The year 2006 marked several dates related to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, such as the 125th anniversary of his death, the 160th birthday of his wife Anna, the 145th anniversary of his novel ‘The Insulted and Humiliated,’ the 140th anniversary of ‘Crime and Punishment,’ the 135th anniversary of ‘The Devils,’ and the 125th anniversary of ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the European institutions shares his views on Christian contents in the great author’s creative work with Interfax-Religion.
– What does Dostoyevsky mean to you?
– He has played a very important part in my religious formation. I read all Dostoyevsky’s novels and diaries by the age of fifteen. His philosophy of life has largely shaped my way of looking at the problems of human life. Dostoyevsky was a giant unsurpassed by any in the Russian literature.
As to Dostoyevsky’s literary talent, there were authors who possessed expert skills in writing, like Leo Tolstoy or Vladimir Nabokov. It is known that Dostoyevsky wrote not only because he wanted to write, but also because life itself made him write to earn his living. He was paid for the number of pages, rather than for his ideas and brilliant thoughts. Sometimes he was too verbose and could not express himself laconically. Rather often he was accused of making his characters too soulful and hysterical, violently expressing their emotions.
However, all these shortcomings do not reduce Dostoyevsky’s importance as a greatest writer in the history of humanity. He managed to penetrate into the innermost depths of the human being, to raise the most difficult and important questions about the meaning of life, God’s existence and the relationship between human freedom and God’s justice. After he had served his term of hard labour he remained a deeply believing person and Orthodox Christian till his death. Yet, judging by his works, the question of God’s existence remained open to him. The main story of all his novels, ‘Crime and Punishment,’ ‘The Devils,’ or ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ is that of whether God exists. The scale of moral values offered to the human beings depends on the answer to this question. That is why one of his characters says: ‘If there is no God, anything is permitted.’ In other words, if there is no God, there is no absolute scale of moral values, and all the values are relative. I think that Dostoyevsky’s power is in that he showed in all his works that salvation and morality are impossible without God. Only faith in God guarantees moral survival of every human being and all humanity. I had believed in God even before I got to know Dostoyevsky’s works, but the author contributed to my growing in the faith, in Orthodoxy.
– Dostoyevsky wrote about the crucible of doubts he experienced. Have you ever experienced anything like that?
– I never had any doubts in God’s existence and God’s providence. I have always believed in God’s presence in the world and His care for all human persons. However, all Orthodox Christians, and ministers of the Church in particular, often experience sorrows, temptations and frustration and meet people whose moral level is not so high. In these cases, a strong inner core is required. Temptations ought not to shake that which is most important in the human person – his faith in God’s presence and God’s grace and mercy. I myself experienced temptations and frustrations, but I never doubted God’s grace and never regretted that I have served God since the age of twenty.
– The Belgian artist Harold van de Perre says that Dostoyevsky is Michelangelo in literature. With whom can you compare Dostoyevsky?
– We celebrate several jubilee dates related to Dostoyevsky this year. It is also marks the 100th birthday of another great Russian, Dmitry Shostakovich. I think that Shostakovich is the only man of the twentieth century who stands close to Dostoyevsky by his talent and the depths of his creative work. Dostoyevsky brilliantly depicted the main dispute of Russian intellectuals of the 19th century about God’s existence as none of the writers or philosophers had done. Shostakovich lived in another epoch, when people did not openly talked about God and the Church. Yet, his entire creative work reveals that he was a religious believer. He did not compose church music and, probably, did not go to church, but his music shows that he deeply felt the tragedy of human life without God and took much to heart this tragedy of Godless society which had denied its roots. One can find his longing for the Absolute and God and his lust for the truth in all his symphonies, quartets, preludes and fugues. Neither repressions, nor censure of higher echelons could crush him. He always served the Truth. I believe that both Dostoyevsky and Shostakovich give us the great example of spirituality and morality. Though their voices, like those of the prophets, were voices of those crying in the desert, they have echoed in the hearts of the millions of people.
It is very important to methodically introduce children and the youth to Russian spiritual heritage. There are many public organizations, for instance the St. Andrews-the-First-Called Foundation or the Centre of Russian National Glory, which could and should exert all their efforts to make our national property indelible in people’s memory and to introduce all generations to the spiritual treasure that can be found in the creative work of Dostoyevsky, Shostakovich and Sviridov… I am convinced that their works are Russian national property. If the Russian youth forgets it, a great spiritual tragedy may follow.
– Let us talk about your music. A wonderful choir of St. Nicholas’ Church at the Tretyakov Gallery has recently performed your ‘Divine Liturgy.’ What else have you composed?
– My ‘All-Night Vigil’ will be performed by the same choir conducted by Alexei Puzakov in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on December 7. The programme includes some pieces from my ‘Liturgy’ and ‘The Berlin Mass’ for choir and organ by Arvo Pyart.
I have completed ‘St. Matthew Passion’ for soloists, choirs and orchestra. It will be performed in the Moscow Conservatoire next March. This opus contains fifty pieces, including four orchestral fugues, many choruses and recitatives and some arias. My work is an attempt of an Orthodox reading of the Passions of Christ. Unlike Bach’s ‘Passion, there is no libretto in my composition, but only the Gospel texts, which a protodeacon reads in the Russian language in the manner characteristic of the Orthodox Church, and also the texts from the divine service of Passion Week performed by the choir in Slavonic. There are four movements in my composition that lasts almost two hours. They are the Last Supper, the prayer of the Saviour in the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest and the judgment, the Crucifixion and the Burial. Some pieces in the third movement are performed by male voices and low range string instruments, such as viola, cello and double bass.
– Are your views of music in the present-day Russia optimistic?
– Regrettably, our age is the age of pop culture. The tastes are determined by fashion, children and young people are taught the most primitive and cheap genre – the so-called pop music. Recently I have seen a documentary about the USA in the 1930s. All high schools had symphony orchestras performing classical music. All schoolchildren and teenagers were thus introduced to it. As to Russia, only elderly people and the young people learning music professionally hear classical music. I think that the youth’s liking of pop music is not only a weak point, but also a real national tragedy. Generation that enjoys pop music cannot build a strong state and make the nation spiritually mature.