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Unfortunately, people know very little about the Old Belief

November 15, 2007

– Your Grace, immediately after the Council at which you were elected head of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church, you declared that you would continue down the same path as your predecessor, Metropolitan Andrian. This path was characterised by the openness of the Old-believers to society, to the media, to academic and cultural institutions, and other religious denominations. Now, a few months later, are you prepared to make any adjustments to this course?

– I would like to immediately emphasise that, in speaking of the “path of Metropolitan Andrian”, one should not put into this notion the impression of a sharp change in the course of his predecessors. It’s just that our country had entered into a new era, and Metropolitan Andrian tried to meet new historical conditions, while, of course, in no way compromising the principles of the old faith. The position of our Church has essentially remained and remains unchanged. Therefore, I do not see any need to talk about making any adjustments to the course plotted by Metropolitan Andrian.

– Just like your predecessor, you spend a lot of time travelling to Old-believers’ communities, while in the cities you often hold meetings with the local bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. Are you satisfied with the results of these meetings? How do the Old-believers themselves react to them?

– In general, I am pleased with such meetings. They help to eliminate age-old misunderstandings, wariness and estrangement in our interdenominational relations. We do not touch upon dogmatic topics. Meetings are held in a businesslike manner. Questions are resolved regarding the transfer of church buildings, church articles, etc. As for the attitude of our Christians toward such meetings, we must frankly say: they are often accepted cautiously. This is completely understandable, considering that the genetic memory of the unamicable attitude towards the Old-believers emanating from the ecclesiastical and secular authorities in the past is still too intense. Today, the situation has markedly improved, but it must be supported by good deeds.

– Recently, you met with the president of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. How would you characterise the atmosphere of this meeting and its results?

– The meeting was held in the spirit of goodwill and mutual understanding. We didn’t touch upon questions of religion; we discussed how to coordinate our efforts to help the Russian people find their traditional values, largely lost as a result of the dramatic change of historical eras.

– In what areas of church and public life do you see the opportunity to join forces with the Russian Orthodox Church? Is interchurch dialogue, theological and historical discussion possible?

– I consider it necessary to coordinate our efforts in the struggle to preserve our people, and their moral and spiritual health, because the rampant drunkenness, drug addiction, moral licentiousness, open propaganda of all kinds of vices has now reached unprecedented proportions in our country.

As for the theological and historical discussion, it is not only possible, but also desirable, because, despite the efforts of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church to correct historical errors regarding the Old Belief (the abolition of anathemas placed upon the old rites at the 1971 council, etc.), the implications of the great tragedy of the church in the 17th century still require a comprehensive understanding with theological spirit and historical objectivity.

— Old-believers are known for their conservatism, which, in particular, has enabled them to preserve many precious cultural and artistic monuments and near forgotten folk traditions to this day. What else should modern Russian society be grateful to the Old-believers for? What spiritual values would you recommend to contemporaries to adopt from the Old-believers?

– I will answer with your own words: the values of healthy, enlightened conservatism. Now, after the collapse of the “one and only” ideology, the Russian people have become open to all ideological movements. This has led to a state of spiritual confusion, which threatens the loss, as they now say, of national identity and socio-political instability. But Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin also wrote that a person is alive “with a love for his native ashes, for his paternal coffins.” And Old-believers were especially distinguished by this love in the history of our Homeland.

– How do you feel about the formation by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of a Commission for affairs concerning Old-believers’ Parishes and for interaction with the Old-believers? What is your relationship with this commission?

– Positive. It is true that these relations are only beginning to develop. It is essential to ensure that this commission does not become another formal entity, and that it actually addresses the issues of the times.

– In your opinion, how should the Old-believers respond to the proposed introduction of the subject “Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture” in general education schools? Do you consider it necessary or possible for this course to provide positive coverage of the contribution of Old-believers to Russian culture and a balanced account of the events of 17th century Russian history?

– The question is very complex. Even a good thing can be spoiled with a bad performance. After all, it is one thing to study a subject freely and with genuine interest, and another to have to be graded, to sit compulsory examinations, in short, the usual “forced work”. How many high school graduates will never again take up “Eugene Onegin” and “War and Peace” only because at one time they were forced to cram excerpts from them and write essays “on the theme”. And these are compositions of secular culture; spiritual culture in this regard is even more defenceless against even unintentional profanation.

Unfortunately, people know very little about the Old Belief, only very roughly and often completely inadequately. But this knowledge could be imparted in an objectively and impartially composed national history course.