Moscow region, Peredelkino station. Here, as a rule, there are always many people. From the early morning people flock here from all over Russia to take a blessing, ask for advice, converse, or just to be near Elder Iliy (Nozdrin). Stories of his prayerful aid circulate amongst the people. One has found himself in a difficult situation, another has taken a place in line simply for the sake of curiosity and waits his turn.
Still in the car, cameraman Vyachelsav and I see George Bogomolov—Elder Iliy’s assistant.
Vyacheslav and I greet George and unload our equipment: lights, cameras, extension cords, quadrocopter, and bags—all to capture the mood and atmosphere that reigns in one of the most visited corners of our country.
We don’t know if the interview will happen.
“Batiushka refused Channel One on Friday. We’ll see how it goes,” says George.
As we are setting up the quadrocopter George is already surrounded by a crowd of people. He says something to a woman who had made a vow to God and is visibly upset because the vow will not be fulfilled.
“We can do nothing, but for God everything is possible,” says George, attending to the woman. “It’s just that we who grew up with the Communist five-year building plan have grown accustomed to: The government says it, and we have to build it, and that’s it. Cities were turned on their ears—everyone got nervous.”
The quadrocopter takes off. On the screen we see what only the birds can see: the colored domes, huge crosses, the forest that sprawls across the church complex.
The day is already in full swing, but we shift into the house where any minute now Fr. Iliy, in his eighty-third year, will begin to receive people.
The building is located in the courtyard of the magnificent church of the Transfiguration of the Lord. By the way, the Transfiguration church was one of the few remaining active parishes in the Moscow region in the years of Soviet authority. In the summer, the house where Father receives people is partially protected from the sun by mighty trees. Now the whole territory can be seen from ten meters ahead.
The guests have gathered behind a large table: women and a few girls. All are intently waiting for the moment when they can speak with the elder one-on-one.
“As in confession—name and problem,” says George, addressing the gathered people. “And that’s it. Thirty-some can sign up! Don’t think that because of some other guy you didn’t get to talk with Batiushka. Always think about others. God will reward, believe me!”
Father Iliy is speaking with the next visitor in line. Vyacheslav is taking a picture. George is controlling the situation. I am drinking tea.
So passed the hours. Then Batiushka, accompanied by George and his helper Dimitry, went to another building. We continued to gather material, all without any unnecessary bustling. It was already late in the evening when Fr. Iliy returned to the people.
“Father Iliy can see people until very late in the evening,” his assistant told us in the kitchen.
We spoke with Fr. Raphael (Romanov), the cell-attendant of Elder Iliy. He is the author and singer of the famous tune, “Who Respects Bees”. Our conversation lasted twenty minutes. Into the room where we are chatting comes Father Iliy.
—Father Iliy, thank you very much for agreeing to give an interview to Pravoslavie.ru. Our first question: How should we speak to people today about Christ?
—Tell them that the world was created by God, that our dogmatics are only about Truth, that there exists the Holy Scriptures, the Bible—New and Old Testaments, that our life in the Church is above all based on the New Testament, which continues the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the time from our forefathers Adam and Eve until the Nativity of Christ. The history of our modern world and civilization is defined by the New Testament. This is obvious as we even begin our reckoning of years from the Nativity of Christ.
Also say that man is the crown of creation—he is highest of all. He is like a tsar before there was a tsar, or like a president now. But any ruler in history rules within the framework of his own abilities. But God, Who created the world, the universe—not only our planet, but also the sun and the whole cosmos—is the Master of the whole world, and of our whole life.
Man, as the highest creation, is specifically arranged both externally and internally. He has reason, emotions, and a will, which is the first and foremost quality of his soul. And God preserves it.
They say: why does evil exist? Evil exists. But evil is a violation of the will of God and deviation from the will of God. Evil first occurred in the angelic world, when part of the angels departed from the Lord. They rebelled against God and by their departure lost that inheritance that they originally had. So they became demons, or evil spirits. They constantly contend with God. But power, naturally, remains with God. The Lord, in His Wisdom, has not yet wholly restrained them. It is said in the Gospel that Satan, like lightning, was cast from Heaven, and he continues his evildoing—we must take this into account.
Unhappy are those who are not mindful of the existence of God and don’t take into account the presence of dark forces, and therefore endure very many sorrows. Of course, they lose a lot.
—Fr. Iliy, we see now a lot of active propagandizing about non-traditional relationships between the sexes. Modern advertising companies disseminate vice. Generally speaking, relationships are being reduced to instinct. Where is all of this leading?
—We know that all good is from God. All of it! And the world itself in all its greatness and beauty is from God. The life of a man who lives with God proceeds in an equilibrium of spiritual strength—and physical too. As God Himself is eternal, so the life of man is designed for eternity. But there are also dark forces. It’s impossible to resolve problems without acknowledging the presence of God, His good will, His omnipotence and His love for mankind. But man will never be able to arrange his life correctly, if he doesn’t take into account the existence in history of the dark forces. And how long this present period in the life of our planet will continue until God will come to judge, we don’t know.
In the world there are two major poles: life in God—life in Christ, and rejection of God. But that man would not be with God is a temptation from the devil—it is his meddling in our life. Then man finds himself under the heel of the dark forces. He departs from a correct understanding of the Divine, but doesn’t come to the contrary understanding, that is the demonic. He wanders, as in the shadows. He tries out various things for himself—different understandings, lifestyles, ideas—but it’s all wrong. It’s like stumbling in the dark—he misunderstands the essence of everything that is happening around him.
—And how to learn prayer, Batiushka? How to properly pray?
—Oh, my dear ones, there is no higher mathematics. What is prayer? Prayer is conversation with God. We nourish ourselves every day; or in uncontrollable circumstances not every day. We maintain our own physical existence until the last minute of our lives. But true spiritual life is beyond the scope of this world—it is our relationship with God, and it happens through prayer.
Above all we must rightly understand the essence of our lives, that is—to know what is necessary in order to, as is written in the Gospel, inherit eternal life. The Lord our Savior Himself specifically spoke about this: to begin to love God with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. When man fulfills this, then everything falls into place—a proper ordering of life, both daily and in the long run. To properly realize this is man’s purpose in this world.
—Already for several years western media has been forming a certain image of Russia—a very unattractive image as an aggressor country, the embodiment of evil… Should we, the Russian people, react? And if so, how?
—We must understand, first of all, that every country has its own politics and its own internal life; and it, naturally, protects its own lifestyle. Our Russia has always set for itself a law: to protect not only ourselves. But there have been repeated attempts to subjugate our Fatherland undertaken by other countries and forces, beginning with the Mongols, continuing with Napoleon, Hitler—they looked upon Russia as a place they could gain something from. Naturally our time is no exception. They look upon us with great envy. Envy has always existed in man from his depravity. It was so in the First World War and in the Second World War, and now we are facing the same situation. They are trying to provoke Russia, manifesting their enmity to force us into some kind of conflict.
We see this in the recent turmoil in Little Russia—the western frontier of our Russia, insofar as they behaved provocatively—pure and simple. In particular, they more than once bombarded the Rostov region. Of course, our president showed restraint. In a different situation it would have caused serious complications, even wars. Therefore, now they consider that we are to blame. They try to prove it to other peoples. But wherein lies our guilt? For example, many people are now talking about Crimea, but Crimea is a genuine part of our Russia. But few know how great was our Russia. The reasons are obvious: there was a revolution, Lenin. He is not a leader, but a destroyer, a traitor, and a murderer. Russia has suffered horribly because of him. He orchestrated the genocide of the Russian nation and of the Russian people. Ten million people were killed thanks to him, without a trial or investigation. The emperor was murdered by the machinations of this Ulyanov—a villain in the fullest sense of the word. He is a hater of the Russian people. He said with his own burring tongue that if only ten percent of the Russian people would remain then he succeeded. He is a villain of villains. He should have been long ago thrown out of the mausoleum. Through him the Lord does not grant us the full development of our Fatherland, while he is not yet carried out, not thrown out of the threshold of the center of our Russia—Moscow.
Many look at us with suspicion because there remains a pro-Communist faction of society, and even Communism to some extent. They fear that it will draw out big conflicts, and big trouble. Our urgent task is to throw him out of the Kremlin as soon as possible. It will smooth out much of the tension and will smooth out wary attitudes towards Russia. By this we will show them that we are moving away from Communism. Of course, those who are too full of this Communism idea are against it. If not for them he would have already been thrown out a long time ago. These fanatics really find themselves under the influence of the satanic Communistic idea. They cling to it too much. Lenin is contemptible, and there is no better word. After all there was a genocide of our nation and the whole of Russia.
Now is one of the most important moments, in which many look suspiciously upon our great Russia and on our prosperity. They think that, again through Communists, there could be a new war, conflicts, and every kind of trouble.
—Fr. Iliy, we have the problem of abortions. We, on the one hand, speak about ourselves as about a great Orthodox country, and we are an Orthodox country, which is particularly seen on Pascha, Nativity and on the other great feasts. But, on the other hand, we are nearly the leader in number of abortions. How can we fight this?
—The reason, as I have already said, is the revolution. It’s the loss of that ethic, that morality that our Russia, our Fatherland had. The firm foundation of our family and of our condition in general is morality. But all of this was broken when there appeared the slogan: “Away with conscience. Away with family.” My uncle told me about this Communist undertaking under the catchphrase: “Anything goes.” This led to a huge downfall. And now our Fatherland has fallen behind in population. Our great scientist Mendeleev said that our Russia should have about a billion people. How many she has lost! Do you understand? It’s because there was a subversion of morality. “Plunder the stolen!”—banditry and all kinds of violations of the conscience, bargaining with the conscience and with morality. This is the main reason we have lost our great family—a multitude of abortions …
When we cast off this abominable corpse—it can’t be termed better than this—then Russia will be on the right path, in the right direction.
—Today it’s no rarity that we place our elderly parents into a nursing home when we don’t want to take care of them. What advice would you give to such people?
—It’s all the same—a loss of morality, loss of conscience, loss of piety. We should take a peek at the fables of Krylov more often. How he rebukes our behavior! People absolutely don’t understand who birthed them, who reared them. They lose this relationship with their parents. It threatens, quite fearfully, the loss of a normal family. If they abandon their parents then will they have real children who will be able to help them and find time for them when they themselves become elderly? In general, will they be able to help them in their old age?
—What advice would you give to such children?
—Above all, there must be faith, there should be fear of God and understanding that they will become the same—they will find themselves elderly, and even that it’s a good thing. And maybe there won’t be such hospices and nursing homes then.
—Fr. Iliy, recently the question of doing away with the Julian calendar has been increasingly raised. You see, New Year’s is the most joyful holiday and it falls on a day when we’re supposed to be fasting. What can you say to those who so strongly desire to toss the Julian calendar?
—We have two calendars: the old style and the new style. The old style is the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar. The new calendar, the new style, is the Gregorian. Pope Gregory introduced it: he decided to make it precise when he noticed that our reckoning of time lags behind the astronomical, as one monk calculated. The Julian calendar lags behind the Gregorian new calendar by a few days. After many years the difference will be not even thirteen days, but fourteen. They add up over the years. But here, of course, is the question of foundations. For example, we have the Old Believers. After the reform of Patriarch Nikon they remained pre-Nikonians. Patriarch Nikon noticed that the Greeks crossed themselves with three fingers, but in Russia with two fingers. We cross ourselves in honor of the Holy Trinity with three fingers. But the Old Believers cross themselves with two fingers, as the two natures in Christ. With our fingers we show in crossing ourselves that there are two natures in Christ: Divine and human. When Patriarch Nikon abruptly introduced his reform, then, undoubtedly, there arose such a split—very many reacted this way to such drastic reforms, and so it is with the calendar, according to which Pascha is calculated very precisely. The great scientist-theologian Vasily VasIliyvich Bolotov once conducted a lecture, speaking on the calendar, for about two hours, not moving from his chair.
If we made reforms now, and moved Church life to the new calendar, it would, of course, lead to many misunderstandings. Therefore it’s not a good time to deal with this!