Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Igumen Sergei Rybko of Bibirevo Wrote to Sir Paul McCartney on Pussy Riot…

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A Foreword by Fr John Dresko

For those of you who’ve been following the unfortunately named group of women who launched a protest in front of the iconostas at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, then, were subsequently arrested and convicted, the following is a wonderful and humble open letter from an Orthodox priest to the famous Sir Paul McCartney, who voiced loudly his disapproval of the Russian court’s action. It’s worth reading, as it explains the violation that the Russian people felt about this incident, and why the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of the women isn’t something the Western mind can easily understand. I especially love Father’s signature and credentials at the end. Please, take the time to read it.

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Dear and Highly Esteemed Sir Paul McCartney,

I’m a Russian Orthodox priest, a typical representative of the generation of the 70s. Even though we were born in a country behind the “Iron Curtain”, nevertheless, we were brought up with the great music of the Beatles.

Dear Sir Paul,

You can’t even imagine how the art of your friends and yours personally was important to us. The Beatles’ songs taught us to think about the meaning of life, good and evil, even about God and eternity, taught us to understand and love freedom in all its manifestations. The absence of freedom was extremely felt in that totalitarian country, in which we were doomed to be born and live. The “Iron Curtain” separated us not only from our mates in the free world where they could create and live according to their desires. This deadly “curtain” separated hearts in our country as well. Moreover, it tried to hide from us the Heavens and God. In our childhood, we were taught about the “class struggle”. We had to be victims for the sake of a mythical “bright future”. We were brought up in an atmosphere of hatred of the whole world. Could you imagine, dear Sir Paul, what your songs, which called for peace, freedom, and love, meant for us in that heartless and godless country (“sovok”)?

But the freedom of a person praised by the Beatles was achieved not at the expense of other people… it never derogated the freedom of another person. We’ve always wanted to be free just in this sense. I’m free, but my freedom doesn’t stand in the way of other people. Millions of Russian people set for guitar all the songs of Beatles that penetrated to us through the “Iron Curtain” and “Berlin Wall”. Your never-dying melodies could be heard in every flat and courtyard; not a single celebration party went without them. Not Lenin and Marx taught our generation the meaning of life, but four honest guys from far and almost legendary English Liverpool. But I’m thankful to you mostly for having taught me to think and strive for the real freedom; your music and poetry eventually in a mysterious way helped me to understand Christ. Believe me, Sir Paul, I’m not alone. When I became a priest and monk of the Russian Orthodox Church, I met thousands of people who admit that they had come to Orthodoxy because of your songs.

Dear Sir Paul,

Some months ago, Russia witnessed an act of evil. We, Russian believers, perceive this event in this way. In a church, built in honour of the freeing of Russia from Napoleon’s invasion {this year is the 200th anniversary of the First Great Patriotic War against Napoleon, which ended in the triumphal entry of the tsarist army into Paris, led by the Cossack host: editor}, in a church which for us is a great national shrine, four young girls began to dance right before the altar, swearing, singing sacrilegious songs, and offering offence to our Patriarch, who is, for all of us, a spiritual leader and honourable man. All this Bacchanalia was filmed and went all over the world. Needless to say, what a shock and spit in the soul we, Russian Orthodox religious people, had experienced.

Several weeks before this event, members of Pussy Riot tried to do something like this in another Moscow church. They were politely asked to leave, without having a chance to give it public utterance. They conducted a similar action in Red Square, just exactly where you, dear Sir Paul, gave your concert. Again, sacrilege and twisting were left without any consequences. At last, before the “action” in the Church of Christ the Saviour, members of Pussy Riot popped up and performed an act of group sex with their partners in the State Zoo Museum {does he mean the Moscow Zoo (Московский зоопарк)?: editor} in broad daylight, and in the presence of visitors including children. Video and photos of this effrontery were also made public on the Internet, and shown over the central Russian TV channels.

Sir Paul,

I’d like to ask you whether you consider these actions normal? What could happen in future if these so-called punk rock performers, who in reality have nothing to do either with the punk movement or with rock music, weren’t stopped? Of course, times are changing, and, in the “civilised world”, this is probably considered normal, but I can’t imagine that the Beatles, even with their nonconformity, would allow something like that in the presence of children in a museum. There exist some norms of moral, decency, ethics, good, and evil, not necessarily connected with this-or-that religion, which nobody can neglect. If people overstep these limits, they’ll lose the character of Homo sapiens and become like animals.

Dear Sir Paul,

I’m sure that you and other famous musicians were misled as to the essence of this latter event and came out for Pussy Riot without knowing these details. That’s why I ventured to let you know the position of Russian believers. In your letter addressed to Pussy Riot, you struggle for the freedom of art and self-expression. Nobody is against that. Everything… freedom, art, and self-expression… are elementary rights which God gave every man. As the Lord Jesus Christ taught us, You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free (Gospel according to St John 8.32). Christianity is a religion of lovers of liberty and free-thinking people.

In present-day Russia, our desire to be free is multiplied by that life experience in a totalitarian communist state which, we, Russians, had. Please note, Sir Paul, that the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t call for the punishment of Pussy Riot… judicial proceedings took place because private persons who’d been deeply offended by their act petitioned the court. I understand those people. When Pussy Riot blaspheme in the street, it’s their private affair. Many people do the same. But if they break into our church disturbing people at prayer, blaming our God, our faith, our Patriarch, they offend personally each of us.

Please, tell me, Sir Paul, what would be your reaction if during one of your concerts somebody ran onto the scene, began to break your instruments, hindering your performance, and, then, took your microphone, and used dirty words to offend everything that’s dear and sacred for you, i.e. your wife, your parents, your art, your moral values? Would you call it self-expression and freedom of art, or would you consider it as common disorderly conduct? What would you do in such a situation? I think that as a man possessing chivalry, you wouldn’t wait for the guard, but take actions against such a person yourself.

Probably, the sentence for Pussy Riot is somewhat severe. But it was passed by a judicial body. Wishing these young women good, please, understand also us, Orthodox believers. To nobody do we wish ill, prison, long time in prisons, but at the same time, we wish that our shrines, for which our fathers and grandfathers spilled their blood in the not-so-far past, not be subjected to such an affront. It was not us who pushed the members of Pussy Riot, but it was they who plunged into our church and insulted deeply the present people and thousands of Internet users, which saw the movie with their sacrilege. They mocked before God’s altar. We wish not long terms in prison for these ill-educated and disorderly women, but only that something similar will never take place in any of our churches.

With all due respect,

Igumen Sergei Rybko

Rector of Moscow Church of Holy Spirit

Member of Intersynodical Presence of Russian Orthodox Church

Drummer in rock-group and member of the hippie movement in the 70s

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