Metropolitan Hilarion: Ukraine has become a bone of contention between Russia and the United States of America
On December 11th, 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: This week Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden have held a meeting in an online format. What impression did these negotiations make on you?
Metropolitan Hilarion: It is very good that the two presidents talked, they had a long two-hour conversation and touched upon the issues that now divide the two states and hinder the establishment of relations between the two nuclear powers. Such a constructive relationship, which should be there, but does not exist now, is absolutely necessary. First of all, it is necessary for the security of the whole world, because the nuclear powers have a potential that is capable, on the one hand, of curbing the arms race, but on the other hand, if the contradictions become too obvious, then this arsenal of weapons can begin to be used. It is necessary on both sides to do everything to prevent this. Therefore, it is important that the presidents negotiate and the decisions that are made on both sides take into account the entire international situation.
If we talk about the internal situation in both countries, then again, normal relations between the two states directly affect the situation within each of them and the welfare of the people.
It is also important that the topic of diplomatic missions was touched upon and the President of Russia proposed to nullify all previous restrictions on the activities of diplomats. What have these restrictions led to in practice? For example, the American embassy in Moscow, the consular department has ceased to issue American visas to Russian citizens. The Russian consulate in New York still issues Russian visas to American citizens, but the staff of the consulate has been reduced, there are few people there. Moreover, many employees of the consulate and the Russian embassy in the United States simply do not have their visas extended, that is, this means that our employees have to sit in the United States for months without leaving: they cannot come to Russia, visit their relatives, because if they come to Russia, then they will not be able to return to their place of work.
In general, a lot of difficulties have arisen in relations between the two countries. If these problems are resolved, then this can only be welcomed in every possible way.
E. Gracheva: Earlier, Joe Biden claimed that he was preparing a large-scale project of initiatives that "would make it very difficult for Putin to do what he wants to do." It is clear that such a behind-the-scenes flex of muscles is being waged. In your opinion, can this behind-the-scenes muscle flex turn into a real war? I mean on our border with Ukraine.
Metropolitan Hilarion: To our deep regret, Ukraine has become a bone of contention between Russia and the United States of America. Ukraine is Russia's closest neighbor. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples are fraternal peoples that once belonged in general to a single nation, who had a common written language, a common culture. The anti-Russian propaganda that is now being conducted in Ukraine, which is largely orchestrated fr om abroad, cannot but worry us.
Of particular concern to the Russian Orthodox Church is the situation in which millions of Ukrainian Orthodox believers find themselves as a result of the propaganda war against Russia and the actions of the United States in Ukraine. The schism that exists there and which has now received the support of the Patriarch of Constantinople inflicts a deep wound on the entire Ukrainian people and especially, of course, the Orthodox population of Ukraine. This schism, fr om a church point of view, is completely unjustified. The actions that were taken to legitimize it, fr om our point of view, are absolutely illegal. Therefore, we pray for overcoming this division, for Ukrainian Orthodox believers to be reunited in the bosom of a single canonical Church that exists in Ukraine, which has not disappeared and is headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry.
With regard to the military threat: it is necessary to do everything possible on both sides to prevent a further escalation of tension, so that all contradictions - both between countries and inside Ukraine - are resolved peacefully.
E. Gracheva: Let us now talk about the diplomatic agenda of the Church. In early December, Pope Francis had held a meeting with the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece, at which he actually asked the Orthodox for forgiveness for the mistakes of the Catholics: “Worldly concerns poisoned us, weeds of suspicion increased our distance and we ceased to nurture communion. Shamefully — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel — but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power — gravely weakened our communion." In light of such statements, could the Orthodox and Catholic Churches unite today, and what prevents them from doing so?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Nobody speaks of the unification of the two Churches, because the divisions have existed for a very long time; many contradictions have accumulated - in effect, the two Churches have lived independent lives for almost ten centuries”, Metropolitan Hilarion noted, “There are differences in understanding the fundamental Christian dogmata on the veneration of saints issue. For instance, there are those who are venerated as saints in the Orthodox Church but not acknowledged as such in the Catholic Church, and there is a host of Catholic saints not acknowledged by the Orthodox Church. Therefore, unification is out of the question, but what can be the point is for us to put an end to the situation of rivalry, competition, enmity, which has been there for many centuries.
Recent much-discussed statements made by Pope Francis are far from being the first apology made to the Orthodox by Pontiffs of Rome. These words were pronounced by his predecessors as well; they expressly spoke about numerous mistakes made by the Catholics with regard to the Orthodox: for instance, violence used at times with regard to the Orthodox, as well as the creation of unia, which still serves as a dividing factor for believers. Actually, the Catholics tried to use various ways to convert by right and wrong Orthodox Christians to Catholicism. And among these ways was unia, when the Orthodox were allowed to preserve their liturgical rite, while being obliged to join the Catholic Church fully adopting the Catholic doctrine, including the doctrine on the universal jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. From our point of view, this is a deception, since many Orthodox believers, when becoming Uniates, had not even suspected that they were changing their faith. Indeed, outwardly everything remained as it used to be - the church vestments were the same; the prayers at the Liturgy were the same; the church singing was the same. People were thus misled.
When Patriarch Kirill met with Pope Francis in Havana, they made a joint declaration that stated: “unia is not a method for achieving unity”. It is a very important statement coming from the mouth of the Pontiff of Rome. What Pope Francis is saying now is also, of course, an important contribution to the normalization of relations between Orthodox and Catholics. But, I repeat, there is no talk of uniting the Churches either at the official level or at the unofficial level.
E. Gracheva: Vladyka, a young tik-toker from Chita, Vitaly Miroshnikov, was detained in Moscow. He fled to Moscow after a court in Chita sentenced him to compulsory labor for lighting a cigarette in a church from a candle. Now he faces a tougher punishment for this escape. Do you believe that we should show mercy to this young man?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I do, because, as far as I remember, after this young man had committed his act and received many negative comments on social networks, he apologized for it and shared one important thought that is the key to this whole ridiculous and sad situation. He said “I have not received any religious education and this whole area of knowledge is a mystery to me.” As long as we have a generation of young people who do not receive any information about religious traditions at school, except for one course in the fourth grade for one hour a week, we are going to continue to have such problems and even more serious ones.
Because until now, despite the many efforts made by the Russian Orthodox Church, neither the Church nor other religious traditions in Russia are admitted to schools. In our country, this is explained by the fact that the school is separated from the Church, there should be no clericalization of society, schoolchildren should be free in their religious choice, but as a result we find ourselves in a situation wh ere our young generation is deprived of the opportunity to learn the truth about those religious traditions that are dominant in our country, about our traditional religions. I think that as long as this situation is not corrected, situations similar to the ones we are now discussing with you will arise.
E. Gracheva: The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) conducted an interesting survey: the overwhelming majority of Russians (80 percent) are convinced that jokes about the Church are unacceptable under any circumstances. Only 17 percent of fellow citizens have the opposite opinion. Frankly speaking, I have a question: is such intolerance not a dangerous sign for our society?
Metropolitan Hilarion: What does intolerance mean? I think that here the point is that we must foster tolerance through respect for traditional religions. After all, this applies not only to jokes about the Orthodox Church, but in general to jokes, ridicule and mockery of religious traditions. We've had too much of this in our history. For 70 years we have lived in a situation wh ere atheism was officially promoted, and religion was laughed at, mocked, and believers persecuted. Why should we repeat these mistakes? Many caricatures on the Church and clergy have remained from the Soviet period. In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a special Union of Militant Atheists that was headed by Emelyan Yaroslavsky. They published many pamphlets against the Church, all kinds of anti-religious literature, cartoons. Then gradually it somehow faded away, this organization was shut down.
The War had begun and people no longer had time for the caricatures on the Church. State policy towards the Church had changed. But nevertheless, practically until the last years of the existence of the Soviet Union, the official state ideology was atheism, which was promoted, and they tried to oust religion from the minds and hearts of people. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that this situation changed radically.
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: The Gospel of Mark cites the words of Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16.15). My question is, given that the Gospel was written after the Resurrection of Christ, how could He have called them to preach it? I do not fully understand this point.
Metropolitan Hilarion: The word “Gospel” in translation from Greek means “good news”. This word has two meanings. On the one hand, it denotes the good news that Jesus Christ brought to earth. Jesus Christ himself used this word in this very sense.
On the other hand, the same term refers to the literary genre, that is, to those four Gospels that were actually written after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and are designated by this term. Therefore, when Christ said: go, preach the Gospel to all creation, He meant precisely His good news, that is, He told His disciples that they would continue His work on earth and preach the good news that He preached.
Question: Vladyka, I have lost a loved one. I constantly prayed to God, but the disease won. It turns out that God did not help, ignored my prayers, but in this case it turned out that the prayer itself is just a formality. A person can go to church for years, participate in the sacraments, try to live according to the commandments of God, and when one of the most dear people falls ill with a serious illness, God turns away and does not answer prayers, does not want to help. Why?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I would like to express my condolences to you in connection with the fact that you have lost a loved one. However, I would also like to remind you that every person dies sooner or later. This applies to all our loved ones and ourselves.
When we pray to God and ask for something from Him, He hears us. It never happens that a prayer remains unheard, except for those cases when we do not put our mind and heart into prayer, but simply say some words. Then this prayer does not reach either us or God. But if we ask for something, then God hears us. In very many cases, we receive what we ask for either immediately or later. In some cases, God thinks that He should act differently. He looks at a person's life from His perspective. That includes our life and the life of our loved ones. Sometimes we wish something for ourselves or for others, but God judges differently. We must humble ourselves with this, and the completion of every prayer and every petition addressed to God should be the words: Thy will be done , because God knows better what we need than we often know ourselves.
Question: What is the freedom of a person if the Church claims that whoever does not fulfill the commandments of God – they will go to hell. That means that these are clear rules and laws that lim it my freedom and my desires. Maybe I understand hell and heaven in my own way, not as they should be understood? I do not really succeed, as it seems to me, to fulfill the commandments of God, but I don’t want to go to hell and I don’t want such a fate for my loved ones.
Metropolitan Hilarion: Hell and Heaven are an objective reality, not something that you can create for yourself. Maybe you want to live in a large and beautiful house, but your financial resources allow you to rent only a modest apartment. The same applies to the posthumous fate of a person: it largely depends on the person himself, but not on his desires, but on how he lived. It depends precisely on whether he fulfilled or did not fulfill the commandments of God.
If you live as the Church commands, as Christ commanded, if you try to do good, then, of course, you will receive a reward for this in your future life. And if you do not want to fulfill the commandments of God, then your posthumous fate will be the same as indicated by Jesus Christ, who said: those who help their neighbors, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the neighbors who are in the hospital or in prison, - those will end up on the right side, that is, in heaven, and those who do not, will end up in hell. Why? Because, as Christ said: " Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matthew 25.40).
Question: Why do we, Orthodox Christians, have to pay for the baptism of a child? Doesn't the Church receive funding from the state? We were offered to make a donation for the performance of the sacrament. And if we do not have the required amount, then what happens – should we take a loan and come back? .. It's a pity.
Metropolitan Hilarion: In your question, you yourself say that you were offered to make a donation, that is, no one obliged you to contribute these funds. If you have no money, you can baptize your child for free.
As for "receiving funding from the state," the Church does not receive any funding from the state, but lives on donations from believers. That is why the Church invites, but does not compel believers to make donations.
I would like to end this episode with the words from the Gospel of Matthew: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations" (Matthew 24.14).
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