Text by Nikolay Nelyubin
Translation by Vladimir Kolosov
Father Georgy, my first question is simple: Are we already in hell or not yet? How do you feel about what is happening? Are you personally scared?
— An interview format is hardly suitable for such emotionally posed questions. However, since you asked it that way, I will preface my answer with a poem by one of the most tragic Russian poets of the twentieth century, Nikolai Stefanovich:
«There was a trumpet call, an ominous clang of metal,
But the sign of the last Judgment
Did not prove anything to us.
Trains are still departing from the station
According to the schedule.
The stores keep to their trading hours,
The clock on the tower keeps on chiming,
It’s raining, so I’m going home
In the autumn mist, I go my usual way,
Not knowing that the Terrible Judgment happened,
And everything is already in hell … »
From time to time, it seems to me that what is happening really looks like the descent of hell to earth and, of course, I am scared. Trying to remain a Christian in any situation, I do my best to recognize its innermost meaning in the absurdity that surrounds me. Hell is not only terrible, but also absurd. And when I do not find any answer to my questions either in my heart or in the mouths of those close to me, I dare to ask God about it with a hope that He will condescend to my questions.
What is the most important unanswered question for you right now?
— How prophetically Yuri Shevchuk once sang, «What will happen to the Motherland and to us?» For my part, I would add, «Will the Orthodox Church in Russia remain the Church of Christ, resisting the forces of hell?»
The media, marked by Russia’s high authorities as «a foreign agent», published the «Appeal of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church with a call to reconcile and put an end to the military actions.» 170 of your brothers signed it. Do you share this point of view? Do you agree with his message? In that case, why did not you sign it?
— The text of this appeal does not correspond to my own thoughts. It is too declarative and vague, devoid of specific goals, and besides, it is not clear to whom it is addressed. Overall, I agree with this message. There are both my friends and clerics that are completely unfamiliar to me among the priests who signed it. There are both the people I know and respect, and those whom I know but do not respect. I rarely sign collective letters, because I am convinced that a priest should speak to both the parishioners and intimate friends, primarily on his own behalf, thereby taking responsibility for his words. On behalf of the whole Russian Orthodox Church, His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod should speak before society and the state in accordance with our conciliarly adopted charter.
The patriarch said: «God forbid that the current political situation in our fraternal Ukraine, which is close to us, should allow the evil forces that always fought against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church gain the upper hand.» Who are the evil forces in this case, do you think?
— I do not know whom, besides the devil, the patriarch can have in mind, so you need to ask the patriarch about these forces.
It seems like the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church do not condemn military strikes on the ground, where Russia once began?
— In the vast majority, they are silent in public. However, I flatter myself that in their close circle of private archpastoral community many of them mourn.
Why is this happening in a whisper? Is there a fear stronger than the fear of becoming an «accomplice?» After all, the secular authorities in Russia do not hide their adherence to the church, which means they have the priests whom they trust?
— It is a centuries-old tradition of church servility and, probably, an underlying understanding of the superficiality of churching. I would even call this adherence to the church no more than the churching of power.
Why do we hear the voices of those priests who share the final words of the collective text the same way it is published?
— Because the priests who pronounce either these words or other words that directly oppose them in meaning, address them to their parishioners from the pulpits of their churches.
If some priests condemn or justify what is happening to the parishioners, can we call it a split in the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia? Whose voices are louder now?
— A sort of a hidden split between priests and propagandists in cassocks or «baptized political officers» has always existed. In this respect, let us recall the words of the main hero of the «Muslim» film directed by Vladimir Khotinenko. The silence of the majority of priests is what you can hear now.
How do you see the future of Orthodoxy in the territories of the fraternal Slavic land of Ukraine?
— I think that the current state of events is a big blow to the authority of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is headed by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry.
What should an Orthodox person do if he wants to stop the bloodshed?
— Such a person needs to do what his capabilities allow him: moral, intellectual, professional, official, and physical.
What would you say to an Orthodox person who welcomes what is happening in Ukraine? I personally know the priests who give a standing ovation.
— I would tell such an Orthodox person that at that moment he ceases to be a Christian and that his faith is replaced by a misanthropic ideology.
An Orthodox Christian should look at this with humility, or is it better to explain to brothers and sisters in Christ that hatred only breeds hatred?
— One should not dissolve himself in the elements of hatred, perceiving his own enemies as enemies of God.
How accurate is the idea that wars produce saints, that wars can be holy? What are we watching today?
— Wars give rise to the dead, physical and moral cripples. On the other hand, conscientious and thinking people after the war often become anti-militarists and resist evil by force only in cases of emergency. Muslims have holy wars. For Christians, war is always a grave sin.
If objects of worship in Kyiv are lost, will Orthodoxy survive?
— The main thing is that after this small apocalypse both Russia and Ukraine preserve more living people. In this case there will be Christians among them, which means that the Church of Christ will be preserved (at least 102 civilians were killed, including seven children, another 304 civilians were wounded in Ukraine after the start of the Russian military special operation on February 24, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet reported on February 28. The attacks are becoming more intensive since then. «NP» notes).
You mentioned a small apocalypse? Don’t you exclude a big apocalypse?
— Of curse, the Great Apocalypse is inevitable.
In your opinion, who can stop the fratricide?
— Naturally, it will be Lord God, if people do not try to prevent him from doing that. As Vladimir Lossky, an outstanding Russian theologian of the 20th century said, «God becomes powerless in front of the human freedom.» However, if we return to the beginning of our conversation about my feeling of the current situation, I must tell you that I do not see any optimistic prospects for that. Moreover, I have no presentiment of them. Therefore, I will end our interview in the same way as I started it — with a poem. This time it will be Georgy Ivanov, one of the most historically sensitive poets of the Russian Diaspora. It was written back in the 40s of the twentieth century:
No one can annihilate you now,
As that mad leader dreamed of.
The fate will help you, God will help you,
But the Russian people are tired…
Tired of suffering, tired of being proud,
Pushing his way through darkness.
It is time to enjoy oblivion,
Or maybe it’s just the time to scrap…
And nothing will be reborn
Not under a sickle, not under an eagle!