November 23, 2016
His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, the Primate of the
Orthodox Church in America, arrived in Russia to celebrate
the 70th birthday of Patriarch Kirill and All Russia.
Anyway, he found some time to meet with an
Interfax-Religion correspondent and share his
opinion about the recent presidential campaign in the
United States, ongoing crisis in Ukraine and tell some
interesting facts about Orthodoxy in America.
– You came to Moscow to congratulate Patriarch
Kirill on his 70th birthday. How well do you know the
patriarch? What would you like to wish him?
– I would like to express my deep thanks to His Holiness
for the invitation to come here. I have known the
patriarch since 2009, when he was elected patriarch. I was
present here at his enthronement.
He has been to America on several occasions as the head of
the Department for External Church Relations, but I
don’t believe I personally met him, I was in a
monastery at that time. 2009 was the first time I
personally made his acquaintance.
I think I’ll ask that God will continue to give him
strength. We’ve especially seen at the gathering this
week where His Holiness was able to bring together
representatives of all the Orthodox Autocephalous
Churches, many primates were here and are still here and I
think it is a testimony to his great ability as an
Orthodox Christian leader to exemplify this sense of
unity. I would like to wish him many years of health and
strength to continue that work of unity, and to continue
to be an inspiring spiritual leader for the Russian
– What impressions do you have from Donald
Trump’s campaign? What do you expect from the new
– I think it is certainly known to almost everyone, who
watches the news, that this year the campaign for the
presidential elections was very difficult, perhaps,
confusing to many people even in the United States,
painful, but in the end the citizens of the United Stated
followed the process as established and elected a new
president. There continues to be some conflicts in the
United States, in a sense more or less normal for the
process. There are always difficulties in the transition
from one president to another. My hope, and I think the
hope of the faithful and the bishops and priests of the
Orthodox Church in America, is that we are cautiously
optimistic about the good work the new president will do.
We pray for him, as we pray always in the Divine Liturgy
for the civil authorities. We hope he will preserve
stability within the United States and hopefully will
promote good relations with other countries of the world,
in particular with Russia, as there has always been good
relations between the United States and Russia although
sometimes there are tensions, and we hope that our Lord
Jesus Christ will enlighten the new president to do the
right things and continue these good relations.
– Do you have any star parishioners? We’ve
heard about Tom Hanks…
– The new chief of staff of the president elect, Reince
Priebus is an Orthodox Christian and a developed Orthodox
Christian, but I am not sure that he is a star. Among the
celebrities, I can name the film star Jonathan Jackson. He
is in Los Angeles, and the rock singer Chris Cornell.
Stars or not, when they come to the church, they are all
the same. I think that in the United States the
personalities try not to show their faith, they are very
neutral, when it comes to their faith. That’s
unfortunate maybe, but they are not public about their
faith, it is really often in America among stars,
celebrities, business people.
You know, Orthodoxy in the United States attracts very
many converts from other backgrounds. I myself am a
convert to the Orthodox faith.
– And how did it happen?
– Well, I was raised in the Anglican Church, in the
Episcopal Church in the United States and I personally
fell away from the Church, even from belief in God when I
was very young, and then slowly I returned to the Church.
My father is a scientist, so I was raised with an idea
that you can either be intelligent or be religious. So I
made a choice when I was very young and inexperienced:
I’ll be intelligent, not religious, but slowly,
meeting people I realized that it is possible to be an
intelligent and faithful person. I started studying more
carefully the life of the Church and eventually I
discovered, mostly through people and books, the Orthodox
faith and began the process of becoming Orthodox.
– How old were you when you joined the Orthodox
– I was 23.
– And are your parents believers too?
– My father is not a believer. My mother is ordained as an
Episcopal priest. She is serving in her own way.
– During the jubilee celebrations in Moscow much
was said about Ukraine, which is going through a violent
crisis today – war in Donbass, economic crisis, social and
political upheaval. How should a believer act in such a
– It is always a source of sorrow when we see the
situation that is happening in Ukraine and it is even more
painful when the faithful are in the middle of a difficult
political situation and civil war. I am from the Church of
North America and it is difficult for me to know exactly
how to help the faithful there, but certainly His Holiness
Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All
Ukraine, and the bishops and clergy are trying to offer
pastoral guidance and they do that very well. It is always
good to trust in the guidance of God through the Church
and prayer. Prayers are really important. Modern people do
not think there is much value in prayer – they want some
kind of concrete political action, but I think that our
action in the Church is for the faithful to focus their
life on prayer, to strengthen each other, not to feel
alone. When in difficult situations, people often feel
isolated and I think the Church through prayer can help to
build that sense of unity among the faithful and encourage
them. I would offer my personal prayers and the prayers of
the Church of America to the faithful to encourage them to
trust in God and maintain that sense of hope that Our Lord
in the Gospel offers.
– Social conflict in Ukraine has a religious
context as well. Ukrainian Greek Catholics speak from
positions of radical nationalism and urge to continue the
war in Donbass. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by
Metropolitan Onufry tries to remain politically neutral,
but it exists under pressure. Do you think that the Church
can participate in political activities?
– The Church was founded on Jesus Christ Who came to
establish peace. He also said there would be difficulties
– the reality of wars and civil wars is there – but the
Church as a body cannot ever call to violent actions or
choose a side and encourage civil war. The Church
recognizes the reality of conflict. We have chaplains that
serve in the military services, but their purpose is not
to make any political statement or encourage that, but to
provide pastoral care to those who are serving in the
military. They are human beings and many of them are
Orthodox Christians. As an institution the Church can
never ever call for a violent conflict or even take a side
in a political situation. The faithful and the Church is
here to be in the world, but not of the world and we try
to preserve the reality of the Kingdom of God in whatever
political situation we find ourselves. It means the Church
cannot really say that we are on this side or on that
side, but to remind people about important eternal values
of the Church.