On the 29th of January, 2022, on The Church and the World TV program shown on Saturdays and Sundays on “Rossiya 24”, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR), answered questions from the anchor Ekaterina Gracheva.
E. Gracheva: Hello! This is the time of the program “The Church and the World” on the TV channel “Rossia 24”, where we talk weekly with the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. Hello, Vladyka!
Metropolitan Hilarion: Hello, Ekaterina! Hello dear brothers and sisters!
E. Gracheva: The main topic of the last few weeks has been rumors about a possible war between Russia and Ukraine. As one of the consequences of this the dollar exchange rate has reached 79 rubles at some point. Even in the absence of a real war, which the West is speculating about, the prospect of new sanctions being imposed on Russia cannot but worry. This is the statistic that worries me personally: in 1990, there were 30,000 American soldiers in Europe, in 2014 – 42,000, today – already 75,000.
Even those who are not interested in these figures tend to always feel effects of any aggravation of relations between Russia and the West. Ordinary citizens who fly international say that they are beginning to have a “nightmare” at security control (for example, when arriving in London), it becomes even more difficult to obtain visas; a number of manufacturers of goods refuse to import their products into Russia for no reason, etc. In light of this, the society is naturally splitting: for some it is more important to travel abroad, as it was before 2014, for others it is more important to look at problems more globally. I will quote: “Nobody cares about the fact that Russian troops are stationed on the Russian territory, whereas the American troops are based thousands of kilometers away fr om home.” Does it bother you personally, Vladyka? And what is your forecast for the development of the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Both as a clergyman and as a citizen, I am very worried and concerned by what is happening around us, as well as by the statements that one has to hear from different sides. On the one hand, we hear assurances from the leadership of the Russian Federation that Russia is not going to attack Ukraine. We also hear from the lips of Ukrainian politicians that they do not see the threat of an attack from Russia. The US, however, persistently continues to convince its Western partners that Russia is preparing for an attack and it is therefore necessary to take out embassy personnel from Ukraine and prepare for a full-scale war. All this cannot but disturb and worry.
We also know that in America, and in Ukraine, and in Russia there are politicians who believe that war is the right decision in this situation. In America, in particular, the arms lobby is interested in this. In Ukraine, the political forces that have lost power and would like to regain it are interested in starting full-scale hostilities. And in Russia there are politicians who remind us that our country has never lost any war, therefore, “whoever comes to us with a sword will die by the sword.”
First, let’s remember at what cost did Russia win those wars. The price was millions of lives. Secondly, let’s recall that every war brings incalculable disasters to people. We must also remember that an outcome of any war is unpredictable. Can we assume that Russia won the First World War? Let’s remember the enthusiasm with which Russia entered it, what patriotic feelings accompanied the Russian Empire’s entry into this war. Could anyone then imagine that in three years Russia would collapse? For all these reasons, I am deeply convinced that a war is not a method of solving the accumulated political problems. Therefore, politicians and all of us must do everything in our power to prevent the escalation of the conflict and the development of events that the Americans are talking about today.
E. Gracheva: Vladyka, I have to return to the topic of the Baptism of the Lord. On the eve of this feast, you said that Epiphany bathing is not originally a church tradition and that you never call on people, especially if they are unprepared for this, to plunge into the icy waters. This year a monstrous tragedy had happened: a woman died in a cold river, in front of her family. Rescuers were nearby, but they could not do anything, she was instantly carried away by the undercurrent. A different video has also recently become viral online, in which a mother forcibly dips her son into the ice hole, he resists and begins to scream, but the rescuers help him to plunge into the water.
Many believe that it is the Church that has to be blamed for such events and the behavior of believers. Do you have an answer for them? What to say, for example, to a mother who, against the will of her son, dips him into the icy waters on Epiphany day?
Metropolitan Hilarion: This is a terrible tragedy, I sincerely sympathize with the relatives of the deceased. I would like this tragedy to serve as a reminder of the caution with which one must approach Epiphany bathing. When Epiphany bathing is organized with the participation of the Church, the Church always takes care of people’s safety. This does not happen on rivers wh ere there is a fast current, but, as a rule, in stagnant water bodies: lakes or ponds. Ice-holes in this case are equipped with railings, life-saving equipment, lifeguards are on duty very often. If all these conditions are met and a person feels healthy enough to plunge into the ice water, then he can do it, but I repeat once again: the Church does not call for this, does not force or even encourage it. Moreover, from the point of view of the Church, such cases when a child is immersed in the baptismal hole against his will are unacceptable. For people of all ages, such activity can only be voluntary and must only be undertaken in those places wh ere all possible precautions have been taken.
E. Gracheva: One of the first decisions at the opening spring session in the State Duma was the introduction of life imprisonment for recidivist pedophiles. At present, such a measure is possible if the victim of the offender is less than 14 years old, but after the adoption of the bill, the maximum punishment will also apply to those whose victims were less than 18 years old. There are proposals for forced castration as a substitute for the death penalty. Deputy Sergei Mironov believes that “a tiger doesn’t change his stripes” and proposes to return the death penalty for pedophilia in Russia. What do you think of it?
Metropolitan Hilarion: We have already discussed this topic during one of the previous episodes of our program. Back then I said that I did not consider the introduction of the death penalty as a solution to the problem and that life imprisonment was an adequate measure to stop such illegal, immoral and criminal activities. I do not think that we should discuss the introduction of the death penalty, but the words of the chairman of the State Duma that these people should be kept in difficult conditions and earn their own bread – deserve attention. Lifelong isolation of such dangerous people will protect those who remain at large.
E. Gracheva: Nevertheless, let’s be realistic, because we live in the modern world: adolescents most often begin sexual activity before the age of maturity. Is it worth defining the so-called age of consent in Russia, as it has been done, for example, in Japan?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I think it would be useful to legislate the age of consent. At least in order to be able to separate cases of sexual contact that are voluntary on both sides from those in which violence was used. The fact is that the line between such cases is very often quite thin and lawyers and the court do not always manage to fully understand the situation.
It is no coincidence that the Church says that sexual contact is permissible only within the framework of the marital union, because those sexual contacts that occur outside of this framework or before the arrangement of the marital union are fraught with many dangers, including the fact that, for example, a person who is much older may molest a person who is much younger. All sorts of options are possible here: a teacher with a student, a coach with a young athlete, etc. To prevent cases of abuse and violence, such a legislative norm would be useful.
E. Gracheva: Also, the State Duma recently had proposed a complete ban on surrogate motherhood in Russia. According to the chairman of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, Nina Ostanina, Russian women “give birth for rich foreigners, and they only need children for entertainment.” Do you agree with Nina Ostanina? Do you welcome the proposal to completely ban surrogate motherhood in Russia?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The Church has repeatedly expressed its negative attitude towards the practice of surrogate motherhood. The Church is not fundamentally opposed to medical care for those people who cannot conceive a child. Permissible, from the point of view of the Church, is the artificial insemination [of a wife by her husband], provided that the excess embryos are not destroyed. Such artificial insemination is considered by the Church as taking place within the framework of the marriage union.
Surrogate motherhood is something that goes beyond the marriage union and threatens this marriage union with destruction, because the very concept of motherhood, a human personality, is replaced here with a certain biological individual – one has two mothers: a biological and a surrogate, that is, two women who (each for their own reasons) can claim a child. In general, a moral collision is created that destroys the uniqueness of the marriage union. Therefore, the Church cannot welcome such ways of helping childless spouses and unambiguously opposes surrogate motherhood. Moreover, this practice is mass produced, it has a clearly expressed commercial interest for certain structures that profit from it. We could even say that children are being sold. A surrogate mother, as a rule, bears a child for money, in other words, the child is then sold and bought.
For all these reasons, the Church considers surrogate motherhood unacceptable and welcomes any initiative that is aimed at eradicating this vicious practice.
E. Gracheva: Thank you very much, Vladyka, for commenting on this news for us.
Metropolitan Hilarion: Thank you, Catherine.
In the second part of the program, Metropolitan Hilarion answered the questions of viewers, received on the website of the Church and the World program.
Question: On your YouTube channel I have recently listened the prayer of Isaac the Syrian, which you have translated into Russian. Those 30 minutes changed my life. With all my heart I want to be in this faith, to experience such love for Christ. These are unique words, fantastic in their spiritual power. Vladyka, what did you feel when you translated this text into Russian? I must say, I would die from all the feelings. Sorry for my emotionality.
Metropolitan Hilarion: As you can see, I did not die from my feelings. It was more than twenty years ago that I translated from the Syrian language not only this prayer of St. Isaac the Syrian, but also his other prayers and conversations included in the so-called second volume. This volume then was released in Russian under the title “On Divine Mysteries and on Spiritual Life.”
When I was studying at Oxford, I met a wonderful man there, Sebastian Brock, the world’s leading authority on Syriac writing. He discovered this 10th-century manuscript in the Oxford Library (several more manuscripts were later discovered). I translated those texts from this very manuscript – not independently, but under the guidance of Professor Sebastian Brock.
These texts are so striking, relevant and deep that the heart of modern man responds to these words. It is no coincidence that the prayer of Isaac the Syrian on various YouTube channels has been viewed by millions of people. It would seem that this is not a hit, not a rap song, which can now collect millions of views, but a prayer. This prayer, amazing in its depth and beauty, has collected millions of views. Why? Because it resonates in the hearts of millions of people just as it resonated in your heart.
When I translated these texts, of course, I experienced special feelings, because thanks to this reading, this translation, one is immersed in the world in which a holy man lived, holy people lived many centuries ago: they approached God, discovered Him for themselves and discover Him for us. That is why I find it very useful to read patristic literature in general and, in particular, to read the prayers that were written by the Holy Fathers.
Question: Once a priest in a church made a remark to my husband, then still a young man, about the length of his hair. According to the priest, laymen should not wear long hair, as this is allowed only for the members of clergy of the Church. Many years have passed since the incident, which, I confess, greatly embarrassed my husband, and therefore I would like to clarify: how does the Church treat long-haired laymen now?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I think that the priest made a mistake in this case. It’s none of his business what the length of your husband’s hair and any young man in general should be. The apostle Paul says that a man should not wear long hair, because by doing so he dishonors himself, but the apostle Paul does not at all say in the same text that priests can wear long hair. In one of the previous broadcasts, I showed ancient icons, mosaics and frescoes depicting saints: the apostles Peter and Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom and other ancient saints. None of them had long hair. Therefore, the notion that priests should wear long hair and male laymen cannot have long hair is simply a prejudice. Pay no attention to these words. Let your husband wear the hairstyle he likes.
Question: I am far from the Church, but I support it when it comes out in defense of morality. I would like to ask you to draw the attention of those who make decisions about the expansion of so-called adult stores. I have two small children and do not understand why I have to constantly come up with answers to the question: what kind of adult toys are these? If such shops are allowed, then why not make them without flashy signs?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I think that such stores should be banned altogether, but the Church is usually not asked when such decisions are being made. Many people, unlike you, are in every way afraid of the influence of the Church on society and say: why does the Church interfere on certain issues and dictate how we should live? Indeed, we in the Church have the opportunity to turn to our children and tell them about what is permissible and what is not permissible. We can tell our children that visiting such stores is unacceptable, but unfortunately we cannot force the state authorities to close them or regulate signs and advertising.
The position of the Church on these issues is very clear and unequivocal: we oppose sexual promiscuity, depravity in all its forms, and the so-called “adult stores” are nothing but legalized debauchery. But the Church cannot dictate to the authorities what to allow and what to prohibit, we can only give advice. I want to assure you that the Church never misses the opportunity to express its position to the authorities and tell them what, from the point of view of the Church, is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
Question: Vladyka, thank you for your answer about Ded Moroz [Russian version of Santa Claus – ed]. I have another question. My mother reads the Bible to me, and the kings there have many wives. How is it permitted?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I must say that the Old Testament generally describes many various unacceptable things. However, back then there were other customs, back then the kings could afford whatever they wanted: they could have many wives, they could commit murders with impunity. All this is described in the Bible, not for anyone to imitate it now, but because such was life. It is better to learn about what is permitted and what is not permitted from Jesus Christ Himself, and this is taught not in the Old, but in the New Testament, namely, in the Gospels. Christ said very directly and for all time that one husband can and should have only one wife, and the Church adheres to this rule.
I would like to end this transmission with the words of the Apostle Paul: “…pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:17-18).
I wish you all the best. Take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones and may God bless you all!