JORDANVILLE: May 4, 2006
His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus Answers Questions from Pravoslvie.ru
1. For you, who have lived your entire life abroad, what meaning does Russia have?
I was reared in a churchly atmosphere, in which the word "Russia" always had a great deal of meaning. On one hand, "Russia" is a concrete geographical expanse which is remembered in the daily divine services of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, wherein the children of the Church Abroad call Russia their Fatherland: "For our suffering Russian land and for her Orthodox people in the Fatherland and in the diaspora…" On the other hand, in an ecclesiastical sense, "Russia" meant much more than simply a geographical location: it is the striving towards Christ by the praying Russian Church, wherever she is. As Metropolitan Anastassy said: "What we call the Fatherland is first of all the familiar spiritual atmosphere created by holy Orthodoxy, the uncorrupted moral values handed down through our thousand-year history." Thank God, over recent years we have been finding this spiritual atmosphere, communing with a churchly Russia, visiting her holy sites, but also seeing her difficulties and struggle in the contemporary world. This battle is our battle, because essentially, the pastoral task in the Fatherland and in the diaspora is one and the same: the salvation of men's souls.
2. You have been to Russia several times, visiting its monasteries and churches. What has been the most important revelation, what has gladdened you during these visits and what brought rejection and disappointment?
It brings me joy that the Church in Russia has the opportunity to reach out to the people, to perform their apostolic "walking among the people." Priests are performing services in hospitals, in prisons, in schools, they bring the light of Christ's Gospel to all. I am very happy to see that monasticism is being reborn, as is publishing work, and that old holy sites, once destroyed by the atheists, are being restored. The veneration of the martyrs who suffered in the 20 th century keeps growing, and people are striving for the spiritual life.
Of course, the path to complete renewal of the faith and Church in Russia is very thorny, and we have seen that it is fraught with difficulties and complications. Specifically, the problems and consequences of the Soviet era are still apparent, but, thank God, through the efforts of the clergy and people of the church, they are gradually being overcome. In my opinion, the main challenge facing pastors in Russia today is the education and "churchification" of the Russian people. This was emphasized by the Hierarchy of the Russian Church. People must be helped to immerse themselves in the essence of the spiritual-moral meaning of Orthodox dogma, the meaning of the church Sacraments, divine services and active church life, so that they participate not only externally in the grace-filled mystery of the life of the Church, but internally, that they stand in church and consciously receive spiritual benefit from the services. But as St Gregory the Theologian says, "one must first enlighten oneself, and then enlighten others," that is, priests must constantly labor over themselves, educate themselves, read the Holy Fathers and the Teachers of the Church. They must illuminate themselves through prayer and reading of Holy Scripture, through which we all meet with God and develop our personal relationship with Him. If priests establish within themselves a certain inner life, continue to pray, bear their pastoral cross with humility and try to treat others with love and condescension, this will be the best form of preaching Orthodoxy.
3. We know of your spiritual, monastic path. Tell us a bit about monastic life in the Church Abroad today.
Glory to God, we in the Russian diaspora have many monasteries and monastic communities. Over the last 5-10 years, our monasteries are being filled by young people; Gethsemane Convent in the Holy Land has no more room for those seeking to labor within its walls, and applicants must be turned away. In Germany, very recently, under the guidance of Archbishop Mark, a women's convent opened and is flourishing, and in the last half year, the number of its occupants has tripled. New monasteries are being established in America and Australia. It is a joy to see that amidst our materialistic and non-Orthodox environment, the search for the spiritual life is not waning, that those who seek the monastic life are found even among the young.
4. We anxiously await, as does everyone in Russia, the decision of the IV All-Diaspora Council and the Council of Bishops. If everything goes well, what will life be like under the new circumstances for the dioceses and parishes of ROCOR?
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will continue to exist as it has until now. Our Council of Bishops will guide the life of our Church, appoint bishops to their sees, and our ruling bishops will appoint parish rectors. The legal status of the structures of the Russian Church Abroad is determined by the laws of the countries where the Russian Church Abroad conducts her ministry. That is why we do not expect any particular changes in these areas. If God grants, if the forthcoming Councils resolve all questions hindering full communion with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, we will recognize each other as one Local Russian Orthodox Church. At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia will preserve her autonomy, that is, her self-governing status. In short, the form of our communion with the Moscow Patriarchate will be one Chalice, but two ecclesio-administrative authorities.
Our Church is of the flesh of the Russian people. She unites Russian Orthodox believers living outside the borders of Russia. She preserves them in the faith of the fathers, leads them to Christ, provides them with spiritual support, helps them rear their children and grandchildren in the spirit of Holy Russia. In church life, in home life of Russian families and in our parish schools abroad, we try to evoke love for the faith, for the Russian Church and for our Historical Homeland, and when possible, not only to hand it down, but to increase it. Thank God, we have been able to sow seeds within the heterodox world surrounding us, and these people have matured, brought fruits, and are a testament to the truth of Orthodoxy.
We intend, with God's help, to continue in this spirit.
5. There are many ROCOR bishops, clergymen and laypersons making pilgrimages to Russia. The Orthodox people of Russia have developed the warmest brotherly and amicable relations with very many of them. Of course, it is very painful, for them and for us, when your bishops and priests cannot commune from one chalice during Divine Liturgy. We hope that this sad situation will soon be put behind us. As far as the laity is concerned, some of them are blessed by your priests to take Communion, some are not. Is there permission for laypersons from the Synod to partake of the Holy Gifts in the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate? Many people ask this question.
The grace of the sacraments in the churches in Russia is not questioned by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, just as the Moscow Patriarchate recognizes the Mysteries performed by the clergymen of the Russian Church Abroad. As far as joint communion and concelebration, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia always held firm to the principle of the Holy New Martyr Metropolitan Kyrill of Kazan: the sacraments are recognized, but one should decline joint communion where there is no unity of mind. In other words, one chalice is possible when we can say that we "confess of one mind." For this reason, St Kyrill blessed laypersons who were far from the cares of the hierarchy on matters of the church, to partake of communion in church under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Sergius: the consciences of these laymen were not burdened with responsibility for the church administration: they participated in the sacraments with a clean conscience. Today we stand at the threshold of the unity of mind which, if God grants, will make one chalice possible not only for the flock, but for the pastors of the entire Russian Church.
6. Who are your favorite patristic authors? What is the significance of the Holy Fathers today? What patristic literature would you recommend for newcomers to the faith?
I have never given much though to which of the Holy Fathers were my favorites. Of the ancient fathers I would name St Athanasius the Great: his works contain a bright love for Christ, which first made a strong impression upon me as a young monk. Amid the fuss of daily life it is good to read a page or two from "On the Incarnation of the Word" by St Athanasius in order to center oneself. Also, the works of St Basil the Great, his epistles and letters, in which he expresses care for the purity of the faith and for ecclesiastical peace. And the writings of St Gregory the Theologian, and St John Chrysostom. From the holy fathers of our time, I would name St Ignatius Brianchaninov, a profound teacher of repentance, humility and patience; and St Theophan the Recluse, teacher of prayer: we were educated on the works of these Russian fathers, and they are necessary to every monk today. Why do we need the Holy Fathers? They lived a genuine church life and confessed it. We desire to join this life. This is impossible to do for oneself, without guidance. They are our mentors. To those new to the faith I would recommend "Directions on the Spiritual Life" by Abba Dorotheus, and even those experienced in the spiritual life would do well to reread this book periodically. It is the alphabet of spiritual life. The second thing is the Lives of the Saints. Whoever reads the Lives, and prays to those saints, will be inspired then to emulate them and will receive the assistance through their prayers. It is good also to read "My Life in Christ" by St John of Kronstadt.
7. You have contact with young priests and students. How do you see today's young Christians? What must they pay special attention to in spiritual and daily life? Does today's generation of Christian youth differ from your generation?
Within our flock there are all sorts of young people. There are young believers who came to the Church themselves as adults, whose parents were unbelievers, or not Orthodox. We have youth from Orthodox families, usually the children of old emigres. In the former, who came to the faith themselves, we notice a genuine striving for piety, for following the rules, observing the "letter of the law" in all things. With all the positive aspects of such an attitude, it sometimes enables errors from inexperience: in the haste to pass judgment picked up from some quick reading, from zeal "without wisdom." Such youth must be warned not to hurry, to carefully examine the tradition, the experience that the Church accumulated before they joined her. Do not rush in, learn first. Children of Orthodox parents must be cautioned against a casual lukewarm attitude, against accustomedness to the holy things, against self-confidence in their Orthodoxy. Carelessness often accompanies piety which is bound to children by their families (that is, superficially), and adopted automatically, but not internally, by the heart. In contrast with today's generation, my generation survived the war and resettlement throughout the world, and sensed the hand of God, Divine mercy, one might say, at every step. Undoubtedly, today's young people have more difficulty strengthening their faith and keeping eternity in mind. Still, the Lord does not abandon us, but calls us towards the spiritual life, to communion with Him, to working over ourselves in the present circumstances.
8. What are the pieces of advice that you have gained from in life, and those that you can give seminarians and young people today?
Condemnation of ones neighbor is our common illness. How do we struggle against it? St Ephraim of Syria gives good advice in his works. This holy father says that the Lord plants His Kingdom into the heart of each person He creates. And so our main task is to descend into the depths of our hearts and find this treasure. If we immerse ourselves in self-examination with all earnestness, we will see a great many inner wounds, that is, sins and passions. We will come to know ourselves and will begin to regard God and His image—as reflected in our neighbor—in a completely new way. Sensing pain from our sins and passions, we will feel the need for the Savior, the Great and Supreme Healer, Who has the power to heal and transform us. We will stop accusing our neighbor and begin to sympathize with them, longsuffering their transgressions, faults and weaknesses. And this means that we have already found our treasure. I call upon all of our Russian Orthodox youth to think about this, to strive for this.
9. What is the main truth or conviction that you have come to over the years?
Everything—good and terrible—is a gift from God. That is how we should approach everything that happens in our lives. We must accept everything as coming from the kind, loving hand of God, which leads us towards good, to true happiness, to eternal life. Sometimes the Lord sends us to a dark and terrifying place, in order to bring His Life there, to represent His presence. We must not fear tribulation. The Lord is our Heavenly Father, our Closest Friend. He will never abandon us, he always tends to us, He always works for us and leads us by the hand through the difficult path of life, which, with our active striving towards God will lead to renewal. That is why we must not only believe in God, but trust in Him, make peace with His will, give ourselves over to His will entirely. And then, only then, will we obtain this spirit of peace of which St Seraphim of Sarov spoke.
10. Can you outline the main problems facing the Church Abroad, the Russian Church in the Fatherland, and Russia herself?
After the terrible years of the 20 th century that the Lord allowed, the challenge facing the entire Russian Church and Russia of the Church—to withdraw from the tribulations of our recent history with benefit to us and to the entire Church. The tribulation of the Russian Church—the blows of the god-battling regime, and for the diaspora, a situation heretofore unknown by the canons—revealed to the entire Orthodox Church a new experience, a new witness of Christ. Our task is to extract the correct lessons of the 20 th century, so that the Russian Church today can be described by the words of Apostle James: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him."