"Orthodoxy, in its endurance and faithfulness to its roots, will always manifest a certain spiritual novelty."

An Interview with Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov

On Tuesday, April 12, Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov made a short stop in the Eastern American Diocese on his way home to Moscow after spending several days in California as a guest of the Western American Diocese. During his final hours in America, Fr. Artemy met with diocesan media office correspondent Rdr. Peter Lukianov and gave a second interview for the official website of the Eastern American Diocese. The extensive interview features several questions that were submitted by our readers and covers a wide range of topics, such as the current state of Orthodoxy in America, spiritual life, confession, missionary work, and much more. We are pleased to offer this interview for the enjoyment and spiritual benefit of our readers.

Representatives of various Orthodox jurisdictions in America are working to present their own vision of Orthodoxy. Inter-Orthodox dialogue is dominated by debates between traditionalists and modernists. Often we lose ourselves totally to these debates, thereby forgetting the true substance of our faith, attempting to remake the Church in our own image, instead of Christ’s. What say you, as an outside observer, of the condition of Orthodoxy in America? What direction and comfort can you give to the Orthodox living in America?

Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov
It was with great joy that I learned that, over this past year, the Kursk Root Icon "of the Sign" has continued its mission in the New World. And, as His Holiness, Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and All Russia, rightly noted, this may be the only icon of the Mother of God that is now traveling to every country in the world, calling all Orthodox – Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Georgians – whomever She encounters along Her travels, to true unity in adoring the Heavenly Queen, Who intercedes for us before God’s Throne. It was a total surprise to me to learn the reaction of the Greek Church in America, whose members gathered in the thousands to greet the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora, offering her such sincere prayer, such true veneration, from which perhaps our own "Russian traditionalists" could stand to learn. And those stunning miracles and signs of grace-filled power, which we hope will be published not only on the Greeks’ websites, but on the websites of the Russian Church Abroad, bear witness to the God-pleasing nature of this undertaken endeavor. We can all see that the powers of darkness in the world never sleep, and they continue all the more to squeeze, to tighten their grip, attempting to darken the minds and hearts of the peoples of the world. That is why the Mother of God today is traveling along the roads and fields, the hedgerows and fences, in the words of the Gospel parable ‒ calling one and all, the white and the black, everyone who yet retains a modicum of the faith and piety in this land, so far from Russia. And for us Russians living in the homeland, it is abundantly clear that the mission of the Icon of the Sign is Orthodoxy’s penultimate sermon, whose call even those totally distant from the Orthodox Church will answer. Everything that has taken place undoubtedly contributes to the elevation of the Russian Diaspora, the Russian Orthodox Church in America, as the guardian of Patristic Tradition. The so-called Autocephalous Church in America is experiencing trying times. It is clear that various schools are clashing within it; having last year become a witness to the first, brotherly sit-down between the Church Abroad and the American Autocephalous Church, I can see that the spiritual closeness of the clergymen leading these Churches is utterly loathed by the spirit of darkness, who from the ages has acted according to the principle of "divide and conquer." And the Evil One always finds his spokesmen, people who see things in this reconciliation that do not exist. Perhaps they are troubled solely by the material aspect of the issue, while others, for some reason, embrace the mentality of the older brother from the parable of the Prodigal Son – What is this feast?! What is this happy celebration?! Why, father, have you gone and wasted, slaughtered the fatted calf, but you never gave me a goat – why is your younger son shown such honor?! He, I say, who has devoured your living with harlots, now receives a son’s rights! – and he was angered, and refused to enter into the radiant and festal hall. "My son," meekly responded his father, "Is it not right to rejoice, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found!" It seems to me that the spirit of Orthodoxy – true, unofficial, informal, non-dogmatic, non-modernistic Orthodoxy – lies in the very ability to rejoice in every soul that, having felt the approach of the divine, heeds its call with sincere prayer, repentance, or even simple interest – for everything begins by catching one’s attention, moving the mind, and then the heart, to the divine. I think that Orthodoxy, in its endurance and faithfulness to its roots, which in turn means its ability to preserve those grace-filled outward forms, which were neither created nor established by us today, will always manifest a certain spiritual novelty – not a novelty comprised of endless reformations which are not of God, but in the ability to speak to people in their own tongue, in the ability to reveal the treasure of Orthodox Tradition, the treasure of the Scriptures, in an accessible and understandable way. A sermon is nothing less than the ability to find a common tongue with those who are intuitively drawn to the grace-filled depth and height of Orthodoxy, who wish to fall down before its inexhaustible spring.

In recent months, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, has been in the center of the conflict between traditionalists and modernists. What are your thoughts on the role of His Beatitude in shaping the future of Orthodoxy in America?

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to meet with the current Primate of the American Church – in Russia, when he was still a young layman. Today I know of his striving toward traditional piety in his Church, something not everyone in America understands or accepts, for some feel that Christianity must evolve and adapt to the American way of life. Others would like to see Christianity emaciated, withered, reformed, aligned with sinful human nature, and in a way charged with serving human passions. Understanding all of this, not only I, but all of us pastors of the Moscow Patriarchate pray that the humble and tactical actions of the Primate of the American Church will be properly received – for behind them lies the desire to breathe a new spirit, new drive into these easily parched wineskins: not to pour in new wine, but well-aged wine into the vessels, so that Americans who come into church, either familiar or unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, could taste Orthodoxy, feel its great inner strength, and be drawn to the Altar of the Lord, not voluntarily signed up to donate to some fund of one parish or another, but overtaken by the very beauty of Orthodoxy, by its spiritual greatness and strength, which vivify human hearts. I wish Metropolitan Jonah, as well as Metropolitan Hilarion – they understand one another very well – physical health and the spiritual strength to carry the cross of their Primacy. And, of course, good assistants, pastors near to them in spirit, together with whom they might truly bear witness to the authority of the Orthodox Church ‒ that moral, spiritual authority ‒ to witnesses near and far, so that even their opponents might be wordlessly enlisted into the holy labor of spreading faith, hope, and love for Christ and the Church.

Orthodox faithful around the world are very engaged in the debate concerning the upcoming Pan-Orthodox Council. There are many, particularly in the Russian Church Abroad, that are nervous about the impact that such a council may have on the Universal Orthodox Church. What can you say to those who fear these gatherings as signaling the death of traditional Orthodox values, or even the end of the world?

I am just a young man and I mustn’t have my own judgment, but a judgment I have nonetheless. Insofar as these fears are concerned, you and I, who have become familiar with Orthodox Tradition, remember the sayings of St. Nilus the Myrrh-Bearer, and know not to be caught unawares. On the other hand, His Holiness, Patriarch Kyrill – I remember his response to a question about these fears – spoke of how anyone who fears some heterodox conclusion or decision of a potential Eighth Ecumenical Council can today see the council’s schedule, and a list of questions planned for discussion, become acquainted with them and pose their own questions – we had a general question from the laity or clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding all of the work being done by this Pan-Orthodox Council, and the Patriarch recommended attentively researching the materials the council had to offer. Everyone can make their own suggestions, thanks to the current computerized nature of these proceedings, and mustn’t be as a frightened mouse, running into a nook in a cliff face and too scared to peek outside, but must have a healthy fear of God and, caring for the fate of the Church, take active part in them. Not merely with personal piety, but at least by posing certain questions, expressing your feelings on one doctrinal or canonical issue or another affecting the life of the Church. I think that one can easily understand and even justify the unwillingness of a hierarch of the Orthodox Church to participate in some suspicious ecumenical meetings with the so-called World Council of Churches, especially in our times, when other, supposedly Christian denominations openly allow a female priesthood or justify homosexuality – this is an abomination before God. One can easily understand the conservatism of the Diasporan bishops, who have refused to take part in similar meetings over the course of decades. But when we speak of interaction between Orthodox hierarchs, certainly nothing ought to stand in the way of these bishops participating in these meetings in the capacity of onlookers and observers, who can then report back to their flocks and share their thoughts and observations all the more so when these bishops are namely canonical, and bind themselves to the legacy of Scripture and Church Tradition. Today, I think, one also cannot ignore the fact that darkness in the world is becoming more concentrated – anti-Christianity in all of its forms and manifestations is growing more aggressive and shameless by the hour, and declaring its true intentions. For Orthodox forces, for Orthodox Local Churches and Orthodox parishes, jointly inhabiting the same geographical territory, to force themselves apart now – is simply unreasonable. Inter-Orthodox dialogue can absolutely be a form of witness for any bishop who claims fidelity to Scripture and Tradition and to preserving the fullness of Orthodox sanctity in deed as well as word.

Many, especially in the Church Abroad, consider that for decades we have preserved our holy Russian Orthodoxy. And certainly the Church Abroad has been able to preserve the faith over the last several decades. But some say, "Here we have done all this preserving, and now there is a chance that all this will be lost, that some amalgamated American Church will remove any need for a Russian Church Abroad and we will lose our reason for being." At the same time, many of the local hierarchs have made clear that they are in need of the Church Abroad’s voice in these proceedings, because that traditional, true Orthodox approach and perspective is lacking and needs support. But our own worry is that we will be outnumbered and that, ultimately, nothing will remain of us.

If you’ve preserved it, then you can share it, can you not? Orthodoxy is not the Russian Orthodox of which St. Seraphim of Sarov spoke as of a retaining wall, but is an entity in and of itself, something that is not necessarily for everyone, but it would be good, living this Orthodoxy, to share it. These treasures will not be taken away from you if you display them, in word, and in deed, and in thought, no? It is more blessed to give than to receive, says the Apostle Paul. Certainly one can understand and approve the protective work being done by these or other bishops, but it seems to me that, in the grand scheme of things – I’m answering sincerely, as those who posed the questions did so sincerely – the problem goes much deeper. Today more than ever we are in need of great lanterns of faith such as were our fathers: St. John of Shanghai, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) Archbishop Averky (Taushev) – that whole generation truly carried the fire of God’s Spirit in their hearts.

Clergy and hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad Clergy and hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad
Since these great hierarchs and spiritual leaders are no longer with us on this earth, they cannot respond to the spiritual challenges that we face today. Many within ROCOR feel that without the leadership and guidance of those great hierarchs, we cannot act. Because of this uncertainty, people are wary of the path that lies before us.

First of all, the burden is on us, the priesthood and hierarchy. Both hierarchs and priests must walk the path of accruing and accumulating God’s grace through personal, penitent, prayerful spiritual labors and celebrating the Liturgy. The Church will always look to its archpastors and pastors first and foremost as generals and officers of an army. We can but answer with penitent sighs when the laity asks: Where are the inspired and zealous adherents of God’s faith, whose strength is not in words, but in deeds, and in the totality of a Christian life? Of course, everyone must know his limitations and shortcomings, not biting off more than he can chew. But experience shows that even two or three priests of the Russian Diaspora, who have undergone a good, thorough education and schooling in the priesthood and serving, who by their very outward appearance speak to the traditional values of Orthodoxy – will be a real force, and caution and suspicion will be a sin. Caution is a virtue, but when there are three or even five of us, when we can center ourselves around a bishop whose piety is beyond reproach – this will already be a powerful embassy to an apostate world. Experience shows (judging from the pastoral conferences on the East and West Coasts in which I participated) what deep internal comfort, what peace, what true inspiration we take away from interacting with one another. I saw with my own eyes how this grace-filled atmosphere affected those Americans, guests from San Francisco and other great distances, for instance, who came to pose their questions to Orthodox pastors, to fill their lamps with oil. In my opinion, it is not for us to bemoan the possibility of losing something. If you truly possess something, if you are imbued with veneration for the Mother of God, if you hold in your hands the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign, the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora – are you really scared to take this holy Icon into an Antiochian or Greek parish and see how the people walk away from it comforted, see how their tears have been dried, see how God’s grace has settled in their hearts? We have something to show to and share with our Orthodox brethren, all the more so since the atmosphere has changed after the unification of the Patriarchate and the Diaspora. Now is the time for consolidation, time to rally the Orthodox forces in America, for we have far greater opponents than each other.

The first question from our readers comes from South Carolina: Fr. Artemy, we are surrounded by many pious Protestants in the South. These are good, kind-hearted people, who have a sincere love for Christ and are very active Protestant missionaries. As Orthodox Christians, what is the best way to attract Protestants, many of whom already have a good understanding of the Bible, to the True Faith?

This question is not a simple one, but it is a very important and necessary one, because on the one hand we are called to live within the confines of the canons of the Mother Church. Here we cannot attend some sophomoric joint prayer, which leaves a great weight in the soul of an Orthodox Christian, for can that prayer truly be pleasing to God, which does not begin or end with an appeal to the name of the Mother of God, and the veneration of Her as the unassailable wall of our faith? It is another thing entirely for an Orthodox Christian, seeing an unfeigned interest, an openness, a desire for some human contact, to serve these well-meaning people, opening for them the treasury of Holy Tradition. I, for one, would recommend, if possible, taking St. John Chrysostom’s treatise on the Book of Genesis or the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and try to set up a group that meets in the evenings or in the daytime, so that these Carolinians, who know so well the Scriptures and cite it in their own manner, might brush up against the truly Divine depth of patristic wisdom and interpretation. If we come across this interest – after all, a sincere soul cannot help but fall in love with patristic thought – I would recommend they read the Paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom, or excerpts from his sermons on the priesthood. St. John Chrysostom’s writing style is very simple, but perhaps you can even progress to passages from St. Basil the Great or St. Gregory the Theologian – for a majority of Protestants, it’s no secret, come to Orthodoxy through the Greek Church, through the Byzantine tradition, and the moment that interest is born in them, they see the difference between the smooth-talking and self-assured preachers of modern Protestantism, and the eternal pearls of the Spirit. I think here it would be beneficial to read aloud the writings of St. John of Kronstadt – his journal has been translated into English – and pierce the mysterious depths of the human soul. Or, perhaps, even the letters of the Optina Elders to laymen and monastics. This, I feel, would be a wonderful start. The rest will be added unto you: experience shows that, as soon as a person takes interest in the world of the Orthodox Icon (and we know what absurd impressions they have about icons), if you show them slides of the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, or the mosaics of Ravenna, if they wish not only to preach, but to listen, as well, their hearts and minds will be incrementally drawn to Church Tradition. After all, what do they know of St. John the Baptist, other than the limited witness of the Gospels? But one can prepare for their edification selections from the vitae: from the lives of St. George the Trophy-Bearer, St. Panteleimon the Healer – let them stir their hearts with that marvelous power of ancient martyrdom. Some might have an interest in Russia, and in this sense the vitae of the Holy New Martyrs might be beneficial. Above all I would recommend the discussion with St. Seraphim of Sarov on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit – what could possibly be said in opposition to this bastion of faith, which the Protestants have traded for pseudo-charismatic experiences lacking any inner authenticity?

The following question is from the same parish: Father, we worry, because our church is very small; a majority of our parishioners are very active and participate in the everyday life of the parish family. But because of the small size of the parish, often it falls to the same people to clean the church, prepare meals, participate in church functions and be members of the parish council – and, of course, they have to attend services. After all this, how do you keep from having them become overburdened and disappointed, ending with them leaving the church? What would you say to those people in order to lift their spirits, so that they do not burn out and lose heart?

I think that here we have great need for the well-known tact and delicate touch of the priest and matushka, as the nucleus of the parish. The words of certain Russian idioms come to mind: No one prays to God against his will ("невольникъ ‒ не богомольникъ"). These parish labors must be for the volunteers not a burden, but a joy ("не въ тягость, а въ сладость"). Or, as they say in Russia, Grace cannot be forced upon you ("Благодать не насилуетъ"). Therefore, having drawn these people into the orbit of parish care, I think we must follow the Savior’s example: not immediately enlisting them and plugging them into the plan. If you like, if you have the inclination, if you want this, then we would be happy for it. And thereby you avoid rushing to grab new parish members by the scruff of the neck. I, for instance, recall one of my several mistakes that I try never to repeat: A young man came to me, fairly well off, and the church at the time was going through hard times (we have a large property, with more than 200 people working on and around it). And I, hearing his first semi-confession, he was pouring out his life’s story (though still lacking penitence), I offhandedly remarked to him, "How nice it would be if once a month you would contribute some small, comfortable sum to our work." "Of course," he replied. "My pleasure!" He came once, came a second time, and then never came back, because he still did not have that inner drive to gladly share that which God had given him. I took this mistake to heart, and try never to burden anyone – I can hint at something, but everyone knows for themselves whether they are capable or incapable of action at one time or another; that is the first thing. Second, of course, it is not a bad idea to tell newly converted parishioners that their presence in church, the hours they spend then, are not merely a shared burden; let us recall the words of St. Seraphim, who spoke of how ancient Christians used to consider it an honor to take the very dust from the church, moistening it at home, anointing themselves with it, and being healed by it according to their faith. In Russia, we have a tradition when restoring churches, whereby everyone receives a symbolic brick with his name inscribed on it, so that truly, he who brings even one brick with his own hands to the newly constructed church will not be deprived of his reward. It would be good to try always to inspire people, letting them know that an hour or two spent in the shelter of the church might even bestow grace upon your children, delivering them from the slavery of computer games, solely due to your participation, or because you washed a few pots after a church luncheon. Patriarch Alexey II spoke about how churches in Russia today must fulfill the functions of "pioneer houses" (in Soviet times, these were state-run "scout" clubs, entertainment clubs, places for "artistic vacation," and there were many various types) ‒ all of this was sponsored by the Soviet government. Now, unfortunately, commercialism is everywhere and children’s interests take second place. And so Orthodox parishes in Russia must take the place of the "pioneer houses," so that here children might be able to take lessons in Russian Fist-Fighting, or play ping-pong, or take ballroom dancing lessons, and all of this will be beneficial, precisely because it will take place under the aegis, under the protection, of the church, where the surroundings are brighter and make human interaction free and easy. It would probably be best to tell these newly involved people that to be the focus of the church’s attention is a great mercy and grace, which cares with it great moral blessings for adults and children alike. And the fruits of their labors will themselves convince them of this. God does not remain indebted ‒ in exchange for preparing a fund-raising luncheon on a great feast day, the Lord will allow you to trade in your old, beat-up Chevrolet for a new Mercedes, with automatic transmission and all the accessories, of course!

Holy Cross Monastery, West Virginia Holy Cross Monastery, West Virginia
Many of the parishes in our diocese, especially those in the South, face a large cultural divide when trying to attract non-English-speaking Russians to ROCOR parishes. The only difference between our English and Russian parishes is the language of the services. The order and spirit of the services, customs, and calendar are all the same, yet native Russians seem reluctant to become regular parishioners in our English mission parishes. What advice could you give to our pastors to help them attract more Russians?

I think that here we speak not so much of Russians and Americans, as of that inertness of human souls that is so familiar to people who have yet to truly, accurately feel the light and warmth of the Mother Church. Every priest, in Russia as well as in America, runs into this problem. That is why, invoking the angelic hosts during the Divine Liturgy, we call priests "ones who sing, shout, cry aloud, and say:" thus must a priest be, if God gives him the time and strength, not limited to divine services alone, but occupying the very center of pastoral life; he must cast the fishing line of the Gospel, cast the net of God’s Word, in order to catch those fish, great and small, who swim far from the ship’s wake of the Church. This means that it is essential to demonstrate some ingenuity, some cleverness, and find every possible opportunity to gather people for an evening and do something that interests them. This doesn’t necessarily have to take place in the church, but maybe in the parish hall; here a priest cannot do without the help of active, creative parishioners in order to set up the event: Russian poetry, history, perhaps something about Russian-American ties, the assimilation of the first Russian emigrants into the northern or southern United States – in other words, not necessarily church-oriented themes. For instance when I was at Fort Ross, I observed their brochures and museum exhibitions – there are many interesting intersections right there – in fact, the very trading company that founded Fort Ross was the Russian-American Company. I think that a priest who considers it important to focus on and center his activities around potential parishioners – and, after all, we are not poaching their pockets, but desire to bring benefit to their souls – can certainly go even further – let it be organizing a youth club that will encourage dialogue with the youth – every single thing that can possibly fit into the realm of Christian morality. In Russia, some deaneries of the Moscow suburbs even organize football or other sports tournaments, and in that manner priests are able to at least make contact with the hearts and minds of these teenagers, reading a prayer before their match, or softly talking with them during lunch. That is to say, one cannot lock oneself up in church and let the grass grow under one’s feet. A pastor will receive according to the measure of his approachability – every priest has his hobbyhorse, some secular specialty – let everything proceed from that. And let us not omit the fact that on the Internet today people get together, grow apart, argue in the forums, and pose various questions that might be interesting for certain age groups. We wish the Russian-American clergy in this regard proactivity, resourcefulness, and God’s help – as they say, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched – you never know until you try – God helps those who help themselves – and our pastoral work is to cast our fishing lines with the words, "Be caught, O fish, great and small." And then what God gives, He gives.

Do you feel that it is important for clergy to engage the faithful on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, or is it better to engage them only in a church setting?

I will say of myself that I am a somewhat old-fashioned individual, and I simply would not have enough time for the Internet – this requires a certain number of hours for communicating, and as in olden days I prefer personal communication, heart to heart, face to face, but I absolutely understand those priests who can master modern technology and descend into that virtual world – there too are real voices, real souls and interests, and it goes without saying that is it desirable for it to have its own safe havens, its own bright corners, as well, where people can ask questions about God, learn something about Orthodoxy, or at least enter into this kind of correspondence with an Orthodox pastor – I think the Lord would bless this sort of undertaking.

Many of our clergymen are forced to work full time jobs and cannot dedicate all of their time to serving the needs of the parish. Social networks are especially helpful for these clerics, because they give them an opportunity to interact with young people when it is most convenient for them.

Of course. All the more so because out of thousands a handful will be found for whom dialogue with a priest will be a true revelation – whether that person is, perhaps, Latino or African-American, something may come of it. We pastors know from experience that correspondence easily transitions from virtual to real and personal.

In an effort to relate to young people, some clerics may become too involved in social networks. Is this temptation a real danger, or just a sign of the times in which we live?

Here a Russian proverb may suffice – What you enjoy will become what tempts you – anything in excess is from the Evil One. I don’t want to be the morality police, giving advice to the sage among us, and I think that a priest knows his limits, as with how much whisky to drink, so with how much time to spend in the virtual underground.

The next question comes from to you from Maryland – Fr. Artemy, how can I inspire the young people to love the Lord more than the things of this world?

I think that the most correct answer here would be for all of us Orthodox priests to strive to enhance our own personal spirit of prayer. Why does one priest suffer from pastoral loneliness, while another isn’t sure when he will find the time to eat? I think much depends on the condition of one’s pastoral spirit. I was just in San Francisco, and was touched by the spirit of St. John (Maximovich); of course, in his day there were many Russians, although today there is no shortage, either. But at that time Russian émigrés had to toil in poverty and scarcity just to gather a few pennies to build the church – they were not yet built. But it goes without saying that St. John’s spirit of prayer was the magnet that irresistibly attracted human souls to him, not all of which were Orthodox. As one of the future bishops of the Russian Church Abroad said of his spiritual father, whom he met in Paris: "He was a true monk, an ascetic – when I first saw his face, I saw an otherworldly light radiating from his eyes, and I understood that God is remarkably close to mankind, and the spiritual beauty of this pastor forever drew my soul to Christ." I think this to be an appropriate answer to this question; but, of course, people need to be worked with. The chief misfortune of pastors is that we lack the time for sufficient conversation. The more labor and love you exert with your child, the more grateful he will be, the more the sprouts we sow in his heart will take root. Of course, man is free, and is capable to exerting every power over himself. Love cannot be forced, but experience shows that a garden that goes a long time without weeding will be overgrown, while in the opposite case, daily care for one’s garden will bring forth fruits all the more abundantly. Therefore, if a priest finds even a small number of young people within his sphere of influence, his pastoral labors will speak for themselves if he donates his personal attention to those young people, adapting himself to care for their weaknesses and their psychology with fatherly love, a smile, kindheartedness, and a live interest in conversation with them; by talking with them he will prove to be the very same able gardener, by whose hands, sooner or later, wonderful roses will bloom.

A question from a parochial school teacher: Last weekend I received two typical questions, which I tried my best to answer, and I wanted your opinion. The questions are the following: Why is sex outside of marriage sinful? and Why are drugs forbidden, other than the fact that they are illegal?

Fr. Artemy with His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion Fr. Artemy with His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion
This question is all the more real for me, because just today I received a telephone call from one Russian mother whose daughter is currently studying management at a university in Los Angeles. Her daughter, meanwhile, has expressed to her mother her horror at having to stand up to her professor and the other students in her critical thinking class alone, along with only two other Pakistani Muslim girls, when the class is being expressly told that having your first abortion is very good, that smoking marijuana is not wrong, but very good, and that gay and lesbian leanings are totally normal – it is all very good. And although the class is supposedly on critical thinking – understand that as you will, but some thinking for yourself must take place. Nonetheless, the matter ended with the professor telling her Russian Orthodox Christian student that, if she continues to maintain that homosexuality is wrong, then she will not receive a good grade in the class. This isn’t even pressure, but flat-out blackmail. Of course, it isn’t easy for modern teenagers in America – and in Russia soon, too, it seems – to stand up to such powerful pressure and fight for the right to a human, that is, correct and Biblical, point of view. We, Orthodox teachers, are therefore required all the more to have the answers, and our answers must be wise and precise. We cannot simply dogmatize – this is bad, this is bad, this is bad – but must find a rational method of explanation: why is sex before marriage bad? Judge it by its fruits – everything must be judged by its fruits. One tests theory in practice, and vice versa. The majority of relationships fall apart like the proverbial house of cards where "he and she" are not bound one to another by any obligations, but are engaged in simple self-satisfaction, calling all of these sexual experiments "love." God invested us with reproductive abilities and the mutual attraction of the sexes so that we would create families and bear children. But children’s health is dependent directly on parents’ behavior. Experienced doctors and physiologists note that God made man monogamous, a belief completely in line with the Bible’s teachings: one or two pairings for life (a second in case of necessity; for instance, the death of a spouse). Where love between a husband and wife is supplanted by debauchery, we immediately see the results: many forms of illness, which are not healed by any medicines, which drain the health of the future mother, and which lead to congenital or postnatal diseases in the newborn. If we look at the question from an intellectual standpoint, what accompanies youthful debauchery? Any doctor with the slightest experience will tell you that a young man or woman will become lazy and unable to work; they not only lose their curiosity and desire to learn, but their very perception of the world becomes stunted and dulled. What separates children from adults? Liveliness, forthrightness, joyful openness to the wonders of God’s world, and inability to stay despondent or upset. Children are perfect creatures, thanks to their purity, innocent, virginity, and chastity. Take a child away from his parents, let him stray, and he becomes like a little old man, struck by listlessness, despondency, various maladies, unhappiness with life, weakening of his vitality, up to and including suicidal tendencies and a desire to leave this life – but you can’t hide from yourself, so they say. If we look at the question from an ethical point of view, a person who corrupts himself, dragging the lily of his chastity in the dirt and establishing himself on that path, becomes a cold cynic, a pragmatist, incapable of faith – not so much in the Lord God as in anything greater, more ideal, or holy – a person who falls victim to questionable influences, as a rule, begins to descend down the ladder into the depths. It is no coincidence that debauchery always goes hand-in-hand with other sins: where there are drugs, there is debauchery; where there is debauchery, there is despondency and despair; there is no sense of how to apply oneself, and in Russia this often translates to criminal behavior. And there are many other ways to burn through, ruin, and tear asunder your life which I don’t mention here.

An amusing question from a matushka: Our church is small, but has a lot of children. Is it all right or not to spank the children for bad behavior in Church. Some say that, when the children grow up, they will remember how they were abused in church, while others still say that parents should give their children a choice whether or not to attend church.

I hope that my answer will not reach the ears of child services in whatever state Matushka lives, but I have a certain theory, that the head of a child is full of nerve endings directly connected to his bottom. If they are unable to comprehend something with their minds, then through certain tactile impacts on the bottom in the form of a light spank from a loving heart, the signal will reach the brain directly, and the child will in that instant reject his mischief, once more assuming the visage of an obedient lambkin.

Question from Michigan about confession: Not having developed or improved since his last confession, one is ashamed and hesitates to confess every week, hoping to allow more time for self-improvement. Is this delay in confessing one’s sins correct or not?

None of us is shy about the need to regularly wash our underwear and wash our sleepy eyes and brush our teeth every day when we rise from sleep. This, despite the fact that you know full well that tomorrow morning you will need to do it again. But if you don’t do it, you will become a pig! Your mouth will start to smell, and not only – you’ll become the protagonist of Saltykov-Shchedrin’s "Wild Landlord." He tells the tale of a gentleman who becomes a sheer monstrosity. Is this soul not so much more delicate than the body? And if the body requires soaping and washing and cleaning, then the soul, which is so very impressionably, which so quickly adopts the trappings of sin as it lives in this world, must be refreshed and cleaned. I will say of myself, for instance, that I fully understand St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who said of himself: "Every day I must commune of Christ’s Holy Mysteries, because every day I sin involuntarily." Of course, not everyone should commune every day or even every other day, but not only is there is no shame in frequent confession, but there can be none. Perhaps someone will say that he sees no improvement in himself. But I will rejoice in you if, having confessed last week, you come to me, a priest, this week, having committed no greater sin – you’re standing in place, but that is already an improvement over your fellows, who are descending lower and lower into the circles of hell, never able to cross the threshold of the church. By the way, it is not man’s lot to see and evaluate his own spiritual growth. It is no coincidence that Holy Scripture says: "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" (Psalm 36:23). It will be a good start if, from confession to confession, coming to an understanding of your own faults, you humbly develop a conviction about yourself – for God gives grace unto the humble, but He rejects the self-assured and the proud, who think that they do not need to reveal the sores in their souls. You say you will come in six months – hear my prophecy, dear friend: you won’t come in six years. By that mentality, "Let me clean off my wings, comb my fur, and I will appear in six months before the priest all bright and clean and nice," the evil one poaches many in their false modesty, in their pride, and holds them away from the church for sixty years. I wouldn’t want to hear your last confession when you’re in the tomb. Why don’t you come next weekend, God willing?

Having sinned, I lose the will to pray, and my prayer ceases to be alive. What do you think: should I wait some time, confess and commune, and try again to come to prayer in the hope that life with return to it, or, pushing everything aside, should I get up in the morning and, fighting my own inclinations, try again and again to defeat this formalism in my prayer?

I am inclined to support the second point of view, for God said, "I will give prayer to those who pray." And a righteous man, it is said, falls seven times in a day. Each of us sees our own spiritual cardiogram, the rise and fall, the cooling and renewed gathering of warmth in our hearts. But waiting for the sun to shine is a fool’s errand. The Lord Himself invites all into His vineyard at the first, third, sixth, ninth hours – spiritual life experience shows that no one who goes into battle will be left without support from above. We begin with laziness and reluctance, but depart from our evening prayer rule a little comforted. And may God grant each of us to end the day not defeated, but a victor, or at the very least penitent in defeat. Tomorrow will take care of itself, although no one has promised us a tomorrow. So I think that one ought to expend every effort to exude a prayerful breath, and even if we aren’t given it, God, in the words of St. Isaac the Syrian, will honor our bravery and patience if, having fallen, we immediately rise in the hope that God’s right hand will support us.

Why is it that in Japan, which can rightly be called a pagan nation (Orthodox and even Christians in general there are a tiny minority), the total devastation that was seen in the most recent earthquake did not lead to any inhuman excess? People are behaving themselves uprightly, helping others in need, there is no looting, no price gouging in either foodstuffs or transportation costs. Support can be felt both from the government and even among neighbors. The Japanese people are overcoming this disaster, one might say, by living according to God’s commandments. Why then has not the thousand-year history of Orthodoxy in Russia and the last twenty years of the Church’s revival there not held back our own people from violent behavior, from looting and other crimes, from profiting off the suffering of others during calamities, as happens in our country? Or does apostasy beget a much harsher punishment than simply not knowing God?

I agree that this question has much truth in it: the higher the rise, the harder the fall. We Orthodox, or at the very least baptized, people must learn how to glean the best aspects of each tribe and people – not for nothing is it said that every people which does good works is pleasing unto God. And here the Japanese have given us a good lesson in loving mankind, national solidarity, proving the Russian proverb: The deeper the grief, the closer is God ("Чѣмъ глубже скорбь, тѣмъ ближе Богъ"). And tragedies really do bring people together. I witnessed something similar in Russia during our last apocalyptic summer, when the mysteriously ignited forests and the surprising behavior of the fires, which acted like a rabid, wild animals, united the Russian people. Our Church Department for Charity earned high marks, in the words of His Holiness the Patriarch, taking over the functions of the government’s own infrastructure by virtue of the number of tons of foodstuffs collected in Moscow and distributed to the countryside, where the fire was especially ferocious. Of course, hearing about the earthquake in Japan, one cannot forget the words of the Savior: "Suppose ye that these…were sinners above [you], because they suffered such things?...Or those…upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all [you]?...But, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." There is no doubt that this is a general warning to all mankind, to those in Asia, in Europe, in Australia, in America, as every nation must respond to crises likewise, for if we will extend a helping hand to our neighbors, the Lord will grant mercy and deliverance to those who truly help.

Another question from Michigan: Hasn’t the time come for Russian people both in Russia and around the world to resolutely demand that the current government cleanse the stench of the villain’s corpses locked away in the heart of Moscow – aren’t signatures being gathered to petition the government to make this decision?

Signatures are being gathered indeed, and this question arises from time to time. Recently one Duma deputy rose from his seat to voice the above opinion. I recently met one woman at a conference of the Orthodox Women of Russia who is leading a movement to raise funds for a monument to St. Hermogenes, Patriarch of Moscow. It turns out that, not long before the Revolution, an organization was founded and funds were collected to place a monument to St. Hermogenes, who along with the militias liberated Moscow from the Polish, European yoke, on that very spot where Shchusev built his wooden mausoleum. And so right now there is an initiative on the part of these Russian women to gathered the necessary funds and cast a monument of the Hieromartyr Hermogenes, having first wiped clean the ground, excising that Babylonian Ziggurat and removing Ulyanov’s plastic remains, although probably not to Simbirsk – whatever did they do? – perhaps giving it over for preservation in the Spy Museum in Washington! There, I think, some pigeonhole can be found to house the remains of the leader of the world revolution. We desire and want this very much, and as far as petitions to the government are concerned, I think they already know. The issue lies in how truly they have divorced themselves from the legacy of Ulyanov. For instance, I am often vexed by the speeches of Mr. Zyuganov when he speaks out alongside the opposition to the current "United Russia" party and sees no shame in tying pioneer scarves on children in Red Square, bowing his head before that Lesser Beast, one of Russia’s bloodiest tyrants. At the same time, he often speak of the closeness of his party’s interests and those of the Orthodox Church – a discrepancy and contradiction in and of itself ‒ what nonsense, what an inappropriate political game. One wants to believe that you and I will live to see the day when the mausoleum is moved, perhaps even to the moon, with the help of the U.S. Senate. It is no coincidence that the monument to Minin and Pozharsky, moved in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral, speaks to a silent dialogue between these two heroes of Russian history: the prince sits, looking at Minin, while Minin stands with his hand raised in the direction of the mausoleum, posing the question to the sovereign prince: "Tell me, O prince, what is this filth erected at the foot of your keep?"

Our readers were overjoyed at your first interview – we received many positive responses from across America. We would like to give you the last word, if you would like to express any well wishes to our readers.

Having this year visited San Francisco and its environs, I once more experienced the great joy that comes from interaction with the pastors of the Russian Diaspora, and not only with them, and I come away with an even deeper conviction in the necessity of continued close interaction between the clergy, laity, and hierarchs of the Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad. It was touching to me that, on this trip, I did not write a personal request on my own behalf to His Holiness the Patriarch, but he answered an invitation by Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco with a long letter, in which he expressed hope that the interaction of the clergy of Moscow and San Francisco (and other American cities) would all the more enhance our already completed unification, that unification that has as its foundation the undertakings of Patriarch Alexey and Metropolitan Laurus. I think that we all need one another, and all of us – clergy and laity, ought to remember the Russian proverb: Let us rejoice in what we have ("Чѣмъ богаты, тѣмъ и рады"). For the Lord hasn’t given any one of us all of His gifts, but each of us, having our God-given talents, also possesses weaknesses intrinsic to human nature. When we stick to ourselves, isolate ourselves, we become by our very nature hostages of our sinful weaknesses. On the other hand, we cannot fully open those gifts and talents that God has given us – not for our own sake, but for the sake of our neighbors. I am convinced that, when we enter into spiritual, soulful unity with one another, when we labor and pray together, then our talents are revealed in their full potential for the benefit of one another, but also our weaknesses begin to decrease and abate and, God willing, will totally disappear, not for our own sakes, but unto the glorification of our Lord God Who, when we are taken individually, calls us members, but taken as a whole calls us His Body. I bid farewell this time to the Orthodox Christians of America, and specifically to the faithful of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Diaspora. I express my hope that we will all be able, on our respective sides of the oceans, to greet the radiant feast of Christ’s Pascha with joy and merriment. I pray together with you that the forces of darkness, which never sleep and which would like nothing more than to divide us one by one, upon hearing in every language on earth ‒ Christ is risen, Χριστóς ̉ανέστη, Le Christ est ressuscité, Христосъ воскресе ‒ will tremble and flee into the abyss on an unpaid leave, giving us here a chance to once more expand our activities. And if they remain to play their tricks on us, let it not be for us unto sorrow, but unto joy, for if we never met any obstacles to doing good deeds, then we would either fall asleep in false self-deceit, or would just stop doing those good deeds, because there is nothing interesting about everything working out like clockwork. I very dearly hope that our temporary parting will end with our seeing one another again soon. Today I recall the words of a good White Army song: "Arise, O count, great deeds await you! Daybreak is at hand." Therefore, as the sun sets on this day, as I rise up to the heights beyond the clouds, I will risk my life to stick my head out the airplane window and wave goodbye to Manhattan, which has turned out to be much less frightful than they made it seem in Russia, for here Orthodox people live and work unto the glory of our Lord and God. Amen!

Interview conducted by Rdr. Peter Lukianov
Translated from the original Russian by Rdr. Gregory Levitsky
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese

27 июня 2011 г.

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Placido 2 декабря 2011, 18:00
Dear all Thank you for a very interesting and beautiful website. I am not Orthodox but Catholic and have two separate comments/questions: 1-Don't you think that calling people from other faiths "pagans" is a bit harsh and unpleasant, as in one of the above comments in which the Japanese are described as pagans? Does the person who made that comment seriously believe that only Othordox Christians (Or Christians in general for that matter) behave uprightly? 2-My second question is what is the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church and how to both view each other? God bless Placido
Храм Новомученников Церкви Русской. Внести лепту