Archbishop Tikhon (Dorovskikh) of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Kuril Islands, a native of the city of Voronezh, has served in the grace-filled Sakhalin region with its harsh climate for fifteen years: first as a priest, and since 2011 as the ruling hierarch. We are talking with Archbishop Tikhon about the life of residents of Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands, whether Orthodox or non-religious; about the issues, challenges and joyful events of the diocese which has celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this year; and the region’s spiritual make-up. But, first of all, we asked His Eminence to speak about his family as all three brothers in that family became monks and chose to serve the Church.
Three brothers—three priests and monks
—Your Eminence, you succeeded your brother Daniel, who now serves as Metropolitan of Arkhangelsk and Kholmogory, in the diocese that embraces the Sakhalin region. Your other brother, Seraphim, is an igumen. Please, tell us how your parents raised their children that all of them became priests.
—We were raised in a typical Soviet family. Our parents who worked at a factory spent as much time with us as any other parents. But, in contrast to most Soviet families, our family was religious. I am deeply indebted to my paternal grandmother who nurtured me spiritually. For many years she prayed to the Almighty so that at least one of her grandchildren could serve in the altar of God—and her prayers were answered. Our parents lived, worked, and set an example for us on how to pray: after waking up in the morning and before going to sleep in the evening. We would receive Holy Communion at least four times a year, during the four fasts. Before the beginning of each school year we would go to church, and pray and take Communion. We did it in an unhurried manner, almost secretly, and without making a show of it. It was an ordinary family; we lived like others without running to extremes and looked at the way our parents lived. A usual, good environment.
It is amazing that I met very honest people everywhere—at school, the technical college, and university. There were far more honest-minded people than dishonest ones. Some believed in God, others didn’t believe, and others were church-goers. Communicating with all those people, I voluntarily and involuntarily learned a lot from them: how to be kind, how to behave properly, and so on.
—Were there priests among your parents’ friends?
—Yes, my father had a friend named Vasily Tenkov, a disabled Second World War veteran, who afterwards became a priest and served in the village of Krasnaya Dolina of the Kursk Diocese. Fr. Vasily would often come to see us both before and after his ordination. The friendship between our dad and this priest inspired us to establish good Christian ties and surely influenced our decisions. Later, the Lord deigned to send us other wonderful clerics. Thus, Metropolitan Zinovy/Zenobius (Mazhuga; in schema Seraphim), blessed my brother, the future Metropolitan Daniel, to study at Odessa Theological Seminary. Now Metropolitan Zinovy is venerated as a saint. Undoubtedly, his blessing left its mark on us as I feel certain that the holy hierarch has always been praying for those who turned to him. To put it in secular terms, a sequence of “coincidences” ultimately led us to the current situation.
And, of course, I had a desire to serve the Mother Church from my childhood, but my dream didn’t become a reality until I graduated from a technical college, the institute, and then worked at a factory for some time.
—However, no matter what parents do to pass on their faith to children, it is imperative that one experience a personal meeting with God. But sooner or later adolescents become rebellious. Did your family face teen rebellion?
—No, I didn’t have anything of this kind because our parents and grannies implanted trust in God in our hearts from infancy. On the other hand, at one time I was fascinated by things of this world.
—Can you share some of the education principles that your parents followed?
—There was nothing special! Our parents lived a normal, average life. They went to work, went to church, labored…
Perhaps you would be interested in a story, related by my Subdeacon Vasily, who has four children. Believe it or not, he and his wife have never argued and their small children didn’t even know what a quarrel is. One day his youngest child, while lying on the bed, heard their neighbors arguing through the wall. The boy decided that his parents were quarrelling and burst out crying. You see, there are families that outwardly behave decently and inwardly show no signs of discord. Though I know such a couple, I don’t know a recipe for this. In addition, the rule in this family is to make concessions to each other rather than to prove that one or another spouse is right. I believe it is the right path of family education. If you want a principle, and I think it is a basic military principle: just do what I do.
—How often did your parents take you to church services? Did you come before the beginning of services or just before Eucharist? Did they watch over you during services?
—Our parents would always take us to church and we would come before the beginning of services. When we were leaving, our nosy neighbor would ask us where we were going and I would answer frankly (children are usually unable to lie) that we were going to church. We neither kept our religious faith private nor flaunted our religion. Parents taught us to keep icons and to pray at home. I would say that it was an ordinary good family with “a Christian orientation”, just as there are “schools with an English orientation” in Russia. Besides, we kept fasts, though we had a hard time fasting in those years: the vegetable oil caused us heartburn, so our diet in Voronezh consisted of cucumbers, tomatoes, rice, and potatoes. But nobody was hungry. In short, we were a typical family, so I can offer no special recipe for a Christian upbringing.
—Which of you was the first to consciously choose the ministry of the Church?
—Metropolitan Daniel. After the army, with the blessing of St. Zinovy he entered Odessa Theological Seminary, thus taking the path of ordained ministry.
—And who was next?
—I was the second, Fr. Seraphim was the third. Though it doesn’t really matter. The point is that you should be conscious of where you are moving to. Today many priests and especially their wives first indulge in fantasy, and then it turns out that this ministry is very hard, that not all priests are sent to large towns, and not all of them can stand the test.
—And you are not always lucky enough to have a good bishop.
—How can anybody have the “misfortune” of having a “bad” bishop? How can one offend a priest by assigning him to a “wrong” parish?! I understand that priests’ children may be offended when they are not provided adequate education and medical care. But priests serve because it is their vocation.
—Let us return to Sakhalin. Did you come here after your brother?
—Yes, I did.
—What were your impressions of Sakhalin as compared with Voronezh?
—The contrast was great and it took me half a year to adjust to the new climate. Earlier I had a phone book with phone numbers of many people in it, but I used it very seldom as I remembered most numbers by heart. But in Sakhalin my memory began to fail me, so I immediately forgot some phone numbers and even had difficulty dialing them—its soils and climate had an impact on my health.
So it took me about half a year to adapt to the new soils and climate, and the new way of life, in which I have neither days off, nor vacations, nor fixed working hours. Although, this is part of the ministry of any priest who responsibly carries out his pastoral duties. In my opinion, married priests have a much heavier cross to bear because in addition to their main responsibilities they need to take care of their wives and children—it is a true podvig (an exploit, heroic act, or labor in Russian]!
—Yes, a priest must always serve on weekends, when children normally don’t go to school.
—Right. And as a rule married priests have many children. We are glad for them and realize that their children should be protected and cared for. I am of opinion that any hierarch should take care of his clergy’s children, ensure that they get education and jobs, and help with their medical needs as many rural areas lack access to education and good health care services.
If a bishop is really concerned about priests, their wives and children coming to regional centers to receive treatment, then he lives in full, visible unity (and not just unity in prayer) with his clergy. It is my firm conviction that every bishop should take care of everybody in his diocese.
—Your Eminence, what can you say about Sakhalin residents as compared with Voronezh residents? The land of Voronezh can be proud of its numerous monasteries, shrines and saints, whereas (as far as I know) Sakhalin had no Orthodox churches from 1945 on…
—Sakhalin residents are honest people with high moral values. Many houses had no locks there before perestroika. If a driver on a highway saw someone travelling on foot, he would immediately stop and give him a lift. And the driver was offended, if the wayfarer offered him any money. I will be frank: I feel more comfortable here than in my native Voronezh. I am not sure if the situation is better or worse here, but I feel comfortable in Sakhalin. Let me cite an example: One day I came up to one fisherman and said: “Yura, can you give me some fish to feed people?” “Do you have somewhere to keep it?” he asked. “Yes, I do,” I answered. “Here you are!” I couldn’t have imagined an answer like this!
—At the same time, there is a record number of sectarians in Sakhalin. Is it a legacy of the 1990s?
—It is most likely a legacy of the spiritual vacuum created by the Soviet authorities. During perestroika sectarians, who were receiving generous financial aid, support and even humanitarian assistance from abroad, purchased many buildings and constructed their churches in great numbers… Most of these people are staff members of Western intelligence services. Their aim is to divert people from the path of salvation offered by Orthodoxy and to lure them into their sect, religion, or ideology. It is a true disaster which has affected many other regions; yet this problem is particularly acute in Sakhalin. Until recently the number of the sects’ meeting houses exceeded the number of Orthodox churches here.
—But why Sakhalin and not, say, the western or southern part of Russia?
—Metropolitan Daniel of Arkhangelsk and Kholmogory, formerly Bishop of Sakhalin and Kuril Islands, once wisely said: “Sakhalin is Russia’s spiritual frontier post.” It is like a filter, a liver which absorbs extraneous matter. There are currently different scenarios for tearing away Sakhalin from Russia and attempts are being made to separate its indigenous minorities from the country, though it is the domain of national security. Some want to separate people from their roots, their motherland, so that they might say: “We don’t care about Moscow! It is so far away! And our closest neighbors are our best friends.” However, the anti-Russian sanctions have revealed just who these “best friends” are.
—What is the young people’s attitude towards these tendencies? Do they remain in Sakhalin, or go to the mainland, or move to neighboring countries?
—Many young people are leaving Sakhalin. And until recently we believed that they were leaving forever, but this is not the case. Let me tell you a story. Some eight years ago a woman with a daughter came up to me and said: “Fr. Tikhon (I was still an igumen), my daughter wants to study in an institution of higher education. What institute would you bless her to choose?” We talked on this subject, and the girl entered an institute from which she graduated with an honors degree. Then she came back and told us the following: “All of my classmates have returned to Sakhalin.” I asked: “How do you know that?” She replied: “Well, I studied at medical institute longer than everybody else.” Everybody returned! And even if half of the course returns, it is a good “solid residue”, to put it into the words of chemistry.
One more important fact: we, Sakhalin residents, are more interested in our local TV shows and local life than anybody else. It is a good indicator of the sanity of those who live here. They understand that our home is Sakhalin and it means a lot to us here and now.
—What can you say about employment in Sakhalin?
—It is not difficult to find a job in Sakhalin. More than that, it is easy to make career here, and good specialists are always in demand. Let me share another story. An acquaintance of mine retired from his military service and came up to me, saying, “Father, I ask for your blessing. I am going to get a job at one municipal structure, for we have the same principle here—connections decide all.” I argued: “I am afraid you are wrong! In reality, there is only one principle—whether you work or not. Connections may help, provided you are going to work in the first place.” Eventually that man made quite a good career without any protection and support, which would have been near to impossible in most of our southern regions—something we should be aware of. I am sure that if somebody wants to realize himself, Russia’s Far East will be the best place for this. And when it comes to corruption, bribery and similar things, perhaps they exist in our region (I am not an expert as I have never given bribes to our Department of Motor Vehicles and Traffic Control or anybody else), but, judging by the statistics cited by my acquaintances, the Far East is the most problem-free region in this respect.
In general, there is a comfortable environment here, both spiritually and materially. People have never been hungry here. One elderly woman told me that when during the Second World War her father was declared “an enemy of the people” and his bread card was confiscated, the family nevertheless survived. She used to say: “We weren’t hungry. We had everything: mushrooms, berries, and fish. We didn’t need bread.” True, our people lived modestly, and even today many are very hard up, not least the pensioners; but nobody is starving—you can go fishing, pick mushrooms, and you can survive.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Diocese of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
—Your diocese was established in the late twentieth century, yet Orthodoxy had reached Sakhalin during the time of the Holy Hierarch Innocent (Veniaminov). There is an interesting episode in his Life: when he arrived on one remote island, he was approached by a pious man who exclaimed: “I knew that you would come! It was revealed to me by the archangels!”
—“White men”, to be more exact.
—Thus, St. Innocent’s missionary work was prepared from above in every respect. Did anything like this happen in Sakhalin?
—Though I may be wrong, I think there was hardly any morality, let alone spirituality, at the time when convicts were sent to Sakhalin. However, when the USSR reclaimed Sakhalin from Japan, the authorities restored the original (and often Church-related) names to many settlements, such as Troitskoye (“Trinity”), Petropavlovskoye (“Peter and Paul”), Voznesenskoye (“Ascension”), etc. At least this indicates the integrity and sanity of those authorities, even though they were atheists. Sakhalin was settled very rapidly at that time. For example, the town of Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky became a town of intellectuals, with a huge number of educational institutions and a high level of education. It was then that a solid, moral foundation, on which the preaching of Orthodoxy became possible in the post-Soviet era, was laid.
Thus, when the sowing the seeds of the Orthodox faith was finally allowed and churches were opened, Orthodoxy began to flourish—on the moral foundation that residents of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands already had. Another peculiarity of our region is that we baptize more adults than infants—all of the infants are baptized, but there are some unbaptized adults.
—Did those who were baptized in the 1990s become conscious believers?
—Many were baptized because it was in fashion, as it were. That tendency existed not only in Sakhalin, but throughout the mainland Russia. Since towns in the Sakhalin region are small and everyone knows everyone, it is impossible to hide the way you live here. Therefore, if clergy act properly (and that’s the case, glory be to God), then the Church’s authority grows, the Name of God is praised not blasphemed, and people, seeing worthy pastors, come to believe in God.
—How can you characterize the diocese’s main activities over twenty-five years of its life?
—First and foremost, we have built churches. Initially we worshipped in any buildings that were to varying degrees adapted for church services, mostly in kindergartens and shops. We used whatever was suitable for this purpose. As soon as we began to celebrate services and perform sacraments, a large number of people turned to God and began to participate in the sacraments of Confession, Holy Communion, and Holy Unction…
In time Sunday schools and spiritual and educational centers were opened.
At present we are working with our teachers to integrate them into the church life so that they could teach the subject, “The Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture” in the right spirit. Our teachers are excellent people and professionals in their field, but they are not necessarily experts in Orthodoxy.
We should work with them constantly and systematically to achieve good results.
—Does the climate of Sakhalin have an impact on the building of churches?
—At first we built wooden churches, but many of them have since crumbled into ruins. A few years ago a wooden church on Kunashir Island rotted away and nearly collapsed. It was dismantled, and I thought: “The builders must have made a mistake. How could a church rot by itself?” However, two years ago another wooden church attached to a military unit on Iturup Island rotted away. And this church had been erected before my very eyes and consecrated in 2004. This year the construction of a reinforced concrete church commenced. I got added evidence that the soils and climate of our region don’t allow us to build wooden churches. A small example: this year we erected a monument to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, a wooden chapel, and a cross on Tanfilyeva Island (which is the closest to Japan) where we have a frontier guard’s base. The cross, which was made of metal and wood, rotted away. We installed eight-millimeter stainless steel. When I came to bless the cross, I saw the stainless steel covered with a red film of rust, which shouldn’t have happened on material of this kind. Thus, the aggressive environment of this region eats away both buildings and structures.
Despite everything, people live, work, go fishing, enjoy life, and bear children. The Kuril Islands have schools, hospitals, and kindergartens—in a word, there is the infrastructure necessary for any regional center. People go to church. There are two churches on Kunashir Island, two churches on Iturup Island, excluding chapels. True, each of them has only one priest, but nevertheless people can come to a house of God, repent, take Communion, or just speak to a priest.
Once a former Communist Party worker and ex-Secretary of the Regional Committee on Ideology came to me and said: “Fr. Tikhon, do you know that I am an atheist?” I answered: “Yes, I do. And we have a perfectly fine human relationship.” He proceeded: “My spouse has passed away. She was a Christian. I want you to perform a funeral service over her...” What a noble act! What does it indicate?
—Respect. He could have not approached you.
—Yes. He could have forbidden anyone to serve a funeral service for his wife or avoided solving this problem. But he is a man of integrity who, I believe, is standing on the path to faith and church life. He simply needs time and a possibility to sort himself out.
—Are there churches in all major administrative centers of your region?
—Sure, there are churches in all district centers. Most towns and villages have a church or a chapel. Clearly, we cannot serve in all our churches on a daily basis, so in most cases we serve once a week as we have an acute shortage of priests, which is a real catastrophe.
—How are you solving this problem?
—We are trying to ensure adequate conditions and create a proper environment. When there is a comfortable, peaceful atmosphere in the parish and among clergy, when minimal living conditions are provided (when you have a home and clothes, there is a kindergarten and a school close by), you will gladly prefer ordained ministry.
But another question arises, namely the future pastors’ theological education. Previously we used to send our clergymen to Orthodox seminaries and academies in Moscow, but very few of them came back. Now, with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill, we send them to the Khabarovsk1 Theological Seminary. As a result a clergyman performs his obedience in the diocese, studies (as a rule they opt for correspondence courses), gets a degree in theology, and joins the brotherhood of our Sakhalin priests. I see no alternative at the moment.
This formula enables you to have a new outlook on life and realize that you can walk towards salvation and enjoy happy family life not only in large towns. There is a demand for priests everywhere. True, at first a priest can say even while in a small town: “I am having a hard time, nobody is helping me.” I always answer: “Don’t be hasty, father!” Some five years passes, and the same priest tells me with joy: “When my wife is walking down the street, everybody greets her! And when we wanted to build a fence around the church, we gathered our parishioners and did the work together. And we have managed to repair the church somehow.”
Any work requires time. While in mainland Russia many churches have very active communities, in Sakhalin the initiative should lie with the parish priest at the first stage. If a priest acts worthily and takes care of parishioners, people reciprocate. But I will repeat myself: all of this takes years.
—The tragedy that happened in your diocese four years ago resonated with all Orthodox believers worldwide. Then a neo-pagan burst into the cathedral of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with a rifle and shot Nun Lyudmila and a layman named Vladimir dead. Did their martyrdom inspire anybody to go to church, to get baptized, and to think of the purpose in life?
—While I cannot say that the martyrdom of Mother Lyudmila and Vladimir Zaporozhets inspired a multitude of people to go to church and get baptized, I was astonished by the reaction of Sakhalin residents: all of them—baptized and unbaptized, churched and unchurched—felt our tragedy as if it were their own and shared our pain.
When a tsunami heavily damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011, I went to the Japanese Consul to share his grief. I had no information on the number of deaths following the accident until I looked into his eyes, which expressed incredible sorrow. Thus I assessed the magnitude of the tragedy. It was the same in Sakhalin: People showed with their eyes that they were grieving with us. It is very important and indicates that the residents of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands are not hard-hearted and not egotists. That is the most important thing. And I am sure they will find their path to the Church in due time.
“Come to us!”
—What does Sakhalin mean to you?
—I regard Sakhalin as my home, and whenever I am away (and I only seldom leave it for two or three days, mainly for universal Church events), I begin to miss it. I regard Sakhalin as my home just as I regard residents of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands as my family, my homefolk. And this feeling has intensified over the past few years. And every time somebody says, “Your Eminence, what if you are transferred to another diocese?”, my heart wrings with apprehension. I have never asked and won’t ever ask my Church hierarchy to transfer me somewhere else.
—What would you like to say to our readers in conclusion?
—I wish the readers to become obedient children of both their fatherland and their Church hierarchy. If you want your children or subordinates to obey you, you first need to become good citizens of your country. Only then will you achieve results. Unfortunately, many people who are not experts in certain spheres, give rein to their feelings and criticize both the Church and secular authorities without understanding what their (the authorities’) decisions are based on. You only have to judge others several times before you, voluntarily or involuntarily, become a murmurer, a complainer (cf. Jude 1:16). One day an old woman came up to me and said, “Everything is fine with me, except for one thing: my husband drinks—and fornicators and drunkards won’t inherit the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10).” I replied: “No, mother, that’s not all. The apostle further states that revilers won’t inherit the Kingdom of God either.” Malicious words destroy us.
You are welcome to come to Sakhalin and labor for the glory of our Mother Church. I assure you it is not the worst place in the world! And for me it is the best place to live in because it provides conditions that allow us to work faithfully, and, as a result of this, find happiness and achieve eternal salvation.