Patriarch Kirill speaks to the nation on Christmas Eve
It has become a tradition on Russian mainstream television for the head of the Russian church, Patriarch Kirill, to give a lengthy interview on Christmas Eve, (Russians celebrate it on December 6th).
English subtitles can be turned on in the YouTube settings
This year, the Kirill shared his thoughts on Dostoevsky, the effect of the Ukraine war on state and society, priests on the front lines, the return of Christian morality to Russian society and its continuing collapse in Europe, the future of Christianity in the Ukraine as its church comes under violent persecution, the Russian church's lead role in providing humanitarian aide and charitable giving to the Ukraine, whether Russians and Ukrainians are one people, and much more.
These interviews are interesting insights into the Patriarch as a person. One fact that comes across is how well Kirill is able to speak off the cuff, displaying a commanding intellect.
For the last several years, the interviewer has been Andrei Kondrashov, one of the most influential media figures in Russia. Famous for his immensely popular documentary films about the Ukraine going back to 2014 and previously as one of Russia's most visible news anchors, Kondrashov is the #2 executive at Russia's mammoth state-owned media conglomerate, VGTRK. Imagine 3-4 US mainstream media holdings mashed together, and you get a sense of the heft and reach of VGTRK. The choice of Kondrashov as interviewer is symbolic because he is the journalist most favored by Putin with whom to do lengthy one-on-one interviews, of which he has done many with Kondrashov.
Some key soundbites from the interview:
- "We are fighting to keep human civilization viable, for the future of mankind, no less.
- "The more Russia is put under pressure from the West, the stronger we become spiritually."
- "Today, Russia has a special role - we are fighting for the life of the world."
- "Only a great cataclysm can shake the West out of its current embrace of evil."
- "A country where the distinction between sin and virtue is lost will come to a very tragic end."
- "A vile persecution of the Church has been unleashed Europe, under the slogan of democracy and freedom."
- "Since ancient times, external forces have worked to divide Russians and Ukrainians, who are one people, with one church, to turn them against each other."
- "We are united with Christians who belong to our church in the US, UK, Europe, everywhere, not politically, but spiritually. That is why they attack our church."
Full transcript follow below. Machine translated from the Patriarch's website, there might be some inaccuracies.
- Your Holiness, thank you for this annual opportunity to speak with you on the eve of the feast of Christmas.
- Thank you for the opportunity to meet and, through your questions, to feel the interest of the media as well. And that interest probably reflects a lot of our society's interest in the life of the Church, so I always meet with you with great attention and, I shouldn't hide it, with human pleasure.
- Thank you. Your Holiness, it's almost a year now that we've been living in a situation of military conflict. And I know, and everyone knows, that the Russian Church has been tirelessly praying for peace all this time. And Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky once said: "A long peace hardens people. The long peace produces apathy, depravity of thought, debauchery, and dulls the senses. The social preponderance during the long peace always in the end comes to rude wealth. Does this mean, in your opinion, that wars between states are inevitable, since peace according to Dostoyevsky has such a negative effect on the moral state of society?
- I think it's from The Writer's Diary, if I'm not mistaken, and I think it's not Dostoevsky's words, but somebody else's. I'll look it up again later. I think they were not his words, he puts them in the mouth of someone else, but in general, this is a thought that is not unique to Dostoevsky.
There are the hardest moments in a person's life when you have to overstep yourself in order to achieve something in professional growth, in education, in many other areas. But here is the most important thing that I have learned for myself in my time. I can say from personal experience: the burden that falls on our shoulders, with a spiritually and psychologically correct perception really helps us to grow. So the difficulties are given to us in order to make us stronger and wiser. And if we speak about the life of the society, state, in order to have positive changes in the life of the society and state, so that people become more consolidated. If we're talking about difficulties related to danger from the outside - so that people really consolidate, so that they appreciate what they have more, so that there is a desire to defend what they have and improve personal and public life.
So difficulties are given to us, perhaps, in order to make us stronger and better. It all depends on what kind of thoughts, with what kind of purpose we meet these difficulties and fight them.
- A huge number of military priests went to the front lines to meet their difficulties "over the ribbon," as we say, to the front lines. They are there now, many of them died, one of them, Archpriest Michael Vasilyev, was awarded the title of Hero of Russia. Your Holiness, how important do you think the presence of priests of the Orthodox Church, perhaps of other faiths, is today on the front lines?
- A priest has no right to take up arms. He cannot even defend himself during hostilities, that is, the presence of a priest in the Armed Forces during hostilities is a huge risk. If we take pre-revolutionary practice, a regimental priest with a cross in his hand would launch an attack. With the first to come out of the trenches, marched toward the enemy; and priests were most often killed because it was a coveted target for the enemy. Today our priests also lift the spirits and strengthen the faith of our soldiers in the war zone. But I would also like to say that the priest very much humanizes this difficult, radically negative sphere of human existence. A priest in the army is someone who can listen, help with advice, pray together; someone who does a lot of work with relatives. Because most often wives, mothers, children turn to clergy for support, because people are very worried about their relatives, loved ones, those who can lay down their lives.
So again and again I want to say that the clergyman does not take up arms. He continues to be a coveted and easy target. And we know that Father Michael Vasilyev was followed, and this blow was struck precisely to ruin him. Every priest who is in the area of hostilities is aware that he is an easy and coveted target, but no one leaves there unless the clergy recalls him - all remain faithful to their priestly oath and their pastoral duty.
I very much appreciate the work of our clergy in any extreme situation, but especially where the presence of a priest is very important for the spiritual condition of the people - first and foremost, of course, of the military.
- Recently the President of the Russian Federation approved a number of proposals that, incidentally, the Russian Orthodox Church has long advocated. I am referring to some bills concerning the protection of our traditional spiritual values and the ban on the promotion of homosexuality and pedophilia. What do you think, from the moment these laws come into effect, how much will they help further the moral recovery of our society?
- It's hard to say, because morality is an internal human dimension, and whether external laws can affect the internal state of a person is a big question. It seems to me that the inner state of a person is primarily influenced by spiritual factors - upbringing, culture. But what are these laws for - the state thus determines its attitude to such phenomena. They cease to be, as they are called, a kind of norm, that is, what they are in other societies. The state does not repress people, but declares its moral position, and this is extremely important. And the fact that today Russia, the Russian state, the Russian authorities have taken this position testifies that the moral issues, the issues of the spiritual life of people are not indifferent to the Russian authorities.
That is why, of course, all the forces of evil are thrown in this case not only at the Church and priests, but also at the representatives of the authorities, but I think that together we will all cope with this problem.
- One of our high-ranking officials recently said, and I'll quote, that many in Russia used to say and believe in the possibility of implementing Charles de Gaulle's will to build a common space with Europeans from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Now it's clear to all of us that this project has failed. And in your speech in the Federation Council, you said that Russia is not self-isolating, that it does not close the very window that Peter once cut through to Europe, but that this window remains open only for mutually respectful dialogue, not ideological diktat. Tell me, Your Holiness, what awaits us now in relations with Europe? Does it mean that we no longer have a common basis in the form of common Christian values? Because they simply ignore them, to put it mildly.
- Of course this is Europe's problem, because we retain Christian values. And even in our multi-religious society, where there is a big percentage of Muslims, these values are preserved, because they are refracted in the Muslim doctrine about God, about a man. So for us everything is preserved. Well, if it disappears somewhere, so much the worse for those from whose lives it all disappears. What does it mean to lose the moral scale of values or, better said, the evaluation of values in terms of morality? It means to lose spiritual reference points in life. And if the reference points are lost, where does one go? There are no internal reference points, a person does not own that compass, he is lost, he goes where he is guided. And who guides him? The forces that operate in society. And do these forces always seek the good? Not at all! So a man becomes easily manipulated, he is very weak, he really loses his freedom. And where can all this lead to if evil increases in human relations?
We have before us an apocalyptic perspective. And what is the age of the Apocalypse, the disappearance of good from people's lives? Shall I find faith in men (see Luke 18:8), says the Lord. Here is the complete disappearance of goodness, the moral criterion, here is the destruction of the reference points which helped mankind to ascend from strength to strength, and everyone is still helped to ascend from strength to strength, if all these reference points are not destroyed. In other words, if this continues, society is in danger of self-destruction. And from a Christian apocalyptic point of view, there is no special news here; it is all written in the Apocalypse. What is the Apocalypse and the end of the world? How can the end of the world happen, under what conditions? Then when good disappears, because evil is unsustainable and the apogee of evil is death, destruction. And if evil wins on a global scale, it means that humanity has exhausted all its potential for life. This is the end of the world - it will not come from somewhere above or below, it will come from man himself and from human society.
So our struggle for moral principles, our struggle for the preservation of faith, is a struggle for the future of all mankind, for the life of the world, nothing less. We fight for the life of the world. We are fighting to ensure that human civilization remains viable. And as long as this work and this faith persist, so will hope for the future. In this sense, of course, our country has a very special role. Because Russia today is really becoming a spiritually strong community, and the more negative pressure is put on us, the stronger we are becoming. And I feel it as a shepherd, and when I meet with people of different backgrounds and ranks, I see that these difficulties do not weaken us. And I want to stress once again: if we save all that we have, then we will save ourselves and our Motherland.
- But somehow they do not want to save themselves, to all appearances; moreover, there is a real substitution of the concepts of good and evil. For example, recently, as I am sure you know, they announced the idea that primary school age children themselves, at their own discretion, can determine, that is, change their sex. Accordingly, they will be prescribed some kind of hormones, which will then deprive these people of the possibility of having children in the future. Tell me, do you think this is a reversible trend, or do they become like this once and for all? When there is trampling on everything that is holy, when the biblical understanding of man is rejected, is this even reversible, or will it be worse than now?
- It cannot be self-reversible, based on the level to which this society has now plunged. When all the horrors we are talking about become the norm of life, it is hard to imagine how society itself will be able to get out of this crisis. Only if something happens.
- What is something?
- Something that is in God's hands. It could be cataclysms. Any cataclysms that shake the human consciousness when people are looking for a way out, when no way out means death. In the face of such cataclysms, man can change his thinking and remember the system of values that came to us from above. For only by being in this system of values can man remain human, and human society can exist. Relying on the fact that people will evolve from evil to good is an idealistic and unrealistic attitude toward the future.
Or the hardest conditions of existence, which really make people think a lot, as it happened during the Great Patriotic War in our country. Conversion from atheism to faith; and in general, how strong the country came out not only militarily, but also morally, how strong we all came out!
Either that, or those who live in this terrible paradigm, where sin is mixed with virtue, where the distinction between sin and virtue is lost altogether, will lead this system to a most sad end.
- In the past year we have witnessed unprecedented pressure on the Orthodox flock in Ukraine. In general, everything that happens to the Church in Ukraine has happened to the Church, probably only in the middle of the last century, and now. Who would have thought: priests are being threatened, sometimes to their health and lives; there is an attack on the holy places before our eyes. In general, what do you think will happen to Orthodoxy in Ukraine?
- Orthodoxy will remain. But in order to preserve Orthodoxy, it is necessary to make sacrifices under these conditions. And these are not voluntary sacrifices, but simply the reaction of Orthodox people to the challenge they face. Either to preserve the faith or abandon it. All those who will keep the faith, piety, loyalty to the canonical Church, will, of course, take the path of confession; they have already taken that path. Because in the center of Europe, a nasty persecution of the Church has indeed been unleashed - under the slogans of democracy, freedom, and so on.
I believe in the strength of spirit of the Orthodox Ukrainian people. People are very strong in their faith, very courageous, very emotional. God grant that all these best qualities of the Ukrainian people will help the country of Ukraine to overcome the deep spiritual crisis in which the country finds itself. It is not only a political crisis, but also a spiritual crisis. And all these calls to democratize, westernize the country, of course, turn the head of those who connect these calls with the improvement of the material life of people. The rich people of the West live well, and if we follow this path, we will also live well.
But on the same road, as we know, is the question of the change of sexes, the critical attitude to religion and many other things that accompany the de-Christianization of Western society today. So I don't undertake to judge whether this is politically correct or incorrect, it is not my question - I judge all of this solely from a pastoral point of view. Will Ukrainians put up with gender reassignment, will they put up with all the moral relativism that has become part of the culture and politics of the Western world? If they accept all this, they lose their identity, their authenticity, they cease to be holy ground.
What, then, is the feat of the saints? Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Pochaev Lavra, this whole monastic tradition? In fact, it is undoubtedly about the struggle with the Orthodox Church, which has always been and, God willing, will continue to be the great moral and spiritual force of the Ukrainian people in the future.
- Our Russian Church helped people a great deal during the pandemic and accumulated a great deal of experience. And as soon as hostilities began, the Church immediately began to help people - victims of war, refugees. I see so many people there, as we say, "behind the ribbon" delivering packages to soldiers, helping those who are suffering, who are wounded. Do you think this kind of sincere indifference to people both within the Church and in our secular space can bring peace closer?
- In terms of bringing political peace closer, it is hard to say. But in terms of the inner recovery of our society, it is undoubtedly a very important impulse that affects the public consciousness and the consciousness of young people. And what is happening now cannot but touch and feel a sense of gratitude. I know so many of these young people, volunteers, who go there, to dangerous places and sacrificially carry out their service. People grow under the weight of external circumstances, if not break down under their influence.
Therefore, I think that everything that is happening now, including the involvement of our young people in charity, in helping people in very difficult circumstances in Donbass, will really help to make a positive change in the outlook of young people, in their perception of life and will eventually have a positive effect on their personal lives, and so it should have a positive effect on the life of our society.
- Do you think Russians and Ukrainians are the same people?
- There is no doubt. They are one people who came out of the baptismal font of Kiev, but they are a very large nation. From the White Sea to the Black Sea. And this enormity always aroused fears and envy of surrounding people, that's why since ancient times the external forces worked to divide, to pull apart or even to push one part of the nation from another.
- To finish it off...
- And if you look at history, that is how it happened. But the Orthodox Church was and is the force that binds this people together. This is why radical steps were taken at one time to weaken the influence of the Church, and in the first place the creation of the union. Indeed, the union greatly divided the people of Western and Southern Russia, but not only that, but it led to bloody confrontations. And where there is blood, there is long-term conflict.
- Indeed, we are now on opposite sides of a great confrontation, exasperation is clearly growing, and on the other side the hatred of all things Russian is cultivated. But this year is the year of our common history, as you said. We are one people, and we share the same date - the 1035th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, which we will celebrate this year. Do you think we can, at least on the basis of this date, count on the fact that we have some ways to overcome the split between the Russians and Ukrainians?
- The political split exists. The fact that Ukraine declared that it radically changes the vector of its political and, I would say, historical development and that this new vector does not coincide in any way with the vector of Russia's development - that is the point. Here they are trying to create some civilizational prerequisite for the division of people. And how successful this separation will be in bringing it to the depths of people's lives is a complicated question, although everything is being done today in Ukraine so that in the eyes of Ukrainians, Russia really becomes the enemy and so that in the eyes of Ukrainians, the Russian people, the Russians become another people. On how successful all these activities aimed at creating a chasm between the two parts of one people will be, of course, depends the future. But the Church must do everything to ensure that the Ukrainians and Russians do not become enemies in any way.
- Well, thank God, we do not have such a cultivation of hatred towards Ukrainians. We treated them as we did, and we still do.
- No cultivation of hatred.
- We have a special attitude to their leadership...
- Yes, we criticize the leadership, but also in political categories. We do not stoop to any insults. We do not agree with the political position of the leadership, but we are not talking about cultivating a negative attitude towards Ukraine and the Ukrainians, and as Patriarch of All Russia I am very attentive to it. For me it is one people, one Church. And that is why, of course, both the Patriarch and the Russian Orthodox Church are attacked, because it is a factor of unity, not political, but spiritual. Just as we are one with the Orthodox people who belong to our Church in the United States of America, in Great Britain, in Western Europe, anywhere. We are one Church, one people, one praying community. But even this spiritual unity is too much for those who want to dig a chasm between Russia and Ukraine, which is why the Church is under attack.
- But those who are digging a chasm between Ukraine and Russia, one thing they will probably never be able to do is to abolish the Julian calendar. And the Russians and Ukrainians have a common calendar, thank God, and very soon we will celebrate the feast of Christmas together, at the same time. Is this what this holiday should be like? Is there room in this feast for joy in a time of sorrow?
- When we say "feast," we already mean joy. Because any holiday and becomes a holiday when people celebrate, and it is impossible to celebrate with sorrow. Celebration is a light emotion, light feelings, and Church holidays have a special effect on the human soul, on its consciousness, creating a special experience of joy, a quiet, prayerful joy, and this joy will be one for all - for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, and for all our brothers and sisters who live in Russia, and for our entire Church.
- Your Holiness, we congratulate you - all the journalists of Rossiya, Rossiya-24, Rossiya-Kultura and VGTRK television channels - on the joyous feast of Christmas.
- I thank you from the bottom of my heart and wish the help of God to all the people working at these channels, which have a great significance in our information space and have the opportunity to make a positive influence - both emotional and outlook - on all those who watch and listen to you.
- We do our best. Thank you.
- All the best! I wish you a merry Christmas.