27 October 2012

Interview with the Director of the Chancellery of the House of Romanoff on the Website “Religion and the Media” on the Plan to Build 200 Churches in Moscow

Interview with the Director of the Chancellery of the House of Romanoff on the Website “Religion and the Media” on the Plan to Build 200 Churches in Moscow

Alexander Zakatov: Will the idea of building a royal church in Moscow ever materialize?

“On major religious holidays, churches are filled to capacity and overflowing with people, even in the center of Moscow where there are more churches than anywhere else in the city.”

The first royal church in Moscow to be built in the post-Soviet era is supposed to be built in the Voikov district. But the project has been the object of a misinformation campaign from radical atheists, anti-clerical activists, and communists of the RKRP, the Russian Communist Workers Party. Twelve years after the canonization of the Royal Martyrs, this situation can be called nothing short of a disgrace for the city of Moscow. This was the view expressed on the internet portal “Religare” by Alexander Nikolaevich Zakatov, the Director of the Chancellery of the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia.

The proposed church in the Voikov District would be the first royal church in Moscow. Why, in your view, has there not been a royal church built in Moscow prior to now?

I wouldn’t use the expression “royal church” in this situation. One could, after all, describe any chapel build in a palace or any church, which was open to all to come and worship there, a “royal church” if it was built using funds from one of Russia’s monarchs. Even if the church was built in honor of a ruler that had later been canonized a saint, it would all the same be a church like any other.

There are a number of churches in Moscow that have been dedicated to royal saints: St. Vladimir the Equal-to-the-Apostles, St. Alexander Nevskii, Ss. Boris and Gleb, St. Dmitrri Donskoi. Danilov Monastery bears the name of St. Daniel, Prince of Moscow. But there have not been built yet any churches dedicated to the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers, even though they are venerated far and wide and their icons can be found in each and every church.

I am absolutely convinced that we should not make single out the dedication of new churches to the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers. They are saints just like the other ascetics, martyrs, and righteous ones to whom churches have been dedicated, so consecrating a church in honor of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers is something wholly natural and traditional.

What efforts are required to rectify this situation and who should be the one to fix the problem?

Certainly, the construction of churches like this one should be initiated by the faithful themselves and blessed by the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Imperial Family was canonized twelve years ago. Next year will be celebrated the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanoff. Could one consider the church at number 6 Novopodmoskovnyi Street a fitting memorial to the dynasty?

The church at number 6 Novopodmoskovnyi Street is not, first of all, a memorial to the dynasty, but a memorial to the millions of new martyrs and confessors of Russia, and to the many more of our countrymen who were killed and were not canonized, but whose memory is likewise holy. The Royal Passion-Bearers and their faithful servants, who were murdered in basement of the Ipat’ev House—they are a symbol for all the victims of the godless totalitarians regime. Patriarch Aleksei II, of blessed memory, used to say, quite rightly, that “the execution of the Imperial Family was the beginning of the repression and frightful terror against the entire people of Russia.”

How else, besides the construction of new churches, can this anniversary best be celebrated?

As for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the ending of the Time of Troubles and the ascension of the House of Romanoff, the Head of the Dynasty, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia, has, in her special Address of March 1 of this year, noted that most important in these celebrations should be prayer, educational events, and acts of charity for those in need. The key words from this Address by the Grand Duchess are worth repeating here: “I call upon all who are willing and able to make donations to cover the costs of a fitting celebration of the 400th anniversary of the end of the Time of Troubles, and for the celebration of other anniversaries. The majority of these funds will be used to help the poor, orphans, the sick, the disabled, the aged, and the homeless. The Holy Ascetics, monarchs, hierarchs, heroes and military leaders, whose names have been taken by various charities as a way of honoring their contributions to the nation—they will all rejoice far more in the Kingdom of Heaven if we erect monuments in their honor not only on the streets and squares of our cities, but first and foremost in the hearts of the people.”

When Orthodox believers chose the location for the construction of this royal church, they were motivated by the fact that the Voikov District continues to bear this tarnished name (the name of one of the murderers of the Imperial Family). To what degree is it symbolic to build this church in this district? Do you believe it possible that the name of the district will one day be changed?

Grand Duchess Maria of Russia calls upon all her countrymen to abjure all revanchism and to seek not that which divides us, but only that which unites us. One needs to be able to find compromise, to avoid doing things out of spite; and if the need arises to debate and defend our views and interests, to do so always in a civil manner, dispassionately, and appropriately, and always in accordance with the law. Our society is made up of people with varying views, and every individual has symbols that he regards as important to him. However, in regard to P. Voikov—a terrorist, a murderer of children, and a mutilator of corpses—I believe that it would be most fitting for today’s communists to call for the removal of his name from the maps of Moscow and of the country. If they do not do that, but rather fight tooth and nail for the name of this inhuman murderer to be retained, then we would be right to conclude that they have not fully rejected and condemned his terrorist methods, and that they would be willing to return to these methods if given the chance. None of this would be likely to lead to a healthy social dialogue or national unity.

In pre-revolutionary Russia, there were also murderous butchers, careerists who made their way up over the dead bodies of others, and so on. But no one named streets or city squares after them or erected monuments in their honor. I have heard that an Orthodox association has proposed to change all the places named “Voikov” to honor instead heroes from the Soviet period, such as cosmonaut V. N. Volkov, who was twice awarded the “Hero of the USSR” medal and who died fulfilling his duty to this country. But even that suggestion was rejected by the communists. By comparison, if the communists should somewhere find a street named in honor of Maliuta Skuratov and suggest that it be renamed in honor of, say, Yermak Timofeevich, not one sensible Orthodox Christian would object to this proposal.

Now, when the entire world is at war with terrorism, it is clearly absurd to preserve place names that honor terrorists.

The heirs to the Bolsheviks in the RKRP (the “Russian Communist Workers Party), Artem Buslaev and others, as well as the atheist foundation “Common Sense,” have actively opposed the construction of a church in honor of the Holy Royal Martyrs. Revenge is not a characteristic of Orthodox people, but might not the construction of the church be the best, and perhaps the most truly spiritual response to our opponents?

Even if we follow the logic of the representatives of the leftist parties, which assert the need to preserve inviolable the entire Soviet legacy, there still is no way to explain and justify their opposition to perpetuating the memory of saints and prominent figures from pre-Revolutionary Russia. By their actions, today’s Bolsheviks show that their declaration of “respect for history” is hypocritical and false. In point of fact, they desire not respect for the Soviet period, which is so dear to their hearts, but the continuation of the oppression of people who have different views from theirs. In fact, if we recognized that it is necessary to respect the feelings of those who venerate Lenin and Dzerzhinsky, then why shouldn’t the rights of those who venerate Emperor Nicholas II and other victims of communism be similarly respected by them?

If the opponents to the construction of a church in honor of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers succeed in halting the project, then it will be no exaggeration to say that it will mean that we all remain in the cellar of the Ipat’ev House together with the Imperial Family and their faithful servants, that Orthodox believers continue to be discriminated against and their freedom of conscience and religious feelings continue to be suppressed. This is unacceptable in a nation that is governed by the rule of law. There is not now, nor can there ever be, any possible basis in the law to prohibit the construction of a church or its dedication in honor of saints that are venerated by the entire Church. If someone should claim that the church should not be built because it “disturbs” him, then one might be able to make the same case against building a kindergarten, a school, or a hospital. This argument is utterly illegal, illogical, and ill-conceived.

At the present time, there is a construction project to build “200 Churches in Moscow.” Around 20 have been started and are currently under construction. What do you think this project will mean for the city, given the fact that around 1000 churches were destroyed in the Moscow region during Soviet times?

The project to build 200 churches has been blessed by His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill. It has received the full support and approval of the civil authorities and has passed through the necessary legal procedures. The need for new constructions throughout the city is quite clear. On major religious holidays, churches are filled to capacity and overflowing with people, even in the center of Moscow where there are more churches than anywhere else in the city. This crowding disrupts the prayerful and celebratory atmosphere and presents many difficulties for the elderly and for children. In the outer regions, where there are fewer churches, the crowding problem is even worse.

Churches are needed not only by the members of the community and to regular church-going parishioners, but also to many people who are perhaps not regular church-goers, but who from time to time desire to contemplate God and to be alone with their thoughts, and to cry or rejoice in a special spiritual atmosphere. Aggressive, militant atheists are, fortunately, a minority. At least, such people are by comparison far fewer than the number of the most devout believers. The majority is made up of those who are not troubled at all by churches, and who are often aided by them. The very existence of church promotes the general spiritual health of the city, and enhances its architectural beauty.

Of course, the clergy and the faithful should strive so that everyone who enters the church, regardless of the level of their familiarity with the customs of the church, are met with love, kindness, and concern, and receive spiritual comfort without any sort of pressures placed on them. It is enormously sad and inappropriate that, in some churches, people are sometimes greeted with hostility from the clergy and the parishioners. But such situations cannot be used to serve the argument against the construction of new churches. After all, we don’t ever oppose the construction of new bakeries if some of the clerks at the counters in them are rude; and we don’t ever oppose the construction of new hospitals if some doctors may be unscrupulous.

Churches offer many of us spiritual food and healing. Only evil and insincere people could ever want to hinder construction of churches.

As far as we are given to understand, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia has supported monasteries, has expressed interest in the construction of churches in Moscow, and, in particular, has supported the construction of the church in Voikov District. Given her status in Russia and in Europe, how might she help these projects, should she have the desire to do so?

The Head of the House of Romanoff has expressed her profound conviction that our generation has been given the unique opportunity to be witnesses and participants in the rebirth of Russia’s holy places, which for decades had been defiled, destroyed, and turned into dust.

We experience today far greater joy than those who built churches before the Revolution because, for them, this was something entirely normal to do, and they did not, like us, experience the completely unique joy that comes from participating in the resurrection of something that had been destroyed.

We of course are not speaking about those who, with enormous pain and heartache, witnessed the savage destruction of the nation’s spiritual and cultural inheritance: they were deeply grieved.

But we are today experiencing greater joy than even future generations will have because they will come to think again that the churches have always been there, and that access to them for everyone is and seemingly always has been open to all who want to enter. We are the ones who saw and know what it is to live life with churches and without access to them. And now we can, though our prayers and efforts, through our sacrifices, participate in the rebirth and rebuilding of Russia’s holy places.

It is very unfortunate that circumstances are such that Grand Duchess Maria of Russia and Tsesarevich Georgii of Russia are not now able to support with their own material resources this costly construction project. Once there was a time when emperors and members of the dynasty could build churches and even monasteries out of their own funds. At the present time, however, the Imperial Family has an income not very much different from a middle-class family and so can only sometimes give money to important causes, and even then, in amounts not very different from what the rest of us can give. But the Imperial Family has authority, honor, and its good name, which is always worth more than any sum of money. And with that good name, it is able to lend substantial assistance to many worthy projects.

The Grand Duchess and her Heir are always ready to sponsor, and when possible, personally participate, in various charitable activities that raise money for the reconstruction of holy places and the support of the Church’s activities.

Often the Grand Duchess and her Heir are given icons from the Orthodox faithful as gifts—sometimes ancient icons, sometimes beautiful modern icons, but always very valuable icons, both from a spiritual and an artistic perspective. The Grand Duchess and Grand Duke in these cases always give these holy icons to churches and monastic communities in Russia so that they can be made accessible to all the Orthodox faithful. Relatively recently, two icons from the pre-Revolutionary era, which had previously been presented to the Holy Royal Passion-Bearer Emperor Nicholas II, were presented as a gift to Grand Duchess Maria of Russia by the collector E. Riapov. Her Imperial Highness gave one each to the Vysoko-Petrovskii Monstery and the Savvino-Storozhevskii Monastery. Similarly, an exact copy of the Feodorov Icon of the Mother of God, which had been presented to the Grand Duchess by the famous Russian philanthropist A. Klishas, was given by her to the Nikolo-Ugreshskii Monastery.

These are only a few examples of assistance. The Imperial House is open to any and all proposals for working collaboratively for the good of the Church, so long of course as they are reasonable and do not contradict tradition or the will of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

For the original interview, see, in Russian: http://www.religare.ru/2_97590_1_156.html.

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