On Saturday, May 23, the 3rd annual Orthodox Student’s Forum Faith and Works was held at the Izmailovsky Kremlin in Moscow. Following the discussion forums, a meeting with Patriarch Kirill took place at which were approximately 4500 people from various Orthodox youth organizations and university clubs. The patriarch spoke on a wide variety of topics and then answered some questions from those in the audience. (In my opinion, this question and answer session did not last long enough, but maybe it was for the better as most of the questions were rather irrelevant.) Follows the first part of my translation of the patriarch’s speech. You can watch the whole speech and questions here and see pictures of the event here.
Dear friends, I would first of all like to thank you for the fact that you have gathered for this meeting. For me as patriarch and as bishop of Moscow it is very important to see your faces and hear your voices. The Church can successfully carry out its testimony to the world, win the hearts of people, and materially help people only when its servants understand the needs and expectations, joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments of its contemporaries.
We live at a complicated time. On the one hand, there is quite a high standard of living. For is it possible to compare today’s standard of living and the consumption standard to those of 50 or more years past? On the other hand, so many new problems are arising that the avalanche of those problems often eclipses, in our consciousness, the satisfaction of those achievements which exist. Everyone knows that a lot of interest it attracted by the appearance of new types of technology, including cars, planes, and household appliances. It seems that with the appearance of new types of technology and the creation of modern infrastructure people’s lives will also improve. Some people have a rather over-positive view of human progress: if automobiles and planes improve and if the roads are wider and better quality it means that life will be better. I would like to share with you my own thoughts concerning this.
I began to work in Moscow 20 years ago. At first I drove myself and them I had a driver who drove a Volga GAZ-24. People of the older generation know this car well; it’s not very comfortable. But when I was brought here today in a luxurious Mercedes, I had a chance to ask myself, “When was I happier? When it took me 20 minutes to get to work in a Volga, or when most people are in good cars and it takes 45 minutes, an hour, or an hour and a half to get to work?” Yesterday one priest called me and said that it had taken him four hours in a decent car to get home. There is a concept of the quality of life. This concept is, undoubtedly, connected to material and technological progress, but it would be a great mistake to think that it is this material and technological progress, the growth of material prosperity which ensures the normal quality of people’s lives.
Other examples can also be made. For instance, everyone knows that in order for the economy to develop, industry must develop. But industry demands resources, including non-renewable resources. Every industry is connected with the pollution of the environment. And although great efforts are made in order to reduce the burden on nature from man’s activity, there is a phenomenon of the degredation of the environment, and everyone can feel it from experience, especially in big cities. Let’s ask ourselves, “Are we prepared to choose new cars, televisions, refrigerators, infrastructure, and houses but, at the same time, a polluted environment and the absence of clean water and fresh air?”
Of course, all of that can be solved by technology, but I have brought all of these examples only in order to show that when we are climbing a mountain we think that when we get to that height we will have the fullness of life, but when we get there we see that on the horizon there are other mountains, many times higher, steeper, and more dangerous which will also need to be climbed. But human life is limited by a certain time frame, as it says in God’s word, in their span they be threescore years and ten. And if we be in strength, mayhap fourscore years (Ps. 89:10). At the same time, every human person is unique and valuable, and during those 70 or, God-willing, 80 years the most important and essential things for the sake of which we live should be realized. The theory of progress, which also fed the atheistic world view, simply chokes in those conflicting systems: developing one thing we are killing another. Hoping that one thing will help us become happier and putting too much at stake for the sake of that thing (in this case for the sake of the material aspect of our lives) we realize that the happiness of man doesn’t fully depend on all material things, for the sake of which we often live and expend all our energy.
I would like to speak about another aspect of this theme, and I consider it very important. Usually it happens that a man, whose prospects and outlook of life are limited to the earthly sphere, when he reaches his elderly years, he realizes there are many things that he hasn’t done. If this person has rather developed ability to think critically, then he understands that he hasn’t managed to do something, and for many this is a catastrophe. Not very long ago I spoke with one outwardly prosperous man who shared his thoughts with me saying, “You know, I haven’t managed to do anything in my life!” “But how is that? You have a decent position, you have a good salary and a family.” “Yes, but in fact I haven’t managed to do anything.” Many people can say the same things as that man. I am not talking only about great achievements; when someone says that they haven’t managed to do anything, they don’t necessarily mean that they haven’t made a great discovery or become an Olympic champion. Many people understand that they haven’t had enough time or enough energy; that circumstances have been such that they feel unlucky.
What, then, does all of this mean? Previously, when there were no religious arguments, we were persuaded that man lives for the sake of future generations; that immortality is not ontological, that is, it doesn’t exist for every person, but is, so to say, a relative immortality, just an image which is realized in the passing of certain values to the next generation. And, therefore, the idea arised that we live for the sake of future generations.
This idea is sometimes present also in modern discourse, that is, we live for the sake of children, for the sake of the future generation. In a way this is correct, and in a way it is completely wrong. For is every next generation more valuable than the previous one? What about the generation of those who defended our fatherland during the time of the Great Patriotic War [WWII]? Does it have less value than the current generation? Of course, by sacrificing oneself for other people man grows and, perhaps, becomes happier through that, but it is wrong to reduce human life to the fact that man must do everything for the future generations and, in that way, as it were, provide for his immortality.
If we restrict our perspective of life by the threshold of death, if we don’t believe in the eternal existence of the human person, then many things which we do become pointless. Therefore, the question of whether God exists or not, whether to believe or not believe, is not a question that could be left until the end, that is, I’ll decide everything else, and then, when I’m retired, I’ll think about that and go to church. For how we decide this question determines our world outlook, our philosophy of life, and, ultimately, our happiness. If the Lord said, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), then I believe every one of these words; I believe that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and if this is so, then we need to walk in that way in order to obtain the truth and have the fullness of life.