Metropolitan Kirill: “We celebrate the event, not the day”. (Izvestiya, January 5, 2003)

21.03.2003 · English  

(Izvestiya, January 5, 2003)

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate

This time, the traditional communication of Izvestiya readers with the newspaper’s guest was unusual.

For more than two hours, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad who visited the editorial office, answered both telephone calls and online questions by Internet. There was no respite in the work.

We publish a reduced version of the talk, the full text is available on the Izvestiya site and the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church.

– Good afternoon, my name is Yury Sergeyevich. Please say, does the Church intend to pass over to the state calendar? There is a mess: we celebrate Christmas after the New Year and the Catholic Church does before it. I believe, there is the astronomic date of the birth of Christ?

– There is no astronomic date of the birth of Christ – neither the Gospel nor the early Christian literature mention the exact date of the birth of the Savior. We celebrate the event, not the day. It is important that the celebration of the Nativity of Christ would make human souls better, and would not be confined to visiting shops and Christmas fairs. The date of our celebration – be it on December 25 or January 7 – is of secondary importance for the human salvation. The Russian Church does not pass over to the Gregorian Calendar because the old calendar is part of our tradition: people have got used to it and no decrees and resolutions are able to obliterate the tradition. If our distant descendants decide to change something, it will be their business.

– Good afternoon, I am an atheist and a Muscovite in the third generation, and I would like to ask you, as a Russian intellectual, about the situation around the Patriarchal Ponds. There is Bulgakov’s monument under construction there. Of course, Bulgakov is a well-known writer, it is beyond any doubt, but the architectural design of the monument envisages placing evil forces inside the giant primus stove…

– I, personally, am against erecting a monument to Voland in Moscow. The devil is quite evidently present in our life without any visible image and therefore ascertaining his presence in visible symbols is ill-advised. Nevertheless, Bulgakov is an outstanding writer and I stand for building his monument in Moscow.

– Good afternoon! I am from Vladikavkaz. For you, Orthodoxy is the only right teaching given by the only true God. Does it mean that other philosophic teachings and religions are false and given by demons?

– The Savior clearly says in the Gospel that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk 16:16). Please note that this sentence has not full symmetry. As an Orthodox clergyman, I know absolutely certainly, and it is the conviction of my life, that we can be saved only if we have the faith and are baptized, and the question whether adherents of other religions will be saved is out of my knowledge. No one will be able to explain you how the Spirit of God works upon the creation. It is hidden from us, but another thing is revealed to us: there is a way of true life. The Lord Himself said that He is the Way, Truth and Life. We can try to comprehend mentally the mysterious design of God for the world and man, but I think that we will never manage to do it in full measure. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Is 55:8).

– Here is Ilya from Volgograd, I am a student. I also sing in the church. Some people condemn me for interesting in rock-opera. I especially like the Yunona and Avos staging by Alexey Rybnikov, although it contains Orthodox prayers set to rock-music. What is your attitude to it?

– I cannot give you a definitive answer, because I should firstly listen to the music and understand what it contains. I am convinced that like any other kind of art, music, irrespective of its genre, can elevate a person and ennoble his soul. In this case, it can be called genuine culture. However, if a musical composition liberates the human instincts and turns the man into the animal, I am against it. What does happen in your soul? Do you grow purer and brighter through music and singing you listen to? Or aggressive feelings arise in your soul?

– I have no aggression. On the contrary, music frees and relaxes me.

– What do you mean, when you say it relaxes you?

– It helps me to rest.

– Rest is a little different thing. If it really helps the man to free himself from tiredness and external conditions, so there is a certain therapeutic effect here. However, be careful – it is important that music would not drive the man to the way of liberating his passions.

– Do you think it is necessary to introduce Basics of Orthodoxy as an obligatory subject in Russian secondary schools? Does not it violate the rights of other confessions? Is this move legitimate as considered on the bases of the Russian Constitution and the principle of religious freedom?

– I believe that the present discussion on this issue is extremely ideologized. In the view of the Constitution and the law, basics of religion can be taught in every educational institution of Russia. The mere fact that these subjects are taught in schools does not violate the principle of the separation of the Church from the state and that of the school from the Church. The global experience proves it. Basics of religion are taught in practically all countries that strictly implement the principle of the separation of the school from the Church and are frequently held up in this country as an example on various occasions.

The only precondition, which is voluntariness, must to be observed to ensure that the teaching of these basics really corresponds with the Russian Constitution and the Law on Liberty of Conscience. The Church also insists on this precondition, because no one can be made religionist by force, as a Russian proverb says – “a captive cannot sincerely pray to God.”

Voluntariness presupposes variety. Schoolchildren and students should get an opportunity to study basics of the Orthodox faith and the history of our spiritual culture. The Russian schoolchildren should not be deprived of knowledge of what is the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin. If this building is situated in the center of the capital, everyone has the right to know, which kind of construction it is, why it has been built and on which occasion. Everyone should know, what the Assumption means and who the Holy Virgin is.

I am deeply convinced that this knowledge can be interesting not only for Russia’s Orthodox citizens. I also believe that to know the basics of Islam and to understand, what the mosque is and how people pray in it, would be equally useful for Orthodox believers living, for instance, in Tatarstan.

Of course, there can be people who are uninteresting in it, just like there can be people who are uninteresting in mathematics or literature. As to mathematics or literature, we teach children these subjects on an obligatory basis, but the teaching of religion can and must include a choice. The principle of voluntariness and variety excludes the coercive teaching of Orthodoxy both to adherents of other religions and to those who do not wish to get knowledge about it from some considerations.

The teaching of Orthodox culture and ethics could be introduced either on the regional level or on the level of particular schools. In areas with a considerable non-Orthodox population, this subject could be taught as an optional course. I would like to accentuate that optional study means a choice, but if a person chooses this subject, it becomes obligatory part of the curriculum and is to be taught together with other subjects at a fixed time.

If morality is necessary for the survival of our society and, in a certain sense, of the human civilization today, why do we refuse the right of religion to do everything possible to change the moral condition of the individual and society for the better?

Valery Davydov from Rostov-na-Donu asks:
– It is usually said that terrorism has no nationality and religion. However, it were Islamic terrorists who attacked New York in September 2001. People of the same religion exploded the apartment houses in Moscow and Volgodonsk, the discotheque on Bali, and the capture of the theater in the Russian capital during the Nord-Ost musical also was accompanied by Allah Akbar shouts!

– I am deeply convinced that Islam as a religion does not provoke terrorism and aggression. It is a specific interpretation of the Islam that provokes them. This interpretation took place during the history, and we know that religious wars and conquests were being launched under the banner of Islam. The same situation is repeating today. This fact lays a special responsibility with Islamic leaders. They must instill such an understanding of Islam in their people that would exclude its radical interpretation. The position held by the Chairman of the Central Moslem Board for Russia Talgat Tajuddin gives a striking example of the didactic activity. In this connection, I would like to emphasize the significance of the words that this esteemed man said during the 7th World Russian People’s Council in Moscow.

– Your Eminence, do animals, in particular dogs, have a heavenly patron? If so, who is he and how can we pray to him?

– Domestic animals are helpers to the man. Some of them have a direct impact on human well-being. That is why the Orthodox Church traditionally teaches us that we can pray to saints for the good health of animals. From the earliest times, peasants have prayed to Martyrs Flor, Laur and Blasius for the health of cows, horses and other animals. There are no special prayers for dogs, but the Lord “has mercy upon animals” and urges people to do so. A merciful attitude to the nature, a good attitude to animals, especially domestic ones, is integral part of Christian ethics. To destroy environment and at the same time to love the man is impossible. Love is an all-embracing notion. “The merciful heart” is open for all people.

– We have the following situation: a child’s father is Muslim (Tatar) and his mother is a Russian woman, who is baptized. At first, the child was circumcised, i.e. converted to Islam, by his father’s request, and then the mother baptized him in the church in secret from the father. Who is the child now – a Muslim or an Orthodox believer?

– If the child was baptized after he was circumcised, especially if the baptism was administered by the child’s personal approbation, he should be regarded as an Orthodox believer.

– Kirill Frolov, Pravoslavnaya Beseda journal:
Who and why is pressing now for re-establishing the Council for Religions in Russia, even if with limited powers?

– I am confident that the campaign for establishing a body regulating religious life in this country is aimed mostly at restricting the influence that the Russian Orthodox Church has on our society now.

If a state body is set up, it receives official powers. In this case, it is religious associations that will be the object of these powers with all ensuing consequences.

This body will undoubtedly try to channel versatile and broad relations of the Church with society and, if possible, to control these relations. This body can do it, for instance, by declaring itself plenipotentiary representative of the government in the face of the Church and thus taking over all contacts that the Church has with government bodies and public institutions today.

It was the case with the Council for Religions that served as some tough interlayer between the Church and society, including the government, and it made practically impossible to carry on a broad church-state dialogue. The emergence of such a body today would be detrimental and could only lead to tensions in church-state relations.

There are three structures in today’s Russia tasked to contribute to the development of religion-state relations. These are the corresponding Council under the Russian President, a Governmental Commission and a State Duma Committee. These bodies have their own jurisdictions and powers, and function, in our opinion, quite efficiently. As a wish, I would like to propose to create a system of a more advanced coordination between these three bodies, as compared to the present situation.

– Good afternoon, my name is Igor. I am concerned over the fact, why God tolerates the death of innocent people, as it was in the theater on Dubrovka Str. and in the Kursk submarine, in spite of the prayers for their rescue?

– It is impossible from the human point of view to understand the meaning of innocent victims, because the man, being limited by the conditions of his earthly existence, thinks of everything exceptionally in categories of his empiric experience. This experience excludes life after death. The Holy Scripture reveals us the eternal life of the human spirit, but we have no experience of partaking of this eternal life. That is why we conceive death as a catastrophe and the most dreadful thing that can happen to the man. Nothing can be compared to death by the depth of suffering. Death is an abyss of sufferings and the apogee of human misery.

God is beyond time and space. He is not limited by the condition of earthly existence. God’s look at the human history and life can be compared with the look of a man, who sees a house or apartment from above, like through the roof and ceiling. This man can see at one time, what happens in two or four rooms, but those in the rooms are unable to see what happens beyond the wall. God sees and knows everything that is to happen to the man, everything that the man will experience both in his earthly life and in eternity. For him, death is not a catastrophe, but the passing over from a room to another one.

The Church teaches her faithful to perceive death in this way. She teaches the man not to be afraid of death, while she also teaches not to seek death. The service for the dead contains wonderful words. They show us the true prospect of the life of the human spirit and witnesses in vivid examples to the eternality of human existence, without which our earthly existence loses its significance. It is suffice to remember the burdock that sprouts on the human grave, as Bazarov, one of Turgenyev’s characters, said.

Without the prospect of eternal life, human existence loses its meaning, and death virtually becomes an irreparable catastrophe, the downfall of everything made by the man during his earthly life. From this point of view, there is not a big difference, at which age the man dies and how he does – in his bed or an accident. Without the prospect of eternal life, death is senseless. The Christian attitude to life and death helps us to courageously face all trials and death itself, preserving our inner strength and the ability to continue our life.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Izvestiya, one of the leading and respected newspapers in Russia, for affording me an opportunity to communicate with journalists and readers. I hope that we will continue our dialogue.

I congratulate you all on the Nativity of Christ!

May the blessing of God be with you and may the progression of Russia will be successful and prosperous!

See also:

  • Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate