Митрополит Олександр (Драбинко) (ol_drabinko) wrote,
Митрополит Олександр (Драбинко)
ol_drabinko

‘SYSTEM’ AND PERSONAL DIGNITY

OLEXANDR (Drabynko)
Metropolitan of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy and Vyshneve
Speech at the International Holy Assumption Readings
(Kyiv, September 29, 2016,
Institute of Religious Sciences of St. Thomas Aquinas)

When I discussed the theme of my speech with the conference organizers, I was advised to speak in a purely academic format. For example, about trust in God in the theology of Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom). It is a great theme, and I think it was to be selected for this report, if ... it was not for the word “dignity” among the central and major topics of these Readings. No doubt, we, the Orthodox people, are gifted. We are gifted not in the sense of the talents inherent to Orthodox people only. Our giftedness has a different nature. We are endowed by virtue of the fact that we have received a gift. We received as a gift the most ancient tradition of the Church, and ...…
Here, I guess, you expect me to take a traditional turn of Orthodox thought: even though we are not worthy of this great gift, we are Orthodox ... and then reproduce a ubiquitous theological “template” that requires a brief introduction about our unworthiness, its main part being dedicated to our unique Orthodox identity. No doubt, the Orthodox theological tradition is truly unique. But it does not make sense to elaborate on it today. Our theology is wonderful. And our real church life, alas, often runs contrary to Orthodox theology and the evangelical precepts. One may find many excellent books on the shelves of our erudite monks, priests, and enlightened rulers, including the writings of the Holy Fathers and patristic studies of canon law, works on asceticism. The Bible is also available in modern clergymen’s libraries. Often it has expensive bindings or covers. Sometimes it is provided with illustrations and popular scientific commentary. But there is a problem. Despite all these God-bearing and great books a relationship often prevails in our real life that cannot be justified in the light of the Gospel, the teachings of the Holy Fathers and the canonical tradition.

The “System”

In his first completed novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” James Joyce, a classic Irish and British author, tells the story of the transformation of a religious personality into the artistic one, of a devoutly Catholic believer into a person whose religion was art. The novel is partially autobiographic and was written on the basis of Joyce’s experience. As you know, Joyce was the one to break with Catholicism. Although he received the Catholic Jesuit education, the future writer refused to take the gown and after college broke with the Church, scandalizing society with his disregard for traditional Catholic morality (in particular, his refusal to enter the religious marriage with his wife). What is the cause of Joyce’s breakup with the Catholic Church? The answer can be drawn from said Joyce’s novel, which describes the protagonist’s education at the Jesuit college. As is the case with many Russian revolutionaries, Joyce’s rejection of religion was attributable to the experience gained in the walls of the theological school.

The “system.” The term was brought in the 1990s to Moscow theological schools by former counterculture adherents who came to the Church. The dictionary of hippies and drug addicts has a counterpart to the term “system.” The “system” is a closed space with its corporate rules. Any closed countercultural environment is such a “system.”

“I am in the system” – the students and teachers of the seminary say or text in messages, wanting to let fellows know they settled within the walls of a theological school. “He does not fit in the system” – this can be said about a student, who for some reasons could not find a common language with the seminary superiors. Here we have revealed yet another – a more regrettable meaning of the word “system.” According to an anonymous author of the Internet community “Bursaki” (Seminarians), “the ‘system’ is the orderliness based on the correct and regular arrangement of parts in a specific relationship. But in cases where these parts are real people, and their relationships are forcibly shaped as the ones between the gears in the mechanism, - it can never amount to anything good.”[1]

Theological schools are focused on training future pastors of the Church, not “theology experts.” Therefore, the most important task of our seminaries and academies is enchurching of a person, familiarizing students not only with certain theoretical knowledge, but also with the clearly determined - churchly - way of life. However, as Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev rightly notes:
“One cannot become pious under compulsion.” As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.” Forced participation in worship and prayer, instead of strengthening faith in man, can weaken or destroy it, especially the forced confession and communion. And this is a practice in some of our theological schools. <...> Let’s have it straight: neither compulsion to attend worship nor discipline based on fear of authorities, nor the promotion of informing and peaching nor the assigned “independent” work in stuffy classrooms - none of this boosts religiosity among the students of theological schools. Quite the contrary.”[2].

The Revolution of Dignity

Freedom is always a risk. Therefore, at all periods of history, there are always people who want to limit human freedom, to make people more “correct” and “happy.” While the lack of freedom outside the church walls can still be justified by certain albeit incompetent philosophical and political concepts, the “forced saving” or coercion on the person within the Church is not only always foolishness, but also a blasphemy. After all, the one who propagates unfreedom and practices it in the Church of Christ, rejects the mystery of the Cross. He rejects the amazing way that preserves human freedom, the way whereby God has saved man and the world.
It is not by chance that the Revolution of 2014 is called the “Revolution of Dignity.” Yanukovych’s regime was extortionate, and it was the criminal economic policy destroying the middle class, which was the reason of its fall. But the immediate cause that urged people to take to the streets was flouting of human dignity by the authorities. Millions of people took to Maidan, being offended by the fact that Yanukovych’s regime usurped their right to civilizational self-determination, trampled on their civil rights and personal dignity.

The world knew many revolutions that claimed to have restored the trampled dignity of the people or a personality. But the real Revolution of Dignity took place neither in 2014 nor in 1789, when the Bastille was seized and the French Revolution broke out. Human dignity was confirmed once and for all, when more than two thousand years ago, God saved man, having died on the cross, since any other way of salvation would belittle human freedom.

God does not abide by laws, including the law of “global sacrifice.” Jesus Christ did not have to die for our salvation. He was not compelled to this by certain cosmic law imposed on his personality or by the concepts of justice or mercy. God was free to choose a different way to save the human race. He could save us with a word. The only word of the Lord Almighty would be enough to make every one of us to abandon evil and cleave unto all good.

The suffering and the cross would not be necessary. There would be no need of humiliation of the Word of God, who descended into the abyss of hell ... But God chooses a different path, the path that suggests that salvation will in no way diminish the freedom of man. And this path lies through the cross. God becomes man to save us from the inside of the human being, save a human without violating the borders of his freedom. God is the creator of our freedom. It is He who called us out of nothingness and created free. But the paradox of the Christian Revelation is that God reveals himself in it simultaneously as the Almighty and the One Who voluntarily assumed powerlessness in the face of the freedom of created beings. God thirsts for our love. But love can only fulfill itself in freedom. Therefore, according to the exact image offered by Lossky, God is like a timid beggar, “a beggar begging for love at the door of the soul, who never dares to force it open.”[3]

The point of unchurching

So, God is like a beggar at the door of the human soul. What about us, the people of the Church? I understand that the format of the conference report suggests a more sophisticated system of rendering thought. But there are situations where the only way to bring clarity is asking the simplest and at the same time the most sensitive questions.

One of the main temptations of the state is to violate the right of man to personal dignity, to prevent individuals to build their relationship with the state as equal entities. And what about the Church?
If we need to substantiate the separation of church from state, we usually remember the famous words of the Apostle Paul that the Church is the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12,27).

“The Church is extraneous to the state,” we say. “The life of state develops according to the earthly sociological laws, and life of the Church as the Body of Christ is subject to the laws of eternity.” But does everything in our church life always proceed according to this theological formula? Man is weak. Human dignity shall be protected by state laws. And, nevertheless, the state, the state apparatus almost always tends to absorb the person and violate his rights. Human dignity is also protected in the Church. It is protected by its doctrine and the ecclesial canonical tradition based on the Roman right. But here, in the church community, by the same sinful human weakness often there are cases of violation of the rights and dignity of an individual.

As we have noted, first of all, the “system” is a system of theological schools. But there is an extended meaning of the term. “The ‘system,’ says our aforesaid unnamed author, is a great simulator of the entire church system, passing through which, one is already capable to tell exactly and without illusions - to be or not to be a priest.” So the Seminary becomes not only a place of education and training, but also a place where there a sad metamorphosis of the human soul evolves. “More than once I met students of the theological academies and seminaries, Metropolitan Hilarion wrrites, who told me the following: “We came here with such faith, with such fire, with the love of God, with such devotion to the Church, with a burning desire to learn. We have lost everything here! We have become cynics, for whom nothing is sacred.” I can accede to the words of Archbishop Hilarion, I happened to hear similar confessions.

For Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego, the turning point to unchurching became the sermon he heard while studying at the Jesuit college, which was said by the preacher who cruelly described the torment of sinners in hell. This image caused almost physical suffering to Stephen. “His spiritual struggle pertains to acceptance of the outer world reduced to a system or its rejections. In the end, he rejects it.[4]

A point of unchurching for many students of theological schools are the plagues that Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) mentions so often: the discipline based on fear of the authorities, informing and peaching. As a graduate of Moscow Theological Seminary, who studied there and lived in the walls and towers of the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra, I can attest that Archbishop Hilarion’s bitter words, unfortunately, are not groundless. They are applicable, alas, for Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, a graduate of which I also am. Many teachers and students of the Kyiv Theological Schools with a clear conscience, without exaggeration can be called faithful and churched people. Among the graduates of KTA&S, I personally know numerous priests and church workers, who passed all the tests with dignity, leaving the theological school as adults, responsible and well-established in their faith and Christian way of living. However, I and many other churched people are well aware that the “system” is an international phenomenon, and, alas, Kyiv Theological Schools are no exception here.

The ‘system’ or ‘systematic breach of discipline’?

Let me give just one example. Last year, there was an incident within the walls of Kyiv Theological Seminary, widely known through the response in the social networks and its public coverage. On February 13, in the Academic Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, Sergiy Zadorozhnyy, a fourth year student of the Kyiv Theological Seminary, delivered a sermon dedicated to such problem of religious schools as informing.
Already the next day, on February 14, on the bulletin board there was a resolution by the Rector of KTA&S stating: “Sergiy Zadorozhnyy, the student of grade 4 of Kyiv Theological Seminary is expelled for the systematic breach of discipline.”
I do not want my words to be understood by the audience as an accusation against His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary, the Rector of KTA&S, who faces a challenging task of reforming Kyiv Theological Schools. Sergiy Zadorozhnyy really gave some reason for administrative punishment.
“According to the established tradition, the seminary graduate must first show his sermon in writing to his teacher, and only then, having received the blessing, verbally retell it from the church pulpit. Zadorozhnyy cheated. He put on the teacher’s table a text that passed academic censorship. But going to the pulpit, he gave a speech devoted to such problem of theological schools as informing.”[5] But was the punishment imposed on the student adequate to his wrong-doing? During the sermon Sergey Zadorozhnyy did not deliver the text that was approved by the teacher. But wasn’t it possible to choose a different, more humane, sanction to a student who dared voice from the pulpit his own – albeit erroneous - opinion on the spiritual life at the theological school?

Sergiy Zadorozhnyy summarized in social networks the key points of his sermon: “We all know how the students are taught meanness. The favorites are selected from among students. They are made clear that they enjoy some special confidence of the authorities. They are assisted in their studies and even in their personal lives. Over time, in the course of the next conversation, they are cleverly asked two or three questions, answering which the student tells a story that happened in the classroom, or tells what this or that student is doing. And if this student feels remorse, he will justify himself saying that he did not do it on purpose – and this in the best case. There are also students who think it a kind of obedience and elevate this meanness almost to a virtuous act. They do not understand that the obedience running contrary to conscience and the Gospel, is not something useful, but detrimental to man.”[6]

What kind of priest may come out of a theological school student, who got accustomed to such mundane things like the fear of authorities, informing and peaching? Won’t the student accustomed to hunger and humiliation of life become eager to receive the material and psychological “satisfaction” after he is ordained to the priesthood and sent to serve in the parish? Won’t he have a desire to transform his parish in the micro model of the “system,” in which he was nurtured? And, most importantly, won’t he start his priestly ministry, having become a spiritually disabled person, his soul being corroded by cynicism?..

I understand that my words may seem too radical to some of you. But this question has a too personal dimension for me. In 1997, as a pupil of grade 4 of the Moscow Theological Seminary, along with the other students of our course, I protested against what we thought the biased attitude towards us on the part of the Seminary inspector. Our protest gained wide-scale dimension, and our demands have been met. By rector’s decision, grade 4 was reassigned, it was taken out of the Seminary jurisdiction and subordinated to the Academy inspector. However, I and some other active participants of those events memorable for us, quietly stated: the chances of continuing education within the walls of the Moscow Academy are still there, but they are questionable... I was incredibly lucky. By God’s grace, I had not only graduated from the Theological Academy (however, already in Kyiv), but found myself at the feet of my Gamaliel - His Beatitude Metropolitan Volodymyr. And every time when I hear stories like the story of Sergei, I understand – if my fate decreed otherwise, I might have been blacklisted along with my classmates at Moscow Theological Seminary instead of getting an academic diploma of the theological school.

Christ, Gospel, and Eucharist

Religious life cannot be based on anarchy. It also cannot be arranged on the basis of misguided democracy. (As it was the case, for example, in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the 20s, where the spirit of secularism triumphed under the guise of so-called “conciliar rule”). But the basis of the Church's unity cannot lie in the administrative system. The Church cannot be an analogue of a notorious party, where various manifestations of autocracy were disguised under the democratic centralism principle. The Church cannot be a “system.” By its nature, the Church is a living organism that lives in the image given to her by her Head - Christ.
God came in the form of a servant, not a monarch. A servant, not master. Christ demanded of man absolute fidelity to the truth. He demanded – and did it sometimes in extremely undiplomatic and rigid forms – that man was not indifferent to the truth, that he selflessly sought the truth, and, having found it, remained faithful in the face of any trial. But the power of Christ over the apostles was not oppressive. Christ was not a tyrant. He did not ask his disciples to be part of a “divine whole,” neither he turned them into instruments for the triumph of his ideas and his sermon. The Lord has chosen disciples out of the world, and because of this choice they were “not of the world” that hates them (Cf.: Jn. 15, 19)…

But does any of us dare call the apostolic community a “system”? Were the apostles “gears” in the community, led by Christ?.. When talking on the issue that really concerns you, it is hard to resist the emotions and speak briefly. Therefore, I humbly apologize to the audience that the main judgmental portion of my report was lengthy. We talked today about the “system” and the challenges it brings to our ecclesial life. But what do you suggest? - you may ask me. How to build our ecclesial life so that it was not destroyed by anarchistic impulses, while not having become a suffocating “system,” destroying human dignity and freedom?
It is my deep conviction that salvation from the “system” cannot lie in rebellion or revolution in the Church. History shows that in the majority of such social upheavals often led to the restoration of the old order of things. But where shall we search then for the relationship system that could destroy the “system” without destroying the Church and its ancient tradition?

The answer is two words: the Gospel and the Eucharist. The Gospel gives us love as the only attitude that can authentically tie human personalities. And Eucharist reveals the celebration and concelebration as the only type of relationship that can bind the bishop, the priest and the Eucharistic assembly.

We are accustomed to thinking of the priest as a special figure, “taken” or “chosen” out of the profane world, and sacred by this selectness. But the Eucharist and the way of life it opens does not give rise to such a separation of the priesthood, and “simple” (i.e. the profane) people. A bishop or priest is a celebrant. He does not stand before God on his own, but on behalf of the whole community. A bishop or a priest, as we see in the Eucharist – is rather father than lord. Metaphorically speaking, he can be called God’s “waiter” or, to avoid this jarring word, - a servant of God. But the Church where he serves is not a private little market, it is not his private territory. The organizer of the meal, let us use this unexpected term to awaken our bored listeners, - the “restaurant owner” is God Himself.

With this in mind, and constantly testing our consciences against the Gospel, we all have a chance without conflict, but once and for all banish the spirit of the “system” from our ecclesial life. The “system” appears where the presence of Christ diminishes in ecclesial life. But if we direct our eyes and life to Christ, the seemingly so all-mighty “system” will disappear “like smoke disappears ... like wax melts before the fire.”



[2] Проблемы и задачи русской православной духовной школы. Доклад на консультации православных богословских школ в Белградском университете (Сербия), 16-24 августа 1997 г. // Иларион (Алфеев), еп. Керченский. Православное богословие на рубеже эпох. — Изд. 2-е, доп. — К.: Дух і літера, 2002. — С. 256, 257. [Challenges and objectives of the Russian Orthodox theological school. Report at the consultation of the Orthodox theologian schools at the University of Belgrade (Serbia), August 16-24, 1997 // Hilarion (Alfeyev), Bishop of Kerch. Orthodox theology at the turn of epochs. - 2nd ed,. - K .: Dukhi Litera, 2002, P. 256, 257.]
[3] Лосский В.Н. Догматическое богословие // Богословие. М., 2009.  С.428. [V.N. Lossky. Dogmatic theology // Bogoslovie. M., 2009. p.428]
[4] Джемс Т. Феррел. Предисловие // Джемc Джойс. Портрет художника в юности. Пер. с англ. Виктор Франк. EDIZIONI SCIENTIFICHE ITALIANE. NAPOLI (Неаполь). [1968]. C.XIII. [James T. Farrell. Foreword // James Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Trans. from English by Victor Frank]
[5] [Electronic resource] Кирилл Ромашко. Почему студент, изобличающий доносительство, не может стать священником // Деловая столица, 17 февраля 2015 г. [Kirill Romashko, Why a student demouncing informing, can not become a priest // Delovaya Stolitsa, February 17, 2015]— Access at: http://www.dsnews.ua/society/pochemu-chelovek-izoblichayushchiy-donositelstvo-ne-mozhet-stat-17022015153700
[6] Ibid.
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