Interview of Bishop Evfimiy with Business Online, an electronic business newspaper of Tatarstan, in 2016
– Your Grace, a solemn event took place in Kazan on July 21 – the installation of a memorial sign at the place where the church of the finding of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God will be revived. Was this an event for you?
– For us, this was an event, because it was the feast of the Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. And since the Old-believers’ church in Kazan was consecrated in honor of the Appearance, we had a Patron Saint’s day. In the Old-believers’ church there was a ceremony, a long evening service on July 20, and on the morning of the 21st there were a Divine Liturgy, moleben, religious procession and blessing of the water. That is, we had our own feast day and our own programme.
– At official events you meet with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. Do you converse?
– The fact is that the Old-believers for three and a half centuries have learned to live in different conditions, both political and national. And we realised that we can only survive if we fulfil the law of God. If we start to break it, we will become undesirable everywhere. Therefore, by fulfilling the law of God and living correctly, by working, we will thus ensure our peaceful living and peaceful approach to the solemn moment when we will meet the Saviour and Judge at the Terrible Judgment. It strengthens us, and this is where we stand. We, both in Russia and in Tatarstan, are given the opportunity to freely maintain our faith and pray as we see fit; therefore, we thank those in power and peacefully coexist with all denominations.
– How are your relations built with Metropolitan Theophanes and the Mufti of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kamil Hazrat? Do you share a dialogue about the problems of our time?
– I meet with Kamil Hazrat and Metropolitan Theophanes at various republican events. We wish each other only health and all the best. This is according to the Christian commandments, to wish your neighbour the very best. All relationships are based on this.
– Are there many Old-believers in Tatarstan? Does the youth come to the RPSC [Russian Orthodox Old-believer Church]?
– Lots. Especially in the forested regions of the Kirov oblast and Udmurtia. There are less Old-believers in Tatarstan, of course. And the youth comes, but more often than not they come from Old-believers’ families. We have large families of 6-8 children each.
– In Kazan, there are only two Old-believers’ churches. Is that enough? Are there churches in other cities and regions of the republic? Do you plan to build new churches?
– The church on Ostrovsky Street is active, where father Gennady serves. The second church is on the Old-belief Street (previously known as Old Street), but it has been undergoing restoration for many years. Historically it was a cathedral church. [Editor’s note – As of 2018, this church on Old-belief Street is now active. Father Roman Dontsov is the rector of the church]
– Is one church in Kazan enough?
– Today it is enough.
– Where are other Old-believers’ churches in Tatarstan?
– One church is in the village of Sobolevskoye, in the Verkhneuslonsky district. Another is being given to us in Nizhny Uslon where we have another community and we are starting to restore it. A wooden church was built in Naberezhnye Chelny and today a stone one is being built. There is a community there too. We are working on a project and will begin construction of a church in Zelenodolsk, where land is being allotted to us.
– How do local authorities accept you in cities and regions?
– As I understand it, the church is being built by the Lord God with our hands. If He sees that we need this church, He will build it. If we do not need this church, He will not build it, no matter how much we want it. And the authorities have nothing to do with it.
– If the secular authorities resist, then do you see the voice of God in this and retreat?
– No, we do not retreat, but we review our behaviour. Previously, I served as a priest in the city of Lyskovo and participated there in the construction of a stone church from beginning to end. It was a small city of twenty thousand people and there was no construction equipment, not even a crane. So grandmothers manually raised bricks 15 meters up – each brick passed through the hands of each person in a human chain! Can you imagine what kind of construction it was?! Children say: we participated in the construction of the church… All with our own hands. The Lord helped. And the authorities just would not interfere.
– Recently, the Federation Council approved an anti-terrorism law passed by the State Duma, which in some way also applies to religious institutions, in particular, it is impossible to conduct preaching activities outside the walls of a church. But what about a religious procession?
– We are upholding this law. We hold our cross processions on church grounds without needing to notify the authorities, but if we leave through the gates, we lodge a request in advance. For example, in our diocese there is an annual five-day cross procession from the city of Kirov, 80 kilometres to the town of Velikoretsky and back to Kirov. In total, we walk
160 kilometres for the cross procession and we have permission from the authorities. We are also accompanied by the police and ambulance services. This is all done in accordance with the law.
– So you find nothing wrong with this law?
– There is nothing wrong with it! Moreover, the authorities help, because it is very difficult to pass through the city, as it is necessary to block the flow of all traffic. And outside the city federal, routes are blockaded. We have religious processions in the diocese every year and we have always previously informed the authorities about them.
– Are there any Kryashens among today’s parishioners of the RPSC? If there are those who want to return to their roots, will you accept them into your ranks?
– There is no official opinion on this subject in the RPSC, because the Kryashens never came to us. In the last 30 years in Tatarstan, no Kryashen has ever come to our church.
– Does nationality not matter for your church?
– No, it does not matter. By the way, several years ago, several parishes in Uganda joined the RPSC, that is, there are also black Old-believers.
– Are there Tatars among the Old-believers?
– And yes, there are Tatar Old-believers. As a rule, it happens this way: the bride is ours and the groom is a Tatar. He is offered to accept our faith and he agrees: he is baptised, married and lives by our rules. And vice versa: the groom is ours and the bride is a Tatar.
– Did you first come to Kazan in 2011, when you were appointed bishop?
– Before, I would visit as a tourist, traveling by ship.
– Do you like Kazan?
– Did Jesus Christ like the cross that was laid upon him? But He carried It… There is no such thing as “I like it – I don’t like it”. I am carrying my cross.
– Well, from a purely human perspective: is Kazan a good city to live in?
– It is bad!
– I’ll explain. The Kazan-Vyatka diocese consists of two districts – Kirov and Ulyanovsk, and four republics – Tatarstan, Udmurtia, Mari El and Chuvashia. Therefore, I have to travel all over this territory, I am not only in Kazan, but also in Izhevsk, Yoshkar-Ola, Cheboksary, Ulyanovsk and Kirov. I do not consider myself a pure Kazanite. I come here with my cross to fulfil my functions.
– Is Kazan the “capital” of the diocese?
– I do not travel to the capital, but to the parishes. There are parishes located in the cities and villages. I come to the people who are waiting for me, who want to hear my word, to participate with me in prayer.
Therefore, I am not in admiration of the city and that aspect doesn’t interested me. I generally do not like megacities. Cities are such a folly of humanity, recklessness on par with war. Cities millions-strong are being built and villages are becoming empty. They constrain the space, building 30-storey domiciles, sitting on top of each other… And socially and environmentally this is wrong and harmful to humans. The city is noise, filth, crowds, haste! In the village it is easier and simpler. I don’t like cities in principle, starting with Moscow.
– Are there a lot of Old-believers in Russia today? I understand that no one has compiled a census of the Old-believers, but still?
– As a mathematician, I will answer this way: three hairs on the head are not much, but three hairs in a bowl of soup are a lot…
– Nevertheless how many approximately?
– A few million. Old-believers live today in 22 countries around the world in large communities. For example, in Romania there is a whole Old-believers’ Metropolitanate. In 2013, at my invitation, metropolitan Leontius came to Kazan from Romania; and in 2014, archbishop Flavian from Romania visited. We have friendly relations with the Old-believers of the whole world. They come to Russia from Australia, USA, and other countries. Boys are looking for a bride and girls are looking for suitors. Old-believers are in Bolivia, in Argentina and other parts of South America. All of these Old-Believers still retain the language and culture. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Nekrasov Cossacks left for Turkey, staying there for 250 years, and in the 1960s returned and brought with them the culture of their ancestors. They speak and sing in Russian. Scientists are studying this phenomenon today. And these are all Old-believers.
– What issues in the life of the RPSC would you call the most relevant and urgent today?
– The most important, urgent task of the church is the salvation of people’s souls. When a particular person comes to church, it is necessary to bring this person to salvation. We perform this task every day with the people who themselves come to our church. We drag no one with a lasso. The second very important task is to preserve and pass on to the next generations the Christian doctrine, the faith that has been brought to us through the blood and executions of the 17th to 19th centuries. The issue of raising children, youth and the clergy is a very important issue.
– How do you perform your main task, the salvation of the human soul? Do you have developed missionary work? Or do you save only those who come to your church?
– Perhaps our preaching outside the church is not as developed as in other confessions, because we were persecuted for 300 years. But, nevertheless, it exists. The conference held in Moscow is a small step and the interview I am giving now is also a step towards preaching.
But we, Old-believers, are simple and modest people. We have many people with the desire to not stick out: we live, and for that, glory be to God.
– In June, an international conference entitled “The Old Belief, the State and Society in the Modern World” was held in Moscow. Were you a participant? What work guidelines were established at this conference?
– I was not at the conference, but I am aware of its content, because there was preparation for this event. In January, several select groups of different strands of the Old Belief were formed. In March, a round table was held with the participation of metropolitan Korniliy, government officials and the media. At the round table, it was decided to continue this activity at the June conference in Moscow.
The fact is, that this is the first event where all the strands of the Old Belief gathered. And in life, we constantly communicate in the regular course of work – our relations are long-standing. In particular, the Old-believers and the Old Pomortsy gathered in Kazan in 2013 with regards to the burials at the Arsk cemetery and appeared together before the authorities.
For a long time, the different strands of the Old Belief have been in agreement to discuss only those issues that are common to us, and so far not to touch on issues that divide us, for example, liturgical and statutory. Among the common issues are joint appearances to the authorities on various issues. When we unite, it is taken more seriously. There were also issues regarding co-publishing. Each branch of the Old Belief publishes its own calendars and books, and it makes sense to act together. Since we all preserve the pre-Nikonian culture and traditions, it is useful to jointly conduct master classes on znamenny singing, on iconography, and even on some work matters.
International academic conferences on the themes of the Old Belief have been held for 20–30 years. As a rule, they are held by such large scientific organisations as Moscow State University, other universities and the State Historical Museum. We ourselves hold conferences that are attended by academics. We have agreed to jointly appear in the museum and exhibitional activities, in concerts of znamenny singing.
– Why is the Old-believers’ church not united?
– For different reasons. For example, the Old-believers’ Church is divided into popovtsy [those who pray with a priest] and bespopovtsy [those who pray without a priest]. Bespopovtsy believe that, since the time Patriarch Nikon introduced reforms and once the pre-Nikonian priests died, that there is no more legitimate clergy. They believe that the clergy has ceased, and the church continues on without them. And the other part, popovtsy, believe that there is still an opportunity to preserve the hierarchy. In particular, our church belongs to the Belokrinitskaya hierarchy, which was renewed thanks to metropolitan Ambrose of
Belaya Krinitsa. Subsequently, they began to ordain bishops and priests. It can be said that the division of Old-believers is purely organisational. But our books are the same and the Divine services are the same.
– Why do we need an intermediary between a man and God – that is, a priest?
– A person has the ability to justify themselves. And the Lord hears, but does not respond at all. And if He were to answer, then it is in such a way that a person cannot understand. Therefore, a spiritual father is needed.
– So I want to ask: who are the judges? How many scandals have been associated with the clergy…
– We have only one judge – the Most High. And the clergyman is a witness and adviser. It is clear that we are all sinners. But in order for the priest to be the least sinful, we have such criteria that not everyone can become one.
– Are there scandals in the Old Belief, as they occur in the Vatican and in the Russian Orthodox Church?
– I have not heard of scandals in the Old Belief. We come to church not to listen to scandals, but to save our soul. And we do not look at what is happening on the right or on the left, to condemn, but we come to condemn ourselves before God.
– What did you save your soul from; what personally brought you to the church?
– What brought me was that I was born on this earth and must die sometime. And at the end of my earthly life, I will stand before God at the Terrible Judgment. And it is good that I was not led to the church later. It would be good to teach children so that they prepare from infancy. On occasion, people come to the church at 60 – 80 years, and they are not ready. What does “not ready” mean? That means, when asked “Do you have any sins?”, he lists a complete list of sins – he tried everything in his life. When the spiritual father asks: “Why so?”, he replies: “I was not taught.” Therefore, the sooner a person comes to the church, the more chances they will have to improve, to gather themselves spiritually and be ready for the Terrible Judgment.
– Why did you come to the Old-believers’ church in particular?
– I remember in the early 60s, the grandmothers would gather in a prayer house and take me with them. While they were praying, I would be sitting and eating cranberries… There were such events in my life, for example, when I was 6 years old, my friend, with whom we played, died. And for me it was such a revelation that, it turns out that people die. Some live up to 100 years and some die young. And for the first time I began to ask myself questions. Why did this boy die, will I die? What is there after death? Is there an afterlife and, if so, what am I doing here? I understand that these questions were my first steps toward a spiritual life. And I had such conviction that I should only be in the Old Belief and nowhere else.
– Your ancestors were Old-believers, am I correct?
– Yes, I believe that is correct. Although I came to the church itself at a mature age, I came consciously, to a specific church, with specific goals.
– You graduated from the very renowned Institute MEPhI, which trains physicists. Scientists are often 100% materialists, because they have to work with matter, and use and discover the material laws of this world. Only very rare people are able to simultaneously fit into their head and soul material perceptions (science) and spiritual perceptions (religion), since, at first glance, they contradict each other. And for many it is like a stumbling block. How did your transition from a scientific worldview (materialism) toward faith occur?
– The more I know, the less I know… I have more doubts than knowledge. Like any scientist, the more knowledge, the more doubts. Looking at the world, I realise the greatness of God. And the more I grow spiritually, the more I appreciate the material world.
– But the Nobel laureate Zhores Alferov does not believe in God…
– That is his personal choice. But the most famous Russian scientist, Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov, who hailed from Old Pomortsy, had a different perspective. I will quote him: “The Creator gave two books to the human race: in one he showed His greatness, and in the other, His will. The first is this visible world, created by Him, so that man, looking upon its vastness, beauty and harmony, will recognise Divine omnipotence, according to the understanding granted to him. The second book is the Holy Scripture. It shows the Creator’s favour for our salvation. Scientists explain the first book of the Creator. The apostles and teachers of the church elaborate upon the second. And just as you can’t measure God’s will with a compass, so too can you not learn astronomy and chemistry in the Psalter. The knowledge of nature is not contrary to Christian Law.”
And not only Lomonosov, but almost all the great scientists of the world after their discoveries exalted God: “How great is God, that He created this!” And man himself is the whole world, bearing both the spiritual and material.
– Old-believers, in the memory of the people and commemorated in literature and traditions, are preserved as heroic people, ready to go to death, deprivation and torment for the sake of preserving the purity of faith. And this really proves that they believed and believe. There are not so many Old-believers, yet on the other hand, can there be many true believers? Please, name the 5 most significant differences between the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church and the Russian Orthodox Church and their significance for the true Faith, from your point of view.
– That is a bit of an awkward question… Firstly, why 5 differences, not 3 or 10? Secondly, everyone’s faith is different. One can have a stronger and deeper faith, the others is weaker, and the third has just joined the church and his faith is only sprouting. Therefore, we can only talk about true faith in relation to each individual person.
And if we compare the two organisations, the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, then we are not talking about the true faith, but about the internal life of these organisations. This is a completely different question. But there are differences. I will tell you how the Old Belief differs from the New Belief. As you know, in the 17th century there was a Raskol, when Patriarch Nikon (and he was supported by Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich) carried out a reform and introduced innovations. These innovations are contrary to the Orthodoxy, which existed before the reforms. Therefore, there was a serious schism of the church, which persists to this day. And the fundamental difference is that the Old-believers preserve and maintain what was before Nikon, and the New-believers accepted the innovations and are content with this.
– But still, what is the fundamental difference?
– Russia was baptised in the 10th century and by the 17th century, people in Russia had undergone 6 centuries of spiritual growth. Over the course of 6 centuries, Russia had attained sanctity: there were monasteries, there were Russian saints, we had accumulated a common spiritual experience. And suddenly we are told: you are all living wrong, your fathers were wrong! They brought new books and said: now we must live according to them. How come?! That is the essence of it! Some betrayed their fathers, while others did not. This is a main difference.
We treated the church book reverently – this is a holy book! But the reformers treated it in such a way that everything became jumbled. After all, church reform is primarily a book reform. They rewrote all the books, rewrote the Creed of the faith and rewrote the Bible. And what is most interesting, we still live according to the pre-Nikonian Bible, and it continues to be released. A person can take a book of the 21st century today and read it freely and can take, say, a book from the 15th century and also read it freely. This is one and the same book!
And what do the New-believers have? Over the three and a half centuries of their existence, they have already changed three Bibles! The first Bible is the so-called Moscow Bible of 1664 and in it there is a foreword, which states that they made amendments and changes in the Bible, because they believed that it was appropriate. The next Bible is called the Elizabeth Bible, which was published in the mid-18th century. With this, the previous Bible was abolished as being already useless. And the third Bible was released in the mid-19th century, the so-called Synodal Bible, which again abolished the previous version. And today, the Synodal Bible is officially used among the New-believers.
– Out of curiosity, have you read all of these New Orthodox Bibles?
– One of my duties is to read these books. In general, experts believe that there are about 600 versions of the Bible in different languages in the world today. I have come across almost ten Russian-language or Slavonic-language Bibles. They are available and there are reprints of old books. You can compare them.
– Are the differences in the details?
– They are in the details, but they are significant. For example, let us take the 90th psalm from the Psalter. In our version (translated into English from Slavonic): “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and thou shalt see the penalty for sinners”. Dative case – for whom: sinners. The New-believers changed this to the genitive case: “The penalty of sinners.” A small amendment, and hence they have been praying to God for three and a half centuries: “Show us the penalty of sinners!” Ask – I am giving it to you… How many more centuries can they ask for it?!
And there are hundreds of such moments! All the books are corrupted. Absolutely all the sacraments are corrupted, from baptism to burial. If a person is baptised by the New-believers, for us he is unbaptised. Immersive baptism was replaced by sprinkling and watering. And the priest who did this, according to the 50th rule of the Holy Apostles, is expelled from his rank. That is, he becomes an actor impersonating a priest. His actions bear no Heavenly power. If the rules of the Holy Apostles are not followed, then what kind of church is this?
– Indeed, Pre-Nikonian books were all pursued as well. Were they preserved in sufficient quantities?
– Yes. I also want to say that, besides the fact that we are seeking out these books, a great amount of gratitude should be expressed to the scholars who studied them throughout all this time and today confirm the correctness of the Old-believers. True, this confirmation is expressed only in narrow circles, at academic conferences, and this information does not reach wide swaths of people.
– It seems to me that the official Orthodox Church has become quite aggressive today…
– It was always aggressive. They began with beheading and immolating people. Remember at least the well-known “Twelve Clauses” of Princess Sophia. If a person after a threefold questioning agreed to move into the new faith, they would still be executed. Terrifying things were occurring! If we look at events such as the Moscow uprising of 1682, these were rooted in the old faith. People did not want to accept European innovations. And they were simply beheaded. I have already spoken about the Nekrasov Cossacks, who at the beginning of the 18th century even went to Turkey, only to save the faith. And they saved and preserved it. And the development of Siberia is, in fact, the relocation of a large number of Old-believers. They moved in the direction of Poland, to Austria (today Romania), and to the north.
And the New Belief in the 18 – 19th century spread only to places where peasants were enslaved. After all, there was no serfdom either in Siberia, or in the north for the Pomortsy, or in the south for the Cossacks. Enslavement only existed in the central regions. Reform of the church and enslavement are one and the same; these events occurred at the same time. However, an Old-believer is a free man who obeys the laws of God; he is a hardworking man.
From Siberia, Old-believers went to China, to Australia, to Brazil. Old-believers live all over the world, because on their homeland they were not allowed to believe as they should.
– What are the main feast days for the Old-believers? Do they coincide with the feast days of the Russian Orthodox Church?
– I have not compared whether our feast days coincide or not according to the calendar. I know that several years ago, the feast day of the Presentation did not coincide with us. This is one of the twelve great feast days. It did not coincide because it fell on Monday of the first week of Great Lent, when no food is permitted at all. The Russian Orthodox Church moved the feast day to another date. This is in spite of the holy fathers having composed a special rite of how to conduct the service on this day, if the feast day and Lent coincide.
– The Russian Orthodox Church has a somewhat more pragmatic approach…
– This is not just a church, it is a synod. The fact is that Peter the Great, when he visited Europe, met with the Protestants. And it was they who advised him to introduce a Synod instead of the conciliarity of the Church and the Patriarch. Peter the Great returned to Russia and forbade all forms of councils, expelled the Patriarch and created a Synod. This is already in the new church. Moreover, the Synod is an integral part of the Senate. In fact, the Synod is the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the chief procurator became the head there, who did not even have the rank of a bishop or a metropolitan, but was a civilian. We know the list of all chief procurators. This is a bureaucratic structure that, according to its own instructions, does everything correctly. What accusations can be laid against it?
– It seems that today the secular government is merging with the church. Do you think that is correct?
– It was like that before, only in a slightly different form. And before the tsar came to the church, where he had his own royal place. And when he was appointed to the throne, there was a special rite which took place in the church. This connection existed, only today it is different – now the official authorities lead the church, but the opposite is necessary. Before, in Rus’, the metropolitan could come to the tsar and tell him that he was doing something wrong. This happened not only in Rus’, but also in Byzantium. And when metropolitan Philip began to admonish Ivan the Terrible, the tsar ordered him to be imprisoned and then he was executed. After Peter the Great, there was no more patriarch; everything was decided by the Synod.
– When reading religious literature it is quite common to come across the phrase “satan is the prince of this world” in different interpretations, but with the meaning that it is satan (or the forces of evil) who control this world to a greater degree. It is difficult to disagree with this, seeing how much evil exists in the world.
– Of course, God! God created the world, and He will rule it to the end. Satan only interferes with this administration. Yes, satan exists and he brings much evil, but God rules the world. And God judges, and at the Terrible Judgment we will come specifically before Him.
In this question from your reader it states – “this world”. What is “this”? Every person has their own world. Two people can live together, but each one has their own world. That world is the one in which his soul lives. The way a person holds his soul indicates the world in him and around him. Satan fears a person who is constantly with God (and we know that God is stronger than satan). He avoids a true Christian by a kilometre! But if a person has departed from God, here satan seizes him up. Therefore, if a person lives with God, then he is not afraid of anything. After all, the Gospel says: “I give you the power to step on the serpent and on the scorpion, and if you drink any deadly poison, it will not harm you.” We can even drink poison! Because we live in the world that God created, He is stronger, He is more salvific, and our task is not to depart from God; otherwise, satan will immediately take us into his hands and into his world.
– What does it mean to “be with God”? Is it necessary to pray, to go to church or is it enough to be a decent person?
– I will refer to a statistic. In Russia, 50 thousand people die in road accidents every year, and about 250 thousand are maimed. Among them are very decent people. But why did they get hit by a car? Or why do children drown or die in fires? They are decent too. We have about a million people in jail. And any mother believed that her child would be decent; she raises him with that intention, and not for prison. And she says: “My baby is nice boy, why do you pester him with morals?” He is nice until he gets hit by a car… And he will get hit by a car when his guardian angel turns away from him, when the Lord God says: well, you made your choice.
– Is there a guardian angel by birth for everyone?
– No, by baptism. If a person is not baptised, he has no guardian angel.
– And if a person is baptised in a New Orthodox church, incorrectly, as you said, then he has no guardian angel?
– The 50th Apostolic Rule says that if a person was not immersed three times into water at baptism, but only was sprinkled or watered, then this is not baptism. He is not baptised! They conducted some kind of theatrical performance over him and took money for it… The Lord, through the apostles, gave us the rules of the church service and they must be fulfilled.
– How can one accept the faith of your church? What is required for this?
– This should be preceded by a catechising process. A few prayers should be learnt at least. The Symbol of Faith (The Creed) should be learnt, which they will have to read three times during his baptism, preferably without mistakes and stumbles. The Creed should be
understood. Even before the baptism, they must know what the fasts are and fulfil them in order to be ready.
– It is so difficult with you!
– It is easy if a person has the desire!
– In the New Orthodox church, as far as I know, it is simpler…
– A person receives what they have earned! We choose our life. It seems that we have some extra burdens and restrictions, but we are saving ourselves with these restrictions. Take the rules of worldly life: do not cross the road in the wrong place, do not swim beyond the buoys, do not stand under a load. And there are hundreds of such rules. But following these rules protects us. It would seem that it is so difficult to learn the hundreds of rules, they complicate our lives so much… On the contrary, they make our lives easier! We know that we will be healthy and alive if we know and follow these rules. So it is with spiritual rules. Pray, follow the spiritual rules, ask for help in their execution, and in difficult times the Lord will help you.
Every person has spiritual problems. It is not possible that living in a world with such storms, everything would be fine for them. A person has a lot of problems that everyone solves in their own way. One begins to drown their problems with alcohol, another will go to seek release within some sect, and someone else will come to our church. But this is the choice of the person themselves: come to us if you so wish; if you do not want to, don’t come. As a rule, if a person joins the church, they remain and proceed along this path. There is nothing complicated, but, of course, it is necessary to put in work. If a person came to church only to stand and leave the church the same as he came, then why did they come? Probably to get better. They will work on themselves in the church itself, and then also at home, and then they begin to ascend the steps of spirituality.
– How does the ritual of baptism proceed in the Old-believers’ church?
– In each of our churches there is a font, some use a barrel, and a person with their head is thrice submerged under the water. If there is a pond or river near the church, they are dipped in there. Just as Kievan Rus’ was baptised; in winter and summer, and no one ever got sick. Triple immersion is necessary; correct prayers are essential. And it is essential that the priest who performs the baptism is properly baptised himself. And so it has been for the past three and a half centuries.
In baptism, we are making a promise to God, a vow to God. And then the work begins. Some people think: I was baptised, and now nothing will happen to me. No, baptism does not save, but imposes work upon us. We begin to fulfil what we promised to God.
– Do you have the same fundamental commandments as the Russian Orthodox Church?
– The same, but there are more of them than the fundamental ones. We have a whole thick book. We have such a rule: if a person missed three Sunday services without a valid reason, then they will automatically secede from the church to which they themselves have come.
And the most important thing is that a person who came to the church should not just stand around (as if wearing a sign saying “I am Orthodox”), but should learn something. They must be shown something beneficial: that they do that, and that, and that. And, on the contrary: not to do this, and this and this. They should be given an overview of the meaning of each action that takes place in the church, so that they understand why they came.
Today, people live in such a commotion, they are all running somewhere, and because they have to run and run, they have no time to stop. This is a problem. Sometimes a person gets tired and jumps out of this carousel and says: “That’s enough, I’d rather stand in church”. And rightly so! You must learn to live the time that the Lord still grants you correctly.
Sometimes a person comes to the church and says that they cannot read the prayer aloud. And I ask them: “Do you use profane language?” they answer: “Constantly!” Then the Lord Himself does not allow you to utter profanities using the same tongue with which you pray! In order to begin to pray, you must first stop swearing and drive out your profanities with prayer. This requires work! It is not accomplished in one day, but maybe in a year it will happen. By the way, in my experience, there are people who forcibly supplanted profanity with prayer. With difficulty, by syllables, but they began to read a prayer…
We have either the Lord or satan in our souls. And to find out who is within you, there is such a test. When a person slips or hits themselves, they reflexively utter something. A person either remembers the Lord or an evil spirit. This is an indicator of who is in your soul.
– And if a person starts to control themselves and supplant bad words, then God will appear in their soul?
– This absolutely must be done! After each dirty word uttered out loud, a greater number of God-pleasing words should be said.
– What should I say? Lord, forgive me?
– You can just use your own words, but if you know prayers, then read a prayer. It is necessary to force out of your speech all the filthy things that exist. It is work, like any other. But you have to work, because it will not happen on its own. And this, too, should be learnt.
– You have already explained how to baptise correctly according to the Old-believers’ canons, but how do you correctly perform a funeral service?
– Our funeral services last for an hour and a half or more. Usually the priest accompanies the departed to the cemetery if it is not too far from the church. In small towns and villages, they are brought from the church to the grave and the funeral service ends at the grave. It is
very important to perform the funeral rite and burial verbatim. And this is not done for an audience, but for the person whose soul goes forth to the Terrible Judgment. For them, this is the final mystery and it must be done perfectly. It is necessary to love this person very much in order to conduct the burial properly and worthily.
– Do you have a ritual of divorce?
– We cannot even fathom such a thing! There is a second and third marriage, which is superimposed on top of the first and second in the event of the death of a spouse. Even so, after their death, it is necessary to abstain for a certain period. And if a person has disappeared, a period of 10 years should be observed.
– And if people have decided to have a divorce?
– In the premarital period, it is necessary to prepare the bride and groom so that they do not separate. And if they get married, then this cross must be carried to the end. Marriage is just the planting of a seed, which must be grown to the age of 80. After two months of marriage, people sometimes say: “We have realised that we do not love each other, and we are simply different people.” And I answer them: only by the age of 80, can you answer whether there is love between you or not. Yes, all people are different, but you must live your life together in order to become the same. And for this, again, work is needed, upon one’s self, and not on another person.
But many do not want to do this, to grow love in themselves, to grow closer to their loved one, with whom they conjoined before God. With this, everything is just beginning, and then comes the work and responsibility. And this has been ingrained since childhood. Nothing happens by itself. The Lord punishes very severely and we already know this from practice.
– One clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church in a conversation with me said that it was necessary to ask God and He would give. And when I said that I was ashamed to ask, that I should achieve everything myself, he replied to me that this is pride, one of the great sins… And how does the Old-believers’ church respond to this issue?
– The Lord is all-seeing, He Himself knows what each of us needs. Therefore, asking for something in particular is, of course, incorrect. A person who has just joined to the church, as a rule, has many problems, so they only ask. But when this person grows spiritually, they stop asking and start giving thanks. The Lord has given us so much that, until the end of our life, we should only give thanks. He gave us life, He gave us the sun, blue sky, clean air. He gives us everything to lead a normal life. And we must thank Him, glorify Him and praise Him. When we reach an understanding of this, we are in the best form. We should give thanks even for having woken up today.
There is one such fragment in the Gospel. A man gathered a large crop and decided to destroy his old barn, to build a new, large one. And the Lord says to him: “You are a madman! At night, the angels will take you, and to whom will you leave all this?…” If you read this fragment from the Gospel before bedtime, you will muse: what if I do not wake up tomorrow?
And if you woke up, you need to thank God for giving you one more day of life. And this day may be the last, so it must lived as a gift. But mostly people live as if they are on a conveyor: after Monday it will be Tuesday, after Tuesday – Wednesday…
– And who thought that the Lord should be thanked? Wasn’t this thought up by man: just in case, I will give thanks…
– This is not done “just in case”, but is gratitude arising from our love of God. God can be treated with love and with fear.
– Some may ask give thanks in a mercantile-manner: I will give thanks, and perhaps He will give more…
– No. The fact is that the Lord, aside from being strict and merciful, is still just. And He will not make a mistake. If we can make mistakes, then He will not make mistakes.
– Why, then, does He allow injustice towards certain innocent people and countries? These questions have been asked in all ages…
– It was not God who committed an injustice, but Adam and Eve, who violated the commandments and, as a result, descended to Earth. And thus we live with disease and we are mortal. Women give birth in agony and we attain bread by the sweat of our brow. This we have received, and we must accept it, agree and not cry. Disease and death are normal for us.
– Young people can understand it as such: “If earthly life is only a small stop on the way to the afterlife, why should we try to achieve something in this life?”
– We are approaching the moment when we will solemnly meet the Saviour at the Terrible Judgment and will stand before Him. Our knees will tremble, as they at times tremble in front of a superior (although they shouldn’t tremble, they tremble). And when we come before the Lord, our knees will tremble even more. In order for us to come to the Terrible Judgment prepared, we must work for our salvation. And give thanks to God for giving us this opportunity.
– That is, life is given to us and we should live it with honor?
– Yes, it is all simple! It is not even necessary to philosophise, but simply to fulfil God’s commandments. And this is not fanaticism, but a normal condition.
– We know from history that the famous merchants Tretyakov and Morozov were Old-believers. They did a lot of good things for the benefit of the Homeland. Are there such patrons now? Who helps and sponsors the RPSC?
– Besides the Tretyakovs and Morozovs, there are still a lot of famous ones: in Moscow – the Ryabushinskys, the Kuznetsovs; in Nizhny Novgorod – the Bugrovs, the Blinovs, the Sirotkins; in Kazan – the Shamovs. Large studies have been written about them. But there
were also merchants of the second and third guilds, whose names are not so widely known, but there were much more of them. Among the Old-believers, there were many highly skilled artisans, for example, in factories in the Urals and Altai. There were also many wealthy peasants, who later became known as Kulaks.
Famous patrons of the arts could not grow from nothing. They grew up in the Old-believers’ sphere. And all of them – from Ryabushinsky to every peasant – live according to the same laws. Everyone simply has their own work. And wealthy people did not consider accumulated capital as their property, but they considered it to be public. From history, we know that when the Old-believer entrepreneurs got into financial trouble, they were given a million roubles, free of charge. For example, Ryabushinsky transferred a million to the account of another bank. This was not for commercial gain, but to preserve the stability of the world in which they live.
There is interesting research on the economics of the Old-believers. Despite the fact that for three centuries the Old-believers were in persecution and were forced to exercise their faith illegally, by the beginning of the 20th century they held more than 60 percent of Russian capital. But less than 15 percent of the country were Old-believers! High level businesses were held only in the circle of Old-believers for several generations, stemming from their ancestors. Whereas among others, as we know, the grandchildren wasted all the capital of their grandfathers for their entertainment… Why did this happen with the Old-believers? Because for them, labour is not about the making of money, but is in the sweat accumulated on one’s brow in order to fulfil one’s duty.
– Do you have any benefactors now?
– There are benefactors, although, perhaps, not as famous and large as former patrons of the arts. They help build Old-believers’ churches, and lately a lot of them have been built in Russia. I think the number of benefactors will grow. Our attitude toward work is ingrained in us from childhood. As a rule, Old-believers have a higher education or are high-class specialists and they live well.
– What is the difference between Old-believers and other people in everyday life? I heard that the Old-believers do not consume any alcohol, do not smoke tobacco and do not eat pork. What dishes do they cook? How do they dress? Do they watch television and use the Internet?
– Of course, I don’t go about apartments and don’t look at how anyone lives… One of the main features of an Old-believer’s life is a sober way of life and a big strong family. As a rule, the family is married and the bride and groom are churched (an active part of the Church). The spiritual father prepares them for family life, as husband and wife, as future father and mother. And to discern their feelings, the bride and groom pray 40 molebens. As such, our families are very strong and hardworking. We have no excess, no luxury.
Even spanning back to previous centuries, many myths abound about Old-believers that we still walk in sandals, etc. No, Old-believers use all modern discoveries in their lives, use tools and machines, if this is for a good cause. Another thing is television. But it is not the item itself that is standing in a room that matters, but what is projected from it. If the television could display what I asked, I would watch it. But if it shows me something that I don’t want to see, why should I watch it? Someone compared television with a door without a lock: whoever wants to will enter it. Therefore, many of us have no televisions. And the Internet is used by those who need it. Personally, I do not use it, but my secretariat uses the Internet for business purposes. And likewise with the phone.
– What do you think can become a national idea of Russia?
– Many books have been written on this topic, including those by great philosophers. You will read them, but you won’t even understand them… Let us start with the fact that one of the tasks of the Old Belief is to preserve the traditions, to preserve the Russian language. You said “national idea”, where “idea” is a Greek word, which is translated as the main or fundamental concept, and “nation” is the Latin word meaning “narod” (people). So, if you were to rephrase it in Russian it would sound like this: the fundamental concept of the Russian people. And the word “narod” has the root “rod” (clan), that is, the people are a large cohabitation of clans who have lived here from century to century. They can be different: Russians, Tatars, etc. And these people living in Rus’ should live in peace, in love, according to God’s commandments, raise their children and leave the Earth to them as pure and beautiful as God created. What else is left contrive?
– Your Grace, thank you for your enlightening conversation.
Photo: Irina Erokhin