СБ: First of all, thank you very much, your Eminence, for coming and for your willingness to give an interview to the web portal “Slovo Bogoslova”. We will not ask you how you became Orthodox. You have already said about this in your different interviews. Could you tell us a few words about your parents, about your family?
МК: Yes, my parents were both members of the Anglican church. And my father was soldier in the army. He served in the army for thirty years, he fought in both in the First and the Second World War. I have one brother, two sisters. I have very good memories of my parents, I always remained close to them and later on they came to live with me here in Oxford. Before she died my mother joined the Orthodox Church.
СБ: These days the books by Fr Alexander Schmemann are quite wellknown in Russia among Orthodox people. Especially when they became available after the fall of the Soviet Union. Especially the publication of his diaries has provoked a deep interest to his personality. We know that you met him. How close were your relations with Fr Alexander? What is your attitude to his works and to his legacy?
МК: I greatly admire the work of Father Alexander, in particular I was helped by his book “For the Life of the World”, also published as “Sacraments and Orthodoxy”. I met him several times. He struck me always as a person of high intelligence, certainly widely read in Orthodoxy, but also widely read in European literature, it is very clear from his diaries that he was a person of lively intellect and of many contacts. So yes, he was one of the authors who certainly influenced me in becoming Orthodox. I might mention two other Russian Orthodox writers who drew me towards the Orthodox Church: Father George Florovsky and the lay theologian Vladimir Lossky. Probably they had a greater influence on me than Father Alexander. And also, I knew well Father John Meyendorff. I valued very much his work on St Gregory Palamas. More recently I’ve been equally inspired by the theology of Metropolitan John Ziziulas. So, it’s not only Russians but also Greeks who helped me in my Orthodox journey.
СБ: And who was the biggest, the greatest Orthodox theologian in 20th Century? Would you be able to name anyone?
МК: Many people would say the greatest Orthodox theologian of the 20 Century was Father Sergey Bulgakov. I never met him. I was only 10 years old when he died. But alongside Father Bulgakov I would certainly put as very significant Orthodox theologians Vladimir Lossky and Father George Florovsky, the two I have already mentioned. So perhaps rather than single out one Orthodox theologian I will prefer to mention three.
СБ: The unity of the Church is one of her important characteristics. The Creed says about this, and indeed you wrote about this in your book “The Orthodox Church”, we also remember the words of Christ about unity among his disciples. It seems, however, that one of the features of Orthodoxy, at least since Constantine, has always been certain association with the state. At first it was the Byzantine Empire and later – the national states. The association between the state and the Church has resulted that she exists in different Patriarchates, the number of jurisdictions is growing. How does it all relate to the idea of Christian unity we know from the Gospels? What would you comment on this?
МК: Yes, In the past Orthodoxy often worked with the idea of being a state church. That was true of the Church of Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire. It’s been true of many of the autocephalous churches. But in the 20th Century we have seen the link between Church and state becoming much weaker in one country after another. So, this leads us to ask: what holds the Church together and makes it one? In the past people might have answered it is the governance by the state which holds the church together. Clearly, in the 21st Century we cannot give an answer like that. Let us go much deeper. What holds the church together is the holy Eucharist, communion in the Body and Blood of Christ. That is the essential thing that the Church does and which nobody and nothing else can do. And I think it is the Divine Liturgy which is the foundation of unity within each Orthodox church and between the different Orthodox churches. So, we do not look to the secular state to keep us together. It is the Holy Mysteries which hold us in unity.
СБ: I think, the approach of the Catholic church is slightly different to this, and in different Protestant churches. It seems, that the main principle of unity in those churches is not Eucharist, is it?
МК: Not to the same extent as among the Orthodox. But there have been Roman Catholic theologians, who stressed the importance of the Eucharist. And I think particularly of Henry de Lubac who used to say “The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church”. But on the whole, in Roman Catholic teaching, especially at Vatican I, it is the jurisdiction of the Pope that holds the Church together. A juridical rather than a liturgical principle of unity. And among the Protestants, yes, they are so divided among themselves, so numerous in number that on the whole they emphasise more the personal faith of the believer rather than the unity of the Church.
СБ: Considering such importance of the Eucharist and indeed of the Eucharistic communion, of course we cannot but touch the current difficult events in the Orthodox Church, which caused divisions among the Orthodox at this particular moment. What do you think about the situation which has developed in connection with the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine? Your opinion is especially valuable for us because you are one of the bishops of the Constantinople Patriarchate and you might have insider’s information. What is going on? What could you share with us?
МК: first, the situation in the Ukraine is extremally serious, and I am very distressed by the developments. And I do not myself see at this moment what the solution is going to be. Then, secondly, though I am Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I am not at all happy about the position taken by Patriarch Bartholomew. With all due respect to my Patriarch, I am bound to say that I agree with the view expressed by the Patriarchate of Moscow that Ukraine belongs to the Russian Church. After all, the Metropolia of Kiev by an agreement of 1676 was transferred from the omophorion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to that of the Patriarchate of Moscow. So, for 330 years Ukraine has been part of the Russian Church. Now, that will not be a popular view in Constantinople, and I know that His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch has taken a different view. But certainly, I feel that it was unwise of the Patriarch of Constantinople unilaterally to say the agreement of 1676 is cancelled. After all, as Aristotle says “even God cannot change the past”. This is a fact of history that Ukraine has belonged to the Russian Church. I believe therefore, it has been a mistake for the Ecumenical Patriarch to give autocephaly to the two schismatic bishops – Philaret and Makary. The way forward, I think, must be to have probably a Pan-Orthodox meeting of the primates of the Orthodox Church, not just Constantinople and Moscow, but the other as well, because this is the problem that concerns all the Orthodox Churches. And the way forward must be through Pan-Orthodox discussions. Perhaps we might even summon again the Holy and Great Council that met two years ago in Crete. At the same time, I am troubled by the actions of the Patriarch of Moscow, Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Church. I am disturbed that they have broken of communion with Constantinople. I believe this discussion of the position in Ukraine needs to be considered in the spirit of brotherly love without any braking of communion. So, in that way I cannot agree entirely with either side. And I do pray that somehow there may be a reconciliation.
СБ: You have already said a lot and shared your opinion, but if going further… What is your personal opinion. Why this question was activated now? Of course, the question of the Ukrainian autocephaly, different understanding of whom the Ukrainian church belongs to has been around for a number of years. But at this particular moment? What is your vision?
МК: I do not know. I do not have any inside information on this matter. I note however that in 2016 the Russian Church did not participate in the Holy and Great Council held in Crete. And the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had worked extremely hard to bring about this council. And it must have been a deep disappointment to him that in the end Russian Church, even though it had taken an active part in all the preparations, decided that it could not attend. So that already is a difficulty, the division between Constantinople and Moscow. But beyond that I do not know why Patriarch Bartholomew has chosen at this particular moment to intervene in Ukraine.
СБ: You used to have close relations with the Russian Church and visited Russia almost every year for a number of years. How serious is the break in communion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Constantinople? Has it affected your contacts with the Russian Orthodoxy?
МК: Yes, we should note that while the Russian Church found it advisable to break communion with Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has not broken communion with anybody. We continue to say that we wish to have full brotherly relations with all the different Orthodox Churches, including the Patriarchate of Moscow. Therefore, from the side of Constantinople I am still free to maintain all my many contacts with the Russian Church. And I can testify that my links with the Russian Church both here in Western Europe and in Russia itself have always been deeply important to me. When I first became Orthodox I was received by a Greek bishop in London, but he then sent me for confession to my spiritual Father, who was a Russian priest – Father Georgiy Sheremetiev. And so from that time I have always maintained many close relations with the Russian Church. And I have greatly appreciated my visits to Russia. Some of my happiest hours in my life have been spent before the holy icons in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow.
СБ: There is an opinion, maybe not shared by everybody, that in Russia the Orthodox Church as an institution was corrupted by the Soviet regime and that is the reason why the bishops support the policy of the Kremlin today. Many, especially in the Western media, opposition leaders in Russia say about very close association between the Church and state in Russia now. What would you say? Would be that an opinion of many bishops in Constantinople?
МК: I cannot speak for other bishops in Constantinople, but I will speak for myself.
It is important to distinguish between the position of the Church under communism and the position of the Church today. Under communism the state was officially atheist and was committed to destroying the Church. And even though for a time they might tolerate the Church, their ultimate aim was always to abolish the Church. Today, of course, the regime in Russia is not anti-Christian or anti-Orthodox. Putin is not the same as Stalin. Putin is, so we are told and have every reason to believe, a practising member of the Orthodox Church. So, the two situations, of communism and today, are very different and we should not confuse them. So far as the communist era goes, say from 1917 to 1988, we should note first of all the witness of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia. Before I became Orthodox, I read about the persecutions that had happened in 1920th and 1930th and the sufferings that very many of the Orthodox Christians underwent at that time, I was deeply moved by this, and indeed that was one of the reasons why I was drawn to the Orthodox Church. I saw the Orthodox Church as the church of martyrs. And I am very glad that now the Moscow Patriarchate is able openly to glorify these confessors and martyrs in its worship. But the situation under communism was highly complex. I venerate the memory of Patriarch Tikhon. But I wonder whether Patriarch Sergius (he was not yet Patriarch at that time) was wise in the concessions that he made to the communist authorities in 1927 and subsequently. I feel that the Church in the communist era was unfortunately used by the atheist state, particularly abroad in promoting the foreign policy of the Soviet power. So, yes, there are many things in the situation of the Church in Russia under communism about which I feel disquiet, but I have not lived under persecution, as they lived. And, therefore, I have no right to pass judgement. What is important to notice, that even if there were some bishops who were secret agents of the KGB, yet there were innumerable bishops, priests and lay people, who remained truly faithful to the Church, and we should not forget that. Even if there were some infiltration by the secret police in the Church, that did not prevent the Church of Russia under persecution from maintaining a lively spiritual experience.
Yes, the present day situation, personally I would be happier if there was not quite such a close link between the Russian Church and the state. But the truthy ideal that we are aiming at is that the Church should indeed have good relations with the state, but it should always preserve its inner freedom. And I pray that this will be the case in Russia today and in years to come.
СБ: Coming back to the question of the Church unity. The Lord said about unity while praying at the Last Supper: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17: 21-22) Is the unity of Christians possible today?
МК: I recall some words of the late Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras. He said: “Unity will be a miracle”. But he then added: “a miracle in history”. Unity will be a miracle that we cannot simply by our human efforts bring about the restoration of Christian unity. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to descend and draw us together. But the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras was quite right to say “unity will be a miracle in history”. We do not simply hope that we should all be one in the age to come. We are called to work for unity even now. Therefore, I support the efforts being made in the Ecumenical movement. I think, we have more to gain through bilateral dialogues than through membership of the World Council of Churches. But I support participation also of the Orthodox Church in the World Council. I therefore definitely do not regard ecumenism as a heresy. We must with all our heart work for reconciliation, but at the same time we believe that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church of Christ. And when we enter into discussions with other Christian communities we must not compromise the holy Orthodox faith. Without fanaticism but with firmness of clarity in our contacts with other Christians we must bear witness to the full truth of Orthodoxy. Unity will not come about through compromise. So, we have a precious treasure in the Orthodox faith. As is said by St Paul “we have this treasure in earthen vessels. The glory and power are from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7) So, we are unworthy, Orthodox of today, of this treasure, but let us hold fast to it. Let us be open and loving towards other Christians, but let us never deny our Orthodoxy.
СБ: In the situation, which we have already discussed, when we experience serious problems with the unity among the Orthodox on the level of the Church hierarchy, and indeed it is the bishops and the synods who decide whether we are in communion or we are not, the importance of less official and non-official contacts on the Pan-Orthodox level cannot be overestimated. The most recent examples of the non-official Pan-Orthodox initiatives are International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) which is going to have their conference in January in Romania, and our local initiative Orthodox Association of Theological Schools (OATS). Would such initiatives be undermining the authority of bishops in any way? What would you say on this?
МК: It depends how these, we might call, para-ecclesiastical unofficial groups work. It is important that they work in full cooperation with the bishops. That they should seek the blessing of the bishops. But at the same time, we ask of our bishops that they will trust us and give us freedom so that there can be an open discussion in this unofficial movements of all the problems which are confronting our Orthodoxy today. So, we desire to work with the bishops, but we ask them to trust us. Mentioning unofficial movements, we have here in Britain the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist, which arranges conferences each year and produces a small journal ‘The Forerunner’. But we have always, in our Fellowship of St John the Baptist, sought the blessing of the different Orthodox bishops, which they have given to us. And in France and other countries in Western Europe there are very active Orthodox fraternities, which, in my belief, contribute greatly to the local life of the different parishes. Also, in Britain we have the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, which is not exclusively Orthodox. It is a movement involving Western Christians, particularly Anglicans, who wish to come closer to the Orthodox. But I think the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius has greatly helped the Orthodox themselves to come to a deeper understanding of their faith. So, I welcome these unofficial groups and we need such groups working alongside our parish structures and our organised dioceses. There need not be a conflict. They can enrich our Orthodox life. I believe, that is what they are doing now.
СБ: Maybe just as a bit of addition to our original plan, I have prepared several short questions.
What is your favourite book, a favourite feature writer?
МК: Favourite writer, yes. A writer who has influenced me very greatly is Charles Williams. He was English, he died in 1945, and among other things he was the author of seven remarkable novels, which we could even call ‘supernatural thrillers’. Among them I remember particularly one book called “All Hallow’s Eve” and another called “Descent into Hell”. These novels, which I read when I was still in my teens at school, I have always enjoyed and often got back to them. Charles Williams is not so well-known. He was a close friend of CS Lewis, who is much better known, and also of JRR Tolkien. And along with Charles Williams novels, I have enjoyed very much and regularly reread Tolkien’s trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’. So those are books, you might say: Christian phantasy, which I enjoy but also teach me many things.
СБ: How many languages do you speak?
МК: Well, the languages that I know best are ones that I do not actually speak. That is Ancient Greek and Latin, because my first degree here in the University was in the classical languages. But in due course I have learned Modern Greek, and also I am fairly fluent in French. So, I can write in French, deliver sermons in French. Though I do not have a very good accent. Other languages I do not know so well, but I do read some German and Italian, and I know a good deal of Church Slavonic. I am able to celebrate the Liturgy in Slavonic if required. But I ought to know Modern Russian better than I do.
СБ: Whom would you name as the biggest Orthodox theologians of today? Any names?
МК: Yes, in our earlier conversation I mentioned mainly people who have passed on to the other world. But among those who are alive today, the one whom I honour most of all is Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Metropolitan of Pergamon. And I respect deeply his writings both about the Church and about the human person. So, I would put him in the first place.
СБ: Do you watch TV?
МК: Not usually. I do not have television.
СБ: Do you listen to music?
МК: I do love music, especially the baroque composers, and perhaps a little earlier too. I love Monteverdi, Vivaldi, and Bach. And I also love greatly the Russian church music. That is most beautiful.
СБ: What are you reading now? Perhaps, several books?
МК: I am reading several books. But just at the moment, in my moments of relaxation I am reading a novel by John Buchan, called “John Burnet of Barns”. I like the novels of Buchan very much. I like to read novels from an earlier era. I do not read so much modern novelists.
СБ: Do you have a dream which has not been fulfilled as yet?
МК: Do I have a dream which has not been fulfilled as yet… I had dreams which have been fulfilled. Very early on in my contacts with Orthodoxy, long before I had become Orthodox, I had a dream in which I was an Orthodox priest censing the holy icons in the Icon-screen. And that was very vivid. And I took that as a sign that perhaps I was called to join the Orthodox church. So, that dream has come to pass.
СБ: Would you be able to share your favourite joke?
МК: Oh, that is difficult. Jokes depend on a context. They need to arise spontaneously out of the conversation. I am told that there is a programme on the Internet called “The Bishop’s jokes”, which consists of all kinds of jokes that I have used in my different talks. But it seems to me very strange when they are taken out of context and related simply on their own. So, I find it difficult to single out a particular joke.
СБ: Anyway, thank you very much!
СБ: Thank you. Do you have a special word for the audience? I mentioned, that that would be mainly Russian audience. What would you like to wish to the viewers and readers of the web-portal ‘Slovo Bogoslova’?
МК: We are meeting during the fast before Christmas. And so, my message to the Russian Orthodox people is:
May God bless you at the coming feast of the Nativity of Christ! One of the phrases which occur prominently in the vigil service before Christmas is “God is with us” – «с нами Бог». And I pray that you may feel the living presence of Christ in your daily life and especially at the coming feast. Christ our God chose to associate Himself with the human race in the closest of possible ways by Himself becoming a human being. And this is the source of constant joy and unfailing hope to all of us. So may you share in the joy of Christmas this year and every year.