We discuss the upcoming holiday of the Resurrection of Christ, life and death, faith and immortality with Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), governor of the Moscow Sretensky Monastery.
– Father Tikhon, why is Easter every time celebrated not as another anniversary of the Resurrection of Christ, but as the Resurrection itself?
Christians feel the great power of these words, if faith for them is not a matter of tradition only, but living life, if they feel and live communion with God as the most important reality of their life. This also applies to the Resurrection. It is impossible to convey this only by some theoretical messages, unfortunately (or fortunately). So God arranged. Yes, if faith were just a theory, the Church of Christ would wither away a few years after its inception. After all, our faith is nothing but a living connection between God and people, between God who has become a man — Jesus Christ, and each of us Christians.
The living sensation of the pulse of eternity, which responds to every Christian, is especially felt on the feast of Easter – the Resurrection. Before growing up, small children are clearly aware that death is something completely alien, incomprehensible and unnatural to man. We, adults, remember well this childish sensation of the reality of eternity as one of the constants of being of a person who just entered God’s world.
There are several such constants in a child, but they are for him an undoubted truth. This is, perhaps, the love of the mother, the daily discovery of the beautiful world and the conviction in the eternity of one’s being and the eternity of all those who are enveloped in the love of a child: “May there always be a mother, let there always be me.”
But even when a person matures and even approaches the end of life, the feeling of the absurdity of his own death does not leave him until the last minute. This can be witnessed by every doctor and every priest. And this is not at all some psychological phenomena, not self-deception. This is an amazing reality, open to man. And the Resurrection of Christ tells us that we are not mistaken: there is no death for the human soul, for the human person. The discovery of the life of the next century, the kingdom is not of this world, the invitation to it is the essence of the Gospel, the main meaning of the Resurrection and the essence of the work of Jesus Christ in the human race.
– But what is needed in order to learn how to celebrate the Resurrection like this – like today’s, real event? After all, now many people know the rules: how to sanctify Easter cakes, how many times to kiss and be baptized. Or maybe some of the most important knowledge we lack?
– Yes, in this – the most important thing – each person will have to figure out only the most. There is no other way. Christ only patiently, with the unfathomable love of the Father, invites every person. But never commits violence over our freedom.
But if a person has not figured out with eternity in his life, it means that he has not figured out anything at all. And life is lived in vain. If a person did not set himself these “damned questions”, according to Dostoevsky’s famous expression, and didn’t try to honestly answer them with all his strength, then the person did absolutely nothing in life. Even if he planted a thousand trees, built a whole city and gave birth to ten sons. Christ leaves us with these words: “If a person gains the whole world, and loses his soul, there is no use for him in that.”
That is the main question and the discovery of Easter. This is the main thing. And what color to paint for the holiday chicken eggs, what kind of bake cakes, believe me, this is the 1025th case.
– So in order to understand this, what should be done – to read, pray, and contact the priest?
– Now at the services during fasting in churches, the ancient verse from the Bible, “Seek God, and your soul is alive,” is often recalled. Of course, it is necessary to look for answers to the main questions first of all in the church with the priest. They will say that not every father will be able to answer clearly and clearly. Well, then, we must look for the next.
For some, a believing friend can be an assistant in this main task of life. For some, it can be books. You can not give a finished recipe.
The Confessor is not a priestess
“Can a priest for such conversations, a confessor, be elected any, relying on the fact that God will give the right one, or is it worth looking for?”
– I am deeply convinced: the confessor should be sought. Pray and look again. It should not immediately be the first priest to say: be my confessor. We need to talk with him, be like a confession to him, see how he can answer your requests. To get to know another, with a third priest: And then decide.
The clerk should not be a coaxer, as they said in ancient Russia. That is, he should not indulge in sins. He must certainly be kind, merciful, but from the love of you – exacting, he must lead you to Christ according to the law of the Gospel, and not according to the law that you yourself will dictate to him.
This is a matter of principle. This is exactly the same as choosing a doctor. You can negotiate with the doctor – and he will allow you a lot of indulgence. And this will destroy. And you can search and find a doctor who will cure.
– Easter holidays – a good time to make such a major step to the temple?
– To those for whom the church is not yet a home, I would like to wish for them to feel and see how beautiful, kind, surprisingly bright life in the Church of Christ is, how much future there is in it for each person.
– Father Tikhon, and which of the Easter holidays in your life do you remember more often than others?
– Every Easter is an unforgettable event, bright, in its own way exceptional. But from the pre-Easter days, that is, just from the period that we are going through now, we can recall one very unusual experience and adventure. And although it is connected, no matter how strange it may seem, with violation of the rules of Lent, it remains for me one of the most touching and dear memories. This story is described in the book “The Unholy Saints”, and I would like to offer it to the readers of “Labor.”
– Your book has become a sensation – the circulation for such a subject is unprecedented. Did you expect it yourself?
– No, I did not expect. Indeed, almost 800 thousand copies of the book have already been published, and soon another 200 thousand will have to be reprinted. So by the fall, it seems, there will be a million – this is the year. Now translations into several foreign languages are being made. Of course, it is nice that what was told in the book has become important for people and believers, and not at all of the church. And for me the biggest miracle is that I managed to find time to work on this book.
For our sins
– Interest in your book is another manifestation of the fact that people have a growing craving for faith, for the church. But lately, the opposite vector has clearly emerged – an aggressive attitude toward the church. And such aggression is becoming more tangible. What is the reason?
– There is nothing fundamentally new here. Anti-church forces have always been. It is enough to re-read, for example, some works of Archbishop Nikon (Rozhdestvensky), one of my favorite church authors of the last century. One hundred years ago, he described a situation in society as if it were a question of today. Unfortunately, history teaches little.
– But the current events – and hooliganism in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and the subsequent attacks on the church – for all of them nevertheless became unexpected, and therefore especially painful, didn’t it?
“But few people realize that on February 21, 2012, for the first time after the most difficult years of Soviet power, the church was deliberately desecrated. Of course, this is not a political action. Blasphemy and the disgusting Bolshevik robbery want to pass for high politics, then for the “art” accessible only to the elect. And just a coldly thought-out outrage over the most expensive for Orthodox people happened – a dirty swearing at Christ and the Most Holy Mother of God, blasphemous dances at the royal gates with a fierce desire to perform the most sophisticated disgusting things in the temple.
I find it funny when they are called “girls.” This is a healthy, giving a report in their actions aunt. They have children. Of course, they chose such. The next will be sent to teenagers.
Of course, they are really sorry. The enemy does not wish to be in their place. They have a whole life ahead of them. But until death they will remain with a terrible stigma: for the first time after the Bolsheviks, they defiled the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Their children and their grandchildren will know this:
But before that, in a few days, they did the same thing in the famous Epiphany Cathedral in Moscow. Shocked parishioners and priests then detained them. We talked. Forgiven. They asked not to do this again. And let go in peace. Soon they appeared in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior:
“Forgive them, Lord, do not know what they are doing!” – Christ prayed for his crucifiers. And indeed, the Roman soldiers did not know whom they were crucifying. In contrast, the defilers knew what they were doing.
They demand from us to forgive them: Believe me, we, Orthodox Christians, do not keep them angry. And from the bottom of my heart we are ready to sincerely forgive them. Yes, but they do not need our forgiveness. They openly declare this, saying that they do not regret their deed, are proud of it and do not repent at all. They do not need forgiveness from us, and the other is impunity. They and their inspirers by all means try to draw out “forgiveness” from society and the church as an indulgence for future similar actions. But the Russian church does not give out indulgences.
And forgive? Yes, we have forgiven them for a long time! And we pray for them, and we wish to see at last in them both the human image, and the image of the mother, and the image of the Christian, if they are baptized:
But at the same time, our duty is to put in front of them and those like them, an effective barrier. What kind of barrier this will be is not a question for the church. This should decide the state and society. After all, all these atrocities will inevitably end up with the fact that the upcoming “performances”, as they call them, will be filled with blood. This is a common thing for such revolutionary entertainment.
A few days after the events described by us, blasphemy occurred in the temple of the city of Nevinnomyssk, then in Vologda. They hacked and desecrated altars, chopped icons, knocked down, and crucified with a dagger.
– But still, from a spiritual point of view, what are the causes of all this?
– In order to speak from a spiritual point of view, one must be a truly spiritual person. So don’t give me the answer to your question. But the truly spiritual people, our pious ancestors, I think, recognizing, of course, the presence of anti-church forces, and the planned attacks on the church, would nevertheless answer like this: “According to our sins, the Lord sends it to us!”
“On violation of church regulations, or on how Prince Zurab Chavchavadze and I violated Lent”
Alexander Ilyich Muzykantsky, through the government of Moscow, was able to reach an agreement with the government of Maskhadov, the then head of Chechnya, about our trip and about giving aid to Easter to Grozny’s Christians. Evgeny Alekseevich Parhayev, director of the Patriarchal Sofrinsky workshops, handed over to the bombed and plundered church of Grozny everything necessary for worship.
Departure was scheduled for Monday Passion Week. The day before my departure, I informed my friend Zurab Mikhailovich Chavchavadze about the upcoming trip and asked if something happened to me, take care of my mom. But Zurab said that he would certainly go with me. No matter how hard I tried to persuade him, no matter how I tried to convince him that he, husband and father, could not risk himself, the prince was adamant. He even referred to the fact that his great-grandmother, Princess Nino Chavchavadze, was abducted by the Circassians at the end of the 19th century, but soon released. Like, this is a good sign for a successful trip. In the end, I had to agree, and with my faithful friend, asking the prayers of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy, Father John (Krestyankin) and other Pechersk elders, we went to Grozny.
The picture before us appeared terrible. The bombed out Grozny lay in ruins, we did not meet a single multi-storey building. We barely managed to get permission to transport several bottles of Cahors through the Chechen customs for service in the temple – a ban on alcohol was in force in Ichkeria. Thank God, everything was okay with the money that I smuggled in secret, wrapped around the body. These funds were required primarily for distribution to Russian citizens of Grozny: for several years now they have not received either wages, nor benefits, nor pensions. Part of the money was intended for the priest, the other for mothers who were searching for their sons in Chechnya who were captured.
We stopped at the location of the group of the official representative of the President of Russia in Chechnya. It was a small area outside the airport of the North: two old wooden barracks. The first was the official representation of Russia in Ichkeria. Here lived several generals and officers; immediately settled us and Zurab. In the second barracks were placed 60 riot police. Their task, as I was explained, was to hold out for 15 minutes in the event of an enemy attack, until the officers destroyed the encryption machines and documents.
We were met very warmly. One of our officers was instructed to accompany Zurab and me, but the leadership honestly warned that in a difficult case, this officer could do little to help, except to die heroically for us. By order of Maskhadov, four more Chechens were assigned to us. To the anxious question of whether this security was reliable, we were told that if they did not sell us on the road, everything would be in order. Zurab and I, in order not to overdo it for nothing, decided to take it as a joke.
Until late in the evening we delivered food and things, handed out money. Part of the food and medicine was transferred to the orphanage. In the ruined church of the Archangel Michael, they met with Father Evfimy, a priest, and agreed to serve in two days, on Holy Thursday. The liturgy should have gathered hundreds of remaining Christians from all over Grozny. The state abandoned them to the mercy of fate. What they have experienced over the years is difficult to describe. We were happy that we could help them with something.
The degree of hatred after the war was such that the Russians were sometimes forbidden to even break up a small kitchen garden in order to have at least some kind of food. While we were walking around the city, my windshield turned out to be pretty spat, but Zurab and I tried not to notice this, so as not to provoke the worst.
To solve a few more questions, Zurab and I were offered to spend the night not in the Russian representative office, but somewhere in the city and without an accompanying officer. The officer was, of course, categorically against it, but Zurab and I decided to rely on the will of God and on the decency of the representative of the Chechen government accompanying us. The officer warned that he disclaims all responsibility, and was forced to leave. And we were taken somewhere on the outskirts of Grozny to a private house.
Of course, it was anxious. But everything worked out. We were received affably in a large Chechen family, the head of which was an influential person here – an engineer from Ivanov who grew up in Russia. During a long night conversation, another side of this tragedy was revealed to us, which concerned a lot of simple Chechen families. We solved almost all our questions. A long after midnight, after cleaning up my spatted cassock and having prayed deeply, Zurab and I fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, and it was Great Wednesday, we, with the same group of Chechen guards, set off on our way back through the ruined city. Our guards looked more friendly today. Apparently, they were impressed that we were not afraid to spend the night in an unfamiliar house.
Only late in the evening, tired after a lot of adventures (among which, unfortunately, was the hour-long pursuit of some unknown to us even by our guards), we arrived at Severny airport, on the Russian base.
Approaching the barracks, Zurab and I were looking forward to drinking a hot tea with bread, honoring the Holy Week, captured from Moscow, then follow the rule to communion and sleep until morning. If only we knew what awaits us in the barracks!
At the door we were eagerly greeted by two officers. They hugged us tightly and said that the military, who no longer hoped to see us alive, having learned that we were safe and sound, prepared for us a solemn meeting.
Crossing the threshold of the barracks, we just turned to stone: a huge table in the middle of the barracks was lined with an incredible number of dishes. There were steaming pieces of lamb, and a roasted pig, and a fish in the fish … Next to the shelf, in a prominent place, there was a paper icon in the frame, and a paraffin candle burned in front of it – the owners did everything they could for us. We looked with horror at the gastronomic abundance, now at the officers delighted with our return, who, crowding around us, invited each other to the table.
– I can not … I have never broken Lent in my life! – whispered Zurab.
What was to do? Start explaining the severity of Passion Week? To read to these people who have tried for us from the bottom of their hearts a lecture that not only meat – vegetable oil cannot be eaten today according to church charters? To admit, even with a terrible dream, Zurab and I could not imagine such a thing … But we both felt that all our perfectly correct explanations would now be incomparably more sinful before God than this unforeseen fast for us.
This long and beautiful meal filled with true Christian love was remembered by Zurab and me for the rest of our lives.
In subsequent years, we and the monastery brethren have often visited Chechnya and other military garrisons, and if the trip fell during fasting, we always diligently asked in advance to take into account our gastronomic restrictions.