On May 2, 2020, during the broadcast of “The Church and the World”, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, answered questions of the facilitator and the audience.
Question: Vladyka, right now, absolutely, it is most difficult for physicians and medical personnel working in the “red zone”, who risk working with seriously ill patients suffering with the illness of the corona virus. The Russian Orthodox Church has decided to support such seriously ill patients by creating a group of priests who can go to the hospitals, give Holy Communion and Holy Unction to these patients. On what basis have these priests been selected?
Met. Hilarion: In the name of the Russian Orthodox Church, I would like to bow down on my knees to our physicians [and all health care workers], who right now are offering their talents and risking their lives in order to save people. They are on the front lines in the war with the corona virus, and we in the Church pray daily for the Lord to protect their lives, as well as the lives of all of us and our loved ones, praying that this danger will decrease as soon as possible.
Concerning these priests, according to the Synodal Office of Charity and Social Service, headed by Bishop Panteleimon of Orekhovo-Zuyevo, a group of such priests was prepared: they consist of 21 men who work round the clock 24 hours a day. For twelve hours one priest is on duty, and for the next twelve — another. They are specially trained to work under the conditions of the coronoa virus epidemic, including how to fulfill their priestly functions, wearing suitable protective attire. I hope, thanks to the initiative of these people, that those who are hospitalized with serious illnesses, will not be left without the Holy Mysteries of Confession, Holy Communion and Holy Unction.
Question: Vladyka, right now, not only in Moscow, but everywhere in our country the Church is functioning in a different way: the Cross is not kissed, the spoon for Holy Communion is disinfected, the icons as well are cleaned with a disinfecting solution. The services, in actuality, take place on-line, and many are saying that the Church, even if she wants to, already cannot return to its former way of life, that it makes no difference in the life of the Church if something is changed. Do you agree with this or not? If yes, then in your opinion, what can and must be changed for the better?
Met. Hilarion: I think, that the Church, of course, can return to its former ways. First of all, the life of church communities will be restored, and the people who went to church, will again go to church. In addition to that, I think that we will have new parishioners, because of our activity on the internet I have observed that sometimes completely new people tune in. For example, we have set up the live streaming of services specifically for our parishioners and didn’t expect that other people would also tune in to watch. At the same time we notice that the number of people who watch the live streaming exceeds the number of our usual number of parishioners.
This means that there are some kind of other people who are joining in, and I hope that at least some of these people, after the quarantine is lifted, will in person begin to participate in the services, that we will become acquainted with some of them personally.
Of course, I think that there will be some lessons to be learned because of this pandemic, above all lessons in disinfection, which take place in church. If we speak about kissing the icons, the icon which is under glass, was anyway wiped with a damp cloth, but probably now we will keep the tradition to wipe the icons with a disinfectant solution.
Question: Church propaganda encourages large families and is against abortions, but monastics are forbidden to marry. Every monastic, male or female — this means some unborn children, tens of unborn grandchildren. If there were no monastics, the population would increase in size.
Met. Hilarion: I don’t think that the size of the population in our country is determined by the number of monastics. But there is definitely a direct correlation with the number of abortions.
If we could correct the problem with abortions, then our population would increase very significantly. Abortions still take hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and this is a huge tragedy for our country, for our entire population. The fact that someone chooses the monastic way of life, does not affect the size of the population, because, quite a bit, there have always been and always will be monastics. Monastics choose this way of life, above all, to give all of their strength in service to God and to the people, service to the Church, but people, who have abortions, commit a crime.
From the point of view of the Church, any abortion is murder, moreover, all participants are responsible: the woman, who agreed to this, and the man, who took part in this, and the physician, who took part in this. Therefore, the Church has always come out that abortions should not take place, and proposed concretely the suggestion that abortion should be removed from the part of medical insurance that is considered necessary coverage, that the money of taxpayers who are against abortion should not help to fund this legalized murder. I very much hope that in our society the realization will grow concerning abortion — that this is an intolerable and monstrous crime.
Question: The Church has stood for the inclusion of the mentioning of God in the Constitution, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, supports this, but don’t we have a secular state! The rights of millions of non-believers are violated.
Met. Hilarion: I don’t consider that the rights of millions of non-believers are violated, because the mentioning of God in the Constitution is like the mentioning of God in the national anthem of the Russian Federation, which is not a violation of the rights of non-believers. Ask yourself this: we have a presidential form of government, but our country has people separated by a monarchistic point of view, and does our having a president violate, really, the rights of monarchists?
If one speaks about the mentioning of God in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, this appeals, in the first place, not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, but also believers of other traditional confessions. We led a special joint sitting of the Inter-religious Council of Russia (this is the highest inter-religious organization, which includes representatives of Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism) and the Christian Inter-confessional Consultive Committee, where the Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants are represented, and all representatives of the traditional confessions unanimously accepted the decision to ask the civil authority to include the mentioning of God in the Constitution.
In addition, I will tell you this. The fact that God exists does not violate the rights of non-believers, because non-believers are able to not believe in Him, but God all the same will help them. God, you see, God helps not only believers but non-believers — simply they don’t recognize or want to recognize this, you see, they don’t recognize the activity of God in their lives. Nonetheless, God acts in their lives, helps them and their loved ones.Therefore, as the existence of God doesn’t violate the rights of non-believers, it follows that the mentioning of God in the Constitution does not violate the rights of non-believers.
Question: Why are so many churches being built? You know, later no one will go to them. Somewhere even the number was voiced — three churches a day.
Met. Hilarion: That number — three churches a day — reflects the dynamics of the building of churches during the last 32 years, namely since 1988. At that time in the Russian Orthodox Church there were about six and a half thousand churches, and now not less than forty thousand churches. And the discussion is not only about Russia, but about the entire Russian Orthodox Church: in Russia, in the Ukraine, in Byelorussia, in Moldavia and other countries, where the Russian Church exists — all the churches together of the Russian Orthodox Church today are about forty thousand. This number — three churches a day — has to do with the entire Russian Orthodox Church.
If one speaks about the building of churches namely in Russia, then that exponent will be less: more likely it will be something like one and a half or two churches a day. Nonetheless, many churches are being built. This is not happening because someone gave an appropriate command or because someone became interested with the objective of increasing the number of churches, but because of necessity. First of all, churches are built where people live.
Moreover, we often notice the paradoxical situation, that in historical centers of major cities there are many churches but on the other hand they are not filled very often, because practically no one lives there, but in so-called “bedroom communities” up to this day there is an acute shortage of churches. Before the appearance of the quarantine, we felt this, when we saw how many people attended the Divine Services in “bedroom communities” — tens, hundreds, thousands of people, sometimes strictly speaking words cannot say how many could not fit in the churches. Construction is taking place because necessity demands it, because the people want the church to be within walking distance, in order not to have to commute for an hour on the subway, or by some other means of transport to get to the closest church, in order to be able to go with one’s children to church, which is nearby.
I would like to conclude this broadcast with the words of Jesus Christ from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
I wish for you good things. Take care of yourself and your loved ones, and may the Lord protect you all!
Translated by Archpriest Peter Olsen