Friday, August 3, 2012

Fr. Victor Potapov On the Pussy Riot Case


Natalya Rostov
August 2, 2012

Father Victor Potapov, rector of St. John the Baptist in Washington, was born in Germany and since 1951 he has been living in America. The church, in which he serves, belongs to the Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. At the request of Slon, he expressed his opinion about what is going on in Moscow regarding the Pussy Riot case.

- I am an observer from the outside, and maybe I was not all that affected like people within the country. Of course, I am a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I was born in the West, in Germany, raised in America, and the situation is cultural, social, all around me - of the other. So I apologize in advance if someone is offended or grieve, in their own words.

Of course, what these girls did was deeply immoral. This is not an ethical mistake, it's immoral. They came into the holy place in the temple, the main temple of Russia, and in that which has been desecrated by the Bolsheviks and then restored (and we know that in a financial sense, maybe not the best). Nevertheless, it has been restored and is again a monument to the heroes, a monument of victory over Napoleon's invasion of Russia. And what, they get up in front of the altar. It's not Putin, Putin is not here (the temple is no place for political demonstrations), and they spoke so many blasphemous things. Very little attention is paid to these words, saying only that they have insulted Putin, the Patriarch, but in fact they upset very many people. I want to say this first of all.

However, the noise which was raised around them is also upsetting. Before Russia there now faces great problems of moral character, and they deserve as much attention. But it seems the Church stuck to Pussy Riot (sorry, I pronounce this word, it is also offensive), stuck to this punk band, and I'm very sorry about this. On the other hand, the crisis caused by the group reveals huge flaws in modern society, as a believer and unbeliever.

- The girls just exposed the conflict between state, society and the Church, right?

- Yes. On the one hand, ensured are the democratic rights of such actions - it is deeply immoral. On the other hand, to punish them with long imprisonment - an obscurantist demand, almost dictatorial - it is immoral, too. I do not understand. I believe that the Church, we pastors, must appeal to the conscience. They sit there for a long time, some of them built up as martyrs, as often happens in such high-profile cases.

I am afraid that the time is lost, but of course it would be better to have a conversation with them, try to act on their conscience, tell the girls that what they've done is deeply offensive, immoral. To be punished, of course, would be necessary, but not so long sitting in a prison or jail, and even more so, not for a seven-year period, as many suggest. We should get them to work in any establishment: a shelter or a hospice.

- There is much attention focused on the court, and many go on calling it the Inquisition, and this creates bitterness all the more. What do we do with it, with the exasperation, which is reproduced?

- I hope that thinking people can see it. I hope that they will write, discuss this problem - the lack of mercy, the heating of cruelty which people are calling for. This should be discussed, but not how it was done so far - either-or. We must come to some compromise. Mindful people and the Church should think again, it is necessary to make the congregation settled down, and not contribute to the bitterness.

Frankly, I'm disappointed in the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, shown on television. (Or, as they were before, because now I notice it less. Before the election, there often were programs on Russian television of interest - round tables, discussions - and now they have ceased to transmit). Their responses are inadequate in this case, and they have deeply disappointed me, unfortunately. I will not name names.

- They are known for these things. And it is clear who you mean. In 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the ROC came together and now it is a Church. Is there some way to bring this issue up to the Patriarch to his environment? Is there any way to influence them?

- We have to work? I think that we will not publicly call on the Patriarch to pardon or appeal to his conscience. I think it needs to be a man on his level. And I hope that our Metropolitan Hilarion, who was recently in Moscow, spoke on the topic. I do not know, but I hope so.

In any case, I as a priest of the capital of a parish, I tell you that I am deeply confused by the representatives of the Church in this matter, although, again, the act of the girls is deeply immoral. I have subscribed to Google - on my computer comes up to everything about Russian Orthodoxy, and I see that both the media and bloggers only talk about it. And what is the theme? The apartment of the patriarch, the patriarch consecrated the church of the FSB, that's all. At the same time I know that in Russia there is spiritual life, there are many dedicated pastors, priests, believers across the country, but nobody is paying attention, because all are eclipsed by the scandals. I do not want to say that the Church came up with these scandals, but somehow it has lost control of the situation. How to explain this, I do not know. But in the end, after eighty years of atheism, maybe it is all growing pains? Maybe we should expect that the bishops and pastors will make mistakes in the way of development? But I hope that we recognize this error and correct them.

- I wanted to ask this question to you, as someone who has lived in the West all your life. Now many people think about what would happen if the same did not happen in Russia. What the punishment should have been in America?

- I heard that California has a law that punishes such an act with a year in prison. They may make a conditional sentence, to force people to go clean up in the church or to care for homeless people.

- A year?

- Yes. It would be good to find a law to quote it, but here it is, in California, a progressive state, as well as in other states - I do not know.

- You are not faced with such?

- Thank God, no.

If a teenager is guilty of something, drove a car without a license, disorderly conduct, the judge usually sentences up to 48 hours of community ministries. And, if it is a child of my parishioners, I suggest to them that he work with us in the church. They help to clean, and I am writing a letter that they had worked with us in the church, and it is accepted.

- Accepted by the state, you mean?

- Yes, and it is good. The child benefits society, and returns him to his duty in the temple, the holy place, which has a definite impact.

The Bolsheviks after the Revolution, every day, destroyed, desecrated churches. And what could the Russian Church do about it?...

It seems to me that the Cathedral of Christ the Savior is now safe to go to, but became the focus of some extremists. Honest! After the antics of these girls, as in any big city, it attracts strange people - again, to emulate.

- In Sevastopol yesterday already they tried.

- Well, you see. It's like during the mass murders in America, when people are afraid that someone wants to copy the murder.

- I found the quote. The Bishop of the Diocese of Ishim and Siberia Nikon called the current trial, "the result of merging the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate and the State." You may also comment on this?

- I can not say so categorically, as he did.

I was born in the West, and I really like our system. I feel good, the government is no pressure on me. In this time as a member of "Voices of America" ​​I could be with the protesters near the White House to protest against the bombing of Yugoslavia in America, and did not fear that I would be dismissed.

We pray here, many American Orthodox, and it is - the best. And when the church was too close to the state, there is always a lot of temptations. The Church must be the conscience of the people, it should have the right to speak freely, without looking around, not depending on the bureaucrats. I am afraid that in Russia, unfortunately, there is the opposite. I do not like it.

- It seems that Orthodoxy becomes an instrument of policy.

- Maybe. I hope they come to their senses and will not allow it.

One reason for this - that the Church believes that the state must return what it lost. The current government considers itself the successor to the Soviet, which destroyed everything, and the Church wants the state to restore the loss. And then what? I do not know. Again, I do not live there, but I'm certainly interested in and root for Russia, even for the Russian athletes who are sick, no matter how strange....

- But perhaps such a separation of Church and state in America can not be there?

- Probably not. I hope that the system will be at least similar to that which exists in some European countries, at least at this formal level, such as in Finland. There it is the official religion - Lutheranism and Orthodoxy - and the state does not intervene, but give some privileges. Where to go? The Russian Church after all, is a church with thousands of years of history in Russian life, it certainly plays a role. The Church created the Russian culture and statehood. It should have some privileges.

- You've met with government officials in their lifetime. As these contacts were formed with you? How did you apply yourself?

- With great deference, with respect. When Reagan was president, I was invited as an informal adviser on religious affairs in the Soviet Union, it was a purely honorary title. The fact that they paid attention to the Orthodox Church, speaks of the deep esteem in which the American state has for the Church.

Of course, we also have problems, many social issues - the issue of gay marriage, homosexuality is being discussed. But I can not get to perform such marriages, it is an internal church matter. If I refuse to make such a marriage, my parish does not take away the special tax status (we are exempted from income tax), I will speak out, and no one will chase me for it. In America, the office is genuine, constitutional, and it is firmly secured.

- And you had to deny the commission of such marriages?

- No. Thank God, no.

- If they will come to you, you refuse, that's what you mean by that?

- If Orthodox come to me of the same sex, I will explain that this is totally unacceptable from our point of view, and they may not consider themselves Orthodox Christians and to enter into such a marriage. Plain and simple.

- But then there will be extensive discussion on this topic.

- My job as a priest is to have a heart to heart talk with people. If someone comes, I'm not going to raise a stink, I'll just explain our point of view.

- Last question. What's next for the Girls?

- I, like the church people, think that the Church should stand up for them, the Church should be merciful, but do not need to justify, of course, their actions. My opinion is that the Church must demand their release, or give another punishment. Other priests may disagree, but I think that most priests will tell you they can not be punished so severely, and it is completely inadequate. We must be merciful, and not to forget the teaching of Christ, and Christ from the cross saying to His torturers, "Lord, forgive them, they do not know what they do". Otherwise, what are we - heathen?

Translation by John Sanidopoulos

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