Interview granted by His Eminence Archbishop Antony, Exarch of the Patriarch of Moscow in Western Europe, to Mr. Gabriel Matzneff, of the Paris journal COMBAT
G.M.: What is your opinion, Monsignor of the pontificate of John XXIII, and what are your hopes for the next Pope and the eventual second session of the Vatican II Council?
ABP. ANTHONY: The greatness of John XXIII is his truly evangelical fullness. When I was ordained, a Priest whom I love very much wrote to me: “Remember that Christ has call you to be His Priest, that the living God is the God of all, and let not one man escape your pastoral care, even though he does not go to your Church, or to any Church; even though he is turned against the Church. He is a child of God who is placed in your charge”. In John XXIII one finds exactly this “conscience of a universal pastorate,” not based on power but on that charity which comes from love.
For the future, we wish a Pope of the same spirit of charity, who will act in the words of St. Paul: “Our mouth is open to you; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections” (II Cor. VI, 11-12).
What we wish is not so much a pope who will continue the line of conduct of John XXIII — for it is possible to follow a work and fossilize it — but a pope who will be guided by God as was John XXIII; a pope who believes in God the Creator and God the Saviour, the God not merely of a clan or a race, but the God of all.
For the second session of the council Vatican II, if it is inspired by the same spirit of truth and liberty, our greatest hope is that it should be held as quickly as possible. It would be most regretable should an attempt be made to close what the first session opened.
Above all, it must not be forgotten that a council is not an assembly of politicians or economists. The principal tasks of the bishops assembled at Rome is to allow God to speak, to listen, and to do as He shall say.
G.M.: Regarding Christian unity, Monsignor, do you not believe that there is too great a tendency to make political and secular issues out of what are after all principally theological concerns?
ABP. ANTHONY: First of all, it must be understood that Orthodox and Roman Catholics are separated by essential theological divergences. It is a poor service for the cause of unity to minimize these divergences and to attempt to consider them as purely the affairs of specialists; for faith and life are but one.
This being understood, Christian Truth is not a system of propositions; it is Christ. It does not answer the question “what”, but the question “Who”.
This Truth which is the knowledge of the personal God can be attained only in the mystery of mutual love. Saint Ignatius of Antioch defined the Church as Agape, that is to say Love. This is why, just as we cannot have one integral theology in a divided Christian world (as long as there is separation, the vision of God is a broken, fragmented and insufficient vision), so God can give us Christian unity only as we show ourselves to be true Christians in our lives.
G.M.: Rightly or wrongly, one sees in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris an overture to the left, a hand which the Catholic Church is holding out to the atheistic Communists. Concerning this problem of rapport with materialists, what is the position of the Orthodox Church, millions of whose faithful are citizens of Iron Curtain countries?
ABP. ANTHONY: The Orthodox are divided in their attitude toward atheistic Communism. This is natural, because they have suffered more than Christians of other confessions from the establishment of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe.
But however we may judge Communism as a political or social system, nevertheless the Church considers each Communist as a creature of God, whom God desires and loves. Christ, Who said that He came into the world to save sinners, died on the Cross for all men and especially for sinners.
The Russian Church saw with joy that Pope John XXIII turned toward the Communists not as a Chief of State but as a Priest, and we are impressed by the fact that He spoke to the Communists in the same words and spirit as our own Patriarch Alexis or Patriarch Sergius, who wrote in 1928: “To me, the atheists who govern our country are not enemies, but the lost sheep of the Lord’s flock for whom I would give my life”.
Obviously, this does not remove the fundamental ideological opposition between Christianity and Communism. Do not ignore the current intensification of the campaign against the Church and the Faith in the Soviet Union. Nothing is more opposed to the freedom of the children of God than this atmosphere of propoganda and fear. . .
GM: The Roman Church seems to find several difficulties in keeping in contact with the working masses and the intellectual elite. Does the Orthodox Church encounter the same difficulties, or does she have different problems?
ABP. ANTHONY: There are two reasons why in the west the working masses and the intellectual elite have drifted away from the Churches. First, the Church speaks a conventional language which belongs to no one and which Pastor Roland de Pury calls “le patois de “Canaan” (the dialect of Canaan). Second, the Church tries to meet these men on their own ground, while the Church’s true vocation is to introduce a new dimension which changes the whole perspective of everything.
Men thirst for a spiritual life, for an interior life in which they can find God. On this point, we must be “integrators,” and never forget that we preach the Gospel and nothing else.
But if we wish men to believe, it is not enough to preach; it is necessary to live. In the West, Christianity has become too much an affair of classes: the proletariat has lost God while the bourgeoisie remains Christian or at least goes thru the motions.
In Russia, the Faith is something very personal and dangerous, as the line of demarcation varies: in some families, certain people are practicing Christians and others are militant atheists. The Russian reality is a very complex picture of unbelievers, believers, half-believers, and searchers.
G.M.: The Church speaks of peace a good deal. Do you not think, Monsignor, that this fear of the Apocalypse shows a spiritual shallowness among Christians of today in striking contrast to the fervour of the first Christians, who lived in joyous expectation of the Parousia
ABP. ANTHONY: There is a danger in both attitudes. Christ said to us very clearly: “Do not be alarmed when you hear of wars, and rumours of wars” (Mark XII7). But at the same time we must have compassion for all human suffering; the Christian cannot be indifferent to the problems here on earth. Do not forget that Christ, in His Incarnation, experienced all the anguishes of man: Fear, Loneliness, and Despair were there in the Garden of Olives and on Golgotha. What is important is to seek the Kingdom of God and His justice.
G.M.: Monsignor, what are the tasks at present of the Orthodox Church?
ABP. ANTHONY: Orthodoxy must present herself to the heart of the modern world; she must become the “today of God” (Pastor Schutz) and she must speak the language of the west. Orthodoxy must cast aside her exoticism and folklore. She needs laymen who are cultivated and integrated into the West, and who will be a presence of Orthodoxy as eternal Truth and eternal Life. We must witness that the Orthodox Church is not a local Church, limited geographically and historically to the greco-Russian world, but the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which we confess in the Credo.
G.M.: To end this interview, for which I sincerely thank you, let me ask you; Monsignor, what is the deep meaning of the ceremonies marking the millenium of Mount Athos?
APB. ANTHONY: These ceremonies must not be considered as merely a pretext for spectacular manifestations or sumptuous liturgies; they must be thought of as a great meeting of prayer. So, this is what is important: we have there a place which for a thousand years has been wholely consecrated to prayer. This prayer, said on the holy Mountain which is the very heart of Orthodoxy, will be the prayer of all the autocephalous Churches, of all the Orthodox world. Sometimes the Church is reproached for not being more active in her campaign against the forces of evil. But the Church is neither an army nor a propaganda agency. The Church is the Christian people in prayer. The monks of Mount Athos, who are nourished by God alone, bear the strongest witness in the modern world of the objective existence God and the total value of prayer. In going to Athos we are not looking for anything else. We shall meet each other in the essential, in the only necessity, besides which all else is nothing.
Published: Combat, 20 June, 1963