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Interview with Metropolitan Cornelius for the URA.RU news agency on August 18, 2018.

Andrey Guselnikov. © News Service “URA.RU”, August 18, 2018.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church, Metropolitan Kornilii, flew to Ekaterinburg on a regular flight by the economy class, arriving on a multi-day visit to meet with the Ural followers of the Old-Rite and consecrate new temples. On August 16-17, the first church in Russia was consecrated in honor of Grand Duke Vladimir [of Kiev, Equal-to-the-Apostles], it being opened in the village of Staroutkinsk. Despite the strict rules they have, the followers of the Old-Rite turned out to be much more democratic than the ministers of the Russian Orthodox Church: we, journalists, were welcomed like relatives, filled up with gifts and even invited to dinner.

Interview with Metropolitan Cornelius for the URA.RU news agency on August 18, 2018.

Obtaining an audience with the head turned out to be easier: in contrast to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, in relation to whom FSO security guards will not let them [journalists] get closer than a pistol shot, you can easily talk to the main Old-Believer of Russia sitting on a bench, asking whatever questions. True, his assistants had immediately warned us: a conversation is possible only after the service, which, starting at 7:00 in the morning, will end no earlier than 15:00 hours [3:00 PM]. In addition, the vestment of the Vladyka weighs about 15 kilograms, and he would certainly be very tired after the service. However, Vladyka, having changed his clothes and rested for several minutes, found strength in himself to answer all our questions.

I– Vladyka, its probably difficult, isn’t it, to serve in such heavy clothing?

– I try not to use gold or jewelry – I use a specially light, traveling vestment. But it is not clothing that is heavy, but that burden, the responsibility that is present in prayer. Praying is one of the most difficult labors. A person may be ready to do anything, but never to pray. Many people put it to themselves this way: I will pray in the evening, when I’ll be finished with everything (and [that means] when I’m already out of strength). Or it will be towards the end of life, when a person [finally] gives his strength to the Lord. But God requires one to seek first to care for his soul, and then of ephemeralities or passing cares of the world. And the Lord bestowed on me such a burden – to be concerned with [the  salvation of] the souls of many people.

But on this day, in contrast to this strain and fatigue, there is joy: we consecrated the temple in the name of our great holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir. People have already begun to take communion in the new church and they will come here, have spiritual fellowship, prayer, cleansing from sins, and the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus[Isus] (the followers of the Old-Rite insist on this precise spelling [Isus, rather than Iesus or Jesus]- ed.) Christ. Imagine, the whole Church is here! Not only those Old-Believers who are present in this time, but the entire fullness of the Church, starting with [Great-]Prince Vladimir, and all the millions of the Orthodox people, who are all in our Church, because the Old Believers, the true unreformed Church, introduced [among the Rus’] by Prince Vladimir, we, Old Believers, have preserved, do preserve, and will preserve.

By the way, today it rained all day, but when the Gospel was read, the sun came out for a few minutes – filling the temple and the altar with brilliant light, and while they sang “Eis poli eti despota” [from Greek – “unto many years {may you be} Vladyka”], four horses and a foal came to the window and stood under the windows of the temple. And where did they come from? Maybe our Lord brought them so that in their own way, in the way of a horse, they also glorify, rejoice that the places were sanctified …

Can I ask a few naive questions? After all, we as to the Old-Believers do not know much, we do not understand …

– When they say that the followers of the Old-Rite are incomprehensible, we reply: “[Russian] Orthodoxy is not very clear to us.” Of the millions of Orthodox Christians who live today, many simply believe that there is something in heaven. But this “in heaven” has nothing to do with our daily lives: we live our own life, except that we came to church on Pascha, place a candle [before an icon], but at the same time nothing changes in our lives – as we have been sinning, so we go on sinning, however far we were from God, we so remain. Therefore, when they say “incomprehensibly” – it is out of laziness.

To obtain understanding [of something], you have to labor. For example, a foreign language is also incomprehensible, but if you move to another country, you will study it, because you will need it. And what country are we going to move to? – to the Kingdom of God. What labor is required to comprehend what it is and how one gets in there! This is laid hold on [only] by much labor, as it is written in the Holy Gospel. But we don’t want that, we have our own affairs to tend to: a garden, a TV, trips abroad – anything! Drinking and stuff … And when a person says that he does not understand, he indicates by this his laziness. And you go, look into it, ask the priest. The soul itself will tell you what to do.

– So we ask questions. For example, why in the Russian Orthodox Church Cyril is the patriarch of all Russia, and you in the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church are the metropolitan of all Russia? By position, you are the same – you ought to be “Patriarch!”

– Because the patriarchy was abolished in Russia by [Tsar] Peter I. The last patriarch was Nikon, who transgressed all bounds. After a terrible split [Raskol], we were also deprived of the episcopate. For example, [Bishop] Pavel Kolomensky, our holy bishop, who wanted to rebel against Patriarch Nikon, against his decrees, was executed. It was simply impossible to restore the patriarchy after the split. Our [Old-Rite]people tried to go [abroad], to look for patriarchs, bishops – they were seized, put in jail, our three bishops died in this manner – the history is very tragic. And when they ask why there were no patriarch and bishops [among the followers of the Old-Rite], this is not something we can be blamed for, its not our fault. And prior to the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus’ [1988], the Old-Believers were forbidden a Metropolitan. We are just starting to restore it all.

– That is, once the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church becomes a patriarch?

– Maybe. Nothing is impossible for the Lord. I cannot speak for the Lord and for the whole Church – this should be the decision of the [Consecrated] Council. Moreover, we Old-Believers have two metropolitans – one residing abroad, Leontius, and one in Moscow – Kornilii (the one in front of you). We already have some ideas on this, but how soon it will be …

– What is the difference between the staro-obryadtsy [followers of the Old-Rite] and the starovery [Old -Believers][1] ?

– We like the word “Old-Believers[starovery]” because the rite[obryad] is part of the Faith, but Faith or Belief is a much broader concept.

– The Old-Believers have long dwelt in the Urals. And they were always told about them that they have their own characteristics, even oddities. For example, that they go on a visit with their dishes. Have you also come to Yekaterinburg with dishes?

– The Old-Believers after the split [Raskol] were subjected to such severe persecutions that they had no opportunity to even contemplate going in search of the priesthood – the entire priestly order was scattered, this one renounced, that one [did not and] was executed. After 10, 20, 50 years, the bishops had literally died out. And some person declared: “Since there are no priests, we are to remain forever without them.” And this other faction said: “No, we will seek out who might join us and become head of our church.” And in 1846 they found the Greek Metropolitan Ambrose in Belaya Krinitsa (this referred at first to a place in Bosnia and Herzegovina [associated with Metropolitan Ambrose] – now it is the name of a place in Ukraine, not far from the border with Romania [to which he relocated]), who joined us with great difficulty and with God’s help.

Those who sought a priest found one, and the bespopovtsy [“priestless”] were left without priests. They generally thought that the world would be ending under Peter I, under Sofia Alekseyevna [his older sister-regent and predecessor], when they were executed, were burned, when they went into the swamps, into the forests. And if anyone from the world came to them, they communicated with them, keeping themselves separate from them and having separate cooking dishes for them. Now this is not very relevant, even among modern bespopovtsy [priestless]. When we get together with them, they have their own cup, we have our own, but we are still sitting at the same table.

Now, by the way, there are very interesting moves forward: several round table conferences have been held with the bespopovtsy[priestless] with the support of the state, whom we have not held meetings with for almost 300 years. Their elder nastavniki [rectors or guides] from St. Petersburg and the Baltic states come, and we solve common issues, we hold meetings. Because there are not many of us who are the keepers of the Ancient Faith. Plus, you need to understand what the situation is in Russia now, when the Western aggressors are trying to destroy pure good Orthodoxy down to the roots. And the [Russian] government is interested precisely in restoring Russian Orthodoxy – hence the attention to us of the authorities and the president personally.

– At URA.RU, we had a great interview with you when you met with Vladimir Putin. Has anything changed after this meeting? The authorities, the local administrations have become more loyal or supportive to the Old-Believers?

– Of course! You understand: Putin came – the first man [of Russia], like the Tsar before. First they met in the Kremlin, then we had a meeting in Rogozhsky (a village in Moscow that is the centre of the Russian Old-Believers, – approx. Ed.).

For the first time in 350 years, the head of the [Russian] state drew attention to us and helps us.

And the people around him, Sobyanin, for example, help in the restoration of our spiritual center. There has been a benevolent attitude towards us in recent years, and now people understand: since the president has come [to visit and help us], why not come and help [too]?

– History, as they say, does not tolerate the subjunctive mood [i.e., speculative what if’s don’t pertain to the historian’s discipline], but if there weren’t a [Patriarch] Nikon and a [Tsar] Alexei Mikhailovich, how would the country develop [then]? Would the [Russian] Faith remain united?

– Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, who will celebrate 100 years at the end of this year, once said that the sad 17th century [the epoch of Nikon, the Raskol, Alexei, Sophia, and Peter I] gave rise to the 17th year [i.e., to the events of 1917]. What Nikon and Alexei Mikhailovich did, this deviation from the Ancient Faith, undermined the foundation, the foundation of Orthodoxy, which was created by our ancestors – [Great-]Prince Vladimir, [St.] Sergius of Radonezh and other Russian saints. And people having lost faith, the Bolsheviks also came, began to destroy the temples (here, in Staroutkinsk, two temples were destroyed).

Who did this? Not the French, not the Germans, not the British — the Russians themselves, who had lost their faith. We are now reaping the benefits of this. Now, too, the hard times and Putin are very difficult to manage. If this [split] were not there [in the 17th century], we would be a prosperous state. Orthodox people were ready to pray, to have a great history and large families. There are 150 million of us now, and there would be several times more. Of course, wars affected [that], but wars are also a punishment for apostasy or deserting [God’s law] – as in Jewish history.

– You mentioned 1917. Is it necessary to bury Lenin?

– This is [only] a matter of time: I think it will be. We have not been specifically asked, but my opinion is: of course, we need to do this. And remove the names of the killers (Uritsky, Volodarsky) [from public places].

– For the Russian Orthodox Church, the cornerstone today is the theme of the remains of [Tsar] Nicholas II and members of his family found near Yekaterinburg: the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize them in spite of the investigation twice conducted by the state, numerous examinations and the position of members of the Romanov House around the world. What is your position? Do you recognize the royal remains?

– We are very grateful to Tsar Nicholas II for giving relative freedom to the Old-Believers in 1905. It was such a joy that it is still remembered to this day: every year we gather in Moscow for the Feast of the Myrrh-bearing Women and glorify this gift of freedom and, in a separate way, the Tsar too.

But, on the other hand, he is outside our Church – he was a follower of the New-Rite. Talking about the remains is not very important for us: he is not a canonized saint among us. Yes, we are grateful to him, but we remember that during the entire 300-year history of the Romanov dynasty, more or less, there was a continuous persecution of the followers of the Old-Rite. If the Romanovs had defended us, would unification have occurred? That’s a different matter. It was necessary to get away from the West, but they[the rulers of Russia] destroyed their own! But we, as Orthodox, are able to forgive those who hate us and grieve us.

– The Old-Rite Church, it seems to me, is becoming more democratic, more open today …

– We were always open – and 100, and 200 years ago, remember that it was only us who, if we opened our mouths[to proclaim our beliefs], who would have been grabbed and dragged to prison …

– But if a supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church comes to the Old-Rite church, they will not expel him?

– They came today, they stood here. Nothing happened [to them], everyone prayed. But, if you came, looked and realized that it was to your liking, you need to go to the priest and say: “I want to stay in your Church. And there is a special rite of accession. We do not allow such liberties as to pray in both [Old- and New-Rite] churches.

– And if an Orthodox person in your church out of habit crosses himself with three fingers – is that a horrible thing?

– We have never been afraid to pray as it is right – with the two-fingered, and now New Believers are not afraid to cross themselves with the two-fingered [sign] – since, in 1971, their superiors convened and said: ‘Sorry, brothers, an error occurred, we acknowledge both [signs of the Cross], pray whichever way one wants.

– They say: “Do not bring your system of rules into someone else’s monastery” – what are the most basic rules that you need to know for someone who came to the Old-Rite church? Men on the right – women on the left? Do you need to prostrate also when everyone’s head hits the floor?

– It’s not necessary to ‘hit the floor’. As the saying goes: “Tell a fool to pray to God – he will bust up his forehead.” With us, in order not to smash our forehead on the floor, we put down hand next to hand deliberately in advance. But this [the details of ritual differences between the rites] is also an endlessly broad topic to discuss. One of the first innovations that Nikon did was to abolish prostrations. In the West, they generally sit on benches during the service, a mass lasts 15-20 minutes – and that’s all, now let’s go about our business. And the Russian people stood for hours at the services, foreigners were all surprised: “How do their legs hold up?” And they bow down all together. And when Nikon did away with the [appointed] prostrations [in the services], the people were indignant. But he used force on them. As well as with three-fingered [sign]: ‘if you shall cross yourselves with two fingers – we will chop off your heads and burn your hands, like [happened to] Avakkum.

But now that Church is gradually realizing that those innovations were not justified in any way – it was just the provocateur handiwork of Catholics and the Jesuits to lay waste the Church of Russia, whole

books have already been written about this. And now we must by all means, and sometimes, like our ancestors, by giving our very lives save our salvific Old-Rite Orthodox Faith in order to save our souls and enter the Kingdom of God, which I also wish for you.


[1]          The former being the name of the Metropolia in Moscow, the latter of that in Brailia, Romania, which recognize each other and are in communion but style their churches differently in this way.