February 14, 2011

Diamonds Are A Priest's Best Friend?

Olga Gumanova
February 14, 2011

Famous Russian ballerina Anastasia Volochkova wrote in her Internet blog that she was outraged with the luxury Russian priests surrounded themselves, as well as fixed prices for the Church "services" and clerical activity in the media. Archpriest Alexy Uminsky answered to Volochkova's criticism in an interview with Pravda.ru.

"Seriously, I have long been disgusted by the fact that priests can afford to wear expensive watches and phones. The cells of some monasteries often impress me with their luxury and can compete only with five-star hotels. I thought that austerity rather than bejeweled phones should be a part of the life of members of the Church," Anastasia wrote in her blog.

As noted by the dancer, her indignation with the splendor of the church has been getting stronger. "How are the prices for the 'services' (sorry, that is so rude) of the Church determined?! Why, for example, for the book of Prayers for the Dead in one temple I pay 400 rubles, and in another 2000 rubles?! I was told that this is a donation to the temple. Yet, is it appropriate to get a flat fee? Should not this be a voluntary decision of a person?" she resented.

"You should make things orderly in your parishes, solve the pressing problems of your parishioners and not PR yourselves like Father Chaplin, along with us show business celebrities. The churches have their own PR-services!!! I was very surprised!" the dancer said outraged.

Alexy Uminsky, Rector of the Moscow church of Holy Trinity in Khokhol answered to the criticism of Anastasia Volochkova:

"The word 'outrage' always makes me wonder. When a person is disturbed, all the darkness in her heart, soul and mind starts to boil and escapes outside. This darkness, this perturbation makes the consciousness murky, and people have difficulty seeing things properly.

I think that people can be upset with some things, disagree with them, but I believe they have to have certain criteria they base their thoughts on. The church is not a service agency. If a person thinks of the church as a service agency, there is nothing to be outraged about. If you treat it like this, then pay. Then you can also look at theater as a service agency. 'I am going to see ballet, give me the service.' 'I am not happy with Volochkova's services today.' Would I be outraged with the entire concept of the ballet or just a particular person that I did not like on stage? I will not even say anything.

In order to try to change something in the world, we must think: what right do I have to judge something I do not belong to? What right do I have to judge the ballet, the subtleties of the art, if I don't know anything about it? Let's say I went to see a ballet, and the person at the coat check was rude to me. I cannot judge the ballet based on the fact that the person at the coat check at the Bolshoi or Mariinsky Theatre was rude to me. This is exactly how you cannot judge the Church based on what you know or do not know about it. For the Church is not a service agency.

Indeed, everything in the church should be donation-based. One cannot argue with this. Donations come in various forms and ways. Somewhere, in some churches, it is a completely voluntary participation of parishioners in the life of the church. In these temples, such as in a temple in which I serve, there are no price tags on anything. Only for one simple reason: I know all of my parishioners by name, and all my parishioners are well aware that it depends on them and them only whether the electricity bills are paid, telephone bills are paid, minimum wage is paid to the clergy and the people who come after the liturgy are fed. This is why, knowing this, they get into their pockets and take out not a ten ruble bill or two rubles coin. The temple could never exist on this money.

Most likely, ballerina Volochkova knows very well how much her participation in an erotic photo shoot would pay. But she would have a hard time imagining how much a temple needs for monthly maintenance - for water, electricity, heating, and so on. She could have inquired at least once just out of curiosity. And so the church has the right, based on the conditions it lives in, to offer a minimum amount of donations, which somehow can ensure the existence of the parish, be it 400 rubles or 2000 rubles. Moreover, I can say that if a person comes into the temple and does not have enough money to donate a particular sum, but does need to submit a note, nobody would ever refuse this person. Nowhere. They would take a note for free, and will conduct a service for free, and a funeral service for free. And if someone does not do this, it will be a great sin. Although I think that there may be such cases. I admit that this is quite possible, because there are different people among the priests - there are worthy ones, and there are unworthy ones.

Of course, a priest in a patched robe with no money would look more credible in the eyes of people who consider themselves outsiders to the Church. But this does not mean that a priest who received financial security from his own parish became evil, unkind, rude, or heartless. This, in principle, does not mean anything to anyone, and probably Madame Volochkova knows that among her friends who provide for her there are decent people, but there are also dishonest and mean people, but there are good people whose welfare has no effect on them. There are bad people among the poor, and there are saints among the rich. I have been serving as a priest for twenty years and, frankly, did not notice among the priesthood people who would wear a Rolex watch and carry phones with rhinestones. They probably do exist. But if they do, there are very few of them. I think it is unethical to blow this issue out of proportion. It is sufficient to go to any temple in the area or in another diocese, and see how a priest lives there. There are much more of these priests than those who serve in large cities. Even in large cities it can be different, believe me.

Of course it is not very pleasant when a priest looks like he lives in luxury. But rather, these are some mythical characters who drive Mercedes and wear Rolex watch tabloids are writing about. Perhaps she confused the bishops and priests? I know our bishops, there are not that many of them, about 300 people, and they occupy very senior positions, we can even say at the ministerial level. Therefore, their representational life is very different from the life of an ordinary parish priest. Indeed, one can see a bishop in a very good car, sometimes with an expensive watch, as every person who now has an office and power. "