Archpriest Andrei Tkachev answers questions for a Serbian TV channel. Part 2
This is an interview from January 5, 2022, before Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which began February 24. Fr. Andrei Tkachev is from Lvov in western Ukraine. He was serving as the priest of a church in Kiev during the Maidan revolution, and therefore he is qualified to speak about events in Ukraine. Fr. Andrei did not support the violent revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government, and his and his family’s lives were threatened because of his outspoken stance. He now serves in Moscow.
—Sadly, we can draw another parallel, albeit an unfortunate one, between the Serbian and Russian Churches in relation to the events in Montenegro. As you know, we have many times discussed the so-called “Montenegrin Orthodox Church,” and that, of course, reverberates with or repeats the experience of the unrecognized Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). The only difference is that the OCU received their tomos from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Do you think we should fear such a scenario playing out in Montenegro, or have these so-called Montenegrin Orthodox been defeated?
—We should remain concerned. Remember how Jesus Christ told Peter at the Last Supper that Satan asked Him to allow him to sift you as wheat (Lk. 22:31). The evil one has a purpose: to scatter, divide, and dominate—one at a time. It is too bad that His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of the Church of Constantinople is acting in this case as an instrument of some questionable forces and caters to this process of fragmentation and leveling of canonical laws. I think we should watch out for such events in Montenegro. Praise be to Metropolitan Amfilohije, may God rest his soul, that you won the victory, and to the people of God who found the strength to voluntarily come together and defend themselves. There is a good national trait in the people of Serbia that all of us should learn from: your people… without any persuasion, for they already know the truth—they get out and claim their rights. But you know what? I think it is very important for the Serbs, the Montenegrins and the Russians to know about the history in general, including the spiritual history, of their countries. If every boy or a girl in Montenegro and Serbia could thoroughly read about the life of St. Basil of Ostrog and visit him, if everyone knew about St. Peter of Cetinje and venerated his relics, if everyone knew the land they walked and its history and its heroes—it would have a profound effect on our behavior in our daily lives. As for me, I am sure that Russian schoolchildren would gain very much if they knew about the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. This would be far more useful than half of the subjects they study at schools. They can easily forget what they studied but they would never forget St. Seraphim of Sarov. Our two nations have a problem with their historical memory, but if we stick to our ancestral roots, we will surely become a strong force to be reckoned with. Our enemies would then suffer a total defeat, time and again because of the unity of the people—as was the case with Montenegro in recent years.
—So you don’t think the people of Montenegro can relax, even after the peaceful prayer protests? We somehow considered that we overwhelmed our opponents in the West.
—You did. You dealt them a blow, but there is one characteristic the West has acquired probably as early as the Roman times: The battles they lost in the past never discouraged them from fighting new ones in the future. They are persistent and audacious masters of strategic thinking; they make plans for many, many years ahead. And if they take a beating once, it doesn’t mean they’ll forget or be scared. They’ll do it again, trying some other means and methods, through different agents. It didn’t work with Đukanović? They’ll get another one, and when that one won’t work—they will whip up some kind of Greta Thunberg of Montenegro. They will creep in to get to your young people, your media, politicians, and the Church. They don’t turn back, they never do. I mean, we need to get this right—our enemy never changes his mind.
—Father Andrei, in your view, how was the enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije in Cetinje? There was a major incident there. Didn’t it look insane from Russia?
—Well, yes, it did. Well, in a way, we were even prepared to see difficulties at the enthronement, but thanks be to God, it all went well. You see, there is no love preached by our so-called “friends.” They profess love, peace, and harmony. But, in fact, they are really evil people who don’t want other people to live their own way, but only as they are told. So, of course, we can’t relax.
—What do you think of the premise coming from the West that the Serbian Church is an extension, so to speak, a right hand of the Russian Orthodox Church that contributes to the expansion of Russian influence and the Russian Orthodox Church in the Balkans? Some even say that the Russian Orthodox Church deliberately uses the Serbian Church in its own interests.
—Both the Serbian Church and the Russian Church are the hand of the Pentecost, the hand of the descent of the Holy Spirit. The birthday of the universal Church took place at the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, so our churches are the hand of the Holy Spirit. That’s all. No politics whatsoever. We inevitably meet or talk to someone, or think and write about something, but what matters most is what our Church and your Church lives and breathes. They live by what the Holy Spirit tells them, by how He acts and guides us in our lives. That’s why we aren’t a Kremlin agent and you aren’t the hand of something else, but we are the hand of God in this world. Our mission is to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
Therefore, the hostility towards our Church is, in general, hostility towards Jesus Christ, Who is our King and the Head of the Church. They may not understand it, but they don’t like us for having, say, a different eye color, for singing different songs, or because we eat different food, or for our politics. They don’t like us because… They probably don’t like Christ. That’s all.
—We hear another accusation of, so to speak, politicking, an attempt, in fact, to politicize the Church—a claim that the Serbian Orthodox Church is part of the “Greater Serbia” project that will absorb all other peoples. That is, there are constant attempts to impose a political agenda on the Serbian Church.
—Well, frankly, there was no such a historical precedent and I can’t see anything like it in history. What I hear today though, for example, are plans to create Greater Romania, I constantly hear about Greater Albania, and grand Polish ideas of creating Greater Poland from the Baltic to the Black Sea. I hear all kinds of political ideas. I’ve never heard any ideas generated by Serbian politicians to create a Greater Serbia that would swallow up Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, or anything else out there, to have Yugoslavia incarnate. I don’t think the Serbs harbor such plans; I am not aware of them in any case. However, I hear completely different ideas, I hear very different ideas, such as phantom plans to restore old empires—but this is not coming from the Serbs.
—Let alone from the Serbian Orthodox Church. Or maybe our church stands in their way by serving in the areas populated by Serbian people?
—The Serbian Church, of course, will stay in the areas densely populated by Serbs… They will have their monasteries, they will celebrate their “Crstna Slava,” Christmas and Pascha, and they will have their Sunday schools. It’s inevitable. Anywhere the Serbs live, or the Russians, or the Greeks, there will be their Orthodox churches, Sunday schools, feasts, fasting times, sermons, and the Gospel. Perhaps this is what the West doesn’t want us to have?
The Church of God is governed by an idea, a command from God—to go forth over all the earth (cf. Rom. 10:18). It has nothing to do with expansionism or the forging of an empire. This is about brotherly love between all peoples. That’s the idea we have. There are no others.
—It is common to say that the Serbian people, as well as the Serbian Church, in fact suffer because they stand as an obstacle in the path of Western invasion plans to the east, towards Russia. Well, how about that interpretation with regards to what has happened to the Serbs in recent decades?
—It sounds about right. But, as our Lord says, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:32–33). This means we’re standing in somebody’s way, of course. Of course, we are unwillingly standing in the way of someone else’s plans. If I as a priest preach that the people are to preserve chastity before marriage and have marital fidelity, I’ll still get in someone’s way. I’ll be standing in the way of those who don’t want people to remain pure before marriage and faithful in marriage. I will get in the way. But I’m not going to do it on purpose; all I want is for people to live godly lives, that’s all. As soon as I decide on it and take the necessary steps, I’m going to stand in everyone’s way. If I say some other true things like, “You have to set a tithe aside of what you have earned,” or, “Find someone who is poorer or needs money more than you,” I will bother someone again. Once I’ve said something good, that will immediately put me in the way. We have to remember that a do-gooder, who wants to do good according to the Gospel, will inevitably become an enemy of a great number of people. He neither wanted nor looked for it, but he turned into an enemy, as there are many people who don’t want to live by the Gospel and they hate those who want to live the Gospel. This is, in fact, the source of the animosity.
—But it isn’t the Russians’ fault that someone means ill!
—It’s not our fault, of course. We simply should have a clear understanding of how other people live. A kind-hearted person, you know, will naturally look at the world with warmth. He will have trouble thinking that someone wishes people ill. If I don’t steal, I find it hard to imagine someone stealing. If I’m not a philanderer, I can’t imagine someone who can’t live without lechery. But we have to understand: Even if you don’t want to do evil, it doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t want it either. That’s why it’s such a nasty business to try to make sense of other people’s intentions. Like in our fable by Krylov (“The Wolf and Lamb”.—Trans.), the lamb argues with the wolf and the wolf says: “ ‘Shut up! Enough! I’ve no time to sort through your problems! It’s your fault that I am famished,’ he says, and drags the lamb into the woods.” We are guilty of just one thing—someone wants to eat, you know. Someone wants to gobble up our forests, oil, aluminum, nickel, gold, pelts, gas, etc. To some people out there, it seems like we have too much land or we want to attack someone. Some people always imagine things. However, we have a saying: The sign of the cross keeps your guesses away. But those people aren’t believers, and so they speculate.
—Someone is whetting their appetite for Kosovo, too. You mentioned Prince Lazar; so this suffering, the trials of Serbs in Kosovo that are still going on—what is your perspective on question of finding a way out of the Kosovo problem, and the problems of Kosovo Serbs?
—It is unlikely that a solution to the problem of Serbs in Kosovo will be found in the near future, but efforts should be made to prevent it from spreading all over Serbia. His Holiness Patriarch Pavle of Serbia of blessed memory used to say that if an Albanian woman gives birth to five children and a Serbian woman has five abortions—and that’s exactly how he said it—this land will no longer belong to us. We have the same problem in Russia. We should prevent the Russian or Serbian women from killing their children and keep men from helping them. We need to stop the depopulation, because the vanishing nations are clearing their country’s spaces for strangers who will come and act mercilessly. It could become a huge problem, not just for Kosovo, but an entire country—yours and ours. So we need to learn how to love our people again, or love ourselves, if you will. It is necessary to stop the genocide of our own people; I am talking about abortions. It is necessary for our people to form strong marital bonds and have large families. We need to have a healthy mind and soul and foster love for our land. God willing, down the years, we will be able to take it back, if only we continue praying.