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Metropolitan Hilarion: the current mortality rate …

Metropolitan Hilarion: the current mortality rate from coronavirus in Russia is a nationwide disaster

On November 6th, 2021, on The Church and the World TV program shown on Saturdays and Sundays on “Rossiya-24”, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR), answered questions fr om the anchor Ekaterina Gracheva.

E. Gracheva: Hello! This is the time of the program “The Church and the World” on the TV channel “Rossia 24”, where we talk weekly with the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. Hello, Vladyka!

Metropolitan Hilarion: Hello, Catherine! Hello dear brothers and sisters! 

E. Gracheva: Back to the topic of a pandemic and vaccination: Rosstat has published fresh data, according to which the coronavirus and its consequences have reduced the population of our country by almost half a million people - 462 thousand people have died. Non-working days were extended in Moscow, which undoubtedly reduced the burden on hospitals, but still, the topic of low vaccination rates remains very acute. I have now returned fr om Italy and I must say that such living conditions have been created there for both Italians and tourists that not getting vaccinated is very expensive and unprofitable. Every two days one has to do a test, which costs, for example, 150 euros per person at a hotel. One will not be allowed on the train or restaurant without a QR code. If one is fined, the fine is up to 2,000 euros. I imagined for a second, if such measures had been introduced in Russia, would a revolution have happened or would people massively counterfeit these QR codes? What do you think should be the punishment for non-compliance with quarantine measures?

Metropolitan Hilarion: I think that there would be no revolution. Sooner or later we will come to this, and the sooner, the better, because today we are losing more than a thousand people every day - it's the same as if we would lose a whole regiment per day during a war. At such a rate of death, we can talk about a nationwide catastrophe. Now, as of early November, Russia ranks first in the world in terms of the number of people dying fr om coronavirus per day. This is a very scary statistic. I think in many ways we ourselves are to blame for what is happening now, because when the virus arrived, no one knew how to deal with it. People died because there was no vaccine, no cure. Now there are vaccines and treatments, but the vaccination campaign is not going well enough. 

I have also recently visited Italy and England - the situation in those two countries is more or less similar: at least 70-80 percent of the population in different regions is already vaccinated, so the pandemic is declining everywhere. At the same time, very strict anti-epidemic measures and restrictions remain for those who do not want to be vaccinated. In fact, those people are not allowed into public places, it is impossible to go anywhere without a QR code. I really hope that we will come to the same situation as soon as possible.

There is now a debate focused on whether vaccination should be compulsory. I do not believe that it should be mandatory, but I believe that people who, for some reason, do not want to be vaccinated, should either stay at home in order not to become a potential source of infection for others, or there should be introduced a special ‘mode’ for those people, special kind of places wh ere they may or may not go to. The ‘QR code’ mode has proven itself in many countries, as well as in our regions wh ere it has been used and is being applied.

E. Gracheva: Unfortunately, there are also representatives of the priesthood among those victims that we learn about from statistics. On the feast day of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, Schema-Archimandrite Vlasiy (Peregontsev), the spiritual father of the Pafnutiyevo-Borovsk Monastery, had died. He was also my spiritual father. After his departure, all his spiritual children say that they literally became orphaned, because many people know him not only in Moscow, but throughout the country and beyond. They went to him as to an elder, a ‘starets’. In our country, with such a large number of operating monasteries, there are few of those who are called elders and who are approached by others for advice. Why is that? Why did the phenomenon of ‘elders’ in Russia actually stopped? 

Metropolitan Hilarion: First, I would like to express my condolences to you and to all the spiritual children of Fr. Vlasiy, who are truly orphaned now, because for them this death is a huge loss. He was a shepherd with a very big and very kind heart. People came to him from all over Russia and not only from Russia. Although he was already 87 years old at the time of his death, were it not for the coronavirus, he would have lived for a much longer time. I would like our viewers to see what he said about vaccinations: “Be strong, don't believe any rumors. Get vaccinated. Don't forget this. Get vaccinated! Some people say: ‘Father Vlasiy told us not to get vaccinated’. And now I say to all of you: get vaccinated! And we will defeat the enemy." Let these words of the newly deceased Father Vlasiy sound like a call and a reminder not only to his spiritual children, but to everyone who is watching us today. 

As for the other part of your question: of course, there have never been many elders. Elders have always been few in numbers (including, for example, in the 19th century, when the famous Optina elders were still alive), there were never many of them at the same time. It was one or two people, and as a rule, the "baton" of eldership was passed from one to another. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky writes about the elders in a very interesting way in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, which he wrote after he had gone to Optina Pustyn 'and talked with the elder Ambrose, now known as the Monk Ambrose of Optina. This meeting and their conversation had a very deep impression on Dostoevsky, and in the novel The Brothers Karamazov he wrote about Elder Zosima, whose prototype was the Monk Ambrose of Optina.

E. Gracheva: Vladyka, since you have already mentioned Dostoevsky, I cannot but move on to a very important topic for our country - the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky's birth, which we will celebrate on November 11th. I know that on the eve of this event a series of your documentaries – entitled The Gospel of Dostoevsky – will be released on the Kultura channel on November 8-11. I know that you have worked on it for a long time, it probably took you more than one year to make. Tell us, please, why did you choose such a title and what does Dostoevsky mean for you personally? 

Metropolitan Hilarion: I became acquainted with the work of Dostoevsky in my early youth. I was probably 11-12 years old when I avidly read all of his main works. Then, for many years I did not turn back to his works, and when the pandemic had begun and some free time had appeared in my schedule, I re-read some of his books. In addition, I got acquainted with a very interesting publication called "The Gospel of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky." This is a reprinted version of the Gospel that he had in the hard labor camp, and the original copy of that Gospel is in the Russian State Library. 

The story goes as follows. Dostoevsky was brought up in the Orthodox faith, but in his youth, under the influence of Belinsky, he was carried away by socialist ideas. It almost cost him his life. He was sentenced to death and taken to the scaffold. Then the death sentence was commuted to hard labor. When he had arrived at the prison, he was met by one compassionate woman, the wife of one of the Decembrists, who had lived in Siberia for a quarter of a century. She gave him the Gospel, which he never parted with. At night it lay under his pillow, and during the day he read it. He had no pens or pencils, so he made nail marks in the Book. Later, researchers of this Dostoevsky Gospel discovered more than one and a half thousand nail marks and folds.

The Gospel had such a colossal influence on the work of Dostoevsky that throughout his subsequent life he constantly turned to the themes and plots of the Gospel. After leaving the hard labor camp, he wrote to that very woman, Natalya Dmitrievna Fonvizina, those wonderful words: “I have formed a very simple Symbol of Faith. Now I will explain it to you. There is nothing in the world more beautiful, profound, loving, wise, courageous and perfect than Christ." He sought Christ in all his creative work. He created Christ-like heroes such as Prince Myshkin, Elder Zosima, Tikhon in the novel Demons and Alyosha Karamazov. Through these images, he tried to reveal Christ to his contemporaries. He is still an apostle of Christ in our time, because very many people do not read the Gospel, do not know anything about Orthodoxy, especially if we talk about those who live outside of our country, but at the same time they read Dostoevsky and through his books discover for themselves Christ and the Orthodox faith.

In this series I have a fantastic cast: Evgeny Mironov reads quotes from Dostoevsky, Chulpan Khamatova reads quotes from Anna Grigorievna Dostoevskaya, and Vladimir Spivakov narrates the remaining text.

E. Gracheva: Vladyka, I will definitely watch your series with pleasure. I am very glad that it has taken shape and will be aired on the Kultura channel. But at the same time, I am saddened by the fact that there should be many more such films about Dostoevsky, especially on the 200th anniversary of his birth. In Anna Grigorievna's memoirs, I was struck by how, after Dostoevsky's death, she lamented that due to poverty he could not bring his family, her and children, to his legendary "Pushkin speech" at the opening of the monument in Moscow. They simply had no money. And now, 200 years later, I also have questions: is Dostoevsky appreciated enough in our country? Sometimes it seems to me that in the West they simply idolize him, almost like a saint. 

Metropolitan Hilarion: I have recently attended a technical university. The topic of my lecture was "The Gospel of Dostoevsky", more precisely - "Dostoevsky and the Gospel." I asked the students, of whom there were several hundred: which of you have read Dostoevsky? They all raised their hands. And then I asked: which of you have read the Gospel? About a fifth of the audience raised their hands. So I think it is the Gospel that is really underestimated. 

And if we talk about the West and the whole world, then everyone reads Dostoevsky there, everyone knows him. Many people learn about Russia and Orthodoxy precisely from the works of Dostoevsky.

E. Gracheva: Vladyka, this week our country celebrated the National Unity Day. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, due to the pandemic, there were no mass events this year. This is an interesting topic for our discussion. What is national unity in the understanding of a modern Russian? Fashion writer Alexander Tsypkin writes on his Instagram: “It is with regret that we have to admit that we really have nothing that unites but the Great Victory. It is a complete ideological catastrophe. Society is divided on all issues: from Yulia Peresild in space to vaccinations." Vladyka, do you agree with the writer Tsypkin that we have nothing in common except for  the Victory Day? 

Metropolitan Hilarion: A divided society can be observed in other countries as well. In the United States of America, for example, society is divided over the topic of vaccinations, over their different attitudes towards Republicans or Democrats, and over many other issues. In a sense, it is probably even natural that there can be no uniformity of opinion among society as a whole. But there are, nevertheless, some bonds and unshakable things that should unite, as it seems to me, all Russians - this is love for our history, knowledge of our history. But in order for us to love our history, we must, of course, know it, and in order to love our past, we must also love our present. Therefore, it seems to me that love for the Fatherland is what should unite, and, I hope, it still unites the majority of our citizens. The holiday of national unity is one of the ways to remind of those pages of our history that, although they have gone far into the past, are nevertheless significant for the present. 

E. Gracheva: Thank you very much, Vladyka, for answering our questions. 

Metropolitan Hilarion: Thank you, Catherine. 

In the second part of the program, Metropolitan Hilarion answered questions from viewers that were sent to the website of the Church and the World program.

Question: Hello, Your Eminence! How can one understand that a person has a vocation to the monastic life? I'm 19 years old. I have a desire to devote my life to God, but my parents are against it. How can I not be mistaken in such an important decision? 

Metropolitan Hilarion: This is indeed a decision in which in no case can one be mistaken. Just as you cannot make a mistake in choosing a bride, you cannot make a mistake in choosing a monastic path, because it will be impossible to correct this mistake later. 

Therefore, first of all, there is no need to rush. If you are 19 years old, you have enough time to think carefully and weigh everything. Second, the decision should be yours. This is not a decision of your parents, but your own decision, because you and only you are responsible for your own destiny. Thirdly, monasticism cannot be accepted just like that, abstractly. Monasticism is accepted in a monastery, so if you are interested in monastic life, find a monastery for yourself, enter it as a laborer, novice, live there, see whether you like the atmosphere of this monastery, whether you ready to connect your whole life with that place. If you feel that this is your place, your home, that you feel good there, then after several years of testing yourself, you can become a monk. Moreover, the acceptance of monasticism in this case will no longer depend on you, but on the abbot of the monastery: you surrender yourself to his will, and he will make the decision. But in itself the decision to enter a monastery, to ask for a monastic tonsure, can and should be your own. It cannot be accepted under anybody's influence.

Question: If God created man in His own image and likeness, then how can He Himself look? Does He have arms, legs, internal organs? Is He a man? If He exists outside of time and space, then why does He need all this? 

Metropolitan Hilarion: According to the teaching of the Church, God is invisible, immaterial and incorporeal. He has no arms, no legs, no appearance. But when God wanted to become a man, he took on a human body. Today we learn about the invisible God through His visible Son - the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If we are talking about what the image of God is in mankind, then this is not a human body. This is the soul, mind, conscience. The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church wrote a lot about this. They said that when God created man, He breathed into him the breath of life, that is, the Spirit of God entered man. This Spirit of God is reflected in the human spirit, soul and mind.

Question: Vladyka, please tell us, why are there so many people who are against vaccination among believers? Is it somehow connected with an unscientific religious worldview and mystical perception of the surrounding world? 

Metropolitan Hilarion: Firstly, the religious worldview is not unscientific, just as it is not anti-scientific. It has nothing to do with science at all. Many scientists were deeply religious people. Secondly, there are no more opponents of vaccination in the Church than in the society around us. Maybe not less, but at least not more. Among the clergy there are a lot of those who have been vaccinated. There are those who, for some reason, refuse [to get vaccinated], but certainly not for mystical reasons. 

Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding vaccination. People are sometimes more inclined to believe myths than facts. There is, for example, a myth that the vaccinated die from the coronavirus in the same number as the unvaccinated. There are official statistics, there are statements by doctors, however, people do not want to believe the official figures, but want to believe myths. This, of course, has nothing to do with the scientific worldview, and refusing to vaccinate is in itself an anti-scientific position, because the vaccine was developed by scientists and researchers. It is being tested on very many people who, from their own experience, have become convinced that there are no dangerous consequences that the creators of that mythology are warning us about.

I have already said in this program that even in pre-revolutionary times, not only doctors, but also clergymen were engaged in vaccination, and I gave an example of Saint Innokenty (Benjaminov). I can cite one more example: priest Tikhon Shalamov, the father of the famous writer Varlam Shalamov, was a missionary in Alaska in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He constantly travelled to the Aleutian villages, preached the word of God, served the Liturgy, baptized, married, and sang funeral services. He would always bring with him a special vaccine against smallpox and vaccinated the local population, that is, he saved people's lives.

Therefore, the position of the people of the Church who are in favor of vaccination is based on many years of experience, including church experience, and the position of people who oppose vaccination, as a rule, is based on various kinds of mythology.

Question: Vladyka, I noticed a paradox that amazed me. Judge for yourself: it has been said many times that our Church considers euthanasia a sin, and at the same time, the vaccination which is now being carried out everywhere, is a blessing. I am convinced that vaccination is the same voluntary euthanasia ... only delayed. 

Metropolitan Hilarion: Here is a typical example of a representative of such a mythological worldview, that is, from the point of view of the questioner, taking the vaccine is linked with euthanasia. However, people don't die from vaccines, it is the unvaccinated people who die from the coronavirus. A thousand people die every day!  I am often asked: why do you talk about vaccination all the time on your TV programs? Well, I would really like to stop talking about vaccinations. It would be much more interesting for me to discuss theological issues with you, but during the current situation we have no time for theology. We need to save lives. Therefore, let us rally together in order to stop this pandemic that has fallen upon us, which claims a thousand or even more lives per day. 

I would like to end today’s program with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ from His Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." (Matt. 7:15).

I wish you all the best. Take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones and may the Lord protect you all.

DECR Communication Service

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