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The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

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Orthodoxy is always modern

We continue the discussion on the informational activities of the Old-believers’ Church in the 21st century with the head of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church (RPSC). The pre-eminent Metropolitan Korniliy, answering the questions of “The Community” (the newspaper – Obshchina), talks about the difficulties of communicating with journalists, asks the Old-believers not to chase after the benefits of civilization and suggests refraining from arguments.

Orthodoxy is always modern

Your Grace, over the past six months, quite a lot has been said about the preaching of the Church in the media, particularly in the “The Community”. In your opinion, to what degree is the Old-Rite Church represented in the media, on the Internet?

– Interest within Russian society for the themes of the Orthodox faith and its history continues to grow each year. We are ready to talk about our Church, about the activities we are conducting, and we are doing everything possible to satisfy interest directed toward us arising from journalists. On the Internet and other media outlets, information about the Old-Rite Church is, in my opinion, at an almost satisfactory level. We are receiving attention, and this is no small thing. We gladly respond.

– Are you satisfied with the content of publications on the theme of the Old-believers in today’s media?

– I am completely satisfied with the content of publications regarding the Old-believers. Our Church continues to be interested in the emergence of serious research, academic and journalistic works devoted to the themes of spirituality, the activities of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church and its distinct communities and individuals. We have already repeatedly noted those authors who have piqued our interest with their television and newspaper works, and we are ready to encourage them in their future creative endeavours focusing on the theme of the Old Faith.

– How true is the statement: “The publishing activities of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church are in decline”?

– Such a statement, in my opinion, is untrue. The question of preaching in the modern world, and in particular through book publishing, was discussed at the last Holy Council. Steps were outlined regarding the expansion of publishing activities. Everything happens in its time. I believe that while we are discussing this at the Councils of the Metropolitanate, the issue will not be put aside or forgotten and will be actively expanded upon.

– Three years ago, during the religious procession in Samara, I asked you, Your Grace, about the online activities of a number of young Old-believers. You answered as such: “In openly stating their opinions they are going too deep, and such “activity” is no longer for the good of the Old-believers”. What has changed since that time: your opinion about their behaviour or their manner of communicating and speaking online?

– To my regret, changes in the behaviour and manner with which these people communicate online has not been noticeable. In expressing one’s opinions in all types of media, one must observe truthfulness and a spirit of humility and love. This applies to all, to the journalists who want to try their hand at the topic of the Old Belief, as well as the Old-believers themselves, who express their point of view about certain events in the Church, its problems and shortcomings. In Church publications, along with everything else, it is necessary to have the blessing of a spiritual teacher. Journalists should remember the words of the Apostle in their actions: “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1).

– It is the stance of independent journalists to report upon the shortcomings of any organisation, its miscalculations and blunders, even if it is not beneficial to the structure itself. How should they treat the Church? Is it necessary to speak of the shortcomings in the activities of the community, the parish, and possibly even the entire Church as a whole? After all, the strength of an organisation lies in its ability to admit its own weaknesses… If, in your opinion, it is permissible to write about it, then where: in the publicly available media, thereby emphasising your strength and readiness to correct the situation? Or in “your own” religious media, revealing your shortcomings to a strictly trained audience?

– There are a number of very effective ecclesiastical means available to discuss the shortcomings of the Church’s activities, including the Councils and diocesan meetings. I am convinced that internal church matters should not be brought up for discussion by the outside world, just as it is not customary to publicly discuss internal familial problems. In my opinion, it is best to talk and write about one’s own personal shortcomings and weaknesses in order to deal with them. And if this is frequently thought, talked and written about, then this will ultimately help to heal the church body from its ailments. After all, you need to start with yourself.

– Do you agree that many senior priests and presidents of communities do not even know how to establish a dialogue with local journalists? And thus, as a result, people in some cities and villages know as much about the Old-believers and their activities as they do about any events from a century ago…

– With your statement that many senior priests and presidents do not know how to establish a dialogue with local journalists, I do not quite agree. Of course, some senior priests do not always know how to find opportunities for publicity and establish a dialogue with journalists. But it is important to remember that senior priests of churches and presidents of communities are not always able to establish a dialogue with the “pen pushers” because of their own workload or lack of preparation for such communication. Moreover, this deficiency is sometimes seen on both sides. From my own experience I know that communication with journalists is not simple, and some preparation is definitely required for it. I think it can be conducted in parishes.

– Your Grace, I will quote from my material “Sermon in the Pressroom”: “Of course, it’s great when some bearded man voices Biblical wisdom from the monitor and reads the Symbol of the Faith or “Our Father” by heart, but it’s much more interesting when the same Old-believer says a weighty speech about the monetisation of benefits, speaks at an academic conference, or debates an atheist or a representative of any religion”. Could you comment on this assessment – do you agree with it?

– It is difficult to agree with your opinion in this case; in my opinion, it is very subjective. The Holy Fathers teach us to refrain from disputes in every way: “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife… in humility correct those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:23, 25).

– Nowadays the production of Old-believers’ souvenirs – calendars, mugs with Christian symbols, notebooks, pens, and packages – is expanding. What do you think of this work? How much do you think Old-believers need it?

– I am convinced that this is a necessary task. However, like any other matter, it must be carried out in compliance with the rules, style, taste and ethics, bearing in mind that Christian symbols must not be used inappropriately.

– Is the Old-Rite Church firmly inscribed into the modern structure of the world and is it modern enough or are there some flaws in it? Do the Old-believers have something to strive for and somewhere to flourish?

– In the official name “Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church” I would especially like to accentuate – “Orthodox”. And Orthodoxy has been inscribed into the “structure of the world” for more than two thousand years and is always modern, because the Church leads people to salvation. Of course, we also have shortcomings in the organisation of Church life, upon which we are constantly working, but, as we know, there is no limit to perfection.

– Is there any danger in the achievements of modern civilization for the Old-believers? Or do the children of the Church firmly know the limit beyond which it is impossible to cross?

– Of course, there is always danger, and extreme caution must be exercised when interacting with the modern world. With that said, the greatest risk for a believer has always been the danger of losing their soul in the pursuit of the “blessings of civilization”, “for what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

– How do you recommend that your flock treat such things as insurance (movable and immovable property and life) and bank deposits “with interest”?

– Property insurance and bank deposits are not directly related to the salvation of the soul. The Apostle says: “All is possible for me, but not all is helpful; all is possible for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12).

– You have travelled to almost all the parishes in Russia and assessed the situation on the ground. How satisfied are you with the current life of the Church and its congregation? Is the Church organism self-sufficient and healthy?

– The Church is a living organism. It is composed of many parishioners, like a body is composed of cells, and the health of each of the particles of a single Church body reflects the health of the entire Church organism. “One body and one spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling… for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:4, 12). In general, the Church is holy, since its head is Christ, and for everyone within, there exist all the conditions for the soul to be healthy, but only the Lord can judge this.

– Uralians, Muscovites, Siberians, Moldovans, Romanians, Ukrainians, Australians… How would you characterise each group? During the time of your prelacy, you experienced their peculiarities and differences.

– I have no division of the flock according to territorial traits; for me all the Old-believers are dear and loved. Those regional groups of Old-believers which you have named are as different from each other as the parts of a single body are different, but they have mutually binding ties that give them unity and life – this is Christian fraternal love and Orthodox faith, preserved by our pious ancestors and conveyed to us as a great support leading to salvation, in which may God help us!

– Your Grace, I thank you for the conversation and on behalf of our spiritual father, John Ustinov, I invite you to the Urals next summer, in particular, to our parish in Pristan, where you are always awaited. We hope that last year’s visit left you with vivid impressions…

– May Christ save you [the Old-believer form of expression for ‘Thank you’] for the warm welcome in the Urals. On the days I travelled to the Sverdlovsk and Perm oblasts, I had the opportunity to pray with the Uralian Old-believers, I managed to see a lot of interesting places and I became acquainted with many people. I am confident that the Lord will enable us to meet in the future.

Interviewed by Maxim Gusev, for the newspaper “The Community”, № 3 (18), April, 2010.