"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 30 May 2017


the scientists and Medjugorje

I went to Medjugorje in 1990 because an old boy of our school offered to pay, and I am still grateful for his generosity.   I was curious, quite open to the possibility that Our Lady was appearing, and also accepting the possibility of fraud.   We arrive late, due to a transport strike, spending a night in Belgrade with its beautiful modern Orthodox cathedral.   

My first experience of Medjugorje did not fill me with enthusiasm.   We walked to a field where we knelt in the rain to hear Our Lady urge us through Ivan to pray for peace.   "What was so special about Bosnia that we should be dragged half way round Europe to be told that!!"   However, I gradually came to give grudging consent to what was going on.   It was grudging because, among the ordinary pilgrims, I met nutcases, and people who would believe anything.   I was impressed with Ivan who answered my questions clearly and concisely.   I asked him what Our Lady's message is, in a nutshell.   He answered:
The world is in great need of peace, and peace can be obtained through prayer as a divine gift; but not just any prayer will do: it must be the prayer of people who are at peace themselves.   Not just any kind of peace will do, but the peace that is the fruit of prayer and penance.  What kind of prayer?   He said that Our Lady gave, as a suggestion, the whole rosary, then all fifteen decades; but, he said, the prayer could take other forms.   The important thing is to pray a lot, every day.   What kind of penance?   Again, it is a suggestion: the now well-known Medjugorje fast, as much bread and water as a person wants, but only bread and water, on Wednesdays and Fridays.   However, penance can take another form; but the important thing is to do it.

This seemed to me to be a pretty coherent bit of teaching.   I have since met Ivan twice, once several years later when he visited Belmont with Fr Slavko OFM and once two years ago in Pachacamac, Lima.  He has impressed me on all three occasions.   He told us in Pachacamac that Our Lady's central teaching is   the need for constant prayer and asceticism. The "secrets" are secret because we don't need to know them.  We DO need to live lives of constant prayer and asceticism; and the world needs us to take this message seriously because constant prayer and asceticism can change  the course of history. After all, this is also the message of Fatima.

That leads to other reasons why I believe in Medjugorje.   The huge number of conversions, of people going to confession and completely changing their lives.   This is not only true in Medjugorje itself.   I say Mass in a house of the Cenacle, where converted ex-drug addicts, alcoholics and others who were in trouble look after abandoned children.      Sister Elvira, their foundress, says that addiction is a disease of consumerism, and that, normally, the best cure is a life of prayer, fasting and living for others in Christ.  Some are now religious sisters, consecrated lay people and priests.   Their childrens' home is marvelous, and their way of life is inspired by Medjugorje.   The Community of the Beaititudes and many others draw much of their spirituality from Medjugorje.   The number of people whose faith is bound up with Medjugorje is impressive. 

 Finally, I have a personal reason to believe: I took to Medjugorje a number of crucifixes and medals, to have them blessed so that I could give them away when I returned to Peru.   I bought two identical crosses and chains of a silver-coloured base metal.   I bought them in the parish shop of our own parish in Abergavenny in South Wales.   On our last night, I put all the crosses and medals in my pocket so that they could be blessed at the end of the evening Mass.   Afterwards, I went for a meal and a beer, went up to my bedroom, put the crosses and medals in my case by my bed, and went to sleep, ready for a 4.30am rise.   The next day, I was back in my monastery at Belmont by 6.30pm, sat on my bed and began to unpack.   When I took the crosses and medals from my case, one thing absolutely stunned me.   One of the crosses and chains bought in Abergavenny, had turned gold, light gold on the chain and darker gold on the cross.   I didn't believe in that kind of thing and went weak at the knees.   It caused a big debate in the monastery.   The next day, I had the gold tested.   It was only 8 karat gold plate.   "There must be a bursar in heaven," said one monk sarcastically.   Another said, "If the cross had been changed into a banana, it would still be a miracle."  Its pair was unchanged.   The next day, the sister who sold me the crosses came to see, "We have never sold gold crosses like that!" she exclaimed.   I wan't the only one who went on that pilgrimage who had this experience.   A housewife from Cardiff had a solid silver rosary that had belonged to her grandmother.   We arrived on the Monday.   On the Wednesday, she said, "Look, Father!" and she showed me the rosary: two beads and the chain in between were shining gold.   By Friday, the whole rosary was gold.   It was enough proof for me!
Medjugorje 1981


Although it seems that the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Schornborn of Vienna, and even Pope John Paul II were in favour of the apparitions, the local bishop and the one who replaced him were against, and their opposition was endorsed by the local bishops' conference.

Local bishop says ‘no truth’ to alleged apparitions in Medjugorje

ROME- On the heels of the arrival of a papal delegate in the alleged Marian apparition site of Medjugorje, the local bishop has reiterated what he’s always affirmed: there is no truth to the claims from a group of purported visionaries that Our Lady of Peace appears today, or that she’s ever done so, in this otherwise unknown town of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“Considering everything that this chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of the alleged apparitions, it can peacefully be affirmed: The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje!” Bishop Ratko Peri of Mostar-Duvno wrote on his diocesan website.
“This is the truth that we support, and we believe in the words of Jesus: The truth will set us free,” he said in a message published Feb. 26 in Croatian and Italian.
According to the bishop, the alleged apparitions, which began in the early 1980s, are nothing more than a manipulation by the visionaries and priests who work in the Saint James church that doubles as a pilgrimage welcoming center.....

As the bishop notes in his statement, the “apparitions” have been studied by several commissions: in 1982-1984 and 1984-1986 at a diocesan level, and in 1987-1990 by the Croatian bishops’ conference. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied the phenomena from 2010-2014 and again from 2014-2016.
The local and national commissions arrived to the conclusion that there’s nothing supernatural to the apparitions.
Many devotees believe that the original apparitions were authentic, but that the purported visionaries made up the thousands that followed “for other reasons, most of which are not religious.”
Yet according to Peric, the transcript of the cassettes of the first week of the apparitions, including conversations held between the visionaries and church personnel, allows him to “with full conviction and responsibility, expose the reasons why the non-authenticity of the alleged phenomena is evident.”
He also notes that to this point 47,000 “apparitions” have been registered, with three of the visionaries still receiving messages daily.
As proof of the non-veracity of the messages, many of which have an apocalyptic undertone, Peric noted that the woman who “appears” in Medjugore is very different from that of the Gospel and the apparitions from the Virgin Mary that the Church believes to be true.
Peric writes: “[She] laughs in a strange way, when asked certain questions she disappears and then returns, and she obeyed the ‘seers’ and the pastor who made her come down from the hill into the church even against her will. She does not know with certainty how long she will appear, she allows some of those present to step on her veil which is on the ground, to touch her clothes and her body. This is not the Madonna of the Gospels.”
The fact that she allows herself to be touched, Peric writes, gives him “the feeling and conviction that this is something unworthy, inauthentic and outrageous.”
Then there’s the fact that the woman who appears takes different forms, changing the color of her tunic, sometimes holding a child and sometimes not. Another example he gives which he says proves there’s no supernatural event in Medjugorje is the fact that during the first days of the apparitions they asked the woman for a sign to prove she was who she claimed, to which she allegedly turned the hands of the clock of one of the visionaries, Mirjana Dragićević.
This, Peric writes, “is ridiculous.”
Of the six visionaries who still see her, three claim to see her daily, even after 37 years. Two of them receive messages “addressed to the world” once a month. The other three claim to see her once a year.
Never mind the fact that according to the recordings of the first seven days, in June 30, 1981, Mary had allegedly told them that she was going to appear only three more times.  ( my source: Crux )


The commission reports that there is no evidence that the seers intended to commit fraud.
In spite of headlines screaming that Medjugorje has been "approved," the fact remains that only seven out of many thousands of alleged apparitions have received a majority positive vote. As the Ruini Report details, 13 Vatican commission members voted in favor of supernatural origin of the initial seven apparitions, while one voted against and one vote was suspended. The 30,000 or so apparitions following those — from 1982 onwards to the present day, 35 years' worth — received no votes in favor of supernatural origin, with 12 offering no opinion, while two voted against.  (my source: Church Militant)


Before my suggestions, I wish to make clear the context in which they make sense.    Ever since Protestants objected that, as only God can forgive sins, no priest has that power, and that Christ cannot be bodily in the Eucharist because he is in heaven, there has been a tendency to imagine a distance between God and human beings and between  heaven and earth.  This tendency has been strengthened by the Enlightenment in which  the created world was seen as a self-contained system, governed by scientific laws, while God looks after from without
Father Stephen Freeman calls it "a two-storey universe".  There is a clear difference between natural phenomenon and supernatural phenomenon, so that, if an action, however startling, has a "natural explanation" it cannot be, at he same time, a work of God.  It seems that we have a simple choice: to seek a natural explanation for everything and hence sink into unbelief, or to have faith and hence to expect miracles to take place all round us.   The worldly way to healing is by medicine, the Christian way is through prayer.

Nothing is further from Catholic Tradition, both western and eastern. Everything that exists only does so because God actively gives it being, so that He is  nearer to it than any created thing.  Everything that exists, as Julian of Norwich and Saint Isaac of Syria teach us, exists only because God loves it. The normal that follows ordinary scientific rules, and the miraculous in which the  scientific rules are broken are just as much results of God's creative activity: God is equally present in everything.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;     And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;     And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 
And for all this, nature is never spent;     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent     World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(Gerald Manley Hopkins) 

This is certainly true that deep down in the depths of every human being, at the point where God's creative action and our human existence that rises out of it meet, there is what is called the heart, our inner tabernacle.   Thomas Merton wrote of  his mystical experience in Louisville:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . . 
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
The Nearness of the Kingdom by Meister Eckhart 

In the Christian life the heart is even more resplendent: heaven and earth are united in the Eucharist because they are united in Christ who is both God and man, and they are united in the heart of every Christian who abides in Christ because Christ actually lives in him.

55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
St Peter Damian develops the idea:

Indeed, the Church of Christ is united in all her parts by such a bond of love that her several members form a single body and in each one the whole Church is mystically present; so that the whole Church universal may rightly be called the one bride of Christ, and on the other hand every single soul can, because of the mystical effect of the sacrament, be regarded as the whole Church... The cohesive force of mutual charity by which the Church is united is so great that she is not merely one in her many members but also, is some mysterious way, present in her entirety in each individual.....By reason of her unity of faith, she has not, in her many members, many parts, and yet through  the close-knit bond of charity and the varied charismatic gifts she shows many facets in her individual members.   Through the Holy Church is thus diversified in many individuals, she is none the less welded into one by the fire of the Holy Spirit. (On the Dominus Vobiscum) 
Welded into one by the fire of the Holy Spirit, those who celebrate the liturgy on earth are also participating in the liturgy of heaven with the angels and saints; and those who receive Christ's body and blood are also celebrating the liturgy within their hearts.  These are not three liturgies, but three dimensions of the same liturgy.

By the power of the same Spirit, when the Scriptures are read in church, Christ is proclaiming them through the readers and this sharing is extended into the individual life by lectio divina; when the eucharistic prayer is said, Christ is praying to the Father through the priest; and when the faithful pray and sing, Christ is intimately involved, as he is when we pray in the heart.  Liturgy is the source and goal of all ecclesial activity and the source of all the Church's powers, yet there is no suspension or modification of the laws of nature.  As the seers of Medjugorje made clear to pilgrims many years ago, near the beginning of it all, the liturgy is more important and essential than apparitions,and, in spite of the absence of miracles, more worthy of wonder.

As is implied whenever Catholics pray to Christ, Our Lady and and the saints, they must be present with us in order to listen to our prayer.  Their presence does not depend on apparitions but on the unity we have with them by the power of the Holy Spirit.    However, as I was taught by Peruvian peasants as well as by contact with the Orthodox, the effect of  blessing an icon by the Church is to bring it into service as a manifestation of that presence.   (For the purposes of this essay, I shall concentrate on icons of the Blessed Virgin.)  Eastern icons are specially designed to fulfil that role, with the perspective point in the heart of the observer rather than behind the depicted object as is normal.  

An icon of Our Lady manifests her present - not making her present but bringing our attention to her presence.  Its role, therefore, is very close to the function of an apparition.   The most glaring example is Our Lady of Guardelupe. Someone I  knew from Mexico went with a friend to Medjugorje in the early nineties and they were invited to the house of one of the female seers to be present at the apparition.  As they entered, they were greeted by the girl:
"Hello, my Mexican friends!  Why have you come over here?"
"Isn't it true that we are about to have an apparition?"
"Yes, we have apparitions here; but Our Lady lives in Mexico!"

After St Bernadette's apparitions had been officially approved by the French Episcopal Conference, the bishops employed a well-known sculptor to make a statue of "Our Lady of Lourdes" according to St Bernadette's specifications.   To that end, he went to her convent and took notes as she gave her description of Our Lady.   Having finished the statue, he took it to St Bernadette for her approval.
"That's not Our Lady!" she exclaimed in horror."But it is in accordance with your description!" said the poor sculptor."I know.  But it isn't Our Lady."The sculptor took out of his case a pile of holy pictures of the Mother of God under different titles and asked her to choose the one that most reminded her of  the apparitions.   She chose Our Lady of Perpetual Succour without any hesitation."That is Our Lady!" she said firmly."But that isn't anything like your description of her!" cried the sculptor."I know.  But this is Our Lady," said St Bernadette.
There must be an enormous difference between a statue and an apparition of the Mother of God; but, perhaps, not so much between an apparition and an icon designed to manifest Our Lady's real but invisible presence.
Pope John XXIII and the icon
of the Theotokos de Kazan

Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the present Pope Francis have all accepted the Orthodox teaching on icons and have shown much devotion to them.  I think this may  help us to solve our problem.

The story of the early years
by those who took part,
including the seers and the bishop

On the one hand, we have the courage of the kids, the consistency of their original message, the findings of the highly professional scientific teams who studied them, and - most of all - the enormous spiritual fruits in the village of Medjugorje and among the thousands and thousands of pilgrims, and including the strange phenomena like my cross changing to gold, the cross seen by a friend of mine in the sky etc; and, on the other hand, the way the all too human row between the Franciscans and the bishop became caught up in the messages, the prophecies that haven't come about, and the sometimes weird theological views that are supposedly held by Our Lady, as well as the banality of some of the messages.  How can all this be reconciled?

I hope that putting the question into the context of a realistic, "one-storey" universe may help to keep any suggested answer from being distorted by false but easy contrasts.  The world is not divided into a miraculous dimension of faith and a humdrum, ordinary, secular dimension, cut off from God: God is closer to everything that exists than things are to each other.  Moreover, because of all the prayer and penance that goes on there, it has become what my  Irish ancestors called a "thin" place where the presence of God to whom all things  are possible can be sensed everywhere you go in the ordinary, created world of restricted possibilities.   In a modern, secular world that suffers the superstition that it exists independently of God, this is Medjugorje's great achievement. Because of it, the Good News has been brought to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, the downtrodden are set free, and the year of Lord's favour is being proclaimed.

That being the case, why have tares been sown among the wheat?

The first thing to realise is that, unlike Lourdes and Fatima, the young people involved were very ordinary and common or garden Catholic kids and not already candidates for sanctity.   This was stressed by the parish priest in the early interviews.  

This means that, unlike St Bernadette, they are not particularly pure in heart. Our Lady told them they were chosen because they were ordinary and average. As Croatian peasants, they are people of simple but deeply embedded Catholic faith; but they would also have been receptive to all kinds of ideas, prejudices, opinions, points of view and beliefs that were current in Yugoslavia at the time.  The apparitions made them very dependent on the Franciscan parish clergy; and, while these priests were brave and pious, and dedicated to their beloved people who had received pastoral care from Franciscans for hundreds of years, they were not saints either, and their feud with the local bishop who wanted to put his own secular priests into that and other parishes, became bitter.  All this would have been absorbed by the seers who hadn't the clarity of vision that sanctity could have given them.

For four hundred years, the Franciscans had looked after this region when it was part of the Ottoman Empire.   The story is told  in the video above.  Attempts by bishops to re-introduce secular clergy to replace the Franciscans have been met by opposition from both the friars and the people who identify with each other as they have done so through all the difficulties caused by an Islamic government.   Unfortunately, replies from the Virgin in support of the Franciscans have caused the original bishop and his successor to call into question the authenticity of the apparitions.   Perhaps that, and other mistakes are the reason why the commission wants only to support the first apparitions.

We have seen that God is very near to us and that there are many ways that he uses to speak to us, through his providence, through the readings in the Mass and in lectio divina, which is a conversation with God, by the sacraments, through superiors and even through neighbours: all we need is ears to hear.   There is nothing strange or miraculous about it.  There are also miraculous ways as I believe happened in Lourdes and Fatima, as well as Mejugorje.   However, there is no reason to believe that the miraculous ways are more real and authentic than the non-miraculous ways: they command our attention more strongly.

We who practise lectio divina, try to discern God's Providence, interpret God's word etc know how easy it is for self-will and temptation can so easily cause us to misinterpret God's voice, so that we must always interpret in humble obedience to the voice of the Church.  Having said that, I in no way wish to call in question the reality of God's communication, only our ability to listen; humble obedience is central, as is ecclesial charity which is the sign of the Holy Spirit's presence.  Situations like the bishop - Franciscan disagreement is  obviously very bitter; and, in that context, the voice of the Holy Spirit is difficult to discern, except, of course, the call of humble obedience. In the light of this, I think the question has to be formulated thus:
If the Blessed Virgin chooses to use as her instruments people because they are "ordinary and average" rather than children on the verge of sanctity, can her message be distorted by their average ordinariness, so that her truth could be mixed with views taken for truths by peasant children of Medjugorje?

Those to whom the Blessed Virgin appears are not the onnly ones to whom God speaks.   As we have seen, He speaks through the scripture read at Mass, and to individuals in the conversation which is lectio divina, and lets his will be known, through superiors and through circumstances.   However, we know that our ability to listen and to learn accurately what God wants to tell us is limited by our self-love, self will, by our lack of faith, hope and charity, above all by our lack of humility.   St Benedict in his Rule says that one of the indications that the Holy Spirit is speaking through a monk is his willingness to submit wo  his superiors decision because he is only too aware of these limitations.  In the same way,  it is questionable whether  those to whom the Virgin is speaking, once they  come down from their ecstasy, can distinguish between what Our Lady has told them and other things going on in their mind, their own prejudices etc about what God wills.  To do so may require a purity of heart that ordinary, average people possess.  The questions, prejudices and desires of those who surround them may influence their own interpretation of what Our Lady has said more than is intended.

Why would the Blessed Virgin do such a thing?   Perhaps because, if she chose saints, the apparitions would  not have had the tremendous effect on the people of Medjugorje itself, an effect that is truly surprising.  I don't suppose there are few villages in the world that pray as the Medjugorje people pray.  They can pray like that because the Virgin spoke to people no better than they are.  

Sanctity normally takes time.  I wonder what kind of gospel would have been written by St Peter if he had written it during those first years with Our Lord?

If  Pope Francis simply writes off these apparitions, what will the community of ex-drug addicts who are friends of mine say who live together inspired by the teaching of Medjugorje?  Also, how can I explain my cross and chain which turned to gold - the one thing I couldn't accept about Medjugorje before it happened to me?  It is alright speaking about Our Lady as the postman, but slides into insignificance once we participate in the prayer-life of a Medjugorje pilgrimage or hear confessions there.   On the other hand, the Franciscans and the seers, or some of them, have not always been devoid of self-deception.   I await a nuanced judgement, one that won't damage the work of grace that is Medjugorje.

I have met Ivan Ivankovic three times, once in Mejugorje in 1991 when he spoke to our group of pilgrims, once at Belmont Abbey when I was on holiday from Peru and he came to our monastery with Father Slavko in 1993 who celebrated Mass for people interested in the apparitions, and once two or three years ago when he visited Pachacamac at the invitation of a group of rich charismatic women.   I was impressed on all three occasions by his humility and his lack of ease in the role  that Our Lady had given him.  In  Pachacamac he told the Medjugorje story through an interpreter, though I was able to speak to him afterwards.  At a certain time, he slipped away in order to have his daily meeting with Our Lady and  returned without comment as though nothing had happened.   When asked what Our Lady said, he simply said that this was between him and Our Lady and wasn't for publication.   I wondered whether this was  different from our lectio divina in any important way, our little monastic conversation with God.  The outward form was different, one  miraculous and the other very humdrum and ordinary, but the same basic idea.   Sometimes, the messages  of Medsjugorje are also humdrum and ordinary, not worth publishing; and I wonder whether the seers have got themselves into a trap where they feel compelled to make public what really is designed to remain private.   Perhaps they need some authority to tell them to shut up!   Not because they are lying when they say they  meet with the Blessed Virgin, but because the nature  of the messages, much of the time, are not telling us anything new, but serve well as personal meditations.  Perhaps those who still pronounce messages to the whole world should submit them to someone prudent, appointed by the Church, who would give permission for them to make them public if he or she deems it necessary.

Saturday 20 May 2017


On Duty in Argentina: Metropolitan Ignatii’s Service
Any Priest is a Signpost that Says, “God is That Way”
my source: Pravmir.com
In 2015, Metropolitan Ignatii (Pologrudov) started learning Spanish just for himself. All of a sudden, after serving for eighteen years in the Far East, in 2016, he was appointed to Argentina. Metropolitan Ignatii explains in his interview to Pravmir why everyone in Argentina is on familiar terms with each other, why Dostoevsky is popular in South America, and what it’s like to listen to confessions in Spanish.

On Duty in Argentina: Metropolitan Ignatii’s Service

Philologist, Photographer, and Bishop “of All the Arctic and Antarctica” Iakov: “The Most Difficult Thing is to Want to Change”
Praying for “D” students in Spanish

How did you take the news of your transfer to a new Diocese, to a different country, to a different continent?  Was it unexpected?

Yes, it was unexpected.  I spent all eighteen years of my hierarchical service in Russia, in our homeland.  Initially in my first see of Kamchatsk, then in my second see of Khabarovsk.  Both sees are in the Far East, both had a missionary-educational purpose.

It is the people, the circumstances, the environment, and the objectives, set for me by the Church and His Holiness the Patriarch, that made me into a missionary-educational Bishop.

So, no, I did not expect to be transferred.  Though, having served in South America for six months, I can see a pattern emerging – all my sees were quite extreme.

Extreme in what sense?

Kamchatka is the most eastern territory.  That is where the day begins.  There are constant earthquakes and magnetic storms there, high winds, heavy snowfalls that reach up to the second storey.  During the Perestroika years, people there had to survive, not live.  We, the priests, obviously had to serve in the same conditions.
Metropolitan Ignatii at the North Pole

Khabarovsk is the third biggest region in Russia.  The territory is enormous, villages are scattered all over – see if you can cover everything!  Well, we have covered it.  While I was there, the leaders of the country started paying particular attention to the Far Eastern Federal District.  And it’s understandable, the geopolitics of the twenty-first century are shifting towards the Asia-Pacific region, and for that reason it is imperative to develop our Far East.  Hence, there are particular expectations of the Church, its clergy, and Hierarchs.

So, I had to serve and work hard in all kinds of known and unforeseen circumstances – on board submarines and on board ships.  When the Amur River flooded, all priests joined in the work of saving Khabarovsk.

Here, in Argentina, the see is also extreme – it’s the “Far West.”

Were you worried about leaving? After all those years in the Far East to be moving to completely new surroundings, with an unfamiliar language…

No, I wasn’t worried.  I fully trusted our Patriarch.  Obviously, I didn’t know what lay in store for me in this new place, because what little I knew of the area, I had learned in my Geography class at school.

But, there was something I didn’t doubt at all, that His Holiness understood my abilities and capabilities better than I knew them myself.  What I cannot do, and what I can do, what I will be able to handle, and what will prove too much for me, he saw, therefore he knew what he was doing assigning me to this ministry.  Previous experience may also have counted.

Then, there was certain Divine Providence in that.  A year before my appointment, I began studying Spanish.

With any particular goal in mind?

At the time, it was just a hobby.  Learning a language really helps to stay “in shape.”  Mentally, that is.

Why did you choose Spanish?

About three years prior to that I went abroad for the first time.  That is, I had been overseas before on pilgrimages, to Mount Athos and to Jerusalem.  Then, suddenly, this friend of mine, a benefactor offered, “Vladyka, why don’t you go travelling for once.  I’ll cover the cost of a two-week trip to any country.”  I started thinking, where?  Then I picked Spain almost randomly.

I went there.  And I really liked the country because there is this harmony between the Middle Ages and modernity.  I also liked the Spaniards themselves – they were open, cordial, full of some kind of inner nobility, without a shade of conceit.  They treat Russians well, including me.  It even occurred to me they were just like us, except they never had to go through the terrible upheavals of the revolution, the Soviet regime, World War II, and the Perestroika.

Plus, the language itself is beautiful, very expressive and friendly.  The Spanish say, “amable,” and that’s what it’s like.  So, I felt an inclination to learn it bit by bit.

These days, I study Spanish because I have to, and I put a lot more effort into it – I try to spend a few hours a day studying it.  I have made some progress, I can already speak at assemblies, meetings, I can interact on a day-to-day level.  I was recently invited to give a series of lectures in Spanish on the Russian Orthodox Church.  So, I am preparing for it.

Is the Liturgy served in Russian or partially in Spanish?

When serving we try to make sure the parishioners understand what goes on in the Liturgy.  So that they can not only understand, but participate in it as well.  Our parishioners are peculiar – some speak only Spanish, some – only Russian, some speak both languages.

For that reason, the chanting, the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel, the Creed and “Our Father” are done both in Church Slavonic and in Castellano.  It took us a while to get to this point – it took some time, we had to discuss all circumstances with our priests.  We formed a committee on the translation of liturgical texts into Spanish and Portuguese.

What can bring together such diverse compatriots as ours?  After all, there were seven different ways of immigration.  Nothing but communal prayer, the Liturgy – a “gathering,” consolidating worship.  So, that’s what we do, we gather and consolidate.

Did any of your spiritual children from Khabarovsk follow you?

Two people did.  Others wanted to go as well, but I couldn’t take them all.  They had to remain at their obediences so as to help Vladyka Vladimir (Samokhin) (the current Metropolitan of Khabarovsk and Priamurie – Ed.).

Hieromonk Antoni (Zhukov) came with me.  He’s been under my spiritual guidance throughout his entire monastic journey from the very first days of obedience.  He is used to my style and applies himself most fruitfully under my guidance.  Father Antonii’s track record isn’t short – Kamchatcka, Khabarovsk, the setup of two monasteries with numerous pilgrims, missionary and educational activity.

South America is also in need of a well set-up Orthodox parish life. And monastery life as well.  So, I agreed to his request.

Likewise, Tamara Ivanovna Iarotskaia, the Head of the Arts Department, moved to Argentina.  At one point, she followed me from Khabarovsk to Kamchatka.  Now to Buenos Aires…  We’ve been working together for fifteen years, we understand each other really well.  She has experience in implementing diverse and most interesting cultural projects.  Though, so far only in Russia, but South America can also become fertile ground for her work.

I read in your blog about a girl named Katia, who also came from Russia, who works in the church in Buenos Aires…

Yes, but she is Father Antonii’s spiritual daughter.  It is owing to her in particular that there are always people on duty in the Orthodox cathedral of Buenos Aires.  Prior to that, they couldn’t keep it open all the time – they couldn’t find anyone they could assign there.  These days, it is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Every day.  She also bakes prosphora and teaches icon-painting.  She is also preparing to take monastic vows.

So, the church is open.  Are there any results?  Do people come, are they interested, do they ask questions?

Yes! They do come, they are interested, they do ask questions.  Mostly Argentinians.  Some are genuinely interested: “We’ve lived in this area, in neighbouring streets for so many years, we’ve walked past so often, and it’s always been closed, and now… it’s always open.  What has happened?” Some are curious, “So, you Russians are Orthodox! Hhhmmmmmm…  Can’t understand it.  We are Catholic, so what exactly is the difference?”

However, most of the people who come, come to pray, to venerate Orthodox shrines, to spend a few minutes in silence.  For those people, we have translated into Spanish and printed out many prayers, simple, warm, all of them different.  Prayers for rain or no rain, family and work problems, prayers for deliverance from sickness and from the smears of the enemy (oh, how relevant it is here!)  Prayers for children and teenagers struggling with their studies.  A kind of handbook of the practice of Orthodox prayer.

Basically, prayers for “D” students?!

And for “D” students as well.  It is important to pray for any reason, in every place of His dominion…  People often forget about it, but it’s our holy duty to remember.

So, when we talk to visitors, when we pray with them, we remind them to pray, then give them printouts of these prayers. Encounters like that happen very often.

I am on duty in church on Mondays.

How is that? The Metropolitan sits at a table in the church answering people’s questions?

No, not at a table, nor do I sit.  I go up to visitors, explain things, answer questions.  Basically, I try to assist them somehow. In some way.

Spending a whole day in church strengthens a person spiritually, gives them balance and some kind of clarity of thought for the entire week.  And when you have to travel extensively as a Pastor, especially when it’s around the entire continent, these Mondays become simply indispensable.  Plus, there is the socializing.  It is very interesting to meet people here, it produces good, kind emotions.  I find it very gratifying.

Imagine this.  Two nice, lovely women come in, a mother and her daughter.  They walk in, say hello.  I offer assistance without being pushy.  They answer, “It is not necessary, thank you.”  They walk around a bit, and I can tell they want to ask something, but are embarrassed.  I walk up to them myself.  We start talking.  I tell them about our copy of the Pochaev Icon of the Holy Theotokos, about the piece of the Life-giving Cross, the most important relic in our church.  We pray together.  We spend fifteen to twenty minutes in conversation, then they want some time alone to put up candles.

In a little while, they are ready to leave and suddenly the daughter, a really young girl of about sixteen, all graceful and pretty, comes up to me, gives me a huge hug, and kisses me twice.  Then, the mother comes up.  Just like that, they thanked me sincerely from the bottom of their hearts, hugged and kissed me, and left!  What did I think of it? Nothing.  It just makes you happy, it’s nice that people accept you so openly, so gratefully, so sincerely.

Plus, there’s the language practice… it is a wonderful opportunity to improve my Spanish.

So, on Fridays, I receive people in my capacity of Administrator of the diocese, just as I used to in Khabarovsk and in Kamchatka.  And Monday is the day when I am on duty in church.

“I am not afraid to look like a fool.”

You said in an interview that what had struck you in the first bishop you ever met (Archbishop Chrysostom (Martishchkin) – ed.) – it was in 1988 or in 1989 – was that no question embarrassed him.  Can a visitor’s question embarrass you these days?

No, no questions embarrass me.  Maybe because I am not afraid to look like a fool.  When someone asks me a question I cannot answer, I tell them straight away, “Forgive me, I cannot answer it straight away. However, if you want, I will do some research, and next time I see you, I will give you an answer.  Here is my email address, my blog, and our website.”

I read on your blog that you try to immerse yourself in a Spanish-speaking environment – you go shopping on your own, go to cafes.  Were there any interesting, unexpected encounters or conversations outside of church?

There were no unexpected, unique, extreme encounters yet.  Most people you meet are friendly.  At the shops, at the barber’s, at the pharmacy, in cafes, people are always friendly, always ready to chat, will always tell or show you something quietly.  I haven’t yet come across drug-addicts or criminals, though many people have told me about them, have warned me of that danger.

Have you had to change somehow when you moved to South America, to adjust to their customs, to renounce certain clichés, certain stereotypes?

I didn’t have to change.  But I did have to adjust how I interacted with people.  For example, Latin Americans, like all Hispanics, are not known for their punctuality.  If you schedule a meeting, you may be certain they won’t come on time.  It is almost rude to come at the appointed time.  You have to be aware of it, deciding ahead of time, what you will do and how you will act.

They progress very quickly to the interaction of close friends.  They’ve only just met and they already address each other familiarly.  Students and teachers use the familiar form of address with each other, as do students and professors.  It happens very naturally, without a shade of vulgarity, obtrusiveness, or familiarity.  In Russia, this kind of behaviour would have been considered as rudeness or boorishness.  While here…

If a man pays a woman a nice compliment, she gives him a kiss and immediately addresses him familiarly from the bottom of her generous South American heart.  Age, social status, or rank don’t make that much of a difference.

Here’s an example.  I’m at the airport.  Registration hasn’t begun yet, but the girl is already behind the counter. I walk up.

Good day, Senora.
She gives me a cold, confused look.  I inhale deeply trying to impart some courage into my heart, for I haven’t spoken to young girls in this fashion in fifty years,

Hey, beautiful!
She gives me a wide smile and her eyes light up.

Really? You’re not so bad yourself!  Where are you headed to?
To Bogota.
Ok, good, would you prefer an aisle or a window seat?
Aisle, please, I get up now and then to stretch a bit. It’s my age, you know…
Stop being so modest! Here’s your ticket, here’s the time of the flight and the number of the gate!  Have a good trip!
Now that I have some experience in informal socializing, I walk up to an airport security booth.  There’s also a young girl on the other side.

Hey, how are you?
Good! Yourself?
Have you been to Africa recently?
Feverishly I try to figure out what Africa has got to do with me and airport security.  Oh, but of course!  At the moment, Africa is a source of exotic illnesses for Europe, of different types of flu and fever.  It probably applies to South America as well.

No, no, never!
Well, go ahead then!
People who are about to live in a different country, in a different civilization must change somehow, though they must stay true to themselves in essentials.

The same applies to a missionary in Latin America.  He must adopt certain habits, tastes, attitudes, he must internalize certain opinions, make them his own, while other opinions must be renounced.

But he must remain a Christian in essentials. An Orthodox Christian.

If a South American comes to you to confession, do they address you formally or informally?

Usually it’s Russian speakers that come to me for confession.  I had to hear the confession of an Orthodox Argentinian only once.  However, if they use the familiar form of address with me, I will listen to them without hesitations and loose their sins “by the power transmitted unto us.”  I am here for them, not the other way around.

Have there been people who wanted to become Orthodox, to be baptized?

Both to be baptized and to be married in church. People came and are coming.  In these cases, I always try to assess the earnestness of their intentions, “Why have you chosen Orthodoxy?  What will your family think of your choice?”

Recently, we married a young couple, she was a Russian girl, he was Italian, from a traditional Catholic family.  I made sure that the mother had given her blessing, that he was studying the foundations of our faith.  They were married.  Now, both of them are our regular parishioners.

Or, another example.  While I was still in Khabarovsk, a Catholic priest moved there, Father Ioann Flores.  From Argentina.  He was the Rector of a Catholic parish, we got to know each other.  He read the Eastern Ascetic Fathers and was so absorbed by what he had read, he could no longer imagine life without them.  He went to Moscow, joined the brotherhood of the Danilov monastery, filed a petition to convert to Orthodoxy.  The Department for External Church Relations approached the Papal Curia and it seems the request was approved.

These days Father Ioann is preparing to become an Orthodox priest.  Now this is an example of a serious approach.  No one tried to convert anyone, no one pushed anyone, no one tried to prove to him that Catholics were no good and would not be saved, while the Orthodox would be saved because they are good and right.  He came of his own accord, he saw his calling in it!

Vladyka, where is the fine line between preaching and proselytizing?  How can we avoid crossing it?

Preaching is a desire to lead a person to Christ.  Proselytizing – to lead a person to your Church, with Christ being of second importance, if not at the background.

Dostoevsky is popular even among the young people!

South America is a Catholic continent.  Is the faith there a living faith, or is it mostly formal with most people – as in, I am Russian, consequently Orthodox, Argentinian, consequently Catholic?

I’m not sure how to answer this question.  Not sure yet, as I have only served here for six months.  But, at first glance, it seems that church plays a very important role in their daily life.  There are many people in their churches on Sundays, many children, a lot of people commune, thousands gather for processions on parish feast-days.  I have seen family processions, yes, that’s right, in the streets and on roads.  Picture this, a family comes together, takes their shrine (a cross, a statue of the Holy Theotokos or the Saviour, etc.), and reverently goes on this peculiar “family procession.”  People here treat the Church with reverence.  I haven’t come across any criticism against the Church anywhere, not in the press, nor on the web.  At least, nothing as insulting as the things you come across in Russia.  The Pope is treated with even more respect.

However, about ten-fifteen years ago, South Americans had to endure a curious kind of test of their own Catholic faith.  Sectarians flooded from North to South America, well prepared American Neo-Protestants.  They are bold and pushy.  Enterprising.  They head straight for the favelas – poor neighbourhoods where the ground is rich for crime and drug abuse.  They open their prayer rooms there, they preach and very soon gain popularity.  Their belief system is primitive, plus they have low expectations of their followers, simple rituals, plus a wide application of psychotechnics.  The results of such “a management of the population” are disturbing. In some countries, Neo-Protestants have already penetrated the higher government.  For example, the mayor of Rio De Janeiro, which is the second largest city in Brazil, is an adherent of one of these sects.  I don’t think they will stop at that, for they do not concern themselves with the salvation of the soul, but with power and money.

This is why I say that, on the one hand, Catholicism in South America is traditionally strong, while, on the other hand, the danger of the continent becoming Neo-Protestant has become very real in a very short time.

I read that four per cent of Argentinians are Orthodox…

This figure is probably related to our compatriots, the ethnic Orthodox, and, of course, the potentially Orthodox.  But, on the whole, South Americans know little of Orthodoxy for now, but, I repeat, they deeply respect Russia.

First of all, at one point, South American countries used to collaborate with the Soviet Union, they received humanitarian aid, their specialists went there for training.  Secondly, many are interested in our culture, especially in Dostoevsky.  What is more, it often happens completely spontaneously.  In some capitals and cities, without any participation of the Russians, clubs are formed, where people read Dostoevsky, translate his works into Spanish.  It is astonishing, but Fedor Dostoevsky is a very popular writer among them!  Even the young people read his works.

There are many places where you can study Russian, that encourage an interest in Russian culture, for example, the Institute of Leo Tolstoy in Bogota (Columbia) or the Faculty of Russian Literature in the University of Sao Paolo (Brazil).

Moreover, Russia is respected as a country whose politics are independent of the USA.  Because South America feels pressure from their “neighbour from the North.”  For that reason, in general, the middle class is drawn towards us, and the ruling elite towards the USA.

You wrote that Catholics treat the Orthodox as brothers…

Correct.  And that is without any expectation of any kind of personal advantage. Vladyka Alexander (Mileant), Bishops Platon, Lazar, Mark, then Vladyka Leonid started off and operated in extremely difficult circumstances.  Catholics could have made it difficult for them or could have simply remained unconcerned.  However, the reverse happened: they let us pray in their churches to assemble our congregation, they offered us room to conduct assemblies, invited us to their own meetings, expressed an interest in our ascetics, iconography, church singing.  And they keep on doing it to this day.

The Orthodox feel differently towards Catholics, they are a lot more cautious…

It is true for many Orthodox in Russia.  They are even antagonistic towards Catholics.  It is the result of a millennium of confrontations.  Besides, since the very first days of Perestroika, Catholic priests and bishops were openly proselytizing in Russia, which did nothing to improve trust.  Now, the situation is different, there is more of a possibility to understand each other better, to work together.  Especially, in South America.  Especially, after the visit of His Holiness the Patriarch.

But, I think, everyone used that opportunity it, not just the Catholics.

True.  Neo-Protestants tried much harder: they built huge “Kingdom Halls,” rented stadiums, printed millions of copies of their magazines.  There was a whole army of canvassing agitators who set up their destructive totalitarian traps for trusting Russians.  Of course, they tried to penetrate all levels of government.  Basically, the situation was exactly the same as in South America today.

I used to think the problem was that certain Church canons proscribe praying together with the un-Orthodox or that some of the Holy Fathers, like, for example, your Patron Saint, St. Ignatii Brianchaninov, expressed themselves quite strongly on the subject of the un-Orthodox, saying they would not be saved.

He really did write that.  Nonetheless, he did interact with Catholics.  For example, he invited the French ambassador to visit the monastery in Oranienbaum, of which he had been the Abbot for twenty-five years.  He took the ambassador to church, to a service, spent time with him there, he may have prayed with him then, then invited him to the refectory, and spent a long time in conversation with him.  And he paid for it.  When the Emperor was informed that St. Ignatii had invited the French Ambassador to His Majesty’s monastery, there were some repercussions.

So, yes, he was of the opinion that Catholics would not be saved.  That, however, did not interfere with him socializing normally with them.

Haven’t you yourself attended the Festival of Confessions in Argentina?  Can you talk about it?

It wasn’t really a festival of confessions.  It was a wonderful evening, a magnificent theatrical performance.  What did it consist of?  In San Nicolas, a suburb of Buenos Aires, a Catholic priest was about to complete the restoration of his big, beautiful church.  So, he decided to organize a concert on this occasion.  He invited all the famous entertainers in Argentina, and they came.  They sang of faith, of God, of His love, and of the Church.  They sang of the saints.  Among the performers there was a young man who was blind from birth.  There was also something wrong with his arms as he couldn’t hold a guitar.  So, they helped him onto the stage, sat him down, put his guitar on his knees like gusli (oldest Russian string instrument – trans.), and he played and sang.  It was amazing, it was beautiful!  He sang with such a clear, lucid, strong voice!  He sang amazingly.  As for confessionalism, I received an invitation along with some other leaders of traditional Churches and I accepted it.  I made a speech before the concert, congratulated the local bishop and his pastors, presented them with a beautiful edition of our Orthodox Bible.  Let them read it!

I wonder if something like this could have happened in Russia, what do you think?

I think it could have.  And it needs to happen.  Not only for the sake of the audience, but for the performers’ sake as well.  I think many entertainers would have agreed to participate.  The only thing is, some entertainers have a scandalous reputation…

At one point, Father Andrei Kuraev used to organize the festival “Rock to Heaven.”

Homeland as a big family

You have an opportunity to look at your Homeland, at the Russian people as though from aside.  Has your attitude towards Russia changed since moving overseas?

Yes.  It is easier to look at big things from afar.  However, the biggest things I saw in Russia, while living in Russia, I haven’t had the chance to see yet.  After all, I’ve only been here for six months.  Besides, I have a very intense schedule.  I am constantly travelling.  There are twenty-six Orthodox parishes on the South American continent, nineteen priests who serve there.  Our communities are spread out across the entire South America.  In that time, I had to visit Chile, Ecuador, Columbia, went to Brazil three times, and, obviously, Argentina.  All that is left is a pastoral visit to Peru and Panama (then – back to start).  The programme is very intense everywhere.  There are meetings with state and city government officials, embassy representatives, parishioners, the local intelligentsia.  Services, pastoral talks.

Moreover, I would like to meet those of our compatriots who are the heirs and guardians of our history, for example, the descendants of Bunin, Lermontov, the Decembrist Lunin, General Krasnov.

Have you already managed to meet some of them?

Yes, I have seen and heard them talking with pleasure… It is Russian nobility in the high sense of the word.  Talking to them I could feel a spirit of modest nobility.  It comes across in their manner of talking, listening, telling stories, in their manner of discussing.  They speak correct, very fluent Russian, their speech is very refined.

Besides, they remember quite a bit.  I gave a blessing to some of our priests to record their reminiscences.

Do you miss Russia and the Far East?

I haven’t had the chance to.  Besides, I visit Russia quite often.  I went back for the jubilee of His Holiness the Patriarch, took part in the Nativity Educational conference.

Some people think that a monastic should not have a homeland…

I cannot call myself a monastic.  Monastics ought to live in monasteries, while I have always lived in the world.  And I hope to be saved not because of monastic deeds, but because of my episcopal labours.  Notice, Holy Bishops were glorified not as Venerable Fathers, but as Hierarchs.

Personal opinion: no matter who you are, you have to look upon your homeland as your family.  It really is a family, only a very big one.

But, isn’t the entire human race a big family!

So, it is.  But it’s easier to learn to love your Homeland, than to learn to love the entire human race.  In order to learn to love the entire human race, you need to come into some kind of contact with it, to take a good look at it, to see it, to feel it.  How can you do it?  For example, I have met South Americans, I saw them, sensed them.  Love is a concrete thing, and all efforts to imagine it lead directly to spiritual delusion…

Why does a Christian need psychology?

You’ve been writing your blog “Arkhierei” (Hierarch) on the internet for eight years – some say it was the first blog of an Arch-pastor in Ru-net.  Yet, you wanted to shut it down before leaving for Argentina.  Why?

Well, first of all, I couldn’t write as often as I wanted to.  In general, it’s supposed to work this way: evening comes, you sit down before the computer for half-an-hour to an hour, you recall an interesting incident that happened that day, and you write about it.  You answer questions, you share your thoughts.  That’s what a blog is.  I can no longer do that, because I need to learn Spanish, I need to travel a lot.  Sometimes, news can stay on my blog for a week or a week and a half.

That’s when I started thinking about closing down the blog.  Then I looked at the enumerator.  Fifty to sixty people checked my blog daily.  Asking me to continue writing.

In order to somehow spur myself on, I made the blog trilingual, in Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian.  Now I definitely won’t abandon this project!

Have you managed to master the language of the web?

No, I haven’t, though I like it.  It is concise, emotional, and very succinct.  You can express so much with just two-three words, even emotions!  And people do express things.  It is interesting to observe how people in control of this language socialize, so long as they don’t condescend to foul language.

I recall a discussion between two young men on my blog.  They struck at each other with precision, conviction, and brightness.

For a long time, neither of them could convince the other that he was right.  Suddenly, a reason was found.  Irrefutable.  And the other person replied with, “oooeeeehhhh!” and all his feelings came across in this interjection – the admission of defeat, a feeling of shame, as well as the promise to be wiser in the future…

A bright, meaningful language.  And, most importantly, very concise.

Vladyka, you are sixty years old.  At this age, many of your compatriots reduce their level of activity, and, to put it roughly, prefer to spend their evenings in front of the TV.  You have recently managed to complete your third degree, this time in psychology, you completed your thesis, you are learning a new language, you run your own website.  Where do you get the energy?

I might also have read newspapers and watched TV in the evenings.  If I hadn’t been in the Church.  The Lord has brought me here, and the Church expects much of its Hierarchs.  Above all, it expects activity.

What does being a bishop involve?  In means, first of all, developing your diocese, its parish life, cooperating with lay institutions and authorities.  It means the expanding of the mission, of social services, of working with young people in every possible way and direction. In addition, media and the web, prisons, the army, lay and church education, all these things require the presence of a Pastor.  And an Arch-Pastoral presence.  So, go ahead, try and find time to sit down in front of the TV!

An example for all of us is His Holiness the Patriarch.  He is constantly and sacrificially working himself, enticing us to do the same.  And he monitors us.  He monitors us properly, as a father or a pastor would, but firmly, as if to say, remember, don’t do God’s work negligently.

So, I would have spent some time in front of the TV, would have absolutely loved to, but there is simply not enough time.  Where do I find the strength and the energy?  I don’t know.  I work to the extent that the Lord gives me.

How have you benefited from your degree in psychology?

First of all, it helped me resolve some issues.  Psychological issues.  Everyone has their own, personal issues, only some people are aware of them, some are not.  Secondly, it answered a very important question, whether spiritual help, the help of priest is of itself enough for the Orthodox, for parishioners.  It is not enough.  Very often they require psychological help as well.

A person is body, soul, and spirit.  If he is sick in the body, he visits a doctor, and the Church blesses it.  If he is sick in the spirit, suffering from sins and passions, he goes to a priest, and that is right as well.  If he is sick in the soul, a psychologist can help him.  There are psychological illnesses a priest simply cannot manage; often the priest cannot even identify them (for example, depression, neurosis).  You need a good psychologist in this case.  I have come to understand it.

In addition, it became clear to me, that priests must study basic psychology.  Together with Natalia Stanislavovna Skuratovskaia (a psychologist, psychotherapist, and lecturer in “Practical Pastoral Psychology” of the Khabarovsk Seminary – ed.) we taught it to the students of the Khabarovsk seminary.  We taught them and helped them.  Unfortunately, some had come to seminary with neurotic deviations.

Some of the boys come from single-parent families, some had suffered deep stress in their childhood or their youth, some had never known love… How can they bring love to others, teach love, if they’ve never experienced it themselves, if they don’t know what it means?  How can they understand that God really is Love, a Loving Father, if no one has ever loved them?

Do you mean that a person with psychological issues may have a distorted understanding of God?  And a distorted faith?

Yes.  Both of God, and of his Pastor.  And of the entire Church life.  How many problems do we come across in our parishes: issues between the pastor and his congregation, between laymen, a person and the parish?  Quite a few.

Future pastors must deal with their personal psychological issues while still studying.  Otherwise, how many traumas, how much pain they may cause themselves and the people!  How many people they can alienate from the Church!

That is why we worked with seminarians as psychologists, organizing training and counselling sessions.  It turns out, some of them needed psychological help; at times, they were in need of a neuropathologist’s help.  The boys come from the world, and are not always brought up in good Orthodox families.

In your opinion, why do many church-going people have a negative approach to psychology?

First of all, they have a wrong impression of it.  Secondly, they don’t know how many people in Church are actually in need of psychological help.  Thirdly, they don’t know in what way psychology may help them.  At the Nativity Educational Conference, there was a workshop dedicated to psychology in the life of an Orthodox person.  Among other things, they discussed church problems of a purely psychological nature, dependence on one’s spiritual father, different kinds of manipulations, of priests’ “burning out.”  The hall was packed.

Why do priests “burn out”?  It would seem they come into contact with God’s Grace, which is inexhaustible…

Have you read the book “Hierarch” (by Hieromonk Tikhon – Trans.)?  It describes well the process of a priest’s “burn out.”   He comes to a parish with his eyes burning with enthusiasm, “I will convert, enlighten, help everyone!”  What he comes across is real people, their shortcomings, vices…  He tries to change some things, to rectify them once, twice, three times, ten times. Nothing is working out, he feels frustrated…  His will to work disappears, his desire to pray disappears, and when there is no prayer, there is no Grace of God.

Little by little, he becomes indifferent to the Mysteries, consequently there is a backlash from the congregation, and it becomes a vicious circle.  The less you feel like praying and serving, the less God helps; the less God helps, the less you feel like working and serving.

And that is when a priest goes to a parish willingly, which may not always be the case.  The situation then is even more frightening.

It is not only priests that “burn out,” practically any person starts attending church “on a high,” but a few years down the road the enthusiasm subsides, and the only thing a priest can tell them is, “Just keep praying…”

It does happen.  What can I say on the subject?  There is and cannot be just one answer in all instances.

And yet?

First of all, a person who comes to the Church needs to understand that he comes to the Church, not to a priest.  That he will always get help in the Church – the Lord will give him strength, cure him, support him, guide him, instruct him, save him.  That is one hundred percent true.  Just don’t reduce the Church to a concrete priest.  Then there will be no infatuations, no dependencies, and consequently no disappointments.

For example, when I am sick, I go to hospital.  If one doctor cannot help me, I go to a different one.  I don’t lose trust in the medical science.

You come to a priest with a problem.  He gives you advice, which doesn’t help, another piece of advice, and another – still it doesn’t help.  Then it becomes clear, “I’m sorry, Father, I respect the dignity of your priesthood, I bow down before the Grace that is in you, but I will go look for someone who can help me.”

In addition, you need to read the Gospel, which contains answers to all questions, read the Holy Fathers and make use of the advice you find helpful.  Nowadays, there are so many TV shows, an enormous number of books, so listen, read, ask questions, search!  Though beginners should avoid reading the ascetics of the first centuries, don’t do that…

But when you yourself were a beginner, Vladyka Chrysostom told you to read the “Ascetic Sermon” of St. Ignatii Brianchaninov?  How does that work?

First of all, St. Ignatii is not an ascetic of the first century of Christianity.  He studied their works most carefully and compiled something like an encyclopaedia for his contemporaries, actually two encyclopaedias, one for monastics, the other one for lay people, in which he put the advice of the Holy Fathers that he found appropriate.  At the same time, Father Ioann (Krestiankin) used to say to me that we who live in the third millennium cannot handle even that.

Secondly, Valdyka Chrysostom never wanted to become my spiritual father.  He used to say, “I am not a pastor, but an administrator.  So, you have to do it on your own.  I ordained you, keep moving forward on your own.”

Vladyka taught me a valuable lesson.  He considered any priest, including spiritual fathers, as a signpost that says, “God is that way.”  The priest himself ought to understand it, and you yourself ought to look at priests that way.  He may be able to help, to direct you, but you have to keep moving forward on your own.

The Lord supports each person differently

You mentioned that you need prayer.  It would seem obvious to Christians, but many of us are so worn out, that prayer gets pushed to the background.  Could you say a few words about the role of prayer in your life and how you manage to speak to God being as busy as you are?

I won’t venture to give specific advice.  When people ask about prayer they usually expect Vladyka to say something, to give them advice that will immediately fix their prayer life and transform everything in their daily life.  It is different for everyone, the only thing we have in common is labour, daily spiritual labour.  As it is, in fact, with anything.

However, I will tell you about something that happened to me.  Shortly before my ordination, the Lord gave me a kind of a gift.  I got up one morning (I lived in Moscow at the time, in the Novospassky Monastery, and by the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch Alexy was preparing for ordination) and started reading morning prayers… when all of a sudden, I felt the Lord was near.  It was that simple, He was near, and that was it.  Since then, this feeling has never left me.  Sometimes it is more pronounced, sometimes less.

Of course, I pray verbally, I read Psalms.  I obviously read the Jesus prayer from time to time.  But most of the time my prayer consists in knowing that the Lord is here.  And that I am with him.  That’s what prayer is.

The Lord knew what kind of obedience lay in store for me and encouraged me in that way.  I am certain that the Lord encourages everyone, especially the people he puts in charge of difficult, worrisome obediences, in a very special way.  In prayer. And in life.

Interview conducted by Valeria Mikhailova

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov

Photos: pravstok.ru, southamerica.cerkov.ru, patriarchia.ru, and Anna Galperina

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