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Interview with Holy Patriarch Kirill – 75TH Anniversary

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On November 20, 2021, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia turns 75 years old. On that day, on the air of the Russia 1 TV channel, a large interview dedicated to the anniversary of the Primate of the Russian Church was shown, during which His Holiness Vladyka answered questions from the Director General of the Spas TV channel B.V. Korchevnikov. Source: Patriarchia.ru

– Happy birthday, Your Holiness!

– Thanks!

– I have a gift for you, look.

– Yes, Father John of Kronstadt. Such photographs during my childhood and youth were very common among believers in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad.

– This is an old lithograph of the late 19th century, and I assumed that the same or similar was hanging in your room in a communal apartment …

– Yes, exactly like that, only Fr. John was without a medal ribbon.

– Perhaps the first miracle in your life is connected with this lithography?

– This is a fact from my biography. I was quite a few years old when I became seriously ill with pneumonia. At that time, medicine was not at the same level as it is today, and such a serious disease as pneumonia often ended badly. Everyone was very alarmed – both mom and dad. We lived in a communal apartment, and I remember that a portrait of Father John of Kronstadt hung over my bed. Mom took this portrait, gave it to me and said: “Pray, he will help you.” Literally a few days later, I felt good, and my mother said: “Now let’s go to Karpovka and thank Father John of Kronstadt.” I remember well how I, wrapped in some kind of warm scarves, went with my mother to Karpovka. We prayed near the wall, to which many Leningraders came at that time, and in my own words I thanked Father John for the healing. In relative proximity to the place where the believers gathered, there was always a policeman, so we prayed in front of this policeman – at the wall that separated us from the tomb of Father John of Kronstadt. Here is the most striking episode in my life that brought me personally into contact with Father John.

– John of Kronstadt had a presentiment of the collapse of the country and uttered the terrible words: “The Russian people have ceased to understand what Russia is, that it is the foot of the throne of the Lord.” Since then, we have lived through this entire terrible XX century. Do you have a feeling that now the Russian people have begun to understand what Russia is?

– It’s hard to measure this understanding. Someone, perhaps, understands, someone understands less, but the fact that fateful changes have taken place in our country is a fact.

– About Russian people outside Russia. Here are your words, very recent: “I learned with great anxiety about what happened to you at the training camp. I would like to express my sincere sympathy to you. Having shown courage and courage, you were not afraid of impudent ridicule and bullying from your peers and resolutely defended your faith, defended what is dear and valuable to you. Your deed, courage and firmness are worthy of all support. ” This is a letter to a Russian boy of nine who was beaten in Kyrgyzstan at a sports training camp for his faith, for being Orthodox. You wrote to him, you invited him to Moscow – why did you do it?

– Because this incident testifies to lawlessness, but, besides, there was also a personal moment. When I found out what happened to him, I remembered myself. I was such a boy. Imagine: fourth, fifth, sixth grade – and one boy without a red tie. And when I was summoned to the teacher’s council and told that I was obliged to join the pioneers, I said that I would gladly join the pioneers, provided that you would allow me to go to church on Sunday and take communion after tying a red tie. I must say that this position of a boy, a child (and the parents did not participate in my opposition to the school), of course, was for the good and for the benefit, because the character was formed, the belief in the correctness of the chosen life path was formed, and all this went through such hardening, through external tests.

– Did the boy come to Moscow as a result?

– Yes, I came to Moscow.

– Walked here, was you satisfied?

– Yes, that’s right.

– We talk a lot about attacks on Orthodoxy and very little, almost at all do not talk about the turn of the world to Orthodoxy, and this is also happening. Here is a selection of publications from the last couple of months. An Orthodox American helps other foreigners move to Russia, and already many Orthodox American families, some with eight or nine children, want to move to live in Russia. Kline family, St. Louis: “Russia is the leader of the free world, a place where you can live in accordance with your faith”; they want to move. The Bowling family, the head of the family, by the way, is a policeman: “We want our children to grow up in such a society as we see in Russia”; they are going to write a letter to our president. Kay family, six people; a family from Colorado, nine children, and so on. So what is going on, Your Holiness? World falling away, or world insight, or both at the same time?

– I am not afraid to say, supporting the authors of this letter, that Russia – listen carefully! – the leader of the free world. We are a truly free country. This is a real fact. I can imagine what will be the reaction from different sides to these words of mine, but I can prove that Russia today is indeed the leader of the free world. We are free from the most powerful outside influences, we develop in our own way, and God forbid that this path be successful. Russia can serve as an example for others. Although we have many problems, these problems can be solved. Now we do not have any acute topic around which public interests would clash and deep, irreconcilable contradictions unfolded. I believe that this is the grace of God. And the existing difference of opinion – a normal difference of opinion that does not destroy the foundations of human life, state life, spiritual life – creates the basis for a creative clash of opinions, as a result of which new ideas and new projects may appear, aimed at the further development of our Fatherland.

– Sometimes the difference of opinion is terrible, as in the story with Bartholomew. You recently stated with all frankness that he had gone into schism. You have known this man for many years, you flew to him in Istanbul to keep him from signing the tomos. How could this happen to a person who is endowed with the Patriarchal Cross, Patriarchal responsibility? After all, he now sees how Orthodox people are thrown out of churches, spit on, beaten, set on fire – and this is the result of his signature! He is the Patriarch, he must answer before God! I just humanly cannot understand what had to happen to him in order to make such a decision. What is it?

– I think there are two reasons. The first is the absolutely false self-understanding of Patriarch Bartholomew, who considers himself the leader of the Orthodox world. From the point of view of Orthodox ecclesiology, he is the first among equals, but he considers himself not the first among equals, but the first above all others. That is, he is tempted by the same idea, the implementation of which led to the division of Christianity into Eastern and Western. And now, I’m not afraid to say, on the personal initiative of Patriarch Bartholomew, the same topic of power has already divided the Orthodox Church.

This is a tragic page in the history of the Orthodox Church, and all of us, especially the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches, need to do everything possible to celebrate the Divine Eucharist together again around a single throne, strengthening the Orthodox faith among our contemporaries. So that the Church can become a spiritual force capable of helping a person find ways in this very difficult modern life.

– Is it possible to become so blind from a falsely understood theological concept to drown out your own conscience?

– I would not like to think so. I have not yet mentioned another factor that could greatly influence Patriarch Bartholomew – this is a political factor. The situation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is always very unstable – when I say “always” I mean, of course, the time after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The patriarchy was and is still under the control of non-Orthodox political forces, and in general, Patriarch Bartholomew is obliged, it seems to me, not only to obey, but to correlate his position with the liberal context that exists in Western European countries and the United States. In a sense, the Church in the West is quite vulnerable. Here’s a simple thing: the Orthodox Church does not agree and will never agree with the newfangled idea concerning marriage relations – we call cohabitation, which is now practiced by people of the same sex, a special sin.

– I remember when I first saw you live – it was in Kiev in 2009. The whole complicated story with the schismatics, with Filaret, was already in full bloom, and your visit then was, of course, very risky, but very successful. Tens of thousands of people at the Liturgies, posters “Cyril is our Patriarch!” Then 2013 was simply fantastic: the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, more than a hundred thousand people on Khreshchatyk, on the Maidan, a concert of artists of the two countries, Metropolitan Hilarion blesses this human sea with the relics of Saint Vladimir … But six months or seven months have passed, and on the same Maidan, on the same Khreshchatyk, it became dangerous to appear without a bulletproof vest. That human sea disappeared, completely different people appeared, completely different faces hidden by balaclavas – February 2014 came. In general, how could this have happened? Do you have an answer to this question?

– There is an answer, and it is as follows: you can not betray either your faith, or your tradition, or your true national interests. But I do not want to talk about politics, I would like to talk about the religious factor. The biggest tragedy is that Ukraine was divided along religious lines, and this division did not begin today and not in our time. The emergence of Uniatism was the first such blow to Ukraine, then there were the schisms of the 20th century, and no one will convince me that this is the implementation of a certain plan aimed at weakening the spiritual life of Ukraine, at breaking the unity of historical Rus. And the current policy aimed at dividing the Orthodox Church is very much tied to the political context, because no theological considerations can explain the attempts to divide the Orthodox Church, to weaken it. For the sake of what, for what purposes? There is only one goal – to take as far as possible from Russia and from the Russian Orthodox Church, but this is a political goal, not a spiritual one. But I thank God for the fact that Orthodox people in Ukraine preserve the purity of Orthodoxy and an impeccable canonical system, which fully corresponds to the canonical tradition of the Ecumenical Orthodox Church. And for me, as the Patriarch of All Russia, there is no division into peoples and states, but there is the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church.

– I understand that the split in Ukraine is actually taking place in your heart. As a person who is responsible to God, including for these people, how do you hold on?

– For me it is really a great sorrow. I could even use a stronger word: it is woe to see the division of the Orthodox people, to see a terrible bitterness. I think that the Ukrainian leadership is not delighted with what is happening, but the flywheel of hatred, division and confrontation has been launched. In this regard, I would like to especially emphasize the role of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, who does not allow himself to be drawn into opposition. He, of course, is together with his Church, with his people, but no one can point a finger at him and say: here is the leader of another party, a church party, who is leading the fight against dissent. This is not the case, and my words concern not only the life and ministry of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, but also our entire Church. We do not participate in this battle, our Church, our Orthodox people are not responsible for this nightmare – it is borne by those politicians who have allowed confrontation within their people. A divided nation, a divided home is very dangerous.

– Calling a pandemic. I remember Easter 2020, how terrible the words “the temple is empty” sounded from your lips. What were you thinking when you served in such an environment for the first time in your life?

– This is one of the most difficult episodes in my life. When I came out of the Royal Doors and saw the vast space of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior almost empty, I went through very difficult moments, and the seal of this state fell on the entire Easter celebration. It was difficult to get rid of this, and the only thing that remained was the hope that the difficult time could not last long, that it would pass.

– Why did this happen to us? “With us” in this case – with the whole world, with the entire planet. Why did the Lord allow this?

– Of course, no one will answer your question. Only the Lord knows why this was allowed. But we can speculate on this topic without pretending to be expressing the truth. How did civilization develop, especially in the 20th century, at the beginning of the 21st century? There was always a certain triumphalism: we flew into space, even earlier we split the atom, we create technologies, we, we, we become strong, strong … And at the center of this ideology is a man who becomes so strong, autonomous from God, is practically a restoration paganism, because that was precisely the philosophy of the pagans. As Gorky wrote, “a man sounds proudly.” And who is the father of pride? The devil himself. And if “a person – it sounds proudly”, if a person does not have humility, does not have the ability to be critical of himself, then he turns into a pagan. But if we return to the topic of a pandemic, then maybe the Lord brought us to our senses a little. You are so omnipotent, you can do everything, you know everything – here you are given the experience of your weakness, your confusion, your inability to do something. I don’t think that the Lord will test us for a long time, but we will have to go through some period of critical attitude, first of all to the modern high-tech civilization, in order to understand that we cannot solve everything at once, that it will take time, effort, and so on. I would say that this is an experience of self-criticism towards oneself, and perhaps in the 21st century it is worth going through it in order to realize one’s mistakes and delusions – first of all, in the sphere of evaluating oneself. For God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4: 6).

– This is an icon of St. Matrona, made by a prisoner – our film crew filmed him in a colony in the Tula region. I will quote him, excuse me, with the same vocabulary with which he spoke to himself. He was about fifty years old, most of his life was already behind him, when he began to work with icons. Here is his story: “I myself did not understand at what moment it was as if it hit me in the head. Who am I and what am I? And in general, who needs me in this life with my vices? What have I done travel, at least for myself? I was ashamed to tears. You can’t return your life – you can look back, but nothing more. I will not say that I became a deeply religious person, but for the first time in my life I turned to God in the colony, stealthily, so that no one could see, in front of the icon I had made. ” The church went to prisons. Do you see many such examples of the transformation of people?

– Regarding transformation, I cannot say, because transformation is an internal process, it is not always visible. But I will tell you one story. Once I was invited to a prison where a life-imprisoned man who had committed terrible crimes was sitting. If we had been shot, he would have been shot. And this man asked neither more nor less about a meeting with the Patriarch. I was informed about this and said: “Of course, we do not recommend you to go, although in any case we will not leave you alone with this person.” However, I replied: “No, I will go.” They brought me to this man, he had the Gospel on his table, and you know, I cannot remember another case when I would have accepted such a confession. And I thought: what a nightmare it would be if our meeting did not take place! The man was sentenced to life, and it was not a diplomatic move on his part in order to achieve release through a meeting with the Patriarch – such criminals are not released. I don’t remember exactly the words that he finally said, but the meaning was this: now it’s not scary to die. Can you imagine? I think this was a very important moment in the life of a person sentenced to life imprisonment.

– You have made it so that today on school desks there is a textbook on the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture, one of many in a whole stack of textbooks. It begins so beautifully: “Dear friend! Before you is a book on the most interesting subject – the main thing for a person. What is this? The main thing is our life, and therefore the most important knowledge for a person is the knowledge of how to live. ” Why did it take this lesson to appear at school?

– Well, where can children get acquainted with the basics of spiritual life? Some, including statesmen, told us this: “Let them grow up first, and then decide for themselves.” But that would be wrong, because while they grow up, they can do so much in their life that, forgive me, it will not seem like little. The task was for children from an early age, from the very moment when we teach the Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture, to be presented with a system of values ​​that they would accept and within which they would develop. Then we can hope that people will do less evil in their lives, create less difficulties for their neighbors. After all, if Christian ethics somehow sprouts through consciousness already in childhood, then there is hope that the fruits will be appropriate.

– When I see our soldiers today, guys who sincerely pray, I see faith in their eyes – it’s impossible to play …

– The oath requires a person to be willing to die for the Motherland or when executing an order. Therefore, spiritual nourishment, spiritual support of the military is, of course, one of the most important tasks, and it has always been so.

– You know, our main temple of the Armed Forces is a miracle, a real miracle of the world, “heaven on earth”, for me it is much more interesting, more beautiful than even St. Sophia of Constantinople. Lord, I just have goosebumps – how was this temple built in less than two years? How could this happen?!

– I am deeply convinced that all those who worked on the construction of this temple – architects, engineers, builders – were undoubtedly inspired by the solution of the task that faced them. Indeed, a unique temple was built. And here’s another thing I would like to dwell on. The people who are now involved in the work with the Armed Forces from the side of the Church – archpastors and pastors – all of them in the past are professional military men. These are not white collars, but those who were professionally associated with the army, for whom the army is its own family. God grant that our forms of work improve and that the spiritual influence of the Church on our military personnel grows, because spiritual support is a very important factor in helping a person who has taken an oath to fulfill his duty to the end.

– You know, this temple looks like a miracle doubly against the background of our recent history. Frankly speaking: the state robbed the Church, took almost everything that we had. Then they began to return, but after all, they once took the palaces from the Church, and returned the ruins. By a miracle of God, these ruins are becoming less and less. Today you are in contact with a variety of people in power almost every day. What mood do you feel on the part of the authorities? Does the state as an apparatus or do people in power feel indebted to the Church? Or is the Soviet attitude “Church, know your place” more common?

– The Soviet “Church, Know Your Place” is gone, and, I hope, irrevocably. Today, representatives of different religions are in power, but the majority are associated with the Orthodox Church by their baptism, by their origin and upbringing. I do not now meet at different levels of government people hostile to the Church, and the construction of temples is one of the vivid examples of this. Therefore, I positively assess the level of interaction between the Church and the state, there is a positive climate in which our dialogue is carried out, and through joint efforts we have been able to achieve a lot.

– At work I have to read almost everything that is written about the Church, and I read a lot of nonsense. Sometimes it almost physically hurts me, because they write nasty things about what is dearest to me in the world, and about those who are dearest to me. You, too, probably read something of this – how do you perceive it?

– I read something, they bring me some reports. You know, if I was asked ten years ago how I feel about this, I would also say that it hurts me painfully. Now I won’t say that, because I clearly understand who writes all this and why. The fact is that the influence of the Church has undoubtedly strengthened, the number of people who consciously come to the Church and receive baptism is increasing, and every action has a certain opposition. Such is the law of nature, and if we take into account that many people in our society also receive material benefits from their anti-church position, then it becomes clear where all this opposition to the Church comes from.

– Can you understand what our opponents have in their heads and hearts? I love to look into the eyes of people who go to the sacrament: they often have weakness, defenselessness, endless vulnerability, but at the same time some kind of invincibility, strength. What is the obstacle to Orthodoxy, which has done no one harm in life – neither in history, nor in the present?

– Here we touch mysticism. It is impossible to explain hatred of the Church from a rational point of view. I understand that in the days of totalitarianism, when the state ideology was associated with atheism, officials who received salaries from the state, teachers and others had to fight the Church, because the state was ordered to destroy religious beliefs. More often than not, this struggle was more formal than factual – I want to emphasize that even in that extremely ideologized time it was impossible to eradicate religiosity and people’s need for spiritual life by the power of the state. Today this phenomenon has a different nature. The devil is fighting with God, and the battlefield is the hearts of people (F.M.Dostoevsky). This is an apocalyptic struggle, it will never go away as long as the devil resists God.

– The Church today has tremendous opportunities for preaching. Every home in the country has its own TV channel, a huge audience, many Orthodox accounts on the Internet, hundreds of millions of views – no other Church in the world has such a thing. But at the same time, the sermon is going on in the midst of some kind of universal noise. All around is noisy, informational noise from every slot. Here is how to preach in the midst of this noise, will the sermon be heard?

– I once became close friends with one remarkable scientist from the Russian emigration, he worked at Princeton and other very famous American universities. We made very good friends with him. Once we found ourselves together at a conference – I was then very young and was just beginning my path in the external activities of our Church. And so I carefully wrote down everything that I heard during the meeting, and he looked at me and asked: “Father Kirill, why are you doing this?” I answer: “Well, of course, I want to write down everything they say, and then analyze it.” And he says, “Don’t do this. I will now give you a very important guideline, and you will be a very successful person if you implement it. Know how to distinguish between noise and signals. “

– Wow! Signal noises …

– “Learn to distinguish between noise and signals.”

– Awesome!

– It was with this attitude that I went through life.

– How do we learn this? After all, the further, the more unbearable it becomes, the more difficult it is to distinguish between noises and signals …

– The signal carries in itself really essential and useful for a person. If, firstly, there is no content, and secondly, there is no value orientation, then this is noise or a signal with a minus sign. Therefore, it is very important to be able to separate one from the other, and that which carries a negative, which can negatively affect the inner life, should be swept away immediately, as well as emptiness. Because there is so much emptiness that if you fill your life with it, then there will not be enough space and time for another.

– Noises and signals – this rule, it seems to me, applies to your whole life. How did you learn to live so meaningfully that not a single minute was in vain?

“I don’t know how it happened, but after finishing the eighth grade of school, I realized that continuing to study in secondary school, like all other children, is an impermissible luxury. And I came to my parents and said that I was going, excuse me, to leave home and go to work, and at the same time study in order to finish school. Mom reacted with tears in her eyes, dad was completely bewildered, but I persistently promoted my idea, and then my pious parents went to the Pskov-Pechersky Monastery. There was a wonderful old man Afinogen, a man of spiritual life, perspicacious. They came to him and said: “Our boy wants to direct his steps in life along such a path that we fear.” The elder paused and said: “I can’t tell you anything now, come to me in two days.” They came to him two days later, climbed the steps of the porch to the house where he lived. And so, as papa and mama told, the beaming old man came out to meet them and said: “As this boy said, do so.” And closed the door. Mom was, of course, terribly saddened – imagine, a boy of fifteen wants to leave the house. And dad said: “No, if the elder spoke so confidently and firmly, let’s do as he said.” They let me go, and from the age of fifteen I lived on my own. I earned money, very small – my first salary made it possible to spend a ruble a day. For this ruble one had to have breakfast, lunch, supper; 6 kopecks per tram, 3 kopecks in each direction, and I also bought a newspaper – this is how I distributed my budget.

– Why did you put yourself in such conditions?

– I don’t know, it just seemed to me that it was time to start an independent life. I felt the strength and willingness to live independently, to be responsible for myself and before God, and before my parents, and before other people. I can not explain. Rationally, everything was kind of wrong, but in fact everything turned out very right.

– You will forgive that I will tell about it now. I remembered how I once confessed with you, and I still keep your words about the struggle with a certain sin in my memory. You are a priest who still receives confession, and confessions always reflect the illnesses of a person and society. If we talk about the main diseases of today’s person, then what are they?

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to answer in monosyllables. In general, the life of every person is unique, and everyone has their own diseases. There are, of course, diseases of our entire society – this is a decline in morality, this is vulnerability from the side of mass information and propaganda, these are imposed stereotypes of behavior. The main problem is that a person loses freedom without even noticing it. I think you need to distance yourself from time to time from what you come in contact with every day, so as not to be enslaved by circumstances. We know from the history of the Church how in former times people, including educated ones, who occupied a high position, went into the seclusion, into the wilderness. So where did they have the need to go into the desert in order to be alone with themselves and with God, and this at a time when the influence of society on a person was immeasurably weaker than it is now? So we should be able to go into the desert without leaving this world, of course, especially if we are talking about a family man who works somewhere. But he should also have time for inner concentration, solitude and introspection. It is very important that this solitude is accompanied by prayer, because then the Lord helps a person to gain strength and see what he should pay attention to.

– Do you, with your life schedule, manage to go to this desert at least sometimes?

– The life schedule of the Patriarch is something special. Most of my time is spent on work. Frankly, the only thing that helps me is that out of the huge number of documents that I have to work through every day, of the large number of meetings that are present in my work schedule, there are such documents and such meetings that help me do something understand, including from a spiritual point of view.

– I’ll ask you such a personal question, forgive me for it. When you, after finishing your evening prayers, put off the prayer book and start praying in your own words – what do you most often ask God for?

– Of course, it is difficult to talk about it, and let me, I will not talk about everything with which I turn to the Lord. But I always pray for our people. I always pray for the president. I pray for our country. But, of course, first of all, I pray for our Church that the Lord will protect us from schisms, from divisions, from everything that weakens the church organism. This prayer is present with me every day.

– Your Holiness, you so often in your sermons in recent years speak, if not about the last times, then about the last act of history. Do you really see any signs of the end? What are they?

– It is impossible to say whether these are signs of the end of history or whether it is still very far from it, but the fact that there are signs of a certain spiritual moral degradation on a planetary scale is a fact. It is a fact that the space of spiritual and moral life is narrowing. The fact that there is a confusion of the concepts of good and evil is also a fact. And all these are bad symptoms, so a believer especially needs not to lose spiritual sight and try to penetrate into the essence of what surrounds us today, into the essence of the problems that we face, so as not to lose orientation in this very complex space of the civilization of the 21st century …

– Thank you, Your Holiness! Happy birthday to you!

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