At long last, I present the second interview with Fr. Daniel Sysoyev and Yuri Maximov which they gave in Serbia.
“O Lord, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise”
Stanoje Stankovic: The first question: What do you think about missions in the world, that is, in Africa, in Russia, in Serbia, and in the Balkans?
Father Daniel: I think that the Lord has now created such a situation that almost the whole world is open for Orthodox missions. Truly, such was not the case 20 years ago. And regarding globalization-this is an act of God in order that the Gospel makes it to the ends of the world, so that the undistorted preaching of the Holy Apostles could reach every people of the earth. If we, Christians, do not use this chance then the Lord will demand an answer from us for the fact that we did not convert people to the light of Orthodoxy. Regarding missions, they are beginning to be revived. We know that there are active missions in the Russian Church and the Greek Church; the Orthodox Church of Alexandria actively preaches. Yuri Valeryevich can talk about that in more detail, and I will speak about Russia.
In Russia there are two types of missions: internal missions targeted at nominal Orthodox, more correctly called catechism, and missions targeted at those outside the Church. Unfortunately, external missions are less active, but it is also starting to intensify right now. Yuri Valeryevich and I, having studied the experience of a number of missionaries, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to create a missionary movement and we did that in the creation of the missionary movement of the Holy Prophet Daniel, where the a program based on the general experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, in a sense, exists. We have courses, over the course of a year, for training Orthodox missionaries which train people to preach on the streets, among sects, among those of other religions, as well as among average nominal Orthodox.
How is this done? People are invited to talk about God; those who have for a long time not been to church, and those who have never been there are invited; people are invited to confession and communion; the unbaptized are offered baptism. At the same time, our missionaries hand out special leaflets in which is explained why one should cross themselves, go to confession, and go to communion and the address of a church is given-this is very important, so that there is a place to send them.
Further is the second stage: catechism. There are a few systems of catechism in use. In my church there is a system of five talks: on God, on the creation of the world, on Christ, on the Holy Mysteries, and on the Law of God. Each talk is two-and-a-half hours long, and during those talks the person is prepared for baptism or reconciliation to the Church if it is a sectarian. They will also read the four Gospels and Acts and then be solemnly joined to the Church. We usually have baptisms at a baptismal liturgy.
Then, after baptism, is the second step: people enter into the life of the Church, studying Holy Scripture. For this we have permanent classes on studying the Bible. Every week, in our church and in a few other churches in Moscow, we study the holy Word of God in detail. This is very important as, for many Protestants, one of the reason why they are not in the Orthodox Church is that the Holy Scripture is not studied. I think that we, having such rich interpretation of the Bible from the Holy Fathers, must use it.
Also very helpful are missions in the hospitals. For example, in Moscow almost all hospitals are under the care of a priest who are helped by “needs” sisters, that is, those people who help prepare a person for their first confession. This is truly a great work that needs to be enlivened. There is the same type of experience in a few other dioceses. As far as the Russian Church as a whole, there are regions where missions are active, where they are very successful but there are regions where, on the other hand, priests are afraid to preach because of the fact that, for example, Islam is very active. So there are different situations in different regions. It is, of course, very important that not only priests participate in missions but also lay people. The experience of the Russian Orthodox Church shows that lay missions are one of the most successful. For this, of course, lay people must be prepared and act under the supervision of priests but preach themselves.
It is very significant that there already is a prepared program for lay people for studying the Holy Gospel, according to which “Gospel circles” are organized, where lay people begin to study the Gospel on the foundation of the Holy Fathers. Such circles are already active. There were a few unsuccessful experiences in that sphere but there is now quite successful experience. I saw a lay group near Ulianovsk in which everything is studied on the foundation of the Holy Fathers and it works well, spiritually helping young people, though not only young people. We often talk about missions among young people, but we must not forget that missions must be among all layers of our society. The Gospel must be preached for all: for adults, for the elderly, and for children.
And, by the way, my personal experience of preaching in Kyrgyzstan showed that one of the best programs is when you invite Protestants or occultists and their faith is not even criticized but you just tell them about Orthodox Christianity as it is, as the Holy Fathers taught, as the Lord Himself taught through the Holy Apostles. Then people begin to change because the holy Word of God itself changes a person. This is very important. As far as missions in the Russian Church…they are well organized. Relatively well. We would like it to be much better but at least something is being done, some kind of missions. In Moscow and generally in central Russia in many districts, missions work is organized well. However, it goes without saying that it could be improved. Missions are well organized in the Kemerovo Diocese and in Siberia where Fr. Igor Kropochev and other priests of the missionary department are actively involved in missions among the local peoples, in particular, the Shortsi. There are regions, such as Central Asia, where missions are almost completely absent. However, there are active people in Kazakhstan and I have a hope that soon Kazakhstan will be completely enveloped by Orthodox missions. As far as the Far East is concerned, Patriarch Kirill has very fixed attention on it and, therefore, in a number of dioceses, particularly in the Sakhalin, Khabarovsk, Primorye, and Kamchatka dioceses, there is missionary activity, and in the Chukotka Diocese it is starting. Missions in Yakutia are very active. Sizes are very big there. Yakutia is like all of Europe in size and there are very few priests.
Yes, you can interpret patriotism from an Orthodox point of view, and there have been such attempts, for example St. Nikolaj of Serbia said that a true Serb is one who imitates Serbian saints in their pleasing of Christ. We can put it this way and such words will be meaningful to Serbs but not to Croatians, Hungarians, Albanians, etc. For us, for example, one of the problems of preaching Orthodoxy to Tatars is the fact that they often think that by accepting Orthodoxy they must renounce being Tatar, but this is not so. The true Christian understands that they do not change their ethnicity but become above that ethnicity and that which is was the best in their ethnicity they take with them, and that, by being baptized, they become particularly a Christian and not a Russian, Serb, or Greek. This is very important to understand.
Another thing that hinders missions right now is that we have a delayed response to challenges. Many new attacks on Christianity have now appeared: The Da Vinci Code, the Gospel of Judas, and many lies directed against Christ. These are lies which are spread out across the whole world, including, as I know, in Serbia.
We can, refuting them, use Orthodox apologetic works which have been published in the West and even non-Orthodox works; what is most important, of course, is to be able ourselves to respond to these attacks, and to be able to do it quickly. It is very important not to delay. For example, when the Da Vinci Code is released there must already be a response ready. And it is important not just to answer by printing a book and putting it on sale. An informational uproar must be made, for which we must use the internet, including blogs and social networks. An Orthodox answer must be presented as an informational event. For the modern consciousness, which is fully encompassed by information, it is very important to make informational booms. You can’t say that this is missions but it is something that leads to missions. For secular people now, it is very important to be able to interest them, to catch their attention, and then move on to a regular, in-depth, unhurried study of Orthodoxy. That is my view on what is going on.
Yuri Maximov: To what Fr. Daniel said I would like to add that truly, even when we write a response to those attacks, even if it is a good response, we have a problem in how to reach the common reader. Let’s say that a thousand people watched the Da Vinci Code film and our response to the film was read by one person of that thousand. These are two incomparable things. Nine-hundred-ninety-nine people were left with only the film; they did not hear our response. We need to work a lot so that our voice is heard.
Stanoje Stankovic: In Russia there are Orthodox TV channels and radio stations. In Serbia there are one or two programs on radio and they often have things that have no connection to Orthodoxy.
Yuri Maximov: Yes, we have the same problems. I’m not saying that what we are now discussing is easy to do. It is not easy but it must be done; we must reflect a lot and try to find a solution. The Lord will help. Concerning missions as a whole, you know, some people think that missions is like some kind of hobby. Someone collects stamps, someone grows rare flowers, and someone is engaged in missions-they express themselves in that way. But this is not right. Missions are a virtue, a fulfillment of the commandment of Christ. The Lord said, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19). This is a command that we must fulfill and also one which, unfortunately, Orthodox do not want to fulfill. And what happens when we do not want to fulfill the commandments? Well, nothing good. Until the beginning of the previous century, the overwhelming majority of Orthodox did not want to go anywhere and preach; and what happened in the 20th century? Such suffering befell all local Orthodox Churches, Russian, Serbian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, and Arab, without exception that people had to flee their home into foreign lands and there build churches, translate Orthodox literature into the local languages, etc. In such a way the 20th century became a century of the spreading of Orthodoxy across the planet. Those Orthodox who did not want to go to other lands in order to preach were driven out by the Lord Himself. He scattered them all across the world. And, like it or not, they were forced to do something so that the local people would come and become Orthodox. The opponents of missions should think about this and what misfortune they bring upon their own heads as well as their children with their stiff-necked and firm resistance to fulfill the will of God.
From the lips of such people you hear talk as though it is impossible to convert another person to Orthodoxy; for example, it is impossible that a Muslim would become Orthodox. But if you ask them, “But have you tried to do that?” They admit that they have not. Those who say that it is impossible have never tried it. They say it, as a matter of fact, so as not even to try.
Stanoje Stankovic: What is most important in missions? Some say that we need to go and preach at stadiums or discotheques while others say that prayer is more important, remembering the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “acquire the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” So what do we need for missions to be successful? Maybe for a person to first make oneself a good Christian and then their own life will be a witness? I read somewhere that these are two different approaches to missions, so which of them is more successful?
Yuri Maximov: It seems to me that such a division takes place, to a large extent, in the minds of those people that are practically not involved in missions but only reflect on it theoretically. Only theoretically can one think that I will first become a good Christian and then go and talk to others. In order to become a good Christian one must fulfill the commandments of Christ and one of those is to go and teach. So how can you become a good Christian if you are not a missionary? If you have fulfilled all the commandments except one, how can you say that you have become a good Christian, if you have disdained a commandment of Christ? The Lord gave you commandments not so that you would write them down, hang them on the wall, and forget about it but so that you would live according to them. A person who loves God is involved in missions. Surely the Apostles weren’t imperfect Christians? Surely they acquired the spirit of peace?
Now on your first question on what is most important for missions. For a missionary, important are prayer and hope only in God, not in your own strength, not in yourself, not in your friends, not in your sponsors but only in God. Prayer to God and love for Christ and the person to whom you are preaching are important for a missionary, as well as resolution to deny yourself. What prevents us from going and preaching to our friend? We don’t have to go to the discotheque or stadium; for example, we have a neighbor or a colleague at work. It happens that we live next to our neighbors knowing that they are Catholic or Protestant, we’ve known them for ten years, we greet them, greet them at holidays but not once have we asked them, “My friend, why are you not Orthodox? Do you want me to tell you about Orthodoxy?” We say no such word. Why? Maybe because we want to acquire the spirit of peace in ourselves? But not at all, it is because we are afraid to trust in God and think, “What if I tell him ‘Do you want to know something about Orthodoxy?’ and he gets offended and says, ‘No, I don’t want know; I’m not going to talk with you.'” This is what is inside many opponents of missions: lack of faith and fear.
These are people that don’t think about God. A person that trusts God dedicates everything to Him. He says, “Though people trample on me, though they stone me I will glorify and preach the Name of Christ.” Such were the Apostles; they were not the type of people who are afraid of missions, people that justify their fear with objections against missions-such fearful people do not have the joy of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. This is so because when you have gifts of the Holy Spirit you are overflowing with such a joy that you want to share it. It is that candle which, as the Lord said, no one places under a vessel but holds in the open so that it would light up for everyone. One wants to say, “My friend, look at what happiness I have. Let me tell you about it.” This is what inspires missionaries. But if a person doesn’t want to share this what can be said about their spiritual state?
Christ has given us salvation; it is not from us-we received it as a gift. Without Him we would die. God gave us this gift not only for us but for those near us, so that we would go to other perishing people and share it with those who want salvation. And when we share that salvation with them we display love to them and become like God Who is love. Where is our love if for ten years we have been greeting our neighbor and smiling but have not told them one word about God? We go into our house, and think that since icons hang on the walls and we have Orthodox books that we are Orthodox, but this isn’t Orthodoxy.
And that very same St. Seraphim of Sarov preached to Old Believer schismatics when they came to him, saying, “I beg and plead with you: go to the Greco-Russian Church, it is in all the glory and power of God! It is as a ship, having many riggings, sails, and a great helm and is directed by the Holy Spirit.” He called them to the Orthodox Church. And he convinced a woman who came to him from the Old Believers so that she and all her relations came into the Church. What is this if not missions?
Father Daniel told me another great example not long ago. Saint Symeon the Stylite was a great missionary: he didn’t go anywhere and lived on his pillar but he pleased God so much that the Lord glorified him and many pagans came to him and said, “Pray so that God would heal us.” And they bothered him very much with their pleas. He sought quiet and solitude but it happened that the cries of people surrounded him. Then he said, “Ok, come and I will pray for you, but when God heals you be baptized.” They agreed and those being baptized were so many that the Church sent a bishop who lived next to the pillar and baptized people. Father Daniel has just come from a trip during which he saw that pillar and the remains of the church.
Father Daniel: At the time of St. Symeon there was a huge church around his pillar and inside was a special font for adults and children; it was like “conveyor belt” baptism.
Yuri Maximov: From this is it obvious that even a great hermit had a true missionary mindset and he was ready to reject that which he would have liked for the sake of fulfilling the commandment of God. The examples of such saints shows that the above mentioned division between spiritual life and missions is false. If we truly fulfill the commandment of God then this will not be the case. They are both interconnected. Orthodox missions is impossible without a serious spiritual life, and there will be no true spiritual life without the preaching of the Gospel.
Father Daniel: I would like to add another reason why people often do not want to be involved in missions. The thing is that the Bible makes a clear distinction: there are spheres of light and spheres of darkness, there is a place for the elected of God, the Church of God-the region of the saved, as it says in the canon-and a place where the devil acts, where there are people under the power of the prince of darkness, who after death inevitably end up in hell. So, in our consciousness that boundary is blurred. There are such people that say, “Outside of the Church there is no salvation,” who also say, “But outside the Church there are good people.” And this, for the most part, is the reason why they do not evangelize. They think that one can be saved by one’s own works, but this is impossible, it is the heresy of Pelagius. If one can be saved without the Church then Christ died in vain. And that feeling of a possibility of salvation without Christ kills missions. For I cannot calmly sit by and say nothing of Christ if I know that my non-Orthodox neighbor is guaranteed to end up in hell, that people outside the Church are perishing. People who are sliding into hell know this themselves; no one has told them this, they feel it themselves: they have depression and consuming passions, their conscious pricks them, they are tormented with life, they are unhappy, and they languish in false hopes and have true sorrow. These people seek an escape and we say to them, “Don’t worry, be a good person and everything will be ok.” This is a lie. Namely this lie, the absence of the sense of the chosenness of a Christian, gives birth to the reluctance for missionary work. We are chosen; God chose us not so that we would pridefully strut and say that we are so good but in order to carry the light of God, to exclaim, “Join us on the boat.” You know there is a well-known anti-ecumenical picture: Christ navigating a ship which is being attacked on every side; this is true but the ship must rescue all those who are swimming in the water. But we do not even want to throw out nets. Further, sometimes those who attach themselves to the ship are pushed away. This is, of course, contrary to the Gospel.
I think that if we look at the Gospel and remember the Beatitudes we will see that many of them require missions.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt. 5:7). What is superior mercy? Not to give money but to give eternal life. A beggar will spend the money after a few days but eternal life will be theirs forever.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9). What can be higher than when someone makes peace between a person and God? People fight against God and you, missionary, carry out Christ’s service, you are sent by the Lord Christ Himself and will receive His reward, as a son of God, says the Lord. Isn’t it so? But people say, “How can I be a missionary? They will persecute me.” Of course they will, for it is written, Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in Heaven (Matt. 5:11-12). The reward is huge in Heaven. But people have forgotten about the heavenly reward, forgotten that we live here in order to receive a reward there. We are too attached to the earth. You read the Orthodox press and what do they talk about? They talk about politics, about how to make things comfortable here, about how to create good relationships. But, forgive me, we for sure will be departing from here. Maybe we will depart today. We are all in the hands of God. Death is not over the mountains but over the shoulder as we say in Russia. People have forgotten this and don’t want to think about the fact that they need to prepare for eternity.
Furthermore, some people say, “To prepare for eternity is egoism.” But what did Christ say? He did not say, “Do not lay up treasure at all.” He said to lay up treasure in heaven where there are no thieves, rust, or moths. For where your treasure is there will your heart be. But people have forgotten about this; people lay up treasure on earth, live for the earth, and use God as a secondary power. As Pushkin wrote in the tale of the golden fish: the fish was at beck and call. Just the same way do people try to use God. Naturally, such a person will not preach if he even thinks of God as a tool for himself. This is all false and I suspect that such a person in actuality is not a Christian.
But the true Christianity is having pity for the perishing people. Fear to be punished by the Lord for burying one’s talent and desire to receive great reward in heaven-these are what must move a missionary. We should walk with God as the Lord said of Enoch, Enoch walked with God and…God took him (Gen. 5:24). Just that walking with God is the root of missions. In such a case you can see that both prayer and missions is, generally, the same thing. When I go out to preach, I kiss my priestly-pectoral cross and say, Lord, open Thou my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise (Ps. 50:17). I know that as soon as I depend upon myself the missions fail but as soon as I depend upon God it picks back up. For I am a servant of Christ, and any person can become a servant of Christ. Anyone can receive a reward and more than just that. The council of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a missionary concept, and in it are some very important words. It says that missions of the Church is a continuation of the mission which Christ sent. Christ is the first Apostle, and the Word of Christ continues in us. In us, the Son of God Himself preaches. We are moved by the Holy Spirit Himself. Furthermore, do you know that God the Father is carrying out great espionage work? As the Lord says, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him (John 4:23). He seeks those people on earth who are ready to worship Him. And do you know through whom He seeks them? Through missionaries. He sends missionaries to find those people. Imagine what God the Father will say to us if we refuse? Of course the Lord will send others. He is compassionate, He will send others, but what will we have to answer for? The Lord will say, “A person was perishing here and you passed by. You refused to carry out My Word.” How will we stand before Him then? We will say, “Yes, Lord, but we prayed to you so well.” The Lord will say, “What does ‘we prayed’ mean? A person perished. Why did you disobey my direct Word? He asked for bread and you gave him a stone; you turned your back on him.” Rejection of missions is also disregard for the Judgment of God-disregard for the fact that we will answer for every one of our actions. It is disregard of the fact that even in secular law there is an understanding of “criminal omission,” the lack of rendering help to the perishing. This also relates to the spiritual law. The lack of rendering spiritual help-is this not a crime?
By my own experience, I can say that when you preach you are on the very edge. The Lord reminds you that you are walking before Him and if you want to fall into sin, you immediately get hit in the head-the Lord does not allow you to fall. But even if you have fallen, the Lord will pick you up and not let you become trapped in sin because, truly, He will remind you through His Word which you are saying.
What does a missionary need to do first of all? The Lord commanded us, ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Therefore, it is our business to be witnesses of Christ, which means to exclusively preach the Holy Gospel-not to preach Russianness, Serbness, Americanness, or whatever but to only preach the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Speaking in such a way you will be judging yourself. Just imagine, you say “don’t fornicate” yet you yourself fornicate. The problems begin. You preach not to curse but you yourself curse. The very same problem. The Word of God starts to judge you when you preach. St. Gregory of Nyssa said so well that, “If you want to anoint someone with fragrant chrism, pour chrism on your own hand then on him. Who do you anoint first? You anoint yourself.”
And so, the Gospel for a missionary is a living book. It is not a text from which to extract quotes for theological papers. It is particularly the living book about which you always need to talk and by which you must live. A huge mistake made by missionaries is to try and dilute the Gospel. There is a passage in the Second Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians which says the following in Slavonic, “we are not as many, which corrupt [korchemstvovati] the word of God” [2 Cor 2:17]. Korchemstvo is from the word korchma, that is, a tavern. What do bad vendors do at a tavern? They take wine and add water, but so that it’s not noticeable they add some coloring. Wine in and of itself is healing and good for one’s health but when it has been diluted with water it looses its benefit, and the added poison may even harm. Incorrect missionaries do just the same. They say, “Well, people today won’t understand the direct Word of God.” Just a few days ago I was told, “Fr. Daniel, in vain do you preach so straightforwardly; it is not interesting for them to hear about Christ.” And, therefore, let’s add a little from ourselves. Let’s dilute the Word of God and make it more contemporary, more understandable, and more tolerant. However, it seems to me that, in actuality, particularly about Him [Christ] it is interesting. Politics are not interesting. And sports are not interesting. But Christ is interesting.
Yuri Maximov: I would like to add something. It is very important to understand what Fr. Daniel is talking about. Some people, speaking about missions theoretically, think that Orthodoxy has to be changed in order to be successful in missions. This is false. Particularly the patristic and evangelical preaching of Orthodoxy, not distorted, modernistic Orthodoxy, but traditional, healthy Orthodoxy, which we received from the Apostles themselves through the Holy Fathers, this exactly what can affect people. But modernistic “Orthodoxy” cannot attract anyone and modernistic missionaries, as a rule, are not successful. This is because modernism says, generally speaking, “believe as you please and live the way you want; it is most important to be a good person, then everything will be alright.” But such preaching may only attract those who need something comfortable and not those who need truth. If a person who needs truth hears the preaching of modernistic pseudo-Orthodoxy, he will say, “But I can still be a good person without that, why should I become Orthodox?” Modernists cannot essentially answer that question because their missions fail. And they think that missions in general fail and that people are not really interested in knowing the truth about God. But this is not true. People aren’t interested in hearing them speak because there is no power or truth in their words. But the Word of the Gospel, the word of the Holy Fathers that is true theology is interesting to hear even to simple people without a theological education.
Saint Theophan the Recluse said the following about this phenomenon, “The twelve Apostles went out and converted such a multitude of people, why? How were they able to do that? Because they did not proclaim their own philosophizing but the Truth of God. And in every person is a conscience which distinguishes truth from falsehood.” And so, when we tell another person our fantasies, he simply listens while nothing responds inside of him. He thinks, “Yes, he has thought up something interesting. Well, I’ve heard it and that’s enough.” But when we speak to him the Word of God, his conscience within him responds. It witnesses to him from the inside, “that which they are saying to you is the truth.” At this point two paths open up for him who hears the Gospel and feels within himself the action of the conscience. The first path is chosen by those who say, “I am following the Truth.” What does it mean to follow the Truth? It means to reject everything within oneself that contradicts the Truth. They say, “God is important to me, and everything sinful is unimportant. I will expel from myself all darkness-everything that prevents me from approaching God and I will go [after Him].” The second path is chosen by people who say within themselves, “No, I will remain with my sins, with my opinions, and with my philosophy.” And then their conscience begins to burn them like fire. Therefore, no one relates indifferently to Orthodox people: they are either loved or hated-particularly because such an action occurs in the conscience. We see that in the lives of the Apostles many people turned to them because truth within them echoed the words of the Apostles. But the Apostles themselves suffered at the hands of those who hated them.
Stanoje Stankovic: But there are such people who are indifferent to faith. In Elder Paisios of Mount Athos I read that indifferent people are the worst of all. One can speak to them of God and they will answer that it is not interesting to them.
Father Daniel: If someone says that God is not interesting to them, he is making his choice. God is not interesting to him means that he rejects God. It is a revolt against God. Beginning from this, the indifferent person will next come to hate you. That will be a choice for evil.
The job of a missionary is to be a witness. It is not his job to force someone to accept Orthodoxy or not. We cannot convert everyone. We can never do that. The Lord Himself didn’t convert everyone. This is because the gift of free will, which the Lord gave His creation, presupposes the possibility of a complete rejection. And, therefore, of course, we should not expect that which God did not promise. God did not promise that we would convert everyone. God promised that we would witness to all. I think that, unfortunately, we have waited a little too long. We still have not preached the Gospel to the whole world. Presently there is such a possibility. Everyday we repeat “Thy Kingdom come” but our inaction, by the way, delays the coming of Christ. If missions had been completed then the Lord would have returned, right? As it says, this gospel shall be preached unto all nations; and then shall the end come. [Matt. 24:14]
Stanoje Stankovic: Some people refer to St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) where he says that apostasy is allowed by God and we should not try to stop it with our feeble hands. How do the words of St. Ignatius relate to missionary work?
Yuri Maximov: This is in reference to those people who have already made their choice and when their choice is made you are not able to do anything with them. If a person doesn’t want to hear about God right now and you continue to insist, he will not become Orthodox but will simply come to hate you. And you won’t be able to change that. But if a person wants to know the truth, you will be able to change very much. You know, there’s a parable about a man who walked along the seashore after a storm. The storm had washed very many starfish on the sand so that all of it was strewn with them. The man saw a little boy taking the starfish and throwing them back into the sea. Going by he asked the boy, “Why are you doing that?” The boy answered, “If you don’t pick them up and throw them into the sea they will dry up and die.” The man objected, “Look how many starfish there are, you can’t change anything, you won’t manage to throw them all back.” Then the boy picked up another starfish, looked at it, threw it into the sea, and said, “Maybe I can’t change something for all of them but for that one I have changed a lot.”
Father Daniel: I would add the following. This is very important for missionaries to understand. We spend too much energy in order to stop apostasy but we don’t spend as much in order to save people. Indeed, trying to stop apostasy is impossible. Apostasy-revolt of man against God-is unstoppable. This is the truth. Remember that ancient Christians didn’t struggle against the pagans’ sin or licentiousness. Ancient Christians did not struggle even against the gladiators, they were saving the pagans. They gathered them and told them that they shouldn’t worship idols but should worship the One True God. And when pagans became Christians they gave up fornication, gladiatorial games, etc. And then, when the Christians became multiplied, only after that were debauchery and the gladitorial games outlawed. And we have turned everything upside down. We struggle with that which is impossible to overcome, while at the same time ignoring those whom we could save. This is a mistake. And St. Ignatius is completely correct when he says that we don’t need to busy ourselves with that. It’s not necessary to struggle with that which is impossible to change. But we can save those people who desire it. This is a very important moment. There is so much energy spent in Russia on the battle with those wretched INNs [individual tax number] and passports; if all that energy were spent on preaching Orthodoxy to Muslims then Russia would be quite different, do you understand?
Yuri Maximov: I would like to add something that our Serbian readers might not know. Saint Ignatius was a diocesan bishop in the Caucuses where very many Muslims lived, and he worked in missions. He had, as did every large diocese of the Russian Church, special diocesan missionaries who were to preach the Gospel to Muslims and other unbelievers. In Russia, until the revolution, this was common practice, and in his letters he mentions these missionaries as well as Muslims in his diocese who were baptized thanks to miracles. Therefore, it is absurd to think that St. Ignatius spoke against missions.
Stanoje Stankovic: I would like to ask a question about the state of Orthodoxy in Russia. There are some people in Serbia who say that Orthodoxy in Russia is being revived, that churches are being built, that there are Orthodox television programs, etc. But there are also people who say that Russia is corrupted like Swiss cheese, that it has huge problems, that people are suffering from drug addictions, alcoholism, etc. Which is true?
Yuri Maximov: You could say that both of them are correct. Truly there are problems. There are many moral and religious problems in Russia. But at the same time there are examples of holiness in Russia. These things are not mutually exclusive. If we look at the history of the Church we will learn that it has always been that way: in the history of the Universal Church, that of the Russian Church, and that of the Serbian Church. When I, for example, read the letters of St. Peter of Cetinje, I read a lot about the terrible moral state at the time in Montenegro both among the Serbian priests and the simple people. As he wrote, there were very many problems. But at the same time there was a lot of holiness and he himself was a saint of the time. You know, sometimes in Russia they want to judge the spiritual state of the Church by some external factors. Allegedly, if everything is well on the outside it means that spiritually everything is well, but this has never been the case. During the time of Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory the Theologian, as we know, there was the confusing Arian conflict and there were horrible problems in the Church.
Father Daniel: Saint Basil the Great, when he was asked, “How is the Church?” answered that it is like his body: everything hurts and there is no hope for its recovery.
Yuri Maximov: This is how it is in Russia right now. St. Nikolaj [Velimirovic] of Serbia said that the Russian soul doesn’t seem to have a middle: it either walks on the heights or on the bottom of hell. Not long ago I read the very same observation by a Belgian priest who lived for a few years in Russia. He said that, on the one hand, in Russia there are people who it is frightening to walk by on the street and, on the other hand, there is such holiness like nowhere in Europe.
Stanoje Stankovic: Yes, that article was on pravoslavie.ru.
Father Daniel: I would add that this concerns not only Russia. Simply, there are two cities: the heavenly city, which is a pilgrim on the earth, and the earthly city, which is being built on the earth. This is very obvious in Russia. In Russia there are two Russia’s. There is the Holy Church, which is traveling in this world.
This very distinct type is called “tserkovnik [church person]” in Russia and I also call them uranopolitans, heavenly citizens. That is, those people who live here on the earth but have heavenly pursuits. There are not a lot of such people but among them there are truly wonderful people who truly carry out the Holy Gospel in their lives. I think that such outward things as, for example, Orthodox tv stations or radio, are not so important but what is important is the inner shining of holiness which, in fact, makes the Church the Church as such. And there are people who have made their home on the earth, who want to live here in their pleasure, and who “take everything from life [common advertising slogan].” Such people might even wear a cross or stop into church but they are unfamiliar to God. I won’t say forever, though. There is still hope for them and the Lord also visits them with both financial crisises and swine flu. God visits everyone in a different way and among them there are many who repent. By the way, it is interesting that this division is not in any way connected with financial position. There are righteous rich people and impious poor people.
Blessed Augustine said long ago that, “People belong to the traveling city when they love God to the contempt of the earth and themselves. And people belong to the earthly city when they love themselves to the hatred of God.” [City of God, Ch. 28?] This division is very distinct and in Russia it is very visible. One could say that they both are right particularly because it [Russia] is two lands. By the way, I think it’s the same in Serbia.
Stanoje Stankovic: The next question is about modern temptations that we have. In Serbia, they have started to introduce biometric passports and there is a temptation among people in the Church that think that if someone accepts a new passport they are denying Christ and accepting the mark of the Antichrist.
Yuri Maximov: This is demonic delusion and one of the traditional traps of the devil. This is easy to see through the history of Russia. Not long ago when they changed Soviet passports for Russian passports people said that those who accept Russian passports are no longer Christian and nothing will save them; one shouldn’t accept the new passports, they are from the Antichrist, you have to keep the old, Soviet, “good” passports. However, forty some years ago when they introduced those “good” Soviet passports all across the country similar people said the very same thing-that they were from the Antichrist and one shouldn’t accept them. And furthermore, even previously, before the revolution, under the tsar there were people that said the same thing-that one shouldn’t accept the tsarist passports because they’re from the Antichrist.
Father Daniel: St. Dmitry of Rostov wrote that in the 18th century at the introduction of the first passports and first paper money there were people that alleged that it was the mark of the Antichrist.
Yuri Maximov: What is the aim of this trap? To make a person look not to Christ but at some kind of outward things: passports, cards, barcodes, and such. But one person can’t serve two masters. It ends up that one doesn’t notice if they are with Christ or not, if they carry out his commandments or not, if they keep to the faith of Christ or not but they look at whether they accepted a passport or not, if there is a barcode on the package or not. That is, people stop looking at the essence and get distracted.
Stanoje Stankovic: People that have such opinions about new passports, etc. refer to the words of elders, Elder Paisius of Mt. Athos and some others, about which I don’t know anything except what is written on the internet. What should we think of this?
Father Daniel: We know that even the Holy Fathers committed errors when they taught against Holy Tradition. As St. Vincent of Lerins said that Holy Tradition is that which has been taught to by all, always, and everywhere. And, by the way, the teaching about a “stamp,” as some kind of external tool, or “pre-stamp” (in Russia they have come up with such a term) this is a teaching that only just now appeared. There was no such thing previously. But the thing is that this opinion is faulty also in a theological sense. Yuri Valeryevich spoke of the spiritual meaning and I will speak of the theological meaning. The fact is that for us what is most important is the covenant of a person with Christ. We have an agreement with God and He has one with us. As the Lord said that no one can pluck us out of the hands of the Heavenly Father because Our Father is greater than everyone. The Lord said that from His hands, no one can pluck us. And the very stamp of the Antichrist, which is described in the thirteenth chapter of the Apocalypse, according to the explanation of the Holy Fathers-St. Hippolytus of Rome, St. Andrew of Caesarea, St. Irenaeus of Lyon-is namely a question of a personal agreement with the Antichrist. This is also a covenant only different. Not in vain did St. Andrew of Caesarea say that as we receive the stamp of the Holy Spirit in chrismation, so will the Antichrist give an evil, impure stamp. The question is not even about the technical means-this is a false way of thinking. For a stamp can be applied by a simple hand or whatever else. Because the essence of that stamp is not in technical means but in the fact that a person voluntarily moves to the side of the enemy. This is what is so important!
Many, for some reason, think that the Antichrist cannot identify a person without a stamp, but Satan will dwell in the Antichrist; as it says in the Epistle to the Thessalonians he will act according to Satan-and all evil spirits are subject to Satan. Evil spirits are after us and compromise us as they can. As it is written in the toll-houses of Blessed Theodora, they write down any evil deed that we do. Could it really be hard for the Antichrist to summon a spirit and ask where someone is located? It will be easy for him to ask. He will not need to pursue us for that. For the Antichrist, it is not important to know where a person is or what he is doing but what is important is that the person makes an agreement with him-that a union is made. And he will blackmail with the help of hunger. Therefore, trading will be outlawed and the idea will be simple: if you don’t worship me, I will starve you. This is the logic, understand?
And there is a deceitful substitution in this case-a substitution which sectarians made. The idea that INN and biometric passports, as well as passports in general, are the stamp of the Antichrist comes from schismatic environs. It was schismatics who thought this up about passports: first Russian schismatics of the Old Rite then beguny (there was such a sect as Yuri Valeryevich said). The idea concerning INN came from Seventh-Day Adventists. In the 1970s, one of the Adventist preachers saw a “vision” where a spirit revealed to her that INN is the stamp of the Antichrist; do you see from what kind of turbid source all these ideas come from?
Why does Satan propagate all of this? So that when the real Antichrist appears all those people who are afraid to accept the stamp will happily receive the real stamp, because they will seek the stamp there where it isn’t. They will look for the stamp in some sort of technical means which the Antichrist doesn’t need at all. The devil wants to prepare people so that when the real enemy comes they won’t be afraid. St. Hippolytus says the following, “What will the person say who accepts the stamp of the Antichrist? He will say, ‘I renounce God, the Creator of heaven and earth, His Only Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Church and give myself to you.'” You can see that St. Hippolytus was correct. The main thing with which the Antichrist seizes his own in our times is with denial of the creation of the universe. Is evolution nothing other than the preparation for the coming of the Antichrist? Of course, theistic evolution is especially that preparation. When one affirms that God created with the help of evil and death, this leads to the Antichrist. The affirmation that Christ is not the only way to God is the way to the Antichrist. The affirmation that outside of the Church there is salvation is the way to the Antichrist. The affirmation that we should make our home on the earth is the way to the Antichrist-as the Apostle Paul says, when they will say peace and safety, then comes destruction [I Thess. 5:3]; all of this is the way to the Antichrist. In ideology is the way to the Antichrist and not in technology. Here is truly a demonic substitution: to substitute technological systems for the question of an actual agreement. I will say that in the spiritual sense, many people now have agreed with the ideas of the Antichrist. The idea that there is one God but many paths to Him is certainly an idea of the Antichrist. But no one writes against it; no one fights against it. They fight against those things which have long ago become out of date. They say that there is allegedly a computer “beast” in Brussels, have you heard? But, forgive me, a computer “beast” made in 1976 is less powerful than mine which is lying right here. Even the recording device in your hands is more powerful than that computer which, allegedly, enveloped all of humanity. And some people are still frightened by these old things. This is simply folly of people who have fallen into prelest. And the reason for this is very simple: if you notice, the more someone begins to be involved in battle with INN or biometric passports the more uneasy, irritated, malicious, and aggressive they become. Can this be from the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit the God of disorder? As the Apostle Paul said, God is not the God of disorder but peace [I Cor. 14:33]. I have not yet seen one quiet and calm person who actively fights against the INN. They are all hysterical. There was one authoritive archimandrite in a large monastery, I won’t name him so as not to defame him, who actively fought against the INN and, as a result, he went out of his mind, literally. He began to run around the monastery naked yelling nonsense and ended up in a mental institution. Such is the spiritual obscuration which completely damaged a person. We have had people who started to withdraw to caves. Do you know about the Penza story? It is all a result of the very same prelest. Can that be from God? No, that is from satan. It is from satan particularly because the devil wants to fool people. He has fooled them so that they forgot about Christ and remember only the devil. You spoke of Fr. Paisius and I remember a story which I know first hand. In the 1980s, certain pilgrims came to Elder Paisius of the Holy Mountain and began to question him when the Antichrist would come. And he answered them, “Why? Are you anxiously waiting for him?”
Stanoje Stankovic: One more question about the spiritual life. What is necessary in order to resist modern temptations? Particularly which virtue is most important?
Father Daniel: Trust in God alone is most important. If we do not have trust in God, then our prayer turns into a torturous rule. A spiritual father turns into a psychoanalyst. Everything else becomes only empty development. We need to trust God personally. We must remember that we are under the care of God and He is with us. God truly holds us in His Hands. And no one can separate us from Him; as the Apostle Paul says, Who shall separate us from the love of God? [Rom. 8:35] Truly, if we are with God, all the remaining virtues will be formed. Prayer will become communion with God Who is with us. Obedience will become the ability to hear His Holy Word-to make it out in the uproar of this world. Obedience to a spiritual father will become the ability to see within him a living icon of Christ and the consideration, through him, of the Lord. A spiritual father is one who is leading to God but not one who is standing and humiliating the spiritual child. It is the same with humility. Humility is not saying that one is a bad person, stupid, or not able to do anything but it is the ability to understand that one cannot do anything without God yet with God they can do very much. By the way, humility has another side: daring, when a person recognizes what talents God gave him and for which he then will have to answer. Meekness will be connected at the same time with courage because meekness without God is cowardice but with God is courage. And it is the same in everything. Therefore, we must walk before God at all times, both modern and ancient, always.
Stanoje Stankovic: What attitude do Russian Orthodox people have toward Serbian saints: Holy Hierarch Nikolaj (Velimirovic) and Abba Justin (Popovic)?
Yuri Maksimov: St. Nikolaj of Serbia and Abba Justin Popovic are the most beloved, most well-known Serbian saints, as well as the most well-known Serbs of the 20th century in Russia. Knowledge of them began with a small translations, but the hearts of Orthodox people in Russia responded so lively to the word of the Holy Spirit that was in the works of those two Serbian ascetics that publishers, seeing such great interest, began to translate and publish more and more of their books. Now, if you go into a bookstore in Russia you will see a multitude of books from St. Nikolaj and Abba Justin. Moreover, if you look at modern Orthodox writings you will see quotes in them from St. Nikolaj and Abba Justin. This is an offering of the Serbian Orthodox Church that the Russian Orthodox Church accepted and now continues to accept with love and thankfulness. They both have very great authority in Russia, and I think this is also because St. Nikolaj had a particular talent of explaining difficult things simply and to explain it such that it would be dear to the hearts of modern man. Furthermore, he did not set forth a condensed or trimmed-down version nor primitive things but explained the very depths of our faith. And, therefore, love for him and his authority is very great, of course, which is understandable. The interest in the heritage of Serbian ascetics has led to the translation and publication of other books of Serbian Orthodox writers, including modern theologians that are still living. But, as far as I know, not one of them is even close in popularity among Russians as those two pillars. And this is because reading a text of St. Nikolaj we feel how it touches our souls.
Father Daniel: I would like to add something. The fact is that the first translations of St. Justin were versions in 1970s samizdat. And then the samizdat versions done about 1982-1983 were able to achieve one important thing. We have to remember that ecumenism was characteristic in the Soviet period. We know that Orthodox Churches participated in it and that even hierarchs did, hoping that the only enemy was materialism (that idol) and that it would encourage the overcoming of the disagreements between Orthodox, Roman-Catholics, and others. This, of course, was a mistake. And particularly St. Justin’s work The Orthodox Church and Ecumenism in many ways changed the views of very many people who now practically formulate church life in Russia. This not only concerns theologians and hierarchs; truly that book had the effect of a bomb. I will say that, in my experience, simple people love St. Nikolaj very much, while St. Justin, in many ways, helped to change the outlook of people of a, so to say, theological disposition. In many respects particularly that stimulus which St. Justin gave in his work against ecumenism encouraged the re-evaluation of that phenomenon and led to the fact that now very little ecumenism remains in the Russian Church. In Russia, ecumenism is despised. Most people, even those who are involved in ecumenism, have to constantly justifying themselves, which was not the case previously. In the 1970s, ecumenism was accepted as completely normal. Now it is it looked upon as shameful, even by those who are involved in it. And here, truly, is the merit of St. Justin. First was Justin and then later they began to publish St. Hilarion (Troitsky) and other authors. But a beginning was laid specifically by St. Justin.