Voices from Russia

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev Thinks that We Should Not Pass Judgement on Women Who Come to Services in Trousers or Bareheaded


Metropolitan Hilarion Kapral of New York and Eastern America (1948- ), the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, with parishioners in Perth, Australia at Ss Peter and Paul parish on 13 July 2008. None of these people are clad in outlandish “Orthodox dress”. THIS is as it should be…

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria feels it is wrong to give someone’s external appearance top priority, rather than caring about their spiritual state of mind. “We can not elevate the wearing of skirts to being an important church doctrine”, he said on Thursday, responding to the questions of radio listeners on a programme broadcast on the Russkaya Sluzhba Novostei (Russian News Service). Recognising that there are customs regarding the proper form of dress at the services, and that this tradition should be respected whenever possible, he, at the same time, expressed the view, “If a woman comes to services without a headscarf or in trousers, then, no one, either clergy or laity, is entitled to blatantly point this up. You can talk with her; you can explain that we in the Church have a tradition that women come to services with their heads covered”.

But, he noted that this tradition “is not universal”, and, for example, in foreign countries “it is not only not respected, but, for example, it would be impossible in France to require a woman to wear a skirt, which means to French women that they must look like Muslims. In France, women generally do not wear skirts at all, they only wear trousers. So, should we abandon our French parishioners on the grounds that they do not wear skirts?” Bishop Hilarion asked.

In his opinion, firstly, we should pay attention to the spiritual state of a person, on why they came to services and what led them there. “But, we should pay no attention to how they are dressed and how they appear. There shall be no change in the existing customs of the Church. But, to be reasonable, the priest must keep a clear mind, in order to differentiate the important things from the merely secondary”, Bishop Hilarion emphasised. In saying this, Vladyki Hilarion remembered an incident from his own pastoral experience, when a girl came to services “totally confused”, and she said to him, “You know, I’m very sorry that I came like this, dressed in trousers”. In order to reassure his parishioner, and put her in a prayerful mood, Bishop Hilarion, who, at that time, was only a priest, answered her by saying, “You can take it easy. I also wore trousers to church”.

29 January 2009



Editor’s Note:

In the end, I think that good-sense is going to prevail. There is an organic change occurring as we speak, it is coming form the people, not imposed from above. I believe that the dress code for women is going to undergo a subtle shift. Feminine trousers shall become acceptable attire at services, but, we shall continue to cover our heads (where it has fallen into disuse, I see it returning). After all, Apostle St Paul laid stress on a woman covering her head at prayer, he said nothing about skirts! Is this an issue to break Church Unity over? I think not…



Patriarch–elect Kirill: Christianity Should Not Be a Museum!


Patriarch-elect Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias (1946- ) at a molieben at the Epiphany Cathedral in Moscow on 31 January 2009

A long-standing friend of ours, Hieromonk Dmitri Pershin, the Head of the Publishing Department of the Synodal Department for Youth Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, prepared an anthology in 2001 entitled Mission to Youth: A Strategy for the Church. At the Congress of Orthodox Youth, he recorded a statement by Metropolitan Kirill, which he included in this collection for the leaders of the youth divisions of the MP. Very earnestly, Metropolitan Kirill described his attitude to young people, giving previously unknown stories from his life. With the permission of Hieromonk Dmitri, we publish here some excerpts from those speeches of Metropolitan Kirill.

Hieromonk Dmitri said, “The most unexpected thing about it is that despite Metropolitan Kirill’s variegated career in the Church, the whole of his appeal to the young people was a very bright monastic story, an event that happened to him when he was still a child, about a schemamonk who was a starets, a story of joy in Christ”. As we see it, even then, the newly-elected First Hierarch of the MP very accurately formulated how he saw our Church and how he would like to renew it, to give us communion with God in all joy…

The following is from his speech to the Orthodox Youth Congress in 2001…

Can a Bishop Smile?

Now, what about the exterior appearance of a believer? Let me tell you a story. God blessed my life with the experience of a relationship with a holy man. When I was six or seven, my parents brought me to the Pskov-Pechersky Monastery to see the famous starets Semyon. I remember that I was terribly afraid of this old man and his cell. But, then, they brought me to his cell dug into the mountain-side near the Assumption Cathedral. Upon entering the room, which had a small window, I saw the starets coming towards me, clad in bright vestments. He simply shone, as if the sun dropped into the shadows. Starets Semyon was joyful and radiant, and I shall remember this meeting with him until the end of my days. Then, I said to myself that this, probably, is a holy man. Christianity… it is eternal joy, but, it is not an assumed “100 dollar” smile, rather, it is an abundantly growing joy in the Lord and in the world of God.

Directly opposite to this, and, alas, far more common, is the wearing of sombre-coloured clothing, with a gloomy expression and not a hint of a smile. What kind of joy is this? Is this what a believer is supposed to be? I have a relative who rung me up and demanded, “Why were you smiling when you spoke on television? Bishops are not supposed to smile”. This is a profoundly mistaken idea of what the appearance of a Christian should be. The outlook of a believer on life should be characterised by calm and wisdom, and faith should inform inner joy. A believer in Christ has no need to sit in sackcloth and ashes. This is not a new theme in the history of Christianity. Let us remember the Word of God, Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:16-18).

Therefore, we must be free from having to comply with the false and hypocritical understanding of the Pharisees. Similarly, we ought not to place rigid and constricting limits on young people in the church. We should not impose a rigid dress-code, forbid all fun and joy, condemn participating in sport, or ban the listening of secular music. When we put chains upon the freedom of action of our newly-arrived brothers and sisters, we not only commit an unacceptable and unreasonable attack on their faith, but, by our own hands, drive away from the Church people who seek the Truth of Christ…


Patriarch-elect Kirill censes the tomb of his predecessor, Patriarch Aleksei Rediger (1929-2008).

On Propriety

One morning, on the road to church, I ran into a group of young women. All, as one, looked exactly the same; they stood out amongst the ordinary townspeople, for they were dressed strangely, not in everyday clothing. It turned out that a local priest only allows women to come to service dressed in this pseudo-Orthodox uniform. So, they must go to church in some ugly black frock. All of this has nothing to do with Orthodoxy, propriety, dignity, or modesty. This is a parody of the Church; it is a mockery. To embrace this kind of folkloric, museum-like, and ‘dress-up’ Orthodoxy signals to society and our fellow man that our faith has nothing to do with modern life. But, the true place of Orthodoxy is in the midst of the stream of life and it should be the habitat of our innermost feelings.

How to Talk With Young People

I can remember my first experience of participating in youth work. This was way back in 1968 in Prague, where I was sent to participate in a Christian Peace Congress. There was a large youth section, which included more than 200 people… In 1968, I recall that it was a time of youth rebellion in Europe, which, in the West, was called a revolution… Young people everywhere went on strike, brandished weapons, organised demonstrations, and fought street battles with the police. Naturally, the emotions of those days spilled over in the statements of our youth section. I did not feel very comfortable in this atmosphere. But, especially, I did not like it when an old Protestant theologian came to speak to us, one who was thought to have a brilliant mind, and, suddenly, he addressed us in the language of the youth subculture. I think that our rejection of such apparent mimicry of the young was common to all such gatherings.

Everyone must remain true to himself, and when I speak of the need to learn to speak in a language understandable to young people, I do not mean that we should use the slang or jargon fashionable at the moment amongst our youth. I am talking about the ability of a priest, when he speaks before a youthful audience, to penetrate to the essence of real life and address the spiritual challenges of the new generation, and to respond to them by using the Word of God. We do not have any other foundation for a dialogue with the world. However, to formulate our message to young people, we must use simple and clear language…

Eight Little-Known Facts from the Life of Vladyki Kirill

When he was only three to four-years-old, the future Patriarch loved to “serve” at home. He said, “I wore ‘vestments’ that my Mum sewed for me, and when I was six or seven, I could already serve a molieben or litiya without error”.

When he was in secondary school, the future hierarch had a passion for physics and decided to enrol in university. His spiritual father dissuaded him by saying, “There are many good physicists in the USSR, but, there are not enough good priests”.

In the Leningrad Spiritual Seminary, Metropolitan Kirill started to offer special classes for female students. It was a revolution! Future priests did not have to look for future wives out on the street, and the evils inherent in an entirely-masculine institution were kept to a minimum.

He is the only bishop of the MP who has his own weekly television programme, Слово пастыря (The Pastor’s Word), which has been broadcast on Pervy Kanal (Channel One) for the past 14 years. In 2004, Vladyki Kirill wrote a book with the same title based on the series.

In 2007, Vladyki Kirill joked about his sensational meeting with local rock musicians, the frontmen of the bands Alisa and DDT. In jest, he said, “Rock musicians must be spiritually and physically strong men, to withstand the constant impact from high decibel levels. You need to drink milk to counteract it”. With great enthusiasm, he added, “If at least one person thinks about the meaning of life after attending a rock concert, then, the sacrifice of the rockers was not in vain”.

In an interview, he confessed that he suffered from shyness all his life. “This very much affected my attitude, on how I built relations with people. I can say that I only learned how to control my feelings at the age of fifty”.

Every evening, Vladyki Kirill puts on his sweats and takes his beloved Caucasian Sheepdogs for a walk. Usually, they take a 5 or 6 kilometre (3.1 to  3.7 miles) jaunt.

33 years ago, he began to ski. Since then, every winter, he likes to go off to the mountains and go skiing.

29 January 2009

Olga Tyagnibeda

Anna Velichanina

Komsomolskaya Pravda (Komsomol Truth)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev Cites Barrier to the Patriarch Meeting the Pope of Rome

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria (1966- ), the Representative of the MP to the European International Institutions

A meeting between the new Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia and the Pope of Rome is possible, but, would require the end of proselytising by Roman Catholic monastic orders, according to a statement issued on Saturday by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, the Representative of the MP to the European international institutions. “A meeting with the Pope was never excluded by the late Patriarch Aleksei”, he said. He identified the proselytising of Catholic monastic orders as the principal obstacle to a meeting. “Certainly, officially, Catholics say that there is no proselytism, but, it exists de facto, and we point up such facts in our dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church”, Bishop Hilarion said on a live broadcast of the TV programme Vesti v Subbotu (News on Saturday).

On Tuesday, a Local Council of the MP in Moscow chose Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as its new patriarch, replacing Patriarch Aleksei II, who led the church’s post-Soviet revival for 18 years. Metropolitan Kirill, 62, became the patriarchal locum tenens of the largest Local Church in world Orthodoxy after the death of Patriarch Aleksei in December at the age of 79. He is seen as a liberal figure in the largely-traditionalist MP and conducted dialogue with the Vatican as head of the MP Department of External Church Relations.

Benedict XVI, the Pope of Rome, welcomed his election on Wednesday. “May the Almighty also bless your efforts to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue”, Pope Benedict said in his message. Metropolitan Kirill has met Pope Benedict several times.

Bishop Hilarion said the main thing was not a meeting between the two church leaders, but, how relations between the churches could improve, making them “not competitors, not contenders, but, allies. Most important is not whether this meeting will take place or when it will take place, but, whether we will manage together with the Catholic Church to build a model of mutual relations that would exclude the chance for proselytism”, he said.

Relations between the MP and the Vatican, which split from Orthodoxy almost 1,000 years ago, were strained since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, mainly over accusations that the Catholic Church stepped up its activities to convert Orthodox believers. The Vatican denied this. The dispute prevented Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, from visiting Moscow and meeting with Patriarch Aleksei.

31 January 2009



Editor’s Note:

There is MUCH more to this than meets the eyes initially. DO read it twice (and carefully, at that). The positions of the MP and the Vatican are diametrically opposed in many ways.

Rome wants full communion, with the Orthodox submitting to them as junior and subordinate partners. In Benedict’s own words, “May the Almighty also bless your efforts to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue”. Furthermore, he implies that Kirill is in favour of such a false Florentine-style union. In short, the Vatican has not changed its spots, it merely thinks that if it speaks slowly enough and loudly enough, we poor and benighted Orthodox shall finally understand that they are the top dogs in Christendom. Fat chance of that, I say.

In contrast to this, Bishop Hilarion said that the two parties are “not competitors, not contenders, but, allies. Most important is not whether this meeting will take place or when it will take place, but, whether we will manage together with the Catholic Church to build a model of mutual relations that would exclude the chance for proselytism”. The MP is offering relations based on the recognition that both bodies are equal and that Rome has NO superiority to Moscow in anything. Besides this, the Vatican must cease all of its proselytism, especially by the Galician Uniates. The MP is aware of this activity and demands its immediate cessation.

Benedict is moving too quickly, based on erroneous Western media reports and wishful thinking in some quarters of the Curia. There is a silver lining in this. It may brown off Kirill and Hilarion so thoroughly that any talk of union, even on the part of the Roman schismatics, will be killed outright. God grant that such be so…


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