastors, sadly, are running from their flocks. We are afraid of confessing Christ. Unfortunately, we often even do not admit that we are priests.

       I spoke once to a very good man--a good, kind, priest; all plusses. He told me about how he spent his vacation at New Athos in the Caucasus. There was one man in his group who always seemed to be studying him. 'They took us to the monastery and showed us all around. And this fellow kept looking at me. I thought I would at least make the Sign of the Cross, perhaps go up to one of the icons; but I didn't. When we were again outside, this fellow came up to me: 'You must be a priest Am I right?' I did not admit to it." Why? After all, this priest was a good man. Because if you admit to being a member of the clergy you will immediately be surrounded by people with questions; one person will tell another and you will become the center of attention. Because from here, from New Athos they will telephone to where you are a priest, the diocesan secretary (this man was a diocesan secretary and the rector of a cathedral), and this will prove very unpleasant for you. Who wants to have to explain things to the government agent? Who wants to lose the position of secretary? It's a cozy position. So it's better if we not confess Christ. The priest did not deny Christ. He didn't say, "I am an unbeliever." But, "Perhaps you are a priest?" "No." And he told me this without understanding the depth of his fall.

       And it is precisely for this reason that our clergy-forgive me--are ashamed to walk in their cassocks around town, on the streets. Why? It's quieter that way, it's more peaceful; it doesn't stir up trouble with the authorities.


Q.: But are clergy not forbidden to wear cassocks on the street? 

Fr. Georgi: No. It is not forbidden. Moreover, according to the canons of the Russian Orthodox Church a priest is not supposed to take off his cassock. We are too free in regard to ecclesiastical legislation. And when we are ordained, not one bishop wants to instruct us as to how a priest ought to dress, with what reverence he should wear his cassock. Older people have told me in shocked voices how once they saw a priest in trousers! This was something absolutely unimaginable, as if you were to come here in your nightgown. How would you feel, sitting here? And how would we feel? A priest should experience the same feeling when he takes off his cassock. But in our country they don't want this. Why? Doctor, they say, heal yourself. We are constantly seeking self-justification: some external reasons deter evangelism. We ourselves deter it; we are suffering from our Sergianist captivity. This is the principal reason.

   One must begin with oneself. We must first turn to ourselves and see what we are capable of doing in our State, and what we are doing. We can well understand Metropolitan Sergius. He feared not only for himself; he must also have feared for his brother bishops. Indeed, when they say that he was terrorized by the threat that if he did not sign the Declaration others would be shot, this is perhaps true. Perhaps, humanly speaking, he was right when he issued this Declaration; he was afraid. Perhaps. Under Stalin people feared for the lives of their brother, for the lives of other hierarchs. One can understand this. Under Krushchev there were also persecutions; people were afraid. The following justification was common: if I speak out today I'll be sent into retirement, to a monastery. But after all, I am a good hierarch, a good priest. And they will replace me with someone who is bad. Better that I remain. Let's suppose it could be so.

      But who is there to fear today? What is there to be afraid of? Nothing. If, however, we take little steps, little steps, further and further, we'll end up somewhere far, far away. I am sure that if today someone were to say to our hierarchs: "Deny Christ," half of them--minimum--would be confessors. They are believers. "I’ll go to prison; I'll ascend the cross, I'll accept death, but 1 will not deny Christ." I do not doubt that a good number of such hierarchs would be found. But when they are told: "Compromise just a little".. May I pull out one hair from your head? One? Will you become bald if I take just one hair? What about a second? And another? This is an ancient Greek riddle. There comes a point when the person says 'Yes". And we say, "Fool. One hair earlier you said 'No,' and now when I said, 'Another?' you said 'Yes.' Do you mean to say you will become bald if you lose one hair?"

       It is by means of these little hairs, little stones, one by one--this is that poisonous Sergianist cult-that we have come to where we are today. And for this reason.., how, with what, should we begin evangelism? With repentance. Until we repent we shall not even be able to attempt evangelism. And we shall surely endure defeat. Why? Bad seed. We -- not any one individual but the Russian Orthodox Church--must tell our people the truth, we must ask our people's forgiveness, repent, and only then enlighten our people. And then the very important matter of books, etc.---also very important. But I'm afraid that these are external factors, while the main thing is within.

(To be continued) 

We have no other good apart from union with God. (Blessed Augustine)

[1] The most famous of a whole crop of imposters claiming to be Tsar Peter III assassinated in 1762.