On October 30th, 2021, on The Church and the World TV program, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, answered questions from the program’s host, Ekaterina Gracheva.
E. Gracheva: Vladyka, in the United States of America, the state of Texas is now quite literally fighting off an appeal by the federal Department of Justice, which demands the repeal of the so-called “heartbeat law” adopted in Texas. It states that it is forbidden to have an abortion from the time when the baby’s heartbeat is heard. In your opinion, why is the administration of President Biden – who is a Roman Catholic – so insistent on repealing this law, especially in the state of Texas?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Each time when President Biden is spoken of as a Roman Catholic, I wonder what in fact Joe Biden’s catholicity is like and about. The Roman Catholic Church is against abortions, whereas President Biden supports them. Does he act as a Catholic believer or as the President of the United States? Is he guided by his conscience or by current political conjuncture? A man cannot claim to be a Catholic while breaking the fundamental norms of Christian morality and calling others for doing the same.
The Roman Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church, opposes abortions. If in one of the U.S. states there still exists a law protecting at least in some way the rights of unborn children, the Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Church cannot but welcome this law. But the American administration is now trying to fit all states to one standard, which is guided by liberal norms. According to liberal norms, the life of the unborn baby is worth nothing and needs no protection, but the preservation of the rights of women is what matters. In other words, the woman has the right to dispose of her own body and take decision on the abortion, and no one should prevent her from doing so. All the legislation of Western countries is moving in this direction.
The Catholic Church in the West, including in the United States, as well as the Orthodox Church and many Protestant organizations stand up for the unborn babies, saying that abortion is murder and that every human being, including the one yet to be born, has a fundamental right – the right to life. This, unfortunately, is often forgotten by modern human rights activists. They fight for any kind of rights: for instance, the right of a homosexual couple to adopt a child, or the right of parents to have a gender reassignment surgery for their underage child. These all are considered human rights. But the fact that every unborn human being has the right to birth and life is forgotten; this fundamental human right is denied.
E. Gracheva: Vladyka, let’s move on to our home news. A contactless fare payment system using the FacePay facial recognition technology has been launched in the Moscow subway. We are already accustomed to the fact that one can pay with an application on their mobile phone or by card. In this case, it is the face of a person that sort of acts as a password, which makes it possible for money to be transferred from the account. We understand that personal data, no matter how one protects it, sooner or later becomes freely available, it gets leaked and the databases usually get sold. Are you concerned about this innovation or do you take it calmly? Are you personally ready to pay for goods and services with your face?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The most important thing that the Church constantly talks about is that the use of such services should be voluntary, that is, if a person is ready to substitute his face as a credit card, then probably no one should forbid him. If a person is not ready to do this, then alternative forms of payment should be maintained.
Nowadays, many have gradually switched from paying in cash to paying by credit or debit cards. Many people put physical credit cards into their mobile phones so as not to carry them, not to lose them, and pay from the phone. The next step, which kind of simplifies these operations, is what is called FacePay. Many people use this, for example, when connecting to their own bank accounts, when, instead of typing in passwords, receiving a text message with a code and then entering this code, a person simply opens the phone, looks at it, and then the corresponding program recognizes his face and connects him to his account, which is confidential. However, the danger here, of course, lies in the fact that confidential data may leak somewhere, that photographs of people stored in a certain common data bank can become available to intruders. Therefore, of course, there are a lot of risks here.
E. Gracheva: Another piece of news that caused widespread discussion: the Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin spoke in favor of the possibility of withdrawing the Nobel Peace Prize in special cases, for instance, due to a possible breach of trust in case of crimes committed by prize-winners. What do you think of it?
Metropolitan Hilarion: When the Nobel Peace Prize was conceived, the idea was to award it to people who help end military conflicts, bring peace to the whole world or a specific region; people who defend fundamental human rights. By now, the Nobel Peace Prize has gradually (in many cases) turned into a means of political manipulation, when it is awarded not to people who have contributed to the establishment of lasting peace between peoples, but to those who, for instance, adopted a political stand aimed to weaken the regime in a particular country. The further it goes the more questions are provoked by the Nobel Prize.
I have no idea by what mechanism could the Nobel Prize be revoked, but within one country, for example, there is a practice of deprivation of state awards: if a person has committed a state crime – for example, high treason – he may be revoked the awards that he possessed … I think that the existence of such a mechanism on an international scale would also be in demand.
E. Gracheva: The other day the Tver Regional Court acquitted the defendant in the triple murder case: Alexander Zobenkov was acquitted because he protected himself and his family members. This decision is unique for our judicial system, because our courts rarely pass acquittals, especially under the article of “Murder”. Do you welcome such a turn in Russian jurisprudence or not?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes, I do welcome it. I had to study this issue – and this particular case as well as other similar cases. Unfortunately, Russian legislation in this respect is imperfect. It seems to me that it requires a certain correction.
If a person defended himself, if he was attacked and, in the course of self-defense or the protection of his loved ones, he inflicted bodily harm on the attackers, which led to death, then this should not qualify as murder, because he had no intention to kill and was not the attacker.
Imagine a situation: a man is in his house, a wife is with him and so are three children. Suddenly, criminals break into the house. The man must protect himself and the children, and takes whatever comes to hand – it can be a kitchen knife, a hammer or a weapon, and defends himself. In the confusion of the situation, he cannot accurately calculate the force of the hit in order, for example, to neutralize three [attackers], but at the same time keep them alive. He can hurt someone, and then one of the attackers may die. However, the owner of the house was not the attacker, he was not an intruder. The criminials were the attackers, so it is them who should be tried for robbery, and not the person who defended himself and his family.
In the case you are talking about, the details that have been published show that this man was not an intruder, but was protecting his family. He saw one bleeding man and realized that malefactors could attack his wife and children, so he defended himself as best he could. He stabbed the attackers because there was nothing else at hand.
I think this is a very fair decision. However, I would also like to express hope that many other similar cases, on which different decisions have been made, and now people, essentially innocent, are serving prison terms, will also be reviewed.
E. Gracheva: Thank you very much, Vladyka, for answering our questions.
Metropolitan Hilarion: Thank you, Catherine.
In the second part of the program, Metropolitan Hilarion answered questions from viewers that were sent to the website of the Church and the World program.
Question: Dear Metropolitan Hilarion, I have the following question. Wouldn’t it be a sin for me, an Orthodox person, to watch films about the life of Jesus Christ, made by Western directors? I would like to see the movies “The Gospel of John” by Philip Savill, “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson and others.
Metropolitan Hilarion: There will definitely be no sin here. Whether you will like these films or not is another question. When people ask whether it is generally possible to portray Jesus Christ in films, I think that there is no special prohibition on this. Once Jesus Christ was depicted only in icons, later secular paintings on religious subjects appeared, and then movies became one of the means through which we can learn about the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that in the modern world any means can be used to preach Christ and Christianity. It is very important, of course, that this is done with reverence, with respect to the Gospel text, so that there is no deliberate distortion of what is told in the Gospel, as was the case, for example, in the notorious film by Martin Scorsese “The Last Temptation of Christ.” These are the films you can’t watch. Watching such films means committing a sin against Christ and against the Church.
And the films you mentioned were made with great reverence. The first of them, as far as I remember, is literally based on the Gospel text, and Mel Gibson’s film, which had been watched by many, is an attempt to reproduce what happened at the time of the Passion of Christ. To some, this may seem very naturalistic, but, on the other hand, everything that we know about how the executions took place in the Roman Empire at that time was taken into account by the authors of the film. Therefore, I think that this movie presents a very real picture of what actually happened.
Question: Jesus united in Himself two natures – the Divine and the human, and therefore I would like to ask you: how did the surrounding people and the apostles not feel His Divinity just at the sight of Him, when they were near? After all, a person cannot but feel being close to God.
Metropolitan Hilarion: This is not entirely true. Being close to God, a person may not even feel it, may not feel the presence of the Lord. God is always with all the people. All people are close to God, but not everyone feels it. Some even think that there is no God. God helps them, He saves them, and they do not want to feel or see it.
When we read the Gospel, we see that sometimes the disciples felt something very special in their Teacher. For example, when Jesus Christ entered the boat with Peter and told them to cast their nets, they cast their nets and caught a great number of fish. Then Peter bowed to Jesus in fear and said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5.8). We don’t know what influenced him. Perhaps most influencing him as a fisherman was that he had never [previously] been able to catch as many fish as he did when Jesus told him to throw the net. From this circumstance, he understood that he was dealing with a special person. Whether he worshiped Him as an Incarnate God, we do not know.
On the other hand, we know that many people saw Jesus Christ, heard His teachings, but at the same time not only did not rejoice at what was happening before their eyes, but, on the contrary, with every new miracle and every new word they became more and more hostile to Him. That is, it also shows that God can be near, and at the same time a person can be far from Him; God can speak to a man, and a man may plug his ears so as not to hear the Divine voice.
Question: Your Eminence, I respect the faith of my Orthodox ancestors, but why should I not respect the faith of my pre-Christian ancestors?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The answer is very simple. A religion is either true or false. If you respect Christianity just because it is the faith of your ancestors, then this, of course, is not enough. You can truly respect Christianity only if you feel and understand that it is the true religion which reveals to you and which in due time had revealed to your ancestors the true God.
This true religion has replaced the false, pagan religion, and the false religion does not deserve any respect. Therefore, it is wrong to say that any faith should be respected; to say that one must respect some kind of faith just because their ancestors shared it is also wrong.
There is a correct opinion, but there is also a delusion. There is a true faith, and there is a false one. False belief is not worthy of respect. Only true faith deserves respect.
Question: I would like to know about a possibility of having a wedding between Orthodox and Catholics. I read somewhere that this is permissible on a number of conditions. But what if I had already got married in the Catholic Church, but, unfortunately, the marriage broke up, and now I got married again, but this time it is only a civil registration? My husband agrees to get married in the Orthodox Church.
Metropolitan Hilarion: If your husband is a Catholic, and you are Orthodox and your husband agrees to get married in the Orthodox Church, then such a wedding is possible. Read about this in the document entitled “The Basics of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church.” There is only one condition: children must be brought up in the Orthodox faith.
If we are talking about a second marriage, then this is a separate issue that needs to be resolved with the priest, and in some cases with the bishop. You need to understand why your first marriage broke up and how possible is it in principle for you to get married for the second time. If this is possible in principle, then your husband’s Catholicism is not an obstacle.
I would like to conclude this transmission with the words from the first epistle of the holy apostle Peter: “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers”(1 Pet. 4.7).