by Hieromonk Ignaty (Shestakov)
Taking part in the recent solemnities in Russia surrounding the celebration of Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Vladimir were representatives of Local Orthodox Churches from around the world. Present from the Serbian Orthodox Church was Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović) of Montenegro, who has long been a friend of the Russian Orthodox Church. Hieromonk Ignaty (Shestakov) of Sretensky Monastery talked with Met. Amfilohije about the fate of Orthodoxy and the Church’s place in the modern world. We present part of it here in English.
Your Eminence, how do you see the current period in the life of the Orthodox Church? Regardless of the outward prosperity, the increasing number of churches, construction and development, we are running into great temptations. There is pressure on the Church that often takes the form of persecution…
We have talked about the 1000-year anniversary of Sts. Vladimir of Kiev and John Vladimir [of Serbia]. Their reigns were break-through periods that changed the fate and importance in history of Orthodox peoples—first of all of the Slavs—as well as the mission of Orthodoxy in the Slavic world.
And now we are in another time of great change: new trials on the one hand, and on the other, the renewal of faith and the Church, first of all within the Slavic peoples, with Russia at the head.
Now our Church is again on the crucifix between East and West; or as St. Nicholai Velimirovich wrote, “over the East and West.” In the context of what happened then and what is happening now, the Orthodox Church is called to be over the East and the West. In what sense?
According to my personal consciousness, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has been over the centuries a spiritual backbone between Asia and Europe.
It is also a spiritual backbone today, a rampart of the modern world in the new conflict between East and West. By East we must understand not only the Islamic East, but the entire East: Buddhist, or Confucian.
On one side is the whole Eastern civilization, and on the other is the so-called Western, Euro-American civilization, based on the imperial idea, a synthesis of pagan Rome that deified the emperor and the primacy of the Roman bishop.
This Western civilization is the bearer of a new vision of the world, the new world order, and not only governmental and societal: we are talking about a new ethic, a new worldview, a new manner of life.
This is a completely secularized, antichristian, imperial idea. I would say that poking out from under such a form of antichistianity you can see satan’s nose—a satanism that is appearing more and more distinctly, making use of all the modern tools, and forcing itself on the whole world.
And standing in the way of this new world order, this new worldview and new radical antichristianity is the spiritual backbone between Europe and Asia—the Orthodox Church of Christ. So it must be destroyed, because while it exists, this new ideology cannot triumph over the whole world.
Therefore it is no accident that after the fall of the Soviet Union, when this imperial idea of the Euro-American type lunged into its new campaign, the first thing it did was to bomb an Orthodox country. It is by no means accidental that all this took place on the space of the Orthodox Serbian nation.
And this was only the beginning of the imperialistic expansion of the new world order and preparation (about which there can be no doubt, and this is perfectly clear when you look at what is happening in the Ukraine) for an attack on Russia. This is crystal clear, and it has no connection whatsoever with some world conspiracy theory.
The only power that unifies the peoples of the Balkans with Russia is the Orthodox Church, and in order to subjugate and take possession of these vast territories—and not only geographical but also strategic and economic—they have to steal their souls.
The Orthodox Church—the Church of St. Vladimir of Kiev and St. John Vladimir, and Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Constantine—now resembles St. Job the Much Suffering. And all that happened to the much suffering Job is happening to God’s Church—the Holy Catholic [Universal] Eastern Church. Especially in the twentieth century.
Just look at what happened to Constantinople, what is now happening to Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem! Look at what happened to Russia in the twentieth century, and what happened with the Serbian Church! Such sufferings… We have to look at this a little more deeply. Just like the much suffering Job—he lost so much! His livestock, his property, his children—they all perished; in the end even his wife renounced him and satan himself attacked him… But God said only one thing to satan: touch not his soul.1
The soul of the modern world is Christ’s Church!
How would you assess the situation in contemporary Ukraine, when a schismatic congregation has been absolutely legalized, when millions of people believe the schismatics2 as if they were the true Church?
This is one of the inner, modern problems of the Orthodox Church as a whole, which is manifesting itself in particularly large scope on the space of Kievan Rus’—the Rus’ of St. Vladimir.
In our times, the formation of new states rising from the ruins of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia—not only new states, but also new nations—in one way or another influence the appearance of new “Churches”: the Ukrainian, Macedonian, Montenegro…
On one side we see Metropolitan Onuphry, the First Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate—the Church that preserves the organic, living heritage of the Church of St. Vladimir, which respects all the specific characteristics of this portion of the people of Kievan Rus’, respects also this new state, but at the same time preserves the unity of the Church, remaining an organic part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
On the other side we have what that unfortunate Denisenko is doing. The question is: Do people like that believe at all in God? Do those people who subjugate the Body of Christ to any earthly interests, whatever they may be—in this case the interests of a nation or state—even believe in God?
I am afraid that they in essence are not serving Christ, but rather the pagan-imperialist idea of Western Euro-American civilization, which is in a fallen state.
We pray with St. Ephraim the Syrian that the Lord would not give us a spirit of “ambition”—that is, the lust for power.3
One can understand the state of Denisenko, who was once a candidate for Patriarch. But now we have this wretched history of the deification of the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian nation, the Ukrainian language; this history of a schism in one nation, one Church—with catastrophic consequences.
During this critical time of the Church’s suffering, when the Eastern Church is the spiritual backbone of the world, the most important thing is to preserve the Church as Christ created it—free from the powers of this world, so that it can be the same witness to God as Job was, and return all that has been lost.
Through it, God will protect the soul of the faithful peoples, and at the same time the Church will be a real leaven for the modern world. No one was so prophetically aware of this as was Dostoevsky, who wrote that a future, healthy Church is the only salvation for the modern world and mankind.
But here is what is especially amazing. Europe, the U.S.A., and NATO fought for seventy years to destroy the USSR, and they achieved their end. But that same Europe guards the most essential results of the communist regime as if they were divine revelations.
For example, when were the borders established between the Ukraine and Russia, and between other soviet republics? Who established them? The communists established them both for you [Russians] and for us [Serbs]. Now, “defending human rights”, the Americans and Europeans support the Neo-Fascists in the Ukraine in order to preserve this legacy of the Soviet Union. The question is: for what? It means that we are talking about completely different interests: they are using this communist legacy in order to achieve their own imperialist goals.
The “Drang nach Osten”4 is using other methods to continue their crusades. In earlier times it was the idea of freeing the Lord’s Sepulcher; but what those crusades in fact did is quite obvious. What happened in fact was exactly what is happening today in Syria, Iraq, and Afganistan: the plunder of these Eastern peoples’ wealth.
We recall the words of the Western politicians about how Russia has too much natural wealth and too many natural resources, and they should be shared: “We will not only save what we have for ourselves, but we will take what we need from Russia.”
This is a very complicated history. And it is being refracted around Ukraine, Kiev— around the inheritance of St. Vladimir, whose anniversary we are celebrating.
What do you think of the fate of Christian, including Orthodox, peoples, who perhaps unconsciously bow their heads before this new world order, thinking that they are fighting for their own freedom? That is how it was during the break-up of Yugoslavia: many were convinced that they were fighting for freedom from the Communist legacy. We are seeing something similar happening now in the Ukraine. One gets the impression that this struggle is taking place within the framework of someone’s global plan.
In essence, that is exactly what is happening. If you take Yugoslavia for example, it becomes ever clearer to me that Yugoslavia was intentionally broken up. After all, it was a large country—20 million people. It was a state that had to be reckoned with and not so easy to manipulate, despite all its weaknesses and inadequacies—both as a Kingdom and as a federation.
They broke it up, guided by the principle of “divide et impera”—divide and conquer. They established these little satellite states of Slovenia and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzogovena, which never existed before as states, and they managed to divide Serbia from Montenegro—one people, and a centuries-old sovereign nation!
And from autonomous Kosovo they made an “Islamic state”. The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo was at a reception with the Serbian Patriarch and said that she is working for the first time as a diplomat in an “Islamic country”. We corrected her: It has been a Christian land since the fourth century. But they achieved that “Islamic state” by the NATO bombing—forming Kosovo as an independent state and an Islamic country. In the same way they are trying turn Bosnia into a unitary Islamic state.
Take Macedonia for example. What is Macedonia today? It is de facto already divided into two parts—the Slavic and the Albanian; and it is questionable how long it can exist in this form. The communists established Macedonia as it is today—just as they formed the Ukraine, and modern Montenegro.
The Montenegro that we have today was made by the communists: with a Montenegrin nation, and a Montenegrin language. Now they even want their own “Montenegrin Church.”
True, this process is meeting more difficulties in Montenegro than it is in Ukraine and Macedonia. I can explain this by the fact that our Church was strengthened by the blood of the martyrs—Holy Hieromartyr Ioaniky, Metropolitan Arseny, and over 150 other priests killed by the communists. It could be said that if you look at percentages, this was a greater sacrifice for tiny Montenegro than of the New Martyrs for Russia.
It is not surprising that the same group that ruled in Montenegro under the communists are still in power, only instead of the golden calf of communism they are now bowing down to the golden calf in Brussels—for the sake of their own interests.
The NATO bombs fell also on Montenegro—at Danilovgrad, Cetine, and Murino, killing eleven children. That is not to mention what happened in Kosovo.
And now they are forcing Montenegro to accept Kosovo’s independence. This is how Montenegro is going against its own life’s interests. This is how they are ruling and using small states.
This is why they divided Serbia and Montenegro, and are setting them against each other. This is why Ukraine was separated from Russia. It is not enough to establish borders—it is necessary to convince them that they are not one people, not one Church, that they do not have one and the same Prince Vladimir… Let’s divide St. Vladimir! Now, how are you going to divide him?
So, it is perfectly clear that in order to attain their imperialistic goals the modern West is openly destroying this Slavic unity, these governments. It is appropriating the fruits left by communist rule, and defending them to the point where fratricidal war has broken out in the Balkans, as well as in the Ukraine. Fratricide—in order to preserve the borders drawn by Lenin’s bolshevist system and order! Those who supposedly warred against communism and bolshevism are today the most zealous guardians of communism’s main fruits. But they are not interested in the soviet legacy—they are only pursuing their own interests.
A struggle is going on for oil, for natural resources, and industrial wealth in both the Ukraine and Russia, as well as in the Near East. They have made the East a hell, warring with those who they had earlier created—the so-called Al-Qaida. Meanwhile, Christ’s Church is being destroyed in the East. Fanatical Islamist movements are destroying Christianity in its entirety there. And again we are up against a totally antichristian ideology, which is acting in the interests of the new world order in all spheres of human life. It is subjugating everything to itself.
Parallel to this, everything is returning to the call for the “bread and circuses!” of pagan Rome, and the final remnants of Christianity are being routed from the spaces of Europe and America.
How are we servants of Christ supposed to react to these challenges against the Church and Christianity? What should we change in ourselves? What should we do?
We should do what I heard many years ago from a fool-for-Christ in the Smolensk Cemetery in St. Petersburg.5 She said to me then, “Go deeper, father, go deeper!”
Orthodoxy is the modern Job. You can take everything away from it, but you can’t touch its soul. God preserves the soul. Testimony to this is all that has happened over these thousand years since the time of Prince Vladimir.
1 The English translation of this passage (Job 2:6) reads: And the Lord said to the devil, Behold, I deliver him up to thee; only save his life. In the Church Slavonic text, however, the word “dusha” or “soul” is used instead of “life”. This gives a deeper meaning.
2 This is a reference to the so-called “Kiev Patriarchate”, headed by Philaret (Denisenko), who united under himself one branch of a previously existing system. Denisenko is encouraged and supported by the current Ukrainian government for political purposes—mainly to wrench the soul of the Ukraine from its historical roots in Holy Rus’. The canonical autonomous Ukrainian Orthodox Church is headed by Metropolitan Onuphry (Berezovsky).—OC.
3 Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian (said mainly during Great Lent): O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition, and idle talking give me not. But rather a spirit of chastity, humble-mindedness, patience, and love bestow upon me Thy servant. Yea, O Lord King, grant me to see my failings and not condemn my brother; for blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen (Translation from the Jordanville Prayer Book).
4 (German for “yearning for the East”, “thrust toward the East”, “push eastward”, “drive toward the East” or “desire to push East”) was a term coined in the 19th century to designate German expansion into Slavic lands. The term became a motto of the German nationalist movement in the late nineteenth century (definition from Wikipedia).
5 Where St. Xenia of Petersburg’s relics are kept.