Interview with Fr. Yakov Krotov
“Religion is just a tool in the hands of the ruling elite, which continues to be communist, since all its representatives are former Party Committee and Central Committee secretaries. They just put ‘Capital' aside and took up the Typikon. ”
Interview with Fr. Yakov Krotov, a journalist, priest of the Apostolic Orthodox Church, and dean of the Descent of the Holy Ghost community in Moscow
– In my opinion, the state of Catholic-Orthodox relationships in Russia has always been important for Ukraine, especially the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in this matter, because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine actually follows the commands of Moscow. Much has been said about Catholic proselytism because of the forming of Catholic dioceses in Russia. What are Catholic-Orthodox relationships like in Russia today?
– There is no fuss about the dioceses any more, and the accusations of proselytism are heard much more seldom. So-called Soviet life goes on in Russia; it can be compared to a car engine, which sometimes roars and sometimes hums. If the authorities give a command to lead campaigns, they will be led; but nobody will be deeply interested in it. If the authorities started a war against Catholics, they would put a check mark, send eight clerics away, and cease this campaign until better times, until the next command to follow. The position is absolutely neutral today.
– Once Russian President Yeltsin was, it seems, making excuses to the Vatican when they discussed the possible visit of the Pope to Russia. He explained he couldn't invite the Pope because he didn't want to quarrel with the Moscow Patriarch. Today many people are of the opinion that the current president does not, particularly, pay attention to the position of the Patriarchate in this matter. Nevertheless, he is in no hurry to invite the Pope. Is this true? And, generally, how is the dynamic of relationships between the ruling power and the Orthodox Church developing in Russia?
– There is no dynamic at all. Yeltsin was lying when he said that he had no influence on the patriarch. The position of the current president is the same. Both of them were generated by the Soviet system. We can hold Georgia as an example here. If the president of a post-communist country wants, the Orthodox Church, though “making a wry face,” will meet the Pope, as happened in Tbilisi.
In Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate directly and indirectly receives approximately 5-7 per cent of the profits from petroleum exports -this is many millions of dollars. For this money, they will carry out any order if the authorities want. The problem is that today not so much the Moscow Patriarchate but the temporal power suffers from isolationism. And, the initiative – to keep the Pope out and to keep out everything that is foreign and, therefore, dangerous for the regime - also comes from the temporal power. As in Soviet times, today's Russian power conceals its policy with the demagogy that “we are getting closer to the West, but the Moscow Patriarchate is putting obstacles to that.” But, certainly, this is no more than demagogy.
– Recently, an article appeared on the site “Portal-credo.ru,” which says that the issue of Catholic proselytism is not current any more, that Catholicism today is – “the destiny of intellectuals.” Does this mean that the Catholic Church in Russia is mostly represented by the intelligentsia, and is not dangerous for the members of the Orthodox Church?
– Firstly, the site “portal-credo.ru” is an interesting site, which is run by the Orthodox group of Karlov followers, who broke away from the American conservative ultra radical believers. They are very ill-disposed towards Catholics and their assessments are too subjective.
The Orthodox ascetic principle says: “Everybody notices that sin in others which he commits himself.” The Karlov followers are a tiny group of Moscow and St. Petersburg intellectuals (e.g. Gregory Lurier, Aleksandr Soldatov). These people are too distant from the nation; several dozen individuals, intellectuals who are playing in antiecumenism, monarchism, etc.
Really, when you go into the Roman Catholic churches in Moscow you won't see the dominance of intellectuals there. Another point is that you won't meet poorly dressed people there, unlike in the Orthodox churches. This means, simply, that Catholics take care of themselves when they go to church, and Orthodox believers – not always.
According to statistics, today among Orthodox activists in Russia , among fanatics, among those who form the backbone, people with higher technical education dominate. Those people especially, despite being educated, reveal xenophobia. In the Catholic Church, especially in the provinces, there are mostly ordinary people, not intellectuals. The myth that Catholicism is only for the elite was initially spread by Chaadaev's adversaries. But it was a lie, and it still is. This is an absolutely ordinary church where all men are represented proportionally.
– What is the attitude of the Orthodox Russian people to the Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic churches, and to other religious confessions nowadays? Is there any difference in attitudes?
– I think there isn't any. The thing is that the number of Greek Catholics in Russia is so little that they are just unnoticeable. There are only four parishes; one of them is in Moscow. There are very few Catholics. Statistics do not even register them because they make less than one per cent. Therefore, it will be odd to talk about attitudes towards Catholics, in particular.
Though the majority of the population claims to be Orthodox, six out of ten who consider themselves to be Orthodox never go to church and do not believe in God. For them, being Orthodox is synonymous with being Russian. Moreover, those people do not go to church actively.. in other words, they are against the church, they are anticlerical. They are of the opinion that they know better than priests do, that all priests are terrible: alcoholics and bribe-takers. Regretfully, this also happens because we are all of flesh and blood.
Therefore, in Russia, as in any other despotic country where the church is a means of self-identification, the attitude towards the church is schizophrenic. On the one hand, people make use of religious themes, words, but, on the other hand, they do not feel at ease. And I think they will try to free themselves from that at the earliest opportunity. Ireland is a typical example of that. The richer the country is, the less people go to church and on pilgrimage. In the last twenty years, the number of pilgrims became three times less there. If, God willing, Russia becomes richer, the number of people who go to church because they have nothing else to do will also fall.
– But the USA is the richest country in the world. And the religious rate is high there, especially after the events that took place two years ago on September 11 th.
– No, a rise in religiousness has not been observed there. The percentage is high, but it is much less than 20 or 30 years ago. The rise is relative, and it concerns only neoreligious movements, not traditional ones. Moreover, the USA is a special case; as far as Russia and Ukraine are concerned, they are Eastern European countries, and there isn't much space left for their individual freedom. And, a person who does not belong to some religious or antireligious majority feels very uncomfortable there.
– You said that in Russia being Orthodox is synonymous with being Russian. It is well-known that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in former republics of the USSR defends the Russian language, which is the case in Ukraine. Is it possible to claim that in this case religiousness, i.e. Orthodoxy, and nationality, i.e. being Russian, have intertwined to such an extent that they cannot exist separately?
– If we are talking about the hierarchy, then definitely, not. There is no doubt that the hierarchy is playing the hypocrite, because the Moscow Patriarchate itself is the worst enemy of the Russian language, as it forbids its usage in the Liturgy.
When Russians were, as they still are, persecuted in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, nobody, neither in Moscow nor in Kazakhstan, would stand up in their defense. The Orthodox bishops claim that Islam and Orthodoxy can peacefully co-exist there. An international despotism of Orthodox Russians and quasi-Muslims has been created. However, in Russia and in Kazakhstan , Uzbekistan , and Turkmenistan, religion is just a tool in the hands of the ruling elite, which continues to be communist, since all its representatives are former Party Committee and Central Committee secretaries. They just put “Das Capital” aside and took up the Typikon. They took up the canonical regulations, not the Gospel; the Gospel is not suitable because it says “turn the other cheek,” and they do not like that.
Therefore, their defense of Russians is led erratically, and it is not done in order to help those who are really abused (there are enough facts to prove that), but because this fits with the general goals of the Russian central authorities. Nevertheless, it can be forgiven, as it is done in a dull, awkward and empty way, like in Soviet times.
– Father Yakov, you are known in the Russian-speaking world, and not only, as a religious publicist. What information do you receive about religious life in Ukraine and what are the main sources of information?
– I get to know about Ukraine from scholarly articles. I really love to read the materials by Victor Yelenskyi. I have to say that I'm really happy to visit Lviv, because the information we get in Moscow very often does not reflect the real state of things. The situation in Lviv is much better in all respects than what they talk about in Moscow, apart from the economics, perhaps.
In Moscow, people suffer from animosity and take it all out on other people. They depict life in Ukraine in the worst way possible. This is not the Kingdom of God here, but it seems to me it is rather civilized.
– One of the main spheres of your activities is the Internet and your well-known portal, www.krotov.org . What are the further prospects for development of church and Internet relations? What else can be done? And what areas have still not been explored?
– The Internet has become too narrow for me because the stage of free and democratic press has finished. I write articles in the newspapers more often than on the Internet.
There cannot be any relations between the church and the Internet. Initially, the Internet was created for the army. The Internet is the weapon of the week in this world, the weapon of personality; it is a very personalized phenomenon. All the good done on the Internet is done due to personal enthusiasm. I think it is really wise that there is such a part of the cultural space where everything depends on the person: when a person can sit down, write something, scan it and here it is. You cannot be nice by force, even if it comes from above; the same goes for the Internet: you will not achieve anything here by force either.
The church is a hierarchical structure with its own essence and purpose; and the Internet, I think, has to develop according to absolutely different principles. Best of all, if the church has some extra money, give it to some private agency to create a site.
– How do you estimate the development of the official church Internet? To what extent are the sites of eparchies and patriarchates informative and helpful for users?
– It depends what you want to find there. If you need information about the real life of the church, you won't find it there in the official journals, because this is not their aim. They are created to give information about the decisions of the authorities.
The Internet is really priceless because an endless amount of information is spread privately there. I am in a better position, as I am an expert in resources by profession; therefore, I am able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Nevertheless, it is necessary to check such information millions of times. At the same time, it gives a signal that something interesting is taking place. The official sites do not give much information; this is not their job. This is our task, the task of private individuals.
– Is it possible to use the Internet for catechesis and work with young people?
– I am against it. Catechesis, preaching, confessions are interpersonal processes, and they require real human contact. Therefore, it is impossible either to confess or to catechize through the Internet. You can give some information, but no more than that, because it won't have any power.
I know many people who are Christians and are seriously addicted to the Internet; because, instead of overcoming the fear of publicity and shyness, they go to the Internet and get false freedom, false interaction. And it is really important to be in harmony here.
I am trying to spend no more than 10 dollars per month on the Internet. I do not take part in forums, I do not have a visitors' book, and I do not answer letters often, neither do I get them much; because the most important things take place in real life. The Internet is just an additional apparatus, a technical part, and one shouldn't exaggerate its significance. It will never replace real human interaction. It helps a lot to find friends, supporters in faraway countries; but, this is somewhat like “knocking” from one prison cell to another. It won't replace full-fledged interaction, anyway. Though it can help sometimes when you know that in Australia , America, there is someone who thinks the way you do. This is a short-time “high.”
Interview conducted in Lviv, 31 October 2003
by Taras ANTOSHEVSKY