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Kaliningrad Kirill To Questions of the Journal Inside
"The following interview with Metropolitan Kirill, the
'foreign minister' of the Russian Orthodox Church, will appear
in the May issue of Inside the Vatican magazine."
Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill
To Questions of the Journal "Inside the Vatican"
April 3, 2006 (Newsflash April 18/06)
By Leonid Sevastianov
On May 25, 2005 in Bari, in southern Italy,
just a month after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal
Walter Kasper made a proposal that caught the attention of
many observers of Catholic and Orthodox affairs: he proposed
convening a type of ecumenical "council" open to
the participation of Orthodox as well as Roman Catholics.
He suggested that Bari could be the site of such a “council”
which would have as its goal the restoration of friendship
between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and that the creation
of an "alliance" for a rediscovery of the “Christian
roots of Europe" could become the council’s theme.
What do you think about this proposal? (Cardinal Kasper made
his suggestion in a speech during a session of Italy’s
National Eucharistic Congress in Bari.)
METROPOLITAN KIRILL: Cardinal Walter Kasper’s idea
about holding a "council" of Orthodox and Roman
Catholic hierarchs in Bari is, undoubtedly, rather interesting.
At the same time, it is necessary to bear in mind that a council
as an ecclesiological reality is impossible in the conditions
of our present division. Therefore, we may speak not about
a council like ones of the Ancient Undivided Church, but about
a meeting or an assembly.
I believe that, on the way to any significant event in the
sphere of Orthodox-Catholic relations, it is necessary to
tend to the solution of specific problems complicating these
relations. A joint discussion of acute problems of the present
is already under way. For instance, an International Conference
on "Christian Values in Europe" organized by the
Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture along with
the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church
Relations, which I head, will take place in Vienna in early
May, 2006, with assistance from the "Pro Oriente"
foundation of Vienna, Austria.
Cardinal Kasper also said, "I am convinced that after
the great efforts and significant steps made by John Paul
II, Pope Benedict XVI will open the way for such a plan in
the future". What do you think about Pope Benedict XVI?
Have you ever spoken to him? Do you think that you could meet
with him in the future? Is Benedict different from John Paul
II, and if so, in what way?
KIRILL: I respect the new Head of the Catholic Church Pope
Benedict XVI very much and I had repeatedly met him before
his election to the Roman throne. On April 25, 2005, the day
after the inaugural celebrations, His Holiness received me
in the "Santa Marta" residence where he had continued
living after the end of the conclave. Our conversation was
informal and warm. However, during this brief period of time
we managed to discuss the basic questions in the relations
between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches and to
note our agreement concerning the need for common action between
Orthodox and Roman Catholics in upholding and proclaiming
I was very grateful to His Holiness for this meeting and
I see in it a sign of the special significance which a newly-elected
pontiff attached to relations with Orthodox Churches and with
the Russian Orthodox Church as the largest of them.
I would rather not compare the personalities of the two heads
of the Catholic Church – the recently deceased John
Paul II and the present Pope Benedict XVI. Both of them are,
undoubtedly, really outstanding people. However, inter-Church
relations don’t always depend on individual persons,
even such high-ranking ones. As is well known, there are a
number of rather complicated problems that require, on the
one hand, an urgent resolution or settlement, and, on the
other, a responsible and thoughtful approach. Keeping both
of these factors in mind should assist the overcoming of existing
difficulties in the most effective way.
A major component of this important work therefore should
be a fair and open dialogue between our Churches. That is
why I hope for the continuation of fruitful meetings with
leaders of the Catholic Church.
What are the main difficulties in relations between the Roman
Catholic and Orthodox Catholics? Which can be settled relatively
easily and which cannot?
KIRILL: Problems in relations between Russian Orthodox and
Catholic Churches are well known. First of all, it is the
situation in the Ukraine, especially in the western part of
it, where oppressions of Orthodox believers by Greek Catholics
continue. Unfortunately, in the last years the situation has
not changed for the better. On the contrary, it tends to become
more complicated due to the transfer of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar’s
see from Lvov, with which the center of the Ukrainian Uniates
has been historically connected, to Kiev, called the "mother
of Russian cities" and for centuries the see of the heads
of the Orthodox Church of Russia, and then the Ukraine.
In Russia, our believers are seriously concerned and misunderstand
missionary work done by Roman Catholic clergy among the Orthodox
population, in particular among children and youth. People
often ask me: why do Catholic priests not work more actively
in the countries from which they come to Russia and prefer
to nurture Roman Catholic traditions in Russian children from
These problems can hardly be settled soon and easily but
we should aim for their prompt solution as there are destinies
of real people, their worries and feelings, behind them.
Can you suggest any special initiatives that could improve
Roman Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations? Do you support
the creation of a "Catholic-Orthodox Alliance" in
Europe in support of Christian moral values, as suggested
by Cardinal Kasper and the Viennese and Austrian Diocesan
Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev?
KIRILL: Regarding the idea of the creation of an "Orthodox-Catholic
alliance" I would like to say that it is necessary to
make correct emphasis here and to agree about the terms. The
concept of an "alliance" has a more political than
Church-related meaning. Therefore, I would prefer not to use
However, the Russian Orthodox Church actively supports the
development of interaction with the Catholic Church. We agree
on a majority of the questions that the Christian world faces
today. It is well known that both Churches are very concerned
about the expulsion of religious values from the life of modern
society and the need to preserve Christian ethical standards
Our cooperation is absolutely necessary. It is awaited by
millions of people -- believers and spiritual seekers alike.
This interaction can have far-reaching consequences for Europe
and, what is especially important, for the whole system of
It is absolutely clear that in this case we speak not only
about the Russian Orthodox Church but about all local Orthodox
I think the place of Christian values in the world will in
many ways depend on the character of Orthodox-Catholic relations,
at least on the European continent.
What do Rome and the bishop of Rome mean for the Orthodox?
During the first millennium the bishop of Rome was highly
KIRILL: Unfortunately, at the moment, Orthodox and Roman
Catholics have various views about the role of the bishop
of Rome in the Ancient Undivided Church. For the Orthodox
Church the Roman see has always had "superiority of honor",
and its head has always been "the first among equals".
But this attitude did not imply the recognition of a supreme
jurisdictional administrative authority of the Roman bishop
to whom other heads of local Churches would be subject.
As it is well known, the original reason for the tragic division
between the Western and Eastern Churches was the difference
in understanding the Roman Pope’s role in the Church.
Therefore, the importance of this question is obvious for
our mutual relations.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin not long ago declared
that the collapse of the USSR in 1991 was a huge national
tragedy. What do you think of the collapse of the USSR and
the ensuing history of Russia?
KIRILL: I shall agree with Mr. President in this. For the
believers of our Church the collapse of the USSR is, first
of all, not a political and certainly not an ideological problem.
Few are upset about the disappearance of a state built upon
Marxist-Leninist ideals, including the idea and practice of
total state atheism. A geopolitical disaster arose from the
collapse of historic Russia -- the cultural and spiritual
community by which the absolute majority of citizens in Soviet
Union identified themselves. I remember how this event was
perceived 15 years ago. Certainly, some gloated over this
misfortune and were in irrational euphoria seeing the structure
created during centuries by dozens of peoples fall. However,
on the faces of the majority, and I had to meet with a great
number of people then, I saw confusion and bewilderment. And
also, perhaps, the naive hope that everything would turn out
all right; nobody believed that a united country could shatter
into splinters in a few months…
A more sober perspective came later when all this led to
many inter-ethnic conflicts on the post-Soviet territory and
a revival of criminality as well as both local and international
terrorism. The disintegration of the country led to a dramatic
decrease in the living standards of people from virtually
all former Soviet republics. Numerous economic ties were broken
off, industry and science were destroyed. The population in
many post-Soviet countries has been swiftly falling. A lot
of families were literally divided by the new borders and
today even close relatives living in different post-Soviet
states frequently have no opportunity to meet each other.
This was a tragedy no smaller than the division of Germany
in 1945. I think that not only Russia but the whole world
as well has seriously suffered as a result of historical Russia’s
ruin. In these conditions, we understand that the Russian
Orthodox Church frequently remains a unique string that binds
together the civilization of Russia. This should not be misunderstood
as plans of political revenge initiated by us or anything
similar; unfortunately, such assessments of the Church’s
activity can be seen in the western media quite often. This
isn’t true at all. We care about the preservation of
spiritual and cultural identity, about the preservation of
all that makes people united, and what makes the Church a
As for the question about the future of Russia, I am convinced
that Russia’s future, besides other aspects, largely
depends on the moral choices of millions of people, and it
is a question of our pastoral responsibility. As history testifies,
the fall of great civilizations was always preceded by moral
decline and their creation and rise by a powerful spiritual
and moral impulse.
What is the average state of Christianity in Russia today?
Can you give examples of strengths and weaknesses? How will
the Church act to get through the crisis in Russian society?
KIRILL: There exists an aerobatic maneuver called a "tulip".
It consists of several fighters flying at a parallel course
and then simultaneously scattering aside. Thus, traces of
their jet engine exhaust form a shape similar to an open flower.
Societies not only in Russia but in many other countries
as well experience something similar today. The slackness
and irresponsibility of some are joined with the selfless
work of others. Corruption and indifference, cynical exploitation
of human passions and weak-willed pursuit of sins -- all this
destroys the national organism. The ideal of the person as
nothing more than a consumer of goods, a slave to his or her
instincts, is actively spread in society, first of all, among
The effort of certain forces to push the Church, and religion
as a whole, to the fringes of society, to limit any displays
of religious faith by narrowing the borders of citizens’
personal lives, continues. I think that these problems are
well known not only by our compatriots; we clearly see the
serious concern of faithful, sober-minded and far-sighted
Europeans and Americans on the topic of what happens in the
spiritual life of their people.
However, thank God, the attempts to separate faith from life
do not succeed. They are generally doomed as we know from
our experience of life in a system of total atheism in the
state and the subsequent religious revival.
Not long ago our Church was represented in the minds of the
public as a certain reservation for losers, people who have
not found their place in life. A typical church-goer of the
Orthodox temple, cultivated then by mass media, was either
an old retired woman or, in the extremely rare cases, "a
fire-eyed pale youngster". Nobody wants to speak seriously
about the fact that the Orthodox faith can become the strongest
source of motivation in any sphere of human activity.
However, today the situation is changing. The realization
of the fact that any sphere of human activity cannot be high-grade
if it is deprived of religious and moral comprehension grows
stronger throughout society. There are vigorous discussions
about the place of religion in society going on and these
discussions are not fruitless: more and more people from the
most different layers of society, businessmen, governmental
and public figures, scientists, teachers, legal experts, journalists,
even rock musicians, build their personal and family-related
as well professional lives on a cornerstone of belief. This
confirms that the Russian Church is alive and fruitful; it
allows us to look ahead with cautious optimism, recalling
the words of Apostle Paul that "a little ferment leavens
the entire loaf" (Galatians 5:9).
What is a lasting beauty of Russian Orthodoxy? Has it still
the ability to attract modern Russian young people?
KIRILL: Russian Orthodoxy has developed in the lived experience
of belief of generations of Christians on our land. We owe
much to Orthodoxy in every way. The acceptance of Christianity
brought us to historical existence, contributed to the creation
of Russian statehood and the formation of our national character.
Only a person who doesn't know Russia can state that the Orthodoxy
has become out-dated in it or has exhausted itself. In fact,
our compatriots whom we honor today in a community of saints
stood in their lives on the same cross-roads as the ones we
are standing on today. They struggled with sin and with God's
help won, which is what our contemporaries are also called
to do. We are not working on an empty concept – there
is a thousand-year tradition behind it and the understanding
that we are not alone in this world, that we have an assembly
of heavenly protectors who pray to God for their earthly Fatherland.
This inspires millions of people today.
As for the appeal of Orthodoxy to modern youth, I can say
that the fact that for several years people of medium and
young age have made the majority of church-goers in our temples,
at least in cities, confirms the strength and beauty of Orthodoxy.
However, this change in the ages of our congregation is not
caused by any external updating of the worship services or
by any propaganda and attempts to be conformed to the spirit
of this century. Revival of the Russian Church is really a
miracle of God, though it would be wrong to overlook the significance
of the work of all Church leaders -- the episcopate, clergy,
monks and laymen. I thank God for the fact that He positioned
me to work towards this revival as well.
At times some speak about a certain trend or fashion in religion,
but a fashion cannot be a long-term phenomenon; following
a fashion never penetrates the whole of human life. To tell
the truth, when I learned that in days of the Great Fast (during
Lent) large supermarkets had opened separate shops with products
specially made for fasting and the sales of meat, for instance,
were sharply falling, I was pleasantly surprised. This single
example expressively shows that peoples’ religious choices
have become a significant factor of life in society and has
caused the change of consumer preferences; even trade, which
has not been limited directly by any ideological frameworks,
has reacted to it.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
KIRILL: It is difficult for me to answer this question. Probably
because the fact that since childhood I have gotten used to
reading -- I read then and still read a lot now. Therefore,
by calling any writer a favorite I would sin against a great
number of them, whose books have also influenced me.
In general I can say that as a believer I have always been
interested in the display of the invisible struggle between
man and sin, evil inside himself and in the world, within
literature. This does not mean that the circle of my reading
was limited only by Church or even just religious subjects.
The fact of the matter is that experience gained from a life
of faith in Christ accumulated by centuries as well as victories
and defeats in the great battle with the devil where man participates
as well, are all inevitably reflected in classical European
and Russian literature.
I perfectly remember the time of atheistic persecutions.
I remember a consistent policy to create a vacuum around the
questions of the life of the human spirit. I remember how
rarely even the Bible could be found in peoples’ houses,
let alone the creations of the Fathers of the Church or doctrinal
compositions. However, for me, the son of a priest, it was
simpler – we had a large collection of the Church Fathers’
writings in our house; works on divinity, history, including
books of Russian philosophers and seminary students, the majority
of which have become accessible to a wide circle of readers
only in the last years. In fact, many people have been deprived
of such an opportunity and gleaned particles of spiritual
wisdom from the books of Russian classical writers like Pushkin,
Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Leskov, even Lev Tolstoy, despite the
fact that in the last years of his life he departed from the
Church. Classical Russian and European literature for many,
and to some extent for me as well, has become a real school
of Christian outlook on the world. The same, by the way, can
be said about fine arts, architecture and about music. In
my opinion, it contains a great cultural mission: to bear
witness to a person about his Heavenly Fatherland, about his
godlike dignity, even if it is hidden for a certain time under
the ashes of sin and imperfection.
Leonid Sevastianov, 28, is Russian Orthodox. He studied at
Moscow theological Academy of the Russian Orthodox Church,
at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome and received
his MA in International Relations from Georgetown University
in Washington. He writes on Russian Orthodoxy and on European
religious and cultural affairs in general for Inside the
Vatican from Moscow.
Inside The Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579) is a Catholic news magazine, published monthly except July
and September, with occasional special supplements.