Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Great Britain Speaks With the Students of Sretensky Theological Seminary
On Thursday, March 24, 2011, His Eminence Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain met with the students of Moscow’ Sretensky Theological Seminary and answered questions. While we don’t necessarily agree with all of his statements, anytime a bishop addresses seminarians, we want as broad an audience for these important words as possible.
Vladyka, please tell us a little about your life, and how you came to the faith.
I was born in 1941, in the midst of World War II. I was raised in a family that was no stranger to faith. My grandfather was a pastor. At one time he occupied a position at the Ministry of Culture, but Hitler had him dismissed. My grandfather then turned to pastoral work. We spoke to him about spiritual matters since early childhood. My grandmother was, naturally, also a believer. Since her vision was very poor, I would spend long winter evenings reading books, and these books as a rule were religious in nature, for instance, on biblical archaeology.
The years passed, and as an adult I was forced to leave East Germany, having participated in the uprising of June 17, 1953, against the Socialist regime. I found myself in West Germany as a result. There, due to circumstances, mostly because I had lost everything I held dear, I departed from the faith for a few years, I didn’t pray at all. This was from the ages of 14-17.
When I enrolled in university, I met some Russian emigre youth my first year, wishing to deepen and broaden my knowledge of Russian and get more practice. It happened that I would attend church with them: on Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings, on holidays… I went for many years, not having been Orthodox yet. So the impulse to accept Orthodoxy arose in me, but I was afraid of the reaction of my relatives, and so I put off that decision. But at age twenty I finally became Orthodox. Some twelve years later I was tonsured a monk.
It didn’t hurt that I read a great deal of Russian literature, most of all Dostoevsky. His work gripped me when I served in the military. I have to admit that I started to read in the army from pride, because I didn’t want to wash with everyone else in the mornings, there was always so much noise in the washroom that I hated, being very sensitive to sounds, so I would rise an hour earlier and after washing, spent the time reading. It’s amazing how much I was able to read in one year, and how much strength I was able to draw from it.
Later, as a university teacher, I also took correspondence courses in theology through Belgrade University, and used this to study Hebrew. In the future, in my studies at the university, I became especially interested in ancient Russian literature. I can state without exaggeration that the book which not only decided the topic of my doctoral thesis, ”Biographical Literature of the Tver Duchy of the XIV and XV Centuries,” but also my future life as a Christian and monk, were the works of St Nil Sorsky. Of course, it is no accident that the Church Slavonic might be even closer to my heart than contemporary Russian. All ancient Russian literature was written in Church Slavonic. This language of communion with the divine left a blessed imprint upon me as a young man, influencing my spiritual development and my attitude towards the Church. Again, I learned about the life of the Church a long time before becoming Orthodox.
Did your view of the Socialist order of the Soviet Union change over time?
Since I became familiar with socialism, the Soviet regime, since my childhood in East Germany, I had an utterly negative view of everything Soviet. I must say that many Germans so disliked socialism that, for instance, the conservatory’s music teacher would refuse to attend the concerts of Oistrakh when he came to East Germany, having lost the distinction between Russian and Soviet. At that time, it was one and the same to us. I was able to discern between the two much later.
Only with time did I begin to accept the difference between the people and their rich culture, deep spirituality and the government structure that was trying to destroy them. I experienced it myself. When I was fifteen years old, while working on a ship, I arrived in Sweden, where a group of young people called us fascists. My parents had actually suffered a great deal from the Hitlerites, so I naturally could not accept this name.
So gradually I began to distinguish Russian from Soviet, though it wasn’t easy.
Can one call fascism a religion?
It is not a religion. It was an ideology, a very powerful, destructive but primitive one. And it was destroyed. Though unfortunately, even now there are people who dream of restoring the fascist system, but that is just madness.
You have been to Mt Athos more than once. Please share your impressions from these pilgrimages.
My first visit to Mt Athos was after I heard an intriguing, interesting story from a young man—a member of the brotherhood ”Orthodox Work,” which was active throughout the diocese—about the late Vladyka Anthony of Geneva. My first pilgrimage turned into an annual event, sometimes even twice a year, where I regularly made confession, read on the kliros, and in general actively participated in the Russian monastic life. We had two monasteries there at the time: St Panteleimon Monastery, which is still there, where they were only beginning to accept monks from Russia, and St Elias Skete, which I visited more often. It was connected with the Church Abroad and did not accept anyone from the USSR. Later we lost that skete, through the foolishness of its abbot. The skete became Greek. This is a terrible wound for me, because I really wanted to join it.
So when I visited Mt Athos, I divided my time between three places: St Panteleimon Monastery, St Elias Skete and Karoulia, where hermits lived—two Russians (both named Seraphim) and one Serb. We had a great deal of contact, since Serbian is my second Slavic tongue. I received a good deal of spiritual guidance from these fathers. They taught me about the Jesus Prayer, which I then used more earnestly than now. Sadly, external affairs take me away from that. They lived on Athos, in Karoulia, since the age of seventeen, and never left once. St Elias Skete had an archimandrite for its abbot, who had not left it since 1902. So there was a living tradition, living tradition of Russian Athonite monasticism. I thank God that I was able to make the acquaintance of these elders and draw from the limitless wellspring of Russian spiritual, ecclesiastical culture. That was invaluable for me.
From my pilgrimages to Mt Athos, I remember these stories.
Once I arrived at a parish for a celebration, and I was to read the Gospel. Afterwards, an old woman said to me: ”Finally I heard the kind of Gospel reading I remember from our fathers in China.” She was clearly talking about the old Russian tradition, and thank God, since I have a musical ear, I was able to adopt it. This was mostly because I participated in monastic divine services on Mt Athos.
One other story: I knew a monk who lived not far from St Elias Skete, in the woods. He was infected with a heresy which had gone around Mt Athos among Russians in the early 20th century, onomatodoxy [the teaching that the name of God is God Himself—transl.] Yet every Sunday he came to St Elias Skete. Once I invited him to the trapeza: ”Stay for lunch after Sunday Liturgy.” Instead, he took a big bag of potatoes from the monastery. I said ”If you eat first, it will be easier for you to carry this bag.” He replied ”No, no.” And he fell silent. ”I asked him simply: ”Why?” ”It is too noisy here.” There were only six of us there. That is, the ”noise” was relative. When a person lives in the desert, it is noisy wherever he goes.
How has the life of the Church Abroad changed since the reunification?
It has mostly changed in that we have contact with the Russian Church. Of course, on the level of personal contacts between clergymen, we’ve had that for a while, but we could not serve together. Now this ban has been lifted, and we serve together in the widest scope of places, and we can help each other. One priest would go to a prison or hospital, he could call his brother clergyman and ask him to replace him, say, at the parish school. It is a great joy that we can now participate in Councils of Bishops. I cannot deny that the Church Abroad is in Eucharistic communion with all the Local Churches, whereas before we were isolated from them. As you can see, a great deal has changed!
Why are there so few Orthodox monasteries in Europe?
Very few Orthodox Christians live there. We have monasteries, but they are small. Interestingly, only the Russian Church has monasteries in [Western] Europe: neither the Serbian, nor Bulgarian, or Romanian or Greek Churches have monastic communities outside of their home countries. In many ways this is explained by the fact that their representatives visit other countries only briefly, to earn some money. Especially the Greeks. If someone wants to join a monastery, they do so in their home country.
There is one men’s monastery in Germany. It was founded in 1945, when monks from Eastern Slovakia moved here. These were the Pochaev monks, who found themselves there after 1918, and then, in 1945, fled the Red Army into Munich. Most of them moved to America, so a very small monastery remained here. There is also a convent, which we recently established. Before I refused to accept women in the monastery; I would send them to the Holy Land, but now I accepted a group, and thank God, they are laboring in monasticism.
You often visit the Holy Land and minister to the nuns who live there. How would you describe the situation in the Holy Land today?
Our life in the Holy Land was always difficult, because we find ourselves in a furnace. The Christian population of Palestine keeps shrinking. Our nuns run a school for Arab girls there—at one time, only Christians studied there. But now there are only 25 of them, the rest of the students are Muslim, but who still wear uniforms with crosses on the chest. This is an achievement of our nuns.
Christians are always in danger wherever they are; leaving the convent is dangerous, even being in the convents is risky. There have been instances when Muslims have jumped the wall and attack the nuns. A few years ago all our nuns, together with their abbess, gathered olives on the Mt of Olives, and a band of Arabs jumped the fence. One came right at the abbess with a knife. The abbess, thank God, speaks fluent Arabic: ”You know what the Q’uran says, that you have no right to raise your hand against a woman?” And though he was on drugs, he understood and left. But what courage and faith you must have to live there!
Of course, the powers that be pressure us from all sides. They constantly try to carve out a bit of our land. We are forced to build walls at exorbitant cost. Now we have more or less peaceful relations with the Israeli authorities, but how long will this last? But we are obliged to stand firm, for according to official sources, two hundred fifty-thousand Russian-speaking Orthodox Christians live in the Holy Land. In reality, there are far more, probably twice as many. But our churches are visited by mere handfuls. Mostly they come on Saturday, which is their day off. But they come cautiously, afraid that someone will notice. Yes, things are better than they were, say, twenty years ago. Then no one defended us anywhere. I saw with my own eyes how some Jews spat at a priest in Tel Aviv Airport and mocked him.
Today, there is a correct attitude towards Christians. But this is mostly thanks to the enormous influx of Russian-speaking Jews who enter into mixed marriages. We are now trying to acquaint them with Liturgical life.
I stress that we don’t have the right to any outside activity, only inside our monasteries. We cannot go to Beersheba to serve there, though we know that there are Orthodox Christians there. Sometimes we go there just to talk, but we cannot perform religious services there. So we invite the residents of Beersheba to visit us. The last time I served for them was on a Saturday two months ago. We plan on making these services a regular event: they will come to us on buses from far away, make confession and partake of Communion. But this is a painstaking process. Especially since most of these people had left Russia, are not accustomed to the ways of the Church, though they are baptized. So nothing is easy.
But monastic life is proceeding normally, without many disturbances, though difficulties do arise. For instance, it is hard to find priests who are willing to serve there, because the conditions are difficult, not least of these the climate. In the summer, the heat is terrible, in the winter, it is cold. And none of the buildings get proper heating. So everywhere, the church in Gethsemane, for instance, is like a refrigerator. Still, the nuns and clergymen labor to the glory of God. And we must do everything we can to support this.
What would you say to those who dreams of a ”German” or ”French” or ”English” Orthodox Church?
There are no such Churches. Wise people in the West do not strive for this. There are the unwise ones who, let’s be frank, would like an Orthodox Church of Germany, or England, for instance. Such a thing would never end well, it would have no future. Such things must arise organically, naturally, they cannot be created artificially. Remember how the Russian Church obtained her independence.
At this time, we do not have a German translation of the Liturgy. We convene bishops’ assemblies, where last year we adopted a text put together by a translating commission. Representatives of all the parishes of Germany participated in the commission. But the translation was unsatisfactory and invoked heated debates, which evidenced differences of opinion among various Orthodox parishes.
There could also not be a unified ”German Orthodox Church” because they use different calendars on our territory. The Greeks introduced their (Gregorian) Catholic calendar, whereas we adhere to the (Julian) Orthodox calendar. We have our own saints, which were canonized before the division of the Churches. But we don’t begin in 1054. The division originated much earlier, in fact from the time of the introduction of the Filioque. So we don’t recognize saints who lived right after this happened.
Divine services in Germany are sometimes performed in German. But still we mostly use Church Slavonic. But there are various approaches to this question, depending upon the abilities of the priest and the needs of the parish. In many parishes, they read the Gospel and Epistle and intoned one or two litanies in two languages, including German. There are parishes where the services are performed mostly in German, but with some Slavonic. There are places where once a month they serve in German exclusively. There are other parishes where German is used on Saturdays, so that we don’t lose worshipers who can only come once a week and don’t understand Church Slavonic. That is, we cater to various types of parish, because we understand that we must rely on the fact that in ten or fifteen years, the same people who fill our churches, and their children, will no longer speak fluent Russian. They often do not value Russian culture and gradually depart from their roots.
Yes, there are many problems.
The German language, which we have no choice but to use, does not have an ancient tradition of divine services, and Church Slavonic is especially valuable because it was created specifically for the Liturgy. It has certain characteristics which do not exist in any other living language. Also, any daily language changes very rapidly. We often don’t even notice, but if we look at some of the books published a hundred years ago, we would find words completely incomprehensible to us.
I once had this happen to me: a novice, Dutch by nationality, was reading in German and suddenly burst out in laughter. Naturally, I flew to the kliros and asked ”What’s happening?” I looked at what he was reading. There was one word crossed out in the book, but he guessed what had been there before, and started to laugh. He read that the prophets had ”television.” In the 19th century, this word had no technological definition, so the translators used it. Now you cannot do this in service texts—the language had changed.
I should also say the following: there are different points of view of church life in the Moscow Patriarchate and abroad. For instance we refuse to hold funeral services for those who were cremated, but they do in Russia. Ultimately, this won’t hinder our growing closer, but such things should be discussed, and we should find a common denominator.
Tell us, please, about religious television programming in Germany, and how Christianity is taught in school.
There are television programs, but not they are few. They are by and large cultural. They will talk about some country and discuss their religion a little. Purely Orthodox programming is very rare. It is our inertia that is to blame. We could take advantage of many more opportunities, if we were able to do so effectively. There is some work in this area, but it will only touch upon a small percentage of the population.
On the other hand, we don’t need to teach the fundamentals of Orthodoxy, we teach the Law of God in our schools. In three or four of Germany’s provinces, they teach Orthodox Law of God as a regular school subject, since they also teach the basics of Catholicism and Protestantism. Our Church fought for and won this in the 1950’s. Usually we take the children who attend our church on Saturdays, teach them the Law of god, but give grades for their work. These lessons and grades are recognized by the Ministry of Culture. Sometimes an auditor comes to review our teaching methods, how we run the classes, and provides counseling and so forth.
Is the mass influx of Muslims to Germany having any effect on church life?
There is no mass immigration today. But the situation is such that Berlin is justifiably called the biggest Turkish city after Ankara. Understandably, this has an effect on life in Germany. What can I say, things happen: a priest in his cassock is walking on a Turkish block and old women spit at him. In England, as you know, they banned a mosaic of the Mother of God from being hung above a church doorway. This is because a Muslim lives across the street, and he fought for that decision. This is one side of it. On the other side, the daily life of those who profess Islam is an eloquent criticism of us. Muslims, for instance, observe their fasting strictly, while our believers don’t like to fast before confession. Muslims adhere to their laws no matter what, and they have obtained the right for their children to be let off from school on certain days, for example.
Muslim influence in Germany, and in fact throughout Europe, is growing; Turks have already become members of Parliament, and, naturally, they will protect their own interests. That is why we Christians must always be vigilant to tend to our own future, not submit to provocations which might flare up into religious conflicts.
What are the main challenges facing the Church today?
I think that one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest, is the serious break in tradition. There is no longer a living tradition, unfortunately. The parents of many of our contemporaries were either unbelievers, or only adhered to the ritualistic aspects of religion. That is why the lack of a churchly culture is so keenly felt. There is no normal development, which was natural in Russia before 1917: a child grew up in a family, where he was immersed at least in the external forms of Christian life.
The fact that this tradition is gone is very strongly felt, even abroad. Our parishioners, until recent times, or at least until the 1990’s, were people educated in the old traditions, even if they came to the West during the period of the Second World War. Their churchly piety was apparent, they observed fasting periods, they knew the prayers, etc. This was all natural for them. Now it is different. People who come to the West now were raised, as a rule, in un-churched families, and they don’t know Orthodox traditions: how to fast, how to celebrate the holidays, how to pray, etc.
This problem, of course, draws behind it a whole series of other problems. For instance, for us bishops it is very difficult to find candidates for the priesthood. By the time they reach thirty, many men have already been divorced two or three times, etc, that is, canonical problems arise to prevent their ordination.
There is a keen problem connected with the comprehension of the Church Slavonic language, simply because people don’t study it. Without a doubt, if we absorb it in our childhood, it would be much easier. That is why our parish schools teach Church Slavonic from first grade on. And although some children speak poor Russian, they grasp the ABC’s of the language of divine services. They are able to understand the Gospel and Epistle readings. We understand that the children’s knowledge of Church Slavonic will in many ways help them become full-fledged participants in church life when they grow up.
How strongly do geopolitical events influence the life of the Church?
Of course, the development of mankind is reflected in church life. Twenty years ago I did not use a computer, now I use one wherever I go. Naturally, developments in general affect the life of the Church. On one hand, it makes things easier, on the other, we take on more work than we used to. This cannot be viewed from only one side.
As far as external events are concerned, they also influence our life, because suddenly there are people from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan coming to Europe, and we know almost nothing about them. And now we have intensive interaction with other Local Orthodox Churches, and so traveling has become easier for us. As a result, our connections with the entire Orthodox world are becoming broader and deeper.
I think this will only help Church life. We see what is happening in other Local Churches, we can apply that which is useful, and reject that which we feel does not apply to us.
At the present time, we include special prayers in our services, for instance, during the bombing of Serbia, after the earthquakes. Doubtless, everything that happens to Orthodox Christians affects us, so we must follow current events, both internal and external, and react to them somehow.
Many now think that a united Europe will be a threat to Christianity…
I don’t see this danger yet. But there are certain things that give me pause. The EU tried to get involved in the internal matters of the Bulgarian Church—it began to support schismatics. A great deal today depends on the position that Christians take. If we hold ourselves firmly and virtuously, we will be listened to, if not, we will lose ground.
How realistic are the fears of Orthodox Christians over the so-called common humanistic values being forced on people?
It all depends on how we view them. From an Orthodox point of view, as St Justin (Popovic) taught me, they are of course a threat, if taken from a human point of view—that is, to the detriment of the Divine. This is bad, since in this case a person has no freedom of choice. In other words, you and I must take the correct position, then no one can impose alien values upon us.
What are the challenges of missionary work today, in your opinion?
I think that doing missionary work in our day must be among those peoples who traditionally view themselves as Orthodox. That is because people in all countries—in the Soviet Union, of course, where it was particularly noticeable, peoples had moved far away from their roots. In Greece, let’s say, the calendar changed any many pillars were softened. The people there simply lost the habit of Church, and the most horrifying is that the workers who went to Germany or other European countries to earn extra money were infected with Protestantism and brought its spirit back to Greece. Church life, therefore, has been utterly diluted. That is why I think it is very important for us to do internal missionary work. So that within our Local Churches made every effort not to lose the treasure we inherited from our fathers.
As far as external missionary work is concerned, for us, say, in Germany, it may not be very intensive, but there is productive work activity among the heterodox and even those of other religions. We baptize Protestants, Catholics, sometimes even Muslims. Our monastery in Munich publishes a great deal of missionary literature. We publish divine service texts in German, we have all the services of the first week of Great Lent and Passion Week, that is, those days when an especially high number of people pray in church. Our books are regularly ordered by Catholics and Protestants, and they gain illumination from them. Will they convert to Orthodoxy? This can’t be said for sure, but at least something within them is moving in that direction.
Also, I often repeat what a priest once told me in Serbia: ”Our cassock is preaching for us.” It is missionary work. That is why I don’t like when clergymen walk around in their civilian clothing. Our cassock is indeed a form of preaching. I know from experience that people on the street often stop and say something like: ”Thank you, father, for wearing that. Our Catholic priests no longer do.” Or I visit a hospital to take confession and administer Communion, and a neighboring old woman, for instance, would say ”Father, bless me, too. Although I am Catholic, but I don’t see my priest, at least I see you.” Can you imagine the effect? Once I came to offer Holy Communion to someone, and it turned out that fourteen people partook of Christ’s Holy Gifts! The nurse had seen me and said ”Father, you know, we have a lot of Orthodox patients.” So I spent several hours at the hospital.
Such missionary work may be called normal, natural—there are almost no words involved. We do missionary work just with our presence. Children can do the same. When they study in school, they don’t participate in common prayers, since they are Orthodox Christians. Of course, this draws attention. Questions arise, and the children start to tell their friends about their faith. This natural missionary arena is very broad and fruitful. I am sure that our presence, our daily lives are a powerful missionary instrument.
Is it possible for a layman to live a strict ascetic life?
I am convinced that it is always possible: if a person wishes, he can live an ascetic life. But if he feels any aspect of it too burdensome, he may quickly be discouraged with any effort towards an ascetic lifestyle. The canons and rules of the Church were not composed for some limited slice of time. They do not have historic limits. This means that under any circumstances one can find a quiet corner where one can either conduct spiritual labor or contemplate. One can be a Christian, or one can fall into heresy if he doesn’t follow his calling consciously and with concentration.
Are there grounds for the emergence of new heresies today?
Unfortunately, heresies emerge at every step. But if we look closely, we see that every new heresy in fact brings back to life some older heresy which was already condemned by the Ecumenical Councils. What changes is only its form, there is nothing new under the Sun.
It would be interesting to know what the attitude Orthodox Christians have towards television during lent, and youth towards music and clubs?
I don’t watch television at all. I think that during lent, one should refuse to watch—it’ll do you some good. There are more than a few families who intentionally don’t buy a television, since they have already come to understand the harm it can bring. Television provides a wealth of information, which then simmers in the soul, poisoning the heart, perverting the body. How is one to pray then?
In the house where I lived at my first parish was an old woman. She was deaf, and so the sound on her television was set very high. And then lent started, the first day, not a sound, the second, third… I grew worried: is the old woman alive? Once I saw her on the staircase and asked if anything had happened. She said ”But it’s lent.” How do you like that?!
Apostle Paul says that all things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. That applies to contemporary music, which is noise and not music.
I will tell you an instructive story. A young man joined a monastery two years ago, and was accepted as a novice. Suddenly, at the beginning of this year, he began to fidget during services; he simply couldn’t stay still, at all. He would lean back and forward, turn around, wearing himself out, and I see that he is sick—absolutely sick. But there was no reason: we would send him to all kinds of doctors, physically he is healthy. But later he admitted that he started to listen to rock music. And his bodily movements, which he was no longer able to control, he once did intentionally, terrible, fatiguing movements. He could not even free himself after the rite of anointment of the sick. He is imprisoned, in the clutches of demons…
What should a person who has no spiritual father do?
That’s an easy question—find one! A great deal can be learned from books, but this will be book-learning, abstract knowledge. It will never come to life. One can read, then talk to someone, but not live by the book. You absolutely must find a spiritual father.
What spiritual reading would you recommend to the seminarians?
In reading spiritual literature, there is a certain order which one would be wise to follow. I should say here that in the early post-Soviet era, there was a great deal of Orthodox literature being published, for there was a great need. People began to read everything as it came out, and they often read things they shouldn’t have. That is why I say, for instance, to start with Abba Dorotheos, St Macarius of Egypt, the Optina Elders… but so that a person doesn’t get lost in the thickets, a spiritual father should provide guidance.
I always advise reading two books concurrently: one is from the ancient fathers, and the other from one of the more contemporary ascetics. People then come to me once a week, and we discuss what they had read. I advise reading with a pencil in hand, marking anything that is not understood, or sounds strange, or evokes questions. Together we make sense of what and how the person understands what is read. This is very important.
What is the practice of administering Holy Communion in your parishes? How often must one partake of Communion?
That depends on the specific person’s life. A layperson should take Communion three times a month, if he regularly attends services. But there can’t be a template, everything depends on the individual preparation and the blessing of the spiritual father. The question of Communion should be approached attentively, carefully, it is necessary to take into account the spiritual state of the person.
For instance, we have a custom that has developed over many years. There are people who attend church regularly, especially during Passion Week. They pray in church every day, from Palm Sunday through Pascha itself. I advise such people to make confession two or three days before Palm Sunday. Then they can partake of Communion every day without confessing again, unless something unusual occurs. That is, we must remember that confession and Communion are not necessarily bound to each other—these are two distinct Mysteries. That is why we should separate them, uniting them only as a matter of discipline.
When I was just ordained to the priesthood, and spoke Greek, Greeks would often come to me, since they had no Greek priest of their own who could take their confession. Naturally, I would ask: ”When was the last time you made confession?” And I would get the shocking response: ”Twenty or twenty-five years ago.” We all remember that the prayer before confession says that a person is united with the Church. That is, a person who does not make confession for a long time is already found outside of the Church. That is why it is necessary to take care that a person makes confession on a regular basis. I repeat: I feel it possible to allow more frequent Communion than confession.
But the opposite is also possible: sometimes I impose penance for a certain sin, and say that a person must make confession every week, but that he can take Communion only in six months.
What kind of penance do you impose?
That depends on the sin and the sinner. Every sin, of course, deserves penance, but not every sinner is able to endure it. Here it is wise to apply care and circumspection.
I remember this instance. At my first parish, I had two ”newlywed” women. One of them, however, was caught through deceit: her husband had told her that she was divorced, but this turned out not to be true. The other woman was living in sin with someone, consciously making that decision. One of them I allowed to take Communion once a year, so that she would not leave the Church, and the other, who found herself in a difficult situation, three times a year. Again, there cannot be iron-bound rules, commonly recognized and accepted.
Penance must always stem from the concrete situation a person finds himself in, from his spiritual maturity, which allows one to decide whether he can endure penance of one kind or another. In such instances, I implore people to make confession more often. Usually, when a person is barred from Communion for several months, I assign confession after two or three weeks, since it is important that he understand that he sinned. But so that it is not like being chained, or imprisoned, by harsh punishment. There shouldn’t be anything like this in the Church. Penance is not punishment, it is a measure for correction. That is why it is important for a person to understand the severity of the sin and would strive to be free of it. He must understand how and why this is happening, so that he would accept it and would repent in his heart. Only then can correction be possible, otherwise he will continue to live in sin.
What is your attitude towards Orthodox-Catholic dialog?
I understand there is some dialog in this area. Maybe I am not neutral enough, but I think that papism will never be extracted from Catholicism.
I’d like to say a few words about the present Pope. He is a very sensitive person, very tactful, and when he was Cardinal of Munich, he was much loved. What I like about him is that he speaks frankly, even if Orthodox Christians and Protestants don’t like it. I find this honesty endearing. The pope does not shy away from truth and does not try to adapt to the person he is talking to. Of course there is a great deal I could say about everything else, but would any good come out of it?
For instance, Catholics wish to pray together with us. I say ”Before we start praying together, let us first education one another.” When Catholic students approach me and state that they heard in university that the Orthodox Church has a female deaconate, I just wish they would quit that university. They either misunderstood, or they were not told the truth. Regarding the relationship between the Catholics and Orthodox, one senses an enormous lack of information. This dearth of information is mostly on the Catholic side, not ours. This gap can be filled. But I don’t see the prospect for genuine rapprochement. Over the course of my life I have had a great deal of contact with Catholics and Protestants. Such relations lead to positive results in extremely rare cases, and more often among Protestants than Catholics. The former understand that they have lost everything, that they don’t have the fundamental ecclesiastical basis. Meanwhile, Catholics think that they preserved a great deal. In fact, it’s been swept out long ago.
What kind of relationships do your monastics maintain with family members?
They must in fact maintain them. But at the same time, they must keep them to an absolute minimum. Otherwise, a person remains of this world in his thoughts and feelings, and will never become a genuine monk. There are, of course, exceptions. I allowed a nun to visit her mother, who was in need of care. When I left the university, leaving behind my teaching career, many of my students wished to visit me, almost every month. I told them ”Under no circumstances! I won’t allow it! Give me at least ten years, then we’ll find each other.” In general, I think, a monk should be cautious in his friendships and relations with family.
A few more questions. Can an Orthodox believer go to a Catholic church to listen to organ music?
If someone really loves music, let him go. The organ is a supremely expressive instrument. It excites the emotions, which, on the other hand, is not always beneficial to a Christian.
Can there be a new Ecumenical Council?
I don’t think that this will happen in the foreseeable future. First of all, an Ecumenical Council is never convened, simply a Council. It can later be recognized as having been Ecumenical. On what basis? Firstly, if representatives of all the Local Church participate. Secondly, if all Orthodox Christians accept its decisions. That fact shouldn’t be forgotten.
Why is a Supreme Eccesiastical Council needed?
There was just such a council. It was formed in 1917-1918 at the Pomestny [All-Russian] Council. The Supreme Ecclesiastical Council is the highest body which operates between Councils. Councils, even if they take place annually, cannot cover all the problems of practical church life. That is why such an organ can act more expediently, react more quickly to certain matters.
How does a hierarch relax? Do they have vacations?
I rest at night, and my vacation is also at night. That is all. I never traveled anywhere to relax. I am distracted from diocesan matters only when I go to the Holy Land, because then I turn of my phone.
Why do young people in Germany who wish to get a religious education go to Russia and not other European countries?
Until 1990, we would mostly send such kids to America, to Jordanville, that was the only seminary of the Church Abroad. But there are other schools where one can receive a theological education. Munich University recently opened a department of Orthodox Theology, when our young people study. I won’t deny that it was very difficult to change our mindset at the time, when all the borders were opening up and the Soviet Union fell, which had seemed to us to be if not eternal, then in any case, destined to last for a long time. Now we send candidates to various educational institutions in Russia and Ukraine, and America. The financial aspect is also a consideration.
Our main challenge is to ensure that future clergymen become acquainted with the local Russian customs, traditions, mores, because you won’t learn them in America. The believers who now fill churches abroad are mostly migrants from the former Soviet Union. Russian Germans from Kazakhstan, children of mixed marriages… that is why those who will serve in the West must study in Russia. Our clergymen are faced with problems we never imagined before. For example, until the 1990’s, not one priest in my diocese had ever visited prison, since Russians never ended up there, and now you could open a whole parish community in virtually every prison.
Must one make the decision to get married or be tonsured to monasticism while still studying in the seminary?
Not at all. Of course it is preferable to, so that a person determines which direction he strives for. Monasticism cannot be a mechanical solution to the problem of not finding his future wife. Monkhood can only be built on a person’s desire, the fervent desire to serve God alone. And also, it is important for a person to test himself while he is studying. Without this you cannot make a decision.
One must seriously ponder: ”Can I spiritually manage the tribulations of family life, or those of monasticism?” Both ways of life are difficult. Both demand self-denial. Without that you can do neither. While living an egotistical life, you cannot make the right decision. That is why you must constantly test yourself and determine what you are capable of, what you are predisposed to. Only understanding this fully should you make a choice—a very important one. From the moment I decided to become a monk, it was eight years until my tonsure, a time I used to gradually prepare for it. I repeat: one must approach this decision carefully.
What if the decision a young person makes does not receive his parents’ blessing?
Without exaggerating, that is a bombshell. When I was 33, teaching in the university, I decided on a monastic path. My parents were horrified! Yes, our relatives don’t always sympathize with our wishes: neither monkhood, nor marriage, nor ordination to the clergy. But each person must make his own independent decisions, while treating his parents with love, understanding them and sympathizing with their questions and concerns. It is important to explain to them why you wish to take this path, what it is that you find so bright. I must say that in most cases, parents and friends generally understand that the decision made by their son or daughter is the right one. He made the right decision, and should be supported.
What is your opinion of seminary graduates?
I would wish that seminarians experience not only education but training. So that he could not only behave properly in Church, in the temple, but in any social setting, in any group. We are often horrified today when young people simply do not have tact, don’t know general rules of behavior. But this is very important. Only when a person learns this will he become a pastor.
The future clergyman must learn to immerse himself in the problems of others, empathize with them, he must be attentive to their needs and words—otherwise he will be no more than a ritualist, not a pastor. This is important to remember, that each diocese has its own characteristics, and so one must adapt to them, integrate in a new community. This is not often easy, and demands care and keenness of mind—towards oneself and others.
English Translation from the Official Website of the Russian Church Abroad
David Gould says
Vladyka Mark is an archpastor of great commitment and integrity to the Church Abroad and to the wider Russian Church. Thank you for sharing this interview.
Subdeacon David Gould
Exaltation of the Holy Cross ROCOR Hobart Tasmania