Metropolitan Korniliy: ''Indeed, the dove flew from the bell tower right under Putin’s feet...''

Interview with Primate of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church: about the meme ‘’Putin and the dove’’, the contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church, the Muslims, Tatarstan's positive example and the old believers' return to the Motherland

Metropolitan Korniliy: ''Indeed, the dove flew from the bell tower right under Putin’s feet...'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Primate of the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church Metropolitan Cornelius (Titov) visited Kazan in the framework of the conference ''Old Believers and the Revolution''. He had the honour to open the forum and participate in the events associated with it. During the visit, he gave an interview to Realnoe Vremya. In the interview with our journalist, the bishop told about his recent meeting with Putin and explained the origin of the humorous meme with the dove that appeared after the presidential visit. Besides, the head of the Orthodox Old-Rite Church told about his contacts with the Muslims, ended disputes with Nikonians (ROC), praised Tatarstan authorities and announced the world congress of the old believers of all consents.

''Tatarstan has been distinguished in a good sense''

Your Grace, what is the programme of your stay in Tatarstan? As I understand it, you are in Kazan not the first time.

I am in Kazan not for the first time. I know that there are many of our old believers who have a good relationship with the authorities. A few times we have met with President Minnikhanov and state adviser Shaimiev. Here we have good contacts, spiritual and material. We have come here primarily to pray with our brothers. There was a big feast of the appearance of Our Lady of Kazan. Therefore, our main motive was to pray. We also had a trip to Naberezhnye Chelny, where a month ago the temple was consecrated. We visited museums in Yelabuga — of Shishkin, Tsvetaeva. Today we are having the conference ''Old Believers and the Revolution''. These are the milestones of our visit.

Why was Kazan chosen as the place for such conference?

From all over Russia especially here the authorities are concerned about the revival of morality and spirituality most of all. It is here I see the historical evaluation of the events. The forum was initiated by the Tatarstan government, whom I am grateful. This is a very important theme — the 100th anniversary of the revolution, celebrated in this anniversary year. The conference, conducted by our old rite believers at the initiative of the Republican government, is a landmark event.

So, does it mean that in other regions less attention is given to this subject — Old Believers and the revolution?

Six months have passed since the beginning of 2017, and nowhere — either in Moscow or anywhere else — it was not. Tatarstan has been distinguished in a good sense.

I think our president is trying to consolidate all layers of the society, all traditional religious organizations, churches and refer to the Russian history, which is closely connected with the Old Believers

''For the first time in 350 years after the schism the head of the state has visited us''

You have said that the government of Tatarstan pays attention to the Old Believers. A month ago, President Vladimir Putin also met with you. Why has the government suddenly become interested in perhaps one of the most traditional religions of Russia?

You have correctly said about the traditional faith. It's hard to say why they have become interested: they choose themselves. Perhaps, there is some policy which is approved by someone, developed. We were just notified that the president wants to visit. Of course, we were glad because in the tsarist times of persecution (especially under the Romanov), as well as in the Soviet times, the Old Believers were persecuted: they were outside the law, were subjected to various repressions. Therefore, the dispersal throughout the world occurred because of the persecutions.

Is it the first ever meeting between the leader of the state and the Old Believers?

Yes, for the first time in 350 years after the schism, the head of the state visited our spiritual historical centre – it is a very large, important and momentous event for us. Why did this happen? I think our president is trying to consolidate all layers of the society, all traditional religious organizations, churches and refer to the Russian history, which is closely connected with the Old Believers. The Old Believers were patriots of their Motherland at all times — during the Time of Troubles in 1612, during the Patriotic War in 1812 against the French, as well as during the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945. The Old Believers have always been defenders of the Fatherland. I think the president came to us to express appreciation, respect to Russian of all Russian, Orthodox of all Orthodox — the Old Believers. Also, perhaps, his goal was to get to know us because it was the first time.

After this meeting on the Internet there appeared the humorous video with the dove where you walk with Vladimir Putin. Have you seen it?

Sure.

What do you think about such jokes?

Every joke has some truth. Indeed, the dove flew from the bell tower right under the feet of Putin, and he made a gesture, like, look, what a dove came to meet him. Then it was added that the bird salutes him with the left wing — that's a joke. In general, itis an interesting event because the dove symbolizes in the Orthodox Church the grace of the Holy spirit, it is imaged this way sometimes. Perhaps, the Lord did it, it is difficult to say for me. But it really was this way.

There was an interesting event last year in Moscow, where the government participated: for the first time all old rite denominations— Bezpopovtsy, a few branches, the Russian Old Orthodox Church — gathered for a round table discussion. We met, got acquainted, communicated — it was also a historic event

''We do not have disputes with the ROC''

How are the relationships with the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) developing?

We have good neighbourly relations, quite peaceful. If in the days of the tsars of the Romanov and during the Soviet times our Church was persecuted and hunted, our priests were imprisoned, churches were destroyed, but now the government in some way stopped to lead us, especially to oppose one denomination to another. We are traditional, we are living in a relatively peaceful time. To some extent, we get assistance from the state in revival of spirituality because the state, as well as the local government here in Tatarstan (we met), understand the importance of spiritual rebirth. Struggle with passions, vices, bad habits (smoking, alcohol, drugs), abortions – is the common platform with the Church, which is called Patriarchal. We discuss these issues at conferences, we try to solve them together with the government. Our main business of the Church is prayer, but the social service also takes place, including caring for the poor, the homeless, the sick, visiting prisons.

Nevertheless, you have some disputes with the ROC around the return of the temples...

These disputed had been before 2010, while there was no special law. Now, thank God, the churches that belonged to the denominations have been returned.

And the ROC does not claim your temples?

No. Peaceful coexistence. They return their temples, and we, as you can see, ours. We do not claim on someone's property. Thank God, we have returned the temple (Metropolitan told about the restored Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan on Staroobryadcheskaya Street, 17 – editor's note). So we have no such disputes.

What relations do you have with other old believer denominations – the Russian Old Orthodox Church, with the Priestless Old Believers?

There was an interesting event last year in Moscow, where the government participated: for the first time all old rite denominations— Bezpopovtsy, a few branches, the Russian Old Orthodox Church — gathered for a round table discussion. We met, got acquainted, communicated — it was also a historic event. What is more, the government welcomed the event and supports our collaboration. We are preparing for the 400th anniversary of the birth of a protopope Avvakum — he is our common saint, who died for the faith. He was born in 1620. So, the 400th anniversary we will celebrate in 2020. We, the Old Believers-Popovtsy and Bespopovtsy, appealed to President Putin with a letter of support of this date across Russia. President Putin supported, he signed an affirmative resolution. Now together with the Ministry of Culture, including in Tatarstan, we are coordinating activities in preparation for the anniversary. This cooperation started just recently, a year ago. And here, as we see, there gathered believers all consents — Popovtsy as well as Bespopovtsy.

Comparing with other regions, I can say: here at the forefront is the head of the Republic, who friendly and equally treats all faiths. He knows the history of the Old Believers. We see this support in deeds

How do you build relationships with other faiths? I am primarily interested in the Muslims.

Here, in Kazan, there is a very pertinent issue — revival of shrines. The temple, which now is holding the conference, just recently was in a ruined condition. The government of Tatarstan drew attention to this, we had several meetings with President Minnikhanov, with Shaimiev. Rustam Minnikhanov himself visited the opening of the monument. It is a business cooperation, we are very pleased with the support of the Old Believers. Comparing with other regions, I can say: here at the forefront is the head of the Republic, who friendly and equally treats all faiths. He knows the history of the Old Believers. We see this support in deeds: the reconstruction of the cathedral, the opening of the monument, organization of meetings, exhibitions, today's conference. As we remember, at the opening of the monument there were invited Muslim leaders, representatives of the new rite Church of the Catholic Church. Such a friendly productive atmosphere reigns here.

Have you had meetings tete-a-tete at least with muftis, who are dozens in our country?

We meet regularly, including with Talgat Tadzhuddin (Supreme Mufti, Chairman of the Russian Muslim Spiritual Board – editor's note) but not tete-a-tete but at formal occasions. Every quarter in the Kremlin we, representatives of the confessions, are gathered by the head of the presidential administration. We discuss issues of interest to both the Church and the state. Yes, we have good relations.

In Tatarstan there has recently been a scandal when a number of priests of the Russian Orthodox Church refused to pray for Patriarch Kirill, accusing him of ecumenism and remembering his meeting with the Pope. Where is the line between dialogue and ecumenism?

I will not comment on what is happening in that Church. They have their own issues, and we independently solve our internal issues. Ecumenism for the Old Believers is unacceptable thing, it's a spiritual melting pot where they want to unite all the religions, to make something common and thereby destroy the essence of Orthodoxy, to implement some reforms. The Old Believers just stand their ground: no reform is allowed. This is what referred to us by our ancestors, the Holy Rus' was preserving in the middle ages — all this we still maintain. Ecumenism tries to neutralize everything, to do something common, not understandable, to create amorphous mass and destroy faith. We, the Old Believers, at all times never participated in the ecumenical movement. We, as well as you, in this matter are outside observers — like watching a kind of match. We are not concerned directly, and we, thank God, are far from this ecumenical movement.

The Old Believers just stand their ground: no reform is allowed. This is what referred to us by our ancestors, the Holy Rus' was preserving in the middle ages — all this we still maintain. Ecumenism tries to neutralize everything, to do something common, not understandable, to create amorphous mass and destroy faith

How many old believers and old believer churches are there in Russia today?

According to the statistics, there are about 200 churches in Russia, in Ukraine — 50, Moldova — 30. There are also scattered abroad churches and communities… I am talking about ours, the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church. Some communities have recently appeared in Uganda. Communities in Pakistan also became interested, they already came, joined. It is for us, the Old Believers, it is also an unusual picture — people from all over the world become interested in the Old Believers, and someone comes to the true saving faith.


By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov