The journalist for the liberal website Open Russia, Zoya Svetova, is the daughter of Zoya Krakmalnikova. Anyone who followed news coming from the Soviet Union in the 1980s about prisoners of conscience, particularly Orthodox Christians, would most certainly have heard of or read articles published by this author. Zoya Krakmalnikova was especially known in the West for her article published in the Parisian journal Russky Mysl entitled, “The Bitter Fruits of a Sweet Captivity”. Z. Krakmalnikova’s authority in matters of Church persecution was hard-earned—she was in prison for five years and exile for a number of years in Siberia, and suffered significantly for her outspoken Orthodox faith. Her article discussed the topic of Church officials’ submission to the government, and how it affected the lives of believers.
Out of his deep respect for this journalist’s mother, Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Egorievsk, abbot of Sretensky Monastery, Chairman of the Patriarchal Council for Culture, and the author of the popular book, Everyday Saints and Other Stories, agreed to an interview and the unusual publication of it on Radio Liberty. In keeping with our intention to publish articles about the Russian revolution and its effects on the Russian Orthodox Church, we have translated this interview for our readers. The journalist asks rather provocative and uninformed questions about the Church’s past and present relationship with the Soviet and Russian governments, and Bishop Tikhon provides his views on the complex subject of “Sergianism”, dissidents, and the Church in Russian society today. Although the liberal journalist and the bishop generally aren’t on the same intellectual page, this interview reveals what the Church in Russia now faces—no longer from the communist but now from the liberal press.
—I have great respect for your mother’s, Zoya Alexandrovna’s, memory. Your proposal to recall what little I know about her, to share impressions that we, the generation of young Orthodox Christians in the 1980s, took away from our acquaintance with this remarkable personality, is the only reason I agreed to give an interview for the media you represent.
I heard about Zoya Alexandrovna Krakhmalnikova from the priest Vladimir Shibaeva. My friends and I would sometimes go to services at his church in the Moscow suburbs. Then we were young graduates of the capital’s universities, and were just beginning our acquaintance with Moscow church life, visiting various churches. This was almost forty years ago. Once in his sermon Fr. Vladimir told us about the arrest of Zoya Krakhmalinikova, that very author who published the illegal Christian almanac, Nadezhda (“Hope”). This periodical published texts from the holy fathers of the Church, sermons, and stories of the New Martyrs. We read these volumes and passed them around to each other (Zoya Krakhmalnikova was arrested on September 3, 1982.—Auth.).
—But this collection of Christian readings was the only one of its kind.
—It was aimed precisely at such neophytes as we were. In Fr. Vladimir’s church we collected money to help support Zoya Alexandrovna, and a certain person took it upon himself to bring this aid to her in prison and buy her things she needed. Others tried to scare us, saying that this was dangerous and that there could be unpleasant consequences. But we paid no attention to them. With regard to the dissident movement itself, we were not particularly interested in it—my friends and I had completely immersed ourselves in learning Orthodoxy. At the time I had already written my statement of quitting the Komsomol (Young Communists) and didn’t particularly concern myself with any ideological problems. There was no heroism in this. This was basically the sunset of the soviet regime.
—1982 was not at all the sunset of the soviet regime. They were still sending people to prison for their faith and for possessing “anti-Soviet” literature. I would like to ask you a little about something else: In 1989, my mother Zoya Krakhmalnikova published an article in the paper Russkay Mysl’ entitled “The Bitter Fruits of a Sweet Captivity”, which drew great attention and commentary. This was an article about so-called “Sergianism” (the politics of loyalty to the regime in the USSR), the beginning of which is generally connected with the Declaration by Metropolitan [later Patriarch] Sergius [Starogorodsky].—Auth.). Is the Church infected with Sergianism today?
—Let’s first define what Sergianism is. Sergiansim, as critics of the Patriarchate of that time understood it, is a specific political Church policy chosen by Metropolitan Sergius. It consists in the fact that under the conditions of the Bolshevik government’s open terror against the Church, in conditions of the real threat to craftily replace Orthodoxy with so-called renovationism—and that is what the Bolshivik regime was actively trying to do—the locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne Metropolitan Sergius (Starogorodsky) chose the path not of an underground existence for the Church, but the preservation of a legal Church structure. To do this he had to agree to serious compromises. The most tragic of them consisted in the fact that the Church administration practically gave the government the right to appoint or transfer hierarchs and priests and to remove unsubmissive clergy from their cathedras and parishes, and the Church administration practically never protested against the persecution of clergy and the lawlessness that was going on in the country.
So what happened? Maybe the metropolitan was saving his own skin? No, this is not what the rigorous ecclesiastical critics of his course were criticizing him for. All of them were frank with themselves; for an elderly bishop who had lived a long life, part of it during the period of unspeakable persecutions, and who bore responsibility for the entire Russian Church, dying would have been the easiest way out. No, they criticized him not for this, but for the mistakenness of the course he chose toward the authorities. Metropolitan Sergius himself justified his ecclesiastical policy with the conviction that if the Church were to go underground, the Bolsheviks would inevitably inculcate into the country the uncanonical, false, renovationist church that they had already prepared for this task. And with the prolonged presence of the Bolsheviks at the head and the total destruction by them of the canonical Orthodox Church, this would have had unpredictable consequences, even up to the complete disappearance Orthodoxy among the Russian people. Unfortunately, there have been just such examples in history.
But a truly terrible price was paid for this chosen ecclesiastical policy. There were instances when Metropolitan Sergius took upon himself the very serious sin of falsehood, when, for example, in his tragically known interview of February 16, 1930 published in Pravda and Isvestia newspapers, he affirmed that there were no persecutions against the faith in soviet Russia. Of course this was a lie, albeit forced, but a lie. Why did he consent to such steps? Metropolitan Sergius knew very well that any opposition to the authorities’ commands, as experience had already shown, would immediately cause a manifold increase in the repressions and mass executions of bishops and priest who were then in prison. They only thing we can say is: Lord forbid that we should ever find ourselves in his position.
The policy that Metropolitan Sergius chose found both sympathy and severe criticism and opposition in Church society. The ugliest thing we can do from the safety of today would be to judge specific persons on either side. There were great saints among those who supported the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius: Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky)—one of the most courageous New Martyrs of the 1920s, and the famous hierarch, confessor, and surgeon Luke (Voino-Yasnestky), who became a priest and later a bishop, understanding full well that only prisons, suffering, and most likely death lay ahead of him. Metropolitan Konstantin (Diakov), Metropolitan Evgeny (Zernov)… we could go on naming many others, almost all of whom received a martyr’s crown, who remained supporters of Metropolitan Sergius’s ecclesiastical course.
But among their spiritual opponents were no fewer distinguished hierarchs—Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov), Metropolitan Agathangel (Preobrazhensky), Archbishop Varlaam (Ryashentsev), and Archbishop Seraphim (Samoilovich). They are also glorified among the saints of the Church. The ecclesiastical policy separated them to different sides of the barricade in those unprecedented, difficult times, but their martyrdom for Christ has united them in eternity. Thus, on November 20, 1937 in Chimkent followers of three different warring trends in Church life were shot and buried in the same common grave—Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovikh), Metropolitan Kirill (Smirnov), and the “Sergianist” Bishop Evgeny (Kobranov).
Metropolitan Sergius (Starogorodsky) was not canonized by the Church as a saint. But I have no intention of judging him from he vantage point of our own times, and especially not to throw stones at him.
My spiritual father, Fr. John (Krestiankin), told me about a vision he had (one of three that he had over his 96 years of life), which fundamentally influenced his fate. Still a layman, in the early 1930s he was in opposition to Metropolitan Sergius. So here is the vision: They are in the Elokhovsky cathedral, and everyone is waiting for Metropolitan Sergius. There is a thick crowd in the church, and in it is the future Fr. John, then Ivan Mikhailovich Krestiankin, standing there and knowing that the metropolitan would now pass by and go into the altar. And truly, the metropolitan was greeted at the doors, and as he passed by he suddenly stood next to Fr. John and said quietly to him, “I know that you judge me very much. But know, that I repent.” The Metropolitan entered the altar and then the vision ended. For Fr. John this was an extraordinary shock, and he had to reassess very much.
—My question is not specifically about Metropolitan Sergius (Starogorodsky), but about an evaluation of Sergianism as a phenomenon. We secular people understand that Sergianism means the Church’s cooperation and support of the authorities and the government.
—I don’t entirely understand what you mean. Let’s be more specific. We [Sretensky Monastery.—Trans.] for example have a children’s home. It is subsidized by us, and by the local authorities.
—But you understand what I am talking about.
—I am not talking about charity work. What was Metropolitan Sergius criticized for? In his famous Declaration of 1927 he said, “We want to be Orthodox and at the same time recognize the Soviet Union as our civilian motherland, the joys and successes of which are our joys and successes, and the misfortunes of which are our misfortunes.” Meanwhile, at that time priests were being imprisoned and executed everywhere.
—I already talked about the serious compromises, about the sin of lying that Metropolitan Sergius took upon himself. This is what we today, without judging personally Metropolitan Sergius and his supporters, do not accept, and have many times declared that church life definitely cannot and should not be built upon such principles. In its center is only God, Christ. This is the “alpha and omega” of Orthodoxy. As for “your joys are our joys”, Metropolitan Sergius’s declaration talked about the “joys and successes” of the motherland, albeit soviet—to the ecclesiastical consciousness sick, tragically distorted—but the motherland nevertheless.
—I am asking you about today.
—I think that the majority of the many-million-strong Russian Orthodox Church accepts the joys and misfortunes of contemporary Russia as their own. You say that the Church supports the government. Of course it supports it in everything constructive and good. And it calls upon the government to correct anything that is sick and bad. Why do you criticize the Church for that? Have you ever thought about the fact that for over 1000 years of our history it was precisely the Church that in many ways created and formed the Russian nation? And there were times, let’s say, in the period of the Mongol Tartar invasions or the Time of Troubles when precisely the Church and only the Church saved and preserved Russia. And why, after these thousand years of motherhood, can it not support the nation in everything constructive and good, and help it difficult times? Because the liberals don’t want it to?
—I am not comparing the positions. I am comparing the spirit.
—What do you mean?
—What does the intelligentsia criticize the Church for today? For the fact that it cooperates with the government, it glorifies the government. Remember the presidential elections of 2012, when Patriarch Kirill practically called all to vote for Putin.
—That did not happen. The rules of the Russian Orthodox Church forbid calling anyone to vote for one or another politician or political party.
—Here is the quote: “I should say completely openly as the Patriarch, who is called to speak the truth, without paying any attention to political conjuncture or propagandistic accents, that it was namely you who played an enormous role in correcting the crookedness of our history, Vladimir Vladimirovich. I would like to thank you. You once said that you work like a galley slave—with only one difference: a slave has never produced such output, and you have had a very high output” (speech given on February 8, 2012 at a meeting of the president with leaders of religious communities). The Patriarch talks about Putin as a candidate “who has, of course, the greatest chance of realizing this candidacy as a viable position”. This is not a command, but it is definitely support, from which the flock should draw their own conclusions.
—Look, that is the Patriarch’s business. He decided that that is how he should give his speech in the presence of all the leaders of Russia’s religious congregations. I agree with you that this was support within the framework of the law, and not a direct call to vote for a candidate. You have said it correctly. So what is the crime here?
—The Church almost never criticizes the government. It never defends political prisoners. The Church supported the annexation of the Crimea, although there were differing opinions. The Church always holds to the “party line”.
—Let’s take things one at a time. “The Church does not criticize the government.” Undoubtedly, for the Church, as opposed to today’s oppositionists, criticism of the government is not an end in itself or the meaning of its existence. There you are right. But when the Church considers it necessary to point out dangers and mistakes to the government and society, we of course say something. It is precisely from the Church, the Patriarch, and a multitude of priests and laity that the toughest criticism is demonstrated against the governmental law on abortions. There were a collection of signatures, the Patriarch’s appearance before the Duma criticizing the government over this matter, criticism in the media and in sermons, after all. We are talking about millions of people, about a systemic cease to this outrageous permissiveness and systematic murder. We propose steps based upon international experience in decreasing abortions.
Further there is the governmental policy on the production and distribution of alcoholic beverages. This indulgence in unregulated alcohol production has gone on under the guise of strengthening the free market. The result of this criticism, and then the cooperation over many years between the Church and the government in this work is that new laws were passed several years ago to reduce alcohol consumption, and now changes for the better have occurred with regard to this problem—and the Church participated in this change. Alcohol consumption per capita in 2008, according to the Russian Ministry of Health, was 15.8 liters (in reality it was about 18 litters) and by 2015 it was reduced to 10.5 liters. I can cite these figures because I was directly involved in this matter on the Church’s side.
Political prisoners. This is my personal opinion: If you personally know someone and know that he was in fact sentenced for his political views, you have a right to defend him from this arbitrary abuse. Therefore this matter is truly exclusively personal for every priest. I knew one man, my friend, who was arrested and sent to trial for his political views after October of 1993. And precisely because I knew him, I was sure of him and his rightness and innocence, I came to the trial and defended him as a social advocate. But if you do not know the person in the least, nor the essence of the matter, and you are only told that “from our point of view” this is a political prisoner… The Church does not have the facilities for investigation. You must agree that these are absolutely different situations.
About the Crimea. There are Church people who supported the reunification of the Crimea—very many of them, including those living in the Crimea. There are also Orthodox Christians who spoke out against it. There are priests who spoke out publicly against it and there were no repressions against them.
—Name those priests.
—Well, I can’t remember them offhand. I know that several people spoke their opinion on it. Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev, a clergyman in my vicariate in Moscow, wrote and spoke of it as being a mistake.
—But that is not what can be called “speaking publicly and there were no repressions against them.” We are talking about statements by Church representatives or hierarchs, and not about Fr. Andrei Kuraev’s blog.
—Of course our Fr. Andrei is not a hierarch, but neither is he an ordinary church blogger. He repeatedly and specifically publicly stated his opinion on the Crimea and there were no repressions against him whatsoever. As for hierarchs—why do you think that they should have such an opinion on this issue that is identical to yours, and not be in solidarity with the ninety-five percent of Crimean inhabitants who voted for reunification with Russia?
—Well that same Deacon Andrei Kuraev gave an interview on the “Dozhd” (“Rain”) TV channel entitled, “This is Patriarch Kirill’s sin.” Did you see it?
—No. What was the sin?
—In Kuraev’s opinion, “Neither Patriarch Kirill, nor Metropolitan Hilarion [(Alfeyev), the head of the Church External Relations Department.—Trans.], nor Vladimir Legoida [the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate department for interaction with society and the media.—Trans.] nor anyone else in that group gave a moral, ecclesiastical-moral, or theological evaluation of pogromist moods and acts.”
—Judging from what you’ve quoted this is once again about “Matilda”.1 The official representative of the Russian Orthodox Church Vladimir Romanovich Legoida several times officially stated that the Church categorically condemns any extremist acts with regard to the film “Matilda”. Metropolitan Hilarion said the same thing. One would have to really make an effort not to notice these statements in the press.
—I understood that in speaking of “the Patriarch’s sin”, Kuraev meant that the Patriarch did not stop these people in time who were calling themselves Orthodox Christians but were essentially pogromists.
—You mean the organization, “Christian Nation?” Which consists of two people, both of whom, it seems, were already under investigation? I repeat, at the blessing of the Patriarch, his official press secretary and the head of the department for interaction with the media condemned any manifestations of extremism. All the hierarchs in the many dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church warned their flocks in the local newspapers, on diocesan websites, and in other media about the unacceptability of protests outside of the legal field, although I am convinced that only deliberate provocateurs with no connection to the Church would go in for extremist activities. As for lawful civil protests—do you suppose that the Patriarch should forbid them? Do you propose initiating ecclesiastical repressions against lawful protests?
—And what about the “Tsar worshippers”? What do you think of them?
—Have you ever seen at least one Tsar worshipper? Can you name at least one name? I have seen only one such lady. One. That’s all. I know that there are a few tiny groups who have proclaimed the Tsar [Nicholas II] “the redeemer”. It’s true that there are a few more of them than those two from “Christian Nation”. But if priests hear about such sects, they try to talk to their adherents and explain to them their error. Do they really interest you that much?
—They are also very aggressive.
—We have activists of all different stripes in our country. But we don’t demand a ban on all crackpot “democratic schizophrenics” only because we don’t like them. If it inspires them let them pop up from time to time, each with his own repertoire, as long as they don’t break the law.
—And what about the protest at “Tannhäuser” in the Novosibirsk Theater?
—Another strange example. The metropolitan of Novosibirsk is a citizen of the Russian Federation, right? In accordance with the law, he filed a lawsuit to close the show based upon the Russian law against offending religious sensibilities. And he won that lawsuit! Only later did the Ministry of Culture make the decision to remove that opera from the repertoire, because it could see a civil conflict quickly growing around this story.
—Did the Novosibirsk metropolitan take counsel with any of the other hierarchs before filing this lawsuit?
—Every bishop is absolutely free to make his own decisions. The more cautious of them ask advice. But it is their right to do or not do something.
—You were sharply critical of the film “Leviathan”. I quote: “This film is as much a piece of ‘art’ as what ‘Pussy Riot’ did in the Christ the Savior Cathedral.”
—That is not an exact quote. I said, word-for-word: “Those who applauded ‘Pussy Riot’ also applauded ‘Leviathan’. But aside from my negative attitude toward the film, which is connected with its obvious tendentiousness and hyperbole, no one, including your obedient servant, had any thought of making statements calling for the banning of that film. I have repeated many times that bans are absolutely a dead-end and an erroneous path. Incidentally, the obligatory slander concerning this subject is becoming habitual.
Not long ago I was informed of the rumor that the premier of the show “Nureyev” by Kirill Serebrennikov was shut down either by me or with my participation. The author of this rumor was Alexei Venedictov. Where did he get it? My reply to him was very stern.
—But you answered him rather vaguely.
—I told him that he is lying. Is that vague?
—Venedictov wrote on his telegram channel that there were representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church at the show wearing civilian clothing. They didn’t like the show; they called you, and you called the Minister of Culture Medinsky.
—Lies. Morbid imagination.
—Then why are rumors flying around Moscow that you didn’t like Serebrennikov’s film, “Uchenik” (“The Student”)?
—I can’t say. I didn’t see the film. But I would like to watch it since the theme interests me. But why rumors are going around Moscow and St. Petersburg—this is happening only because rumors and gossip are the inspiration and delight of a significant portion of our progressive “creative” society.
—They love rumors. There was one well-known polemicist, Ivan Lukianovich Solonevich. He said, “Russia was destroyed by rumors and gossip,” meaning the February 1917 revolution.2 A rumor was generated that a telegraph line had been set up between Tsarskoe Selo and the German General Staff, and that Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was personally informing the enemy of all military secrets. There was a rumor that because no rye flour was sent to Petrograd for several days that a famine would begin any day, although Petrograd had the most food of all the capitals of European countries fighting in World War I. That, by the way, is why some historians call the February revolution the “revolution of the sated”. Now we know that there was plenty of bread available on the eve of the February revolution. 197 million poods (over 3.5 million tons.—Trans.) of grain were left until the next harvest; this would have been enough for the country, and the front, and to provide to the allies. There were temporary interruptions due to deep snow and sabotage by high-ranking revolutionary conspirators working in the railway system. All of this ultimately led to controlled chaos, revolution, and everything else that followed. Gossip, and more gossip. Don’t think that I am intimating that the activities of today’s “creative class” and handshaking slanderers and gossipers will lead to revolution. That’s hogwash—they are too trivial and primitive when held up against the Guchkovs, Miliukovs, and Rodziankos. But let’s leave that alone. I did not see the film by Kirill Serebrennikov that you are talking about, and have never watched anything he has produced.
—But you know who that producer is?
—Of course I do.
—How do you know if you have never watched anything by him?
—This surprises you? He’s a well-known figure. I read the news.
—“The Student” is a harshly anti-clergy film.
—I know that much, I know of its plot. Only from what I’ve heard, it is not anti-clergy but more a film that exposes aggressive fanaticism and super-correctness—phariseeism.
—But you’ve never seen it? And you haven’t shown it to Putin?
—You wish to make a joke?
—I am telling you what they say.
—You never know what they’ll say.
—Then explain why?
—Because, I repeat, there are plenty of liars and gossipers in the world.
—Is it just to make trouble for you?
—I think that for the most part, it’s in order to create the illusion that they are well informed and important.
(The interviewer asks about articles and films being produced against the interviewee, and who is paying for them.)
—As far as I know, the “Dozhd” TV channel is making a film about you because you play such a large role in politics.
—Are you being ironical?
—It is written everywhere that you are Putin’s confessor. And you never deny it.
—“Dozhd” ordered a film. There will soon be a great flood of similar films and articles about the Russian Orthodox Church. We know about this. We view this calmly.
—Why do you say, “ordered”?
—There are people who think that its [the Church’s] influence should be weakened to a minimum.
—Influence on the government?
—First of all on the people.
—In Russia the government controls everything.
—Here you and I diverge somewhat. In my humble opinion, God controls both Russia and the world.
—But nowadays all the people in our government are believers.
—All of them? Of course not all of them.
—Dozhd only has 70,000 subscribers. So it’s not a big influence.
—“Iskra” (The Spark) newspaper had an even smaller circulation in its time. But it successfully helped to start a fire [of revolution.—Trans.]. So all is not lost for the folks at “Dozhd”.
—That’s a conspiracy theory. People have a purely journalistic interest in you. I for instance have one question. When you were young, when you studied at the cinema institute, you read The Gulag Archipelago in samizdat. Why then do you trust the KGB and the FSB?
—In what way is this trust expressed? Especially explain about the KGB.
—For me the two are one and the same. After all, you don’t deny that you are Putin’s confessor?
—I have already repeatedly said that for answers to questions about Christianity, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has the possibility to consult with no small number of competent people, from His Holiness the Patriarch to ordinary priests and laity. Among such clergy is also your obedient servant—this is true. The president regularly visits Valaam Monastery, and talks with well-known spiritual fathers on Mt. Athos. Incidentally, when you say “confessor” you of course mean some evil-doer who is capable of having a special influence on the president. It’s your right to fantasize as much as you like on this subject or to create any number of enthralling fairy tales, but the fact is that no such person exists in nature—if only because the president, as most everyone knows, does not tolerate any direct or even oblique attempts to influence him. It is simply laughable to suggest such a thing. Any analyst who has objectively studied the president’s movements over the span of his public life in politics can grasp this fact. The rest is for people who like conspiracy theories. Incidentally, I have had to repeat this ad nauseum.
—But you do know the president?
—Well, who doesn’t know him here? Oh, all right—I do have the pleasure of being somewhat personally acquainted with him.
—Well, you are being evasive.
—Why? Forgive me, but if I say that I somewhat know him it only means that I really do know Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin a little. Whoever can say that he knows our president fully, let him cast the first stone at me.
—Who wrote first that you are the president’s confessor? Wasn’t it you yourself?
—Of course not. I know that journalist. I won’t name him right now. I respect him, although then, sixteen years ago, when he first wrote something like that in his article, I was terribly disappointed in him.
—Do you get any benefit from being called the president’s confessor by the media?
—I don’t pay any attention to it.
[The interviewer says that all the high-ranking officials came out to meet him when he was in Ekaterinburg, at which Bishop Tikhon answers that he came to that city to open an exhibit as the head of the Patriarchal Council for Culture and as a member of the presidium for the Presidential council on culture and art. He was met at the airport by other bishops and members of the local government administration. He discussed with them the opening of a historical park. In this case the governor himself came, but in other cases the governor sends his representative.]
—Does it bother you that the Russian government persecutes those who think differently?
—In this matter there is a fundamental difference between soviet times and our times. During soviet times, we knew specific people who were repressed for thinking differently according to the political codex. In the first half of the twentieth century these were, say, the new martyrs, whom we all know. Later, already within our own memory, everyone in our country knew people like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Zoya Krakhmalnikova, and Alexander Ogorodnikov (a famous Orthodox dissident and organizer of the Christian seminar; he spent ten years in prison.—Auth.), while in the churches they prayed for Victor Burdiuga (sentenced in 1982 to three years in prison camp for possessing and distributing anti-Soviet literature.—Auth.), and Nicholai Blokhin (sentenced in 1982 to three years in prison camp for possessing anti-Soviet literature.—Auth.). I know the last three personally. But today I simply don’t know the names of those people who are incarcerated in camps and prisons for their convictions.
—You probably don’t have the opportunity to follow this, but such cases are being falsified everywhere, and we have just the same political prisoners as we did then. There are fewer, but they exist. The Church should defend those who have been innocently condemned.
—Do you want us to head a dissident movement?
—That would be too much. I understand that you were in favor of the reunification of the Crimea.
—And the war in the Donbass?
—Have you heard of the Ukrainian film producer Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years because he supposedly wanted to blow up the Lenin statue in Simferopol? He was defended by producer Alexander Sokurov. You should know that the government today, albeit not on the same scale, basically does the same things it did before.
—I saw it in the news.
—Another question: Which is closer to you—Metropolitan Philip (Kolychev) (who was murdered at the orders of Tsar Ivan the Terrible for his criticism.—Trans.) or Metropolitan Sergius (Starogorodksy) (who was famous for signing the compromising declaration with the soviet regime.—Trans.)?
—Metropolitan Philip was a great saint and a man of remarkable courage. He rebuked the Tsar for evil-doing that was absolutely obvious to all. But he did not have the choice before him that tormented Metropolitan Sergius. Metropolitan Philip knew that he would rebuke Ivan the Terrible and then die, but Orthodoxy and the Church would go on. Metropolitan Sergius, however, had a different choice to make: the first option was to save the Orthodox Church in the legal space of Soviet Russia. But this would mean consenting to the most serious compromises, in order to prevent the renovationists, who followed upon the Bolsheviks, from taking over Russia. The renovationists’ activities, which were supported and encouraged by the theomachic government, were leading to the replacement of Orthodoxy with the pseudo-Christianity that the renovationists preached. Similar situations are known in the history of the Universal Church. As time goes on, as we know from that same history, a return to Orthodoxy, to true Christianity among nations who have gone through similar calamities becomes impossible. Metropolitan Sergius knew this very well, and by preserving the Church, waited it out until the crumbs of the Church institutions that were left after those repressions could be brought back together and restored.
The second choice offered to Metropolitan Sergius was to give up on the Church’s legal existence, heroically perish along with his brothers, and remain irrefutably a hero for eternity. But this would have opened the door to unhindered strengthening in the country of this false Christianity—renovationism in its various forms—with no alternative. There would have been a huge probability that the Local Russian Orthodox Church would have been totally and forever destroyed in its hierarchy. There are such examples in history.
“Let my name perish in history, as long as the Church be benefitted”—these words belonged to holy Patriarch Tikhon. Metropolitan Sergius could definitely have repeated them. He himself said, “The easiest thing for me now would be execution.” Of course we cannot say now whether the Local Russian Church would have been saved had it taken a different course. Maybe, despite the renovationists’ totalitarian pressure and political power, the government’s all-out support of them and its all-engulfing repression machine, Orthodoxy could have been reborn in the 1990s from what would have remained of it underground. But this is only conjecture. Those people lived in those times and in those realities. They were responsible for the Church before God, and they will answer for their decisions and acts at the Last Judgment. I repeat: It is not for us to judge!