The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, of Moscow and All Russia, is reflecting on matters eternal and personal during the Great Lent
– Your Holiness, could you please tell us where truth should be looked for these days, and who has the monopoly on truth?
– Let us try to look into this together. To me it is very clear that to live in harmony with truth in general, to live in harmony with one’s own truth, and to judge other people proceeding from on one’s own understanding of what truth is are three very different matters. Not every human idea of what is right and proper is the ultimate verity. It cannot be absolute. But is it a matter of taste then? How would you like your tea – with sugar or lemon? Each of us selects what he or she likes the most, what a particular person considers correct. If we are to follow this line of thought to the logical end, it will have to be admitted that there are no such notions as good and evil, but only a plurality of opinions and views…
– You have turned to the philosophical aspect of the issue right away, but my question was about very down-to-earth matters, about what truth means for you personally.
The freedom of each single individual should not be in conflict with civilization in general
– I will certainly tell you, but first let us be finished with the previous question. Of course, the absolute truth does exist. It is the Law of God. God gave us, humans, freedom and the feeling of morality, which is embodied in consciousness. But both can be used in different ways. It is important to realize: without God the absolute truth is impossible. Nor is there a different understanding of justice. In the modern world this word is often uttered thoughtlessly. Abusing the weak is wrong. So is theft. But where is this proclaimed? What if my truth denies yours? Say, I am strong and for this sole reason I can hurt anyone else and lay hands on anything that may come my way. Do you see my point? By denying the divine truth we ruin the world. This is not even a mistake but the deepest tragedy of philosophical liberalism. Please do not confuse it with economic or political liberalism – these are superstructural ideas, while philosophical liberalism is fundamental. It is focused on personal freedom as on absolute truth.The freedom of each single individual should not be in conflict with civilization in general.
And now about some very earthly matters. Quite often we mention the risk of freedom being turned into arbitrariness. This may be possible, if there is no safeguard, if there is no yardstick of truth. But when there is the divine truth, the human understanding of truth can be compared with it. This gives us the right to say: “Stop it. It is wrong.” It is the law of morality that makes us feel the pangs of remorse.
– Not all of us.
An atheistic picture of the world is not viable, because it ruins the basics
– True, conscience can be drowned in wine. Each can persuade oneself that many others are still worse wrong-doers. Ways of self-destruction are many. This takes us to the theme of the religious way of life. The very future of civilization depends on it. Neither more nor less. An atheistic picture of the world is not viable, because it ruins the basics: the absolute, including the absolute morality. Then the system of law and people-to-people relations start crumbling down…
The one who is unable to tell good from evil is morally ill. The divine law is clear and easy to understand. It was written down under Moses, but people had been trying to follow it much earlier. Wrote Apostle Paul: “Gentiles that have not the law by nature do what the law requires.” God made the moral law part and parcel of the human nature. Even at the dawn of civilization, in the pagan days and in other historical eras humans never doubted what is good and what is bad.
– But that by no means relieved them of repentance…
– That’s an entirely different matter. It is a question of how the divine law is transformed into reality and of the way human beings live on Earth.
– Can one be too late for repentance?
Our earthly existence is a chance given to us to repent
– In the 7th century A.D. St. Isaac the Syrian expressed an excellent thought: belated repentance is the inferno. When the ultimate end is reached, when there is no way out, the person does not believe, but at the same knows what lies in store for him. Faith implies strenuous internal work for accepting a certain fact or phenomenon, while knowledge does not require that. Knowledge actualizes the subject matter of faith. Figuratively speaking, you can see this or that object and you can even touch it. What I am saying is this: the inferno will be the actualized internal catastrophe of a person who has not undergone repentance. Our earthly existence is a chance given to us to repent. It is a matter of time… The one who exists within a system of self-control is really fortunate. But some lack this quality for various reasons and due to different circumstances. Such as the upbringing, or environment, or the inability to focus on one’s own self…
But it is never too late to repent. We remember very well that the villain, crucified on Mont Calvary on the Savior’s right hand side, at the last moment of his life repented in keeping with his faith, and was forgiven and allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is extremely important to ensure repentance should not be turned into some lifeless, formalistic ritual. Such situations do occur in our daily routine once in a while. Some priests are in the habit of reading out a list of sins to those who have come to Confession. To an extent this happens because many still have no idea what real repentance is. So even the most pious people, in particular, very old women, can be heard saying: I’ve sinned, I’ve sinned, I’ve sinned… Even though the priest may mention sins they have never heard of and by no means could have committed them even in the most terrible nightmare.
– Just in case…
An unrepented sin is like a wall of ferroconcrete God’s grace is unable to get through
– Not exactly. They are expected to confess. So they confess. It’s a ritual. Although in reality repentance is a great and intricate internal effort, self-analysis, impartial glance at one’s own self, face to face with one’s own conscience. When a person comes to Confession, he or she just completes this work and is held accountable to God. And this is very important for retaining the relationship with God. The sin is the sole obstruction that can impair this connection. Neither some rational doubts, nor something else, but the sin. An unrepented sin is like a wall of ferroconcrete God’s grace is unable to get through. In response to our repentance God’s grace heals us and we are granted the forgiveness of our sins. Do you know what repentance is like to me? The one who has lost this ability is like a piano player who no longer has ear for music. In principle, it may be possible to perform a music piece using the notes only, but the impression will be terrible. Repentance is like continuous self-tuning, an opportunity to take a critical look at one’s actions and to avoid mistakes. The one who stops repenting also stops developing and perfecting oneself. Figuratively speaking, such a person loses the ability to hear and begins to feel utter confusion about the sounds, noises, bombastic words and rhetoric, which sometimes have disastrous effects on our life. In religious tradition repentance involves very specific action. In Christianity it is the sacrament of confession, which helps a human being to develop the ability to repent, to keep one’s finger on the pulse and to control one’s moral condition.