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Faith, Internet, writers, church, abortion and sins: Interview with head of Belarusian Orthodox Church

Head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, Patriarchal Exarch, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl Pavel has answered questions of the program Picture of the World on the RTR Belarus Channel. Various issues concerning Christians, Catholics, Internet, writers, communists, church, abortions and other sins were discussed during the interview.

Your Grace, welcome to the program.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Hello.

Can I address you "Your Eminence"? "Your Excellency"? It is a more secular address?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
No, it is common to use "Your Grace", or just "Your Eminence".

Why am I asking? Because, let's say, "Your Excellency" can be used to refer to a president and an ambassador. You're not the ambassador of the church, the Russian Orthodox Church. You come here of course being subjected to the Holy Synod, the Patriarch. Nevertheless, you, as a Russian man in Belarus today, probably should protect the Belarusian flock too.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
You know, since the decision of the Holy Synod, I do not think about the previous places of my ministry. Although in the heart, of course, I maintain good relationships and memories. But today, I answer before God and before the Church for the Belarusian flock.

I wish all countries had such a relationship that we have with Russia. But we also have some issues: the Crimea, cheese or oil disputes. Should you have some position in these secular political matters?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
I always say: "Listen, after all Russia and Belarus is the Union State. Now we cannot put it all only on some economic rails. Somewhere in the family we should forgive each other. There should be a good relationship. Especially when it comes to the fraternal people of Belarus and Russia, in the Union State." Although we can't intervene we still worry very much when we can't agree on something. Moreover, there is already an agreement and it should work. Very sad when it doesn't. But I always pray that there is peace and harmony.

Based on the name of our program (Picture of the World), have you already formed some kind of picture of the world in relation to what is happening in Belarus and in comparison to Russia, Austria, Jerusalem, where you served?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
You know, if you had asked me three years ago, or 2.5, after I had arrived, then, probably, I would have described it all in a more colorful way. And today I'll tell you: "You know, I have the impression that I have always lived in Belarus, all my life." Of course, I was very much impressed by the way people in Belarus come to churches. Come in families, husbands, wives, children...

Does it differ from Ryazan?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Very much. And not only in Ryazan, in general from Russia. Rarely can you see a Russian family coming to the temple. Rarely. Unfortunately. And in Belarus it is a norm. This is the evidence that the family is a single spirit. Together. Work together, rest together, pray together. That is extremely important.

If husband is an Orthodox and wife is a Catholic, they can go to both churches together. And how do you feel about that?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
You know, one must take into account the location and history of the state and the people. Our church does not seek to divide people. Although, as I said, people still need to be of a single spirit. Very bad when people oppose religion to relations and vice versa. There are of course some deep divisions between these churches. But still, in general, we are all Christians, we have one gospel, we have one commandment. It is very good that people are not at war today.
Today, Belarus is a prime example of the fact that people of different faiths can live together in peace.

You know, I thought. I've lived a long time in Russia, in the Far East. And once I interviewed the Archbishop of Vladivostok and Primorye (something like that his title was called, it was a long time ago, do not know the fate of that person) and he said, quite firmly: "Catholics like wolves came to our land." But it was in the Far East of Russia, it was still the Soviet era. I think you would not say that, would you?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Of course, we understand that there is no future for those who do not remember their history. But history still needs to teach people the most positive lessons. There have been cases of religious confrontations. The same Inquisition, and after that... And in Belarus, you know, the XVI-XVIII centuries were filled with terrible fight between Uniates with the Orthodox. It's a terrible story. And our task today is to extract the most useful things from those times. Not those hostile elements. There were problems, but today we must somehow smooth over these problems, we must go further.

The meeting of the Patriarch with the Pope in Cuba... Is this a historic event?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Sure.

What can follow it?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
In the words of His Holiness the Patriarch, the meeting took place at the right time and right place. Indeed, throughout the existence of the Russian Church the head of the Russian Church has never met with the Pope. So it really is a historic meeting. The meeting did not discuss any theological issues. The question concerned the current situation of Christians. In the Middle East and North Africa. And, as we see today, terrible things happen to Christians who live in these areas. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are driven out and destroyed. Today, a huge number of people in these regions only because of their beliefs. And, of course, another very important issue was touched - this is Uniatism. And it was very clearly stated in the declaration that Uniatism is not a means of reconciliation of East and West Christians. Today, at the level of the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow, this phenomenon has been convicted. So it is not a means of achieving unity among Christians. This is very important.

Why do I ask you about this? Since our viewers are both Orthodox and Catholics, it may be interesting for them to know your position. You could drink a cup of tea with Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
And not just a cup of tea. We do meet and communicate at different events. And once again I want to say. You know, I had to meet with different people. And sometimes when I meet today even with the Orthodox who condemn the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch, I say to everyone: "My friends, but in fact there were no theological questions discussed. It was a meeting." We have not become Catholics because of this! I tell them: "Look, the Patriarch met with the Muslim leader. Those communicate at the World Russian Council. There are Catholics, there are Muslims there too. And what, are we now all Muslims? The Patriarch met with Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party. Have we become Communists?"

By the way, what do you think, I watched in 1991, after 1991, when Communists, previously anti-religious people, suddenly started to go to church. Is this an opportunistic trend?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
You know, some were trying to condemn Yeltsin and all those who yesterday were communists and today started going to church and stand with candles. They were condemned. I say to them all: "My friends, you do not blame them. They were brought up in this way. Yes, they are brought up, they thought it was the right ideology and the only right. But what distinguishes man from an animal? He is a rational being. Man is a rational being. He realized that he is not going the right way. We have to go the other way. Is it bad?"

Communism, in fact, maybe I'm exaggerating, was also a religion. You often say you were not in Komsomol. I was once in Komsomol and was a Communist. In fact, the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism, I'm sorry... But it was blatantly copied from the biblical commandments.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
In this case, I remember one of his friend, now deceased. Once I came to visit him. He always tried to talk to me on religious topics. He asked me whether I read the code or the charter of the Communist Party? I said no. He brings me this little book and reads: "A Communist must fight the religious prejudices." You, the priests, are also combating religious prejudices?" I say: "Yes, we are." He says: "And we are too. Well I tell you, we are doing the same thing." "It is not written that we have to fight with God." Communists actually did not fight with God. They fought what they could touch. Destroyed monasteries, destroyed temples. Listen, to fight with God through the destruction of cultural property... Isn't it crazy?

You met with the President last week. Are you doing one thing with Alexander Lukashenko? With the state? Church and state, I mean.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Yes, we are. We complement each other. But, thank God, in Belarus, the church is not separated from the state in the same way as in Russia. Yes, we do not interfere in the political affairs of the state. And thank God, this is not necessary. But today, the state helps the Church in Belarus, helps in the restoration of temples and any other historical and cultural values, and helps us in the education, spiritual formation. This is extremely important.

The President said: "I count on your active position in public life."

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Yes, this is extremely important, even though we, of course, have limited capabilities. Here we are today working in front of TV cameras, we know that maybe thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will watch us. But in temples, we can talk to... 100, 500 or at most 1,000 people. That is, our resources are somewhat limited, but we still continue to engage in educating people, young people. That is extremely important. We would also like to be more active in educating the smallest people, in nurseries and schools.

To work with young people, taking into account today's realities, it is necessary to resort to the help of the Internet. I know that you are the enemy of the Internet, social networks.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
No, I'm not the enemy. I'm for clean Internet. Unfortunately, there is a lot of dirt there. Perhaps there should be some kind of filter that will ban sins and dirty things but bring people something clean, beautiful. So I use the TV and the Internet. So many good books can be found there! It is possible to call people to church via the Internet, but meeting with the God must not be on the Internet. In the temple is where God and man meet. Holy sacraments are made only in the church, you can't do it via the Internet.

Talking about priests… Are all priests in the Belarusian Orthodox Church Belarusians? Sometimes the state and the President blamed mainly the Catholic Church that they have many priests coming from Poland and working on the territory of Belarus. But what about the Belarusian Orthodox Church?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Of course, the majority are locals. Although, you know, we should not seek to make a distinction. The most important thing is that a person, from Russia or any other country, is serving God.

You did not want to go to Belarus, did you? Are you close to the Ryazan lands?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
No, I tell you that today I wouldn't like to leave Belarus. You know, I liked wherever the Synod sent me. I did not work for some man. I worked for a country where I worked, be it Israel or some other country. I did not do anything against the United States, when I served there, I did not do anything against Austria and Hungary, where I served. Now I am not doing anything against the Republic of Belarus. I work for the glory of God and the glory of the fatherland, to the glory of the people.

There is work by Leo Tolstoy - "Father Sergius" - perhaps you read it. I read it as an adult, a socialite became a priest and struggled with temptations, chopped his finger in order not to sin with a woman and some years later he still succumbed to some temptation. You also lead a very righteous way of life. Are there any temptations in your life?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
When we talk about a sin, they are all mortal, so any sin is terrible. And everyone has a variety of sins, and everyone has to fight. I am not an exception; I am not an angel, so I can also stumble. But the most important is a sense of awareness of your offense committed and the desire to erase it and ask God for forgiveness, repentance. Repentance is not just that I come to the sacrament and confess. No. Repentance is the transformation of my inner world. I must understand that I did a bad thing.

Recently, it was reported that Patriarch Kirill has joined the address banning abortion in Russia. What is your opinion on that?

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
It is an extremely important decision. I support this decision of His Holiness, his signing. When a woman is in danger, that's one thing, there is no ban. You know, in the Soviet period the abortion was not a sin at all! If a woman simply does not want a child, an abortion is a murder. What can a child do against it in a womb? Nothing! Infirm, weak, he only just about started living and he is killed in the womb. For what? Only for some woman to conceal the betrayal of a loved one. And they go for it. There is a mass murder going on. It is a terrible sin.

And the abortion is included in the medical insurance.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Yes, medical insurance. That is, it turns out, today everyone can say: "I pay taxes, then I become an accomplice in the massacre of children in the womb. And I do not want it. I pay my taxes, I want my taxes to be directed to the development of the state, to the strengthening of the state, to the support of people in need. But my money is used for murder. I do not want that." Therefore, the task of the church today is to do everything possible to exclude this surgery from the insurance liabilities of people. But if someone will then go to some private doctors. Let them go, but this is their own soul. They will kill. It will be on their conscience, but not on the conscience of the society or of all residents of the state. That is very important.

You are a very interesting person. We can endlessly continue this conversation.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Thank you.

Perhaps at this point we will stop for now to continue the conversation sometime in the future.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Okay, we can often meet.

Thank you, Your Grace.

Pavel, Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus:
Thank you.

Faith, Internet, writers, church, abortion and sins: Interview with head of Belarusian Orthodox Church