—In the history of the Church that you presented, you hit on one of the first themes I wanted to ask you about. You spoke about Sts. Cyril and Methodius weaving together various traditions, and in the more recent history you’ve had Serbian, ROCOR, and Constantinople influence, and I was wondering how these various traditions play out in modern Church life in terms of liturgics, chanting, vestment style, iconography, and so on. Do you see various traditions, or were they somehow harmonized together? Could you say the Church has its own style?
—We could say we have our own style, with heavy influences from others. For example, in eastern Slovakia, they have their own type of chanting called Transcarpathian chanting, where the whole congregation sings in the church led by the so-called cantor. This is something you might know in the U.S. from the Carpatho-Russian Diocese.
—Yes, so that originated here, actually, in Transcarpathia. We use this plain chant in Slovakia. In the Czech Republic we have either Russian singing or nowadays even some parts done in Byzantine modes. And there is a local tradition created by Bishop St. Gorazd based on the folk tunes of his native southern Moravia, somewhat east of the modern Czech Republic.
As far as vestments are concerned, we mostly use Greek-style vestments here in Slovakia, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a matter of personal taste. We don’t impose on clergy which style they must wear. People get them either from Transcarpathia, where they celebrate nowadays in the Russian style, or they buy them from Greece or Serbia or Romania. Every priest uses whatever kind he likes.
The same is true also for the calendar. We insist on having Orthodox Pascha, to have unity with the rest of the Orthodox world, though this process was finished only five years ago. Before that we had some parishes using the Western Paschalia. But nowadays a parish can choose to use the Julian or New Julian Calendar1 for the unmovable feasts. We give freedom, but we are more homogenous in Slovakia. It’s different in the Czech Republic with all these immigrants, with everybody wanting to bring a piece of their home. We have there a Georgian parish and a Greek parish and a Romanian parish and Ukrainian parishes and Russian parishes and Bulgarian and Serian parishes—all within the jurisdiction of our Local Church, but they keep their local traditions. We don’t have that here in Slovakia.
—If it’s more homogenous in your diocese, are your mainly on the New or Old Calendar?
—We have about thirty parish communities, five of which use the full Julian Calendar. The rest use the New Julian calendar. But we are officially tri-lingual here, because we also have two very tiny Hungarian-speaking communities with active priests. We publish liturgical books in Hungarian which are quite in demand in Hungary I’m told. We celebrate in Church Slavonic and we’re starting to celebrate in Slovak as well, especially as far as the Biblical readings are concerned. I really believe that the Word of the Lord should be understood, so I discourage using Church Slavonic for them. It shouldn’t be anything magical, you know? My priests are my collaborators in this, and there is no serious opposition, even amongst very conservative people.
—Liturgical language, as I’m sure you’re aware, can be quite a heated issue in some other Local Churches.
As for the calendar, I knew about Finland celebrating Western Pascha, but I never heard about any churches elsewhere doing that. How did the parishes that used to celebrate Western Pascha even begin that practice?
—It was one of the privileges of the Serbian Czech Diocese to use the Western calendar. It was seen as a missionary tool, and you can see the quite-conservative Serbian Church being wise and broad-hearted enough to accept this and keep it as it was. Here, in the East, beginning with the twentieth century, many Uniates actually opted for Western Pascha; so when they joined Orthodoxy they were either already celebrating Pascha according to the Western calendar, or especially in the late 1960s there was strong pressure from the communist authorities on the Church authorities to encourage people to adopt Western Pascha, to keep the people working, so they wouldn’t take extra days off work, and so on. When we tried to reintroduce the Eastern date of Pascha in the 1990s there was tension with some people who told us to make up our minds and decide what we really want, because our predecessors wanted them to accept the Western Pascha and then we wanted them to go back and accept the Eastern computation again.
—I suppose the back and forth could be jarring for people.
—It is, and it’s discouraging for them.
—You said in your diocese you have thirty parishes?
—Yes. There are about 15,000 of us according to the last survey in 2011. But there’s an electronic census being taken right now, so we’ll see how many we have now, ten years later.
—As far as the 2011 census, is there any idea about how many out of those 15,000 are attending regularly? Every week or two?
—I would dare to suggest one-third, perhaps, or even a little bit more, because this part of Slovakia is still considered to be one of the most religious regions of Europe.
—One-third is a much higher proportion than we have here in Russia.
—Right, but things are changing, of course, and gradually, even here in eastern Slovakia, people, especially the younger generation, may lose their interest. And let’s see what this pandemic does to us. For example, our services were just suspended on January 1 for the third time in a year. You might know that the Czech Republic and Slovakia are leading in the number of infections and deaths in the world. Both countries are number one. We have absolutely no idea when the churches will open again. So, we try to gather as small communities, with those who are necessary to celebrate. For example, I stick to the cathedral now, but then we had to close after Sunday because someone came with the coronavirus. So we’ll see what comes next.
—Lord have mercy!
—Indeed, may He hear your prayers.
—You mentioned there was a fifteen-year period where all efforts went into building churches instead of missionizing. But has there been a turnaround now? Are any measures being taken or programs being implemented? How has the focus changed, and what are the challenges to spreading Orthodoxy in Slovakia?
—Especially in the 2000s, people started studying abroad, and all of a sudden they realized that opposed to a small minority, which is often not self-secure, there are countries where the Orthodox are the majority, who have a rich tradition, culture, literature, many saints, active monasteries. Many people got really inspired and tried to bring some of that experience back to their parish communities. Organizing pilgrimages to other Orthodox countries has helped immensely. It has helped to bring forth a new generation of priests in our diocese. They are almost all guys who were taken to camps organized in Greece or Poland, for example. The people learned more about the Orthodox faith and they became more self-assured. They don’t see themselves as an eccentric exotic minority any longer. They’ve acquired a sense of belonging, of being deeply rooted in this place, and in this culture, of having a right to be here. And I think the people are going deeper and deeper in their faith—even very simple people.
And there are many active priests who work on the parish level with young families. Before all the lockdowns, our cathedral was full of young families with children, with special schools for both children and their parents, pilgrimages, camps, discussions, and so on. The clergy try to keep a low profile and be available for everyone. Of course, we make many mistakes I’m sure, but for example, it’s quite easy for a layperson from the furthest village in the middle of nowhere to meet personally with me as the bishop. We try to create something like a home church. We try to be a community, a family; and I know this sounds cliche, but we try to introduce coffee hour after church, to gather people, to gather young families, to have some special outreach to the elderly, to support diakonia in the parishes.
And we have a big dream we’ve started working on: establishing a monastery.
—That was something I wanted to ask you about. Are there any Orthodox monasteries in Slovakia?
St. Basil of Ostrog —No. In the Czech Republic there are some, but either with imported nuns from Ukraine, or with one monk being the abbot and one novice. It doesn’t really work like that. We do have Slovak monks—some on the Holy Mountain, some in a monastery in Greece. Some nuns are either in Greece or in Poland. So we do have monastics, but given the fact there is no community here, they tend to go abroad—and once they become part of a community I seriously doubt they’ll want to return. You don’t leave your community and go to the middle of nowhere—you need a special mindset for that.
But we are trying to build a monastery dedicated to St. Basil of Ostrog, the famous Serbian and Montenegrin saint. The impetus for that was given to us by the late Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro of blessed memory. He was a great friend of our Local Church and especially of our diocese, which he visited twice in his later years. He himself blessed the place for the future monastery. He interacted with our priests and accepted a great flow of pilgrims.
When he reposed, we felt like we all lost a father. He was very protective, especially during our recent Church crisis in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. His presence when he came here was like he had come to his own flock. The people saw him like that, even though he was very tired, especially the last year when he came, exactly a year before his repose. The situation in Montenegro was terrible, and he came on his own, without anyone accompanying him, on overnight planes, with a layover in Warsaw, just to come for one day because he said, “I promised you I would come.” He was a wonderful person and the Church that was under him is a great source of inspiration for many of our priests and faithful.
—Especially with the cross processions they were having last year, I think they’ve become an inspiration to the whole Orthodox world.
—Yes, indeed. It’s amazing really. The new Serbian Patriarch Porfirije has visited Slovakia numerous times and has accepted us as pilgrims in the Kovilj monastery2 and elsewhere. So with his election, we feel the ties that already exist between our Churches becoming stronger and stronger.
—People I know in Serbia speak very highly of him.
—Indeed. He looks strict but he’s a very nice and kind person, and authentic in his spirituality. He’s not a quack, you know? Which is important for the head of a Church. If he’s a quack, that’s trouble. But if you’re an authentic, genuine person, then things go well, and that’s true for Patriarch Porfirije.
—People in particular say that while Patriarch Porfirije is a proud Serb, he’s also not as much a nationalist as many others, so if anyone can heal the schisms in Macedonia and Montenegro, it would be him, they believe.
—Hopefully. The schism in Montenegro is a ridiculous thing. It’s a group of amateurs who aren’t taken seriously by anyone. But in Northern Macedonia the situation is quite different. This is something plaguing us—all this nationalism. We supersede the feeling of being Orthodox with many -isms, including nationalism nowadays, and that’s sad. So often we lose the taste of being the salt of the earth because of very ridiculous conflicts. I think this is one of the worst plagues of modern Orthodoxy, unfortunately. We do not act as a catholic Church. We are truly catholic, but we sometimes put our own interests to the fore, and just forget the general universal feeling, of which the most wonderful representative I have ever met was the late Metropolitan Amfilohije.
—I feel this is one benefit of becoming Orthodox in America. Although the overlapping jurisdictions is a non-canonical situation, at the same time, it helps us to understand that Orthodoxy is not about any particular nation, ethnicity, or culture. I was baptized in the OCA, but also attended an Antiochian church, and we frequently visited Greek and Romanian monasteries, and so on. And I was baptized at a university parish, so we had perhaps an especially diverse congregation. It was clear from the get-go that Orthodoxy is deeper than ethnicity.
—Yes, you are lucky to have had this experience. Or rather, you were blessed. Because if you are just enclosed in some national setting, it can be exotic, but it’s not really fulfilling.
—It’s very hard for me to understand the ethnic conflicts in the Church. I just can’t get it. I understand, yet I don’t understand.
—There’s a lot of egoism and pride in it, and other interests that are outside the scope of the existence of the Church. There’re lots of politics in it also, and perhaps other things that we simply don’t know about, thank God. It’s not easy to be a primate of an Orthodox Church. I really admire those who bear the burden. I could not, frankly.
—You mentioned that pilgrimages to other countries have helped your diocese a lot. But for someone coming to Slovakia or the Czech Republic, where would you recommend that they go on a pilgrimage? Are there holy icons or relics?
—Yes, actually, my diocese has quite a number of holy relics. Almost every parish has been given some relics. The people interact normally and naturally with the saints, which is wonderful. There are places with miracle-working icons; there are places where we go on pilgrimage, going on foot, for example to the remnants of the old Ladomirovo monastery, and other places connected with Sts. Cyril and Methodius. In Prague they have the relics of St. Wenceslaus, St. Ludmila, and other local saints that are famous especially in the Russian-speaking world, and places that are connected with their lives. If you go to the south of Moravia—the southeastern Czech Republic—there are all these wonderful places, excavations, and archaeological sites connected with Sts. Cyril and Methodius and Greater Moravia. Bratislava and Nitra in Slovakia also have good sites connected with Greater Moravia.
If anyone is interested, we can prepare an itinerary of places to go and see. Both countries have wonderful nature also. There is much to see. Its refreshingly different form Rome, Paris, Moscow, Belgrade, Athens, and London, believe me.
I would also like to say that we have good cooperation with the Romanian Orthodox Church, especially with its diocese in Italy. Both bishops are my personal friends and are wonderful people doing wonderful work. They have a flock of more than one million people there.
—More than a million!
—Yes, because Italy is full of Romanian and Moldovan immigrants. They have the Essex approach, the Staretz Sophrony approach to Church life and parish communities, and they have been a great source of inspiration for our priests and dioceses. That’s why we try to do it differently—because we see it working elsewhere.
—I’m familiar with St. Sophrony, of course, but what do you mean by the Essex approach to parish life?
St. Sophrony of Essex —It’s about having a very strong sense of belonging to a local community, which is transformed into the ability of the priest to share his ministry with others, to find and encourage gifts which the Lord has given his parishioners for the good of the parish. It means a priest is not afraid of sharing some of his burdens and responsibility with others—which is not so common in Greece, for example, where the priest does everything. It’s about living as a community, sharing meals after services, and at the same time having the approach that we are firstly Orthodox, and therefore we are hospitable. Part of the Essex approach, I would say, is offering hospitality and seeing guests coming to us as a great blessing, to enrich us, and showing respect for other traditions and cultures within the Orthodox context, which is also something not common. These are things that sound normal and should be on an everyday basis but are not, I’m afraid. They are often not done this way.
It’s also connected to a specific way of celebrating the Divine services. For example, reading the so-called secret prayers aloud, which is part of the Essex tradition, thus allowing for a wider participation of the congregation in the sacrifice, with the priest leading and representing them, but chiefly gathering them together. He’s not just performing a ritual that must be done so that an angry Divinity is appeased, so we have the sense of having done it right and can go home now. This is what I have seen working, and it has made a great impact on my own understanding of the Church, which is always a process. I cannot say that I understand the Church fully yet, and I don’t think I ever will, but one really grows together with his ministry and the other people around you help you grow as you may perhaps help them grow. So I would say that sharing responsibility, gathering together, welcoming guests, and a specific way of celebrating could be the so-called Essex style.
—This point about gathering together, and having coffee hour as you mentioned before, is very important, I think. That’s something I miss about American churches. Things like coffee hour really help form a more community feeling.
—We share the same chalice, but often we are not a community. We are individuals who are absolutely unconscious of the existence of the other. We call each other brothers and sisters but often actually couldn’t care less about the brother and sister standing right next to us. We might not know them and not even care to know them. I can see the result of this approach that you had the blessing of experiencing in America in the lockdown here. Before we closed on Monday, the priests and I had office hours where people come could to see us. We would offer some coffee and have a talk. Young people with their families would come, children running to their favorite icons, some children crying with joy. Families were crying and saying they miss the church, they miss the people, they miss the community, they miss worshiping together. It was stunning, because I think this is what Church should be. But if you don’t talk to people, don’t encourage them in their search, don’t help them to discover their talents to use in their service to the community, then why should people go to church? Why should they miss it if they can sit home on Sunday and watch a broadcast of the service and cook at the same time, and scratch their bellies and have a drink?
Another important part of the Romanian-Italian-Essex approach is frequent communion, with due preparation. This is tremendously important. Here in Košice, we regularly have about 350 worshipers on Sundays. It’s the biggest parish in Slovakia, by the way. Nominally, we have about 5,000 people, but we have about 350-400 worshipers—about ten percent of those who are declared Orthodox in the city. Out of the 350, 330 would take Holy Communion. It means you have to consecrate more chalices, and the bishop, priest, and deacon all have to serve Communion. And the people come and say they miss taking Holy Communion, which is difficult to hear.
—It’s sad that we have these restrictions and people cannot come to church, but it’s encouraging to hear that they miss it. They aren’t content to be sitting at home.
—You said almost every parish has relics and the people relate naturally to the saints. Are there particularly highly-venerated saints? Of course, we know Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and most people have heard of St. Wenceslaus, but what others are there?
—Saints that are somehow connected with the region: New Martyr Maxim Sandovich, St. Alexis Toth, St. Alexis of Carpatho-Russia. There are others as well: St. John the Merciful, the Patriarch of Alexandria, whose relics we have in Bratislava, in whose honor the cathedral is dedicated; St. Demetrios and St. Nicholas, whose relics we also have in several places are also beloved; some modern Greek saints, but also some Russian saints such as St. Pitrim of Tambov, St. Patriarch Tikhon, whose relics we also have in Košice. There is a plethora of saints venerated among the people, and they do come for their feasts.
—And you mentioned the companions of St. Gorazd being canonized last year. Are there other people who are being considered for canonization? Other martyrs under the Nazis, or martyrs under communism?
—Yes, there are people who died in the fame of sanctity. The group of Czech New Martyrs was canonized with a couple of outstanding individuals, but you can see on their canonization icon that there are also people with faces but without names. We are researching who can be added, because there were others who were martyred for their faith during WWII. There are also confessors in both countries whose cause is being considered and researched. Some of them are connected to the Ladomirovo monastery, some of them not.
—I have also heard about a Catholic priest in Slovakia who helped form little cells of people to study Scripture and keep the faith going under communism. Was there anything comparable among Orthodox priests?
—I wouldn’t believe that during communism, no. I’m afraid we’re the only Church that didn’t have a hidden Church. We have to be frank about it. Of course, there were some official priests who did some extra activity to gather people and teach them, but we didn’t have anything like a catacomb church, unlike the Catholics and Protestants, who used to have some structures like that.
—Why do you think that is?
—That’s quite an interesting question. Frankly, I have to say that perhaps after the 1950s, many of the priests simply conformed with the regime. It was out of conformity I believe. One has to be frank about his own history.
—Indeed. Of course, on the one hand we’d like to see priests stand up and not conform, but on the other hand, I can’t judge them. It wasn’t an easy situation to be in, and I doubt I would have done any better. I don’t envy them.
—Definitely. I was a child when communism collapsed and I have found myself asking what would I have done in their shoes. There were times when a clergyman could be too active and the state simply revoked his permission to act as a clergyman, and he lost any official standing. So being a bishop and trying to cope with all the pressure from the state and trying to keep the churches going at least—I can’t imagine that. These people had their share of the cross, really, so I don’t dare criticize or judge—I just state it as a fact.
—Sure. I think people are generally aware about the gulags in Russia, and people suffered in such camps in Romania, for example, but was the persecution that severe in Czechoslovakia? Were there camps?
—In the 1950s, male monastic orders were suppressed. Officially, there were neither monks nor friars nor dedicated religious in communist Czechoslovakia. There were a few female congregations allowed to function as caretakers of the elderly. This is about the Roman Catholic and Uniate churches, as the Orthodox had only a couple of monks working as parish priests; so there were no actual monasteries, even before the war, and even before communism. Together with this, some were sentenced to hard labor or imprisonment, but there was nothing specific similar to a gulag. Some Uniate priests were not allowed to become Orthodox, and some of the bishops were also kept in prison.
We the Orthodox did not feel it much because we did not offer any resistance to the regime, which has not helped us in the long run. But in 1945, the country was liberated and everybody saw the future brightly. In came a group of people who said everyone will have bread, there will be no more wars, and people became enthusiastic and supported the ideas of communism as such. I suppose people didn’t see it as such an evil ideology because there was never such strong persecution as elsewhere. Of course, there were political trials and some people lost their lives in the 1950s, but not that many. Our first communist General Secretary Klement Gottwald, a follower of Stalin, died just a few weeks after him in 1953, and then there was already a change.
—And communism fell in 1989?
—We hear about Orthodoxy experiencing great growth after the fall of communism in places like Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and so on. Was there anything analogous in your countries? Although the Church wasn’t as persecuted there, did it feel a breath of fresh air with the fall of communism, able to live its full life again?
—Definitely. It was possible to travel and read foreign books. All of a sudden, the people could experience and gain some benefit from other Local Churches. Everybody was breathing freely and there was a period of time in the 90s when it was even fashionable to go to church. But then, especially for the Roman Catholic church, which was hailed as one of the staunch opponents of communism, the struggles for the return of church property began and many people became disillusioned. There were many converts who came with shining eyes but without having any actual experience of spirituality and Church Tradition. They tried to create some kind of utopian communities sometimes, or they expected to find an ideal of human behavior, of wisdom, unity, and brotherhood in the Church, but the reality is that we are all people. So, some became disillusioned and left.
One could speak about a movement in the early 1990s. Of course, it was more difficult because we had to build churches, as I said. We could have used the time and opportunities better, perhaps, but it was not possible because of the need to build and construct and put one stone on another. Making churches built of stone, we didn’t have time and courage to build churches made of human beings.
But the Orthodox youth were very active. There was a period of time in the late 1990s when Syndesmos was in Polish Orthodox hands, and before that in Finnish Orthodox hands. This was one of the best times for Syndesmos, which unfortunately is a dead organization now, I’m afraid. Young people were very enthusiastic about going to youth camps in Poland, with the late Fr. John Matusiak being one of the main people there. The OCA was helping in that period of time with enthusiastic people. Yes, there was a boom, but things are changing generally. It’s becoming more and more difficult to motivate people, and we will see what troubles will be when this is over. There was already a tendency for people not to gather together too much before the pandemic, but now they’re completely discouraged to meet in person and encouraged rather to lead a life in front of their laptop or tablet. We’ll see what sort of impact that will have on everyone, including in Church life. It’s difficult to judge.
—When communism fell and you had the freedom to bring in Orthodox literature from other lands, were there any saints or authors that people were drawn to in particular?
—I think there was a little of everything, really. In the late 1990s, information on St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain especially started appearing. He’s probably the most widely-read modern Orthodox saint in Slovakia today. We have several books on him. St. Seraphim was also popular, Fr. Schmemann... We still need to improve our department of translations. We’re not doing as well as the Catholic church, but thank God there is a revival of interest in traditional Orthodox spirituality among the Catholics, so they do the work for us. They publish very good editions of the Fathers both in Greek and in Slovak; they publish books on Athonite elders; they publish books on traditional Orthodox spirituality. So they do what we’re too lazy or unable to do.
—They of course are much more numerous and have many more resources at their disposal.
—Yes, this is very helpful. You have real pearls of Orthodox spiritualty in your hands thanks to their work.
—To switch topics a little bit, I saw that according to a 2015 survey, just twenty-seven percent of the Czech Republic identified as Catholic, while in Slovakia it was seventy-three percent. That’s a huge difference. For two countries that used to be one, how can you account for this gap?
—I believe it’s the fact that since the disintegration of Greater Moravia, they have lived in completely different political and cultural realities. The Czechs had a kingdom of their own that was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. The Czechs played a very prominent role in the empire and several Holy Roman emperors were Czechs themselves. Meanwhile, Slovaks had no state existence and identity of their own. Up to 1918, what is now Slovakia was just Upper Hungary. They were poor, living more traditional lives, and being this way leads you to accept spirituality and religiosity as a natural and integral part of your life. So I think this has helped Slovaks preserve more open hearts to metaphysical phenomena, let’s say.
As for the Czechs, we have had a troubled history of nascent thoughts of religion and theology being forcibly suppressed by the authorities. You may have heard of the Hussite movement, for example—one of the early reforming movements in the Western Church (which tried to find some harmony with Orthodoxy, by the way). This movement was forcibly suppressed. Then a number of Czechs were Protestants in the sixteenth century and there was a strong push for re-Catholicization. So the Czechs have lost or were forced to change their faith so many times that they stopped caring.
And one more thing: It’s inherent in the Czech genome to be suspicious of everything organized. The Czechs hated the state. They see the Church as yet another organization that tries to constrict their freedoms and will finally give them away and betray them again. I think this had led the Czechs to lose their sense of faith in their everyday lives. And I’m a Czech by nationality, by the way. So I’m talking about what I saw around me as I was growing up.
—Not to offend you and your Czech family then, but I’ve heard that although the Czech people are not very religious, they are fairly superstitious. Is there any truth to that?
—Yes, very much so. A wise person, I think it was Chesterton, said that where the feeling of faith ends, superstition begins. Or, if faith dies, superstition is born. And I think this is true. But people are superstitious all over the world. They might go to church but still do their little ceremonies to keep the evil eye away, or tie red strings around their wrists to keep evil away, and so on. Czech superstition is related to astrology and other such things. I wouldn’t say they are irreligious or atheists, no. They are a nation of, “Something is above us, but we are not sure if it, or he, or she takes care of us, or whether we relate to it somehow.” Is it fate; is it the stars? It’s a very marked and sharp agnosticism that characterizes the Czech soul, taken to the extreme.
—You’ve pointed to many periods of the faith being repressed or forcibly changed; but how much impact do you think Western materialism has?
—I think if you go to a store, you’ll see the same brands as everywhere else—Moscow, Berlin, Bucharest, New York. The same set of values is being pushed forward all over the world. But I wouldn’t call it materialism—materialism isn’t bad in and of itself as we are made of body and soul—but I would say consumerism. This is what takes its toll. But I think it’s the same all over the world. People have new heroes—completely ridiculous personalities on Instagram or TikTok who are no heroes whatsoever. If you have a nice face or can shake your hips it doesn’t mean you’re an influencer for the world, though some people believe they are.
Together with these ideas being pushed forward, there’s a complete corrosion of respect for authorities, and of the idea of authority as such. All over the world, people believe they are each an authority and no one has any right to comment or tell them what to do. This is a global process because of this wonderful globalization, which I like in a sense—it’s nice to see people coming together and sharing and enriching one another—but there could be some agenda being pushed alongside this. People who have no heroes and no memory of the past and no spirituality to relate to and who are only led to buy newer and newer things are easily controlled.
—Considering the long and complex histories of the Czech and Slovak peoples—do they feel like one people today, or as brothers? What is the relationship today in the twenty-first century?
—I think it’s better than during the federation. There are so many Slovak students studying in Prague and elsewhere. The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic is Slovak, although he’s hated by the Czechs because of how he is handling the pandemic. But I think the relationship has never been better between the two nations. Of course, each nation has its moments of condescending comments: The Czechs are like this, the Slovaks are like that, but generally speaking, the relationship couldn’t be any better, thank God. This is also due to the fact that there are still many Czech-Slovak families. Don’t forget that we were one of the few states that disintegrated without any war, in 1993. Whenever a state collapses or is divided into several units, there are usually big tensions; but nothing like that happened here, thank God.
—What was the impetus then to separate into two?
—I think there were economic reasons for it. People felt they could do better on their own, I would say, and given the fact that they elected politicians who pushed these ideas, it was just a matter of a simple agreement. Just the two prime ministers agreed to dissolve the state and the Federal Prime Minister had no power to stop it.
It was really a blessing for us that there was no war. And today there are prominent Slovaks in Czech politics, business, art, and culture, and vice versa. The relationship couldn’t be any better.
—The website Orthodox History recently had a report after the Serbian Church elected Patriarch Porfirije in their unique way on how all the Churches choose their primate. They all have their own way, but it seems the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia is the only one that stipulates the primate will come from a specific diocese—either the Archbishop of Prague or the Archbishop of Prešov. How did this stipulation come about? What’s the reasoning?
—Since 1950, the primate was always located in Prague, until Metropolitan Rastislav. When the federation collapsed there was even some state pressure on the Church to divide along the national border line. But we said, “No, we’re small enough as is. We don’t need that.” But to keep the existence of the Church in two different independent states it was decided that the primate would be either the Archbishop of Prague or of Prešov—whoever is elected out of these two. So the reason is to keep some balance. There’s nothing more to it than that. The primate is elected by a general clergy-laity assembly of the whole Church with representatives of all the dioceses and the members of the Holy Synod taking part in the voting. The procedure is quite democratic I would say.