Metropolitan Feofan: ''Most importantly, we should avoid the language of hatred in Tatarstan''
The 3rd Tatarstan Orthodox Community Forum took place in Kazan
About 600 participants and guests of the Tatarstan Orthodox Community Forum gathered in Korston on 24 November. There were heroes of the day – Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov who got Moscow and All-Russia Patriarch Kirill's prestigious award and Kazan and Tatarstan Metropolitan Feofan who cardinally changed the Orthodox life in the region, as everybody admits. Realnoe Vremya tells the details.
Example in interreligious dialogue
The forum that has been held in Kazan for the third time already, which enables to speak about the necessity to stage it, began with section discussions in the morning and later ended with a 2-hour plenary session. A big photo exhibition about how Orthodox Christians lived in Tatarstan was open on the first floor of Korston before it started. An episcopal choir chaired by Denis Rogov also performed songs there.
About 600 delegates and forum guests gathered in Korston's big hall – clerics of the Tatarstan metropolis and especially active parishioners, representatives of the municipal authority, science and culture workers. The whole political upper crust of the republic seemed to be in the forum praesidium – Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, Parliament speaker Farid Mukhametshin and his deputy Yury Kamaltynov, Prime Minister Aleksey Pesoshin and federal representative – Plenipotentiary Representative of the Russian President in the Volga Federal District Mikhail Babich.
The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by Kazan and Tatarstan Metropolitan Feofan, Almetyevsk and Bugulma Bishop Mefody, Chistopol and Nizhnekamsk Bishop Parmen, patriarchy representatives with Rostov and Novocherkassk metropolitan, Chairman of Catechesis and Education Department of the Russian Orthodox Church and major PR worker of the patriarchy Vladimir Legoida. The praesidium also included a representative of the Old Believers' Church Kazan and Vyatka Bishop Yevfimiy.
The plenary session started with a short film about life of Orthodox Christians in the Tatarstan metropolis between two forums, all key events were mentioned in it – from the first foundation stone of the recreated Our Lady of Kazan where the holy icon in Kazan was received to another landmark – inclusion of the Assumption Cathedral and the Monastery of the Holy Dormition in Sviyazhsk to the UNESCO list.
Mikhail Babich was first to be given the floor for a welcome speech who noted that Orthodox Christianity had been taking a special place in the country's life for centuries. As for the Volga Federal District, here Orthodoxy is in an active and constructive dialogue with other religions. Now the Volga Federal District has a total of 43 eparchies with 4, 433 parishes, which is over half of all religious establishments of the district. The Volga district has 25 Orthodox gymnasiums, 6 religious seminaries and 8 religious colleges.
Mikhail Babich paid attention to Tatarstan's positive experience in the interreligious dialogue. ''I would like to thank once again the officials of the republic who do their best to make interreligious peace, mutual respect of people of different religions an important condition for the republic's development,'' Mikhail Babich noted and thanked His Grace Feofan who ''actively developed Orthodoxy in the republic by establishing peace and agreement between representatives of different religions''. In Mikhail Babich's opinion, Metropolitan Feofan's experience and knowledge are a key to unity that is observed in Tatarstan today.
''We look to the future''
Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov who was the next speaker noted that the resolution of the forum, which was in 2015, had been completely fulfilled and it proved the high cooperation efficiency of the church and the country. ''In this respect, I want to thank the church members for the contribution they make to conserve peace and calmness, to the spiritual and moral revival of the society,'' our president said. He noted that the religious construction in Tatarstan took place on a parity basis – the Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral was reconstructed and a religious academy opened in Bolgar at the same time.
''As Patriarch Kirill said while laying the foundation stone of the new cathedral, ''the church we are recreating is not a monument to the past, we look to the future,'' Rustam Minnikhanov reminded. He paid attention that the cooperation agreement between the government of Tatarstan, Tatarstan Muslim Spiritual Directorate, Tatarstan Metropolis and Kazan and Vyatka Eparchy of the Old Believers' Church, which was signed 2 years ago, yielded fruits, and the cooperation of the church and the country was backed by the population. The president expressed his hope that the representatives of different religions would also favour strengthening traditional values.
The active cooperation with the church in the Republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov's personal help to Orthodox Christians was highly assessed by Patriarch Kirill. On behalf of Most Holy Metropolitan Mercury gave the Tatarstan president a patriarchy award – the 2 nd Degree Honour and Glory order. Receiving the award, Rustam Minnikhanov thanked and immediately noticed that it was an award for all residents of Tatarstan. ''Peace and agreement is a key to our common success. We live in a big country,'' the Tatarstan president said.
''There are problems as well''
Kazan and Tatarstan Metropolitan Feofan's speech was traditionally one of the brightest performances on the forum. His Grace delivered it without looking at the text that had been prepared beforehand, as it usually happens. His Grace Feofan started his speech by remembering recent events – a prestigious award given by Russian President Vladimir Putin. ''And I thought it was our collaboration. Not my modest role but the church's role was assessed here, in the Republic of Tatarstan. I bow low for it,'' Metropolitan Feofan said.
The head of the Tatarstan metropolis talked about the cooperation of the church and the country in detail. He remembered his first days on the Tatarstan land when after talking to officials of the republic, first of all, the Tatarstan president, he felt it was the atmosphere that enabled to work creatively. And his instinct didn't fail him.
''I've never heard the word 'no' during these more than 2 years whatever questions I had for the president of the republic. I always found support even where it seemed to me there wasn't a quick solution. It is the evidence of cooperation between the church and the country for our common well-being. The creation of the Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral is a good example of it,'' His Grace Feofan noted and also thanked First Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev for his help and cooperation.
He paid attention to that the order on the recreation of the cathedral and construction of the academy in Bolgar was signed by Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov on Unity Day on 4 November. ''It's was a very important decision and golden page in the history of not only Tatarstan but also Russia. Our region has two major religions and not the competition whose mosque or bell tower is higher but the competition in good deeds is the point,'' His Grace emotionally concluded.
In his speech, he mentioned the importance of social service of the church, Orthodox education and hoped that all cities of Tatarstan would have Orthodox gymnasiums soon. The metropolitan indirectly talked about the learning the Tatar and Russian languages in Tatarstan too.
''Most importantly, we should avoid the language of hatred. Peace and agreement is the most important thing we have today in Tatarstan. This language should be our main language, and all other problems should be solved in a dialogue, calmly, in compliance with the legislature. The public agreement is the most important thing we have, and it's not only our but also the whole country's task to conserve it,'' Metropolitan Feofan noted.
He defined some problems of the church, for instance, there is no mutual understanding with the administration of Pestretsy District, a land parcel for constructing a church in Bua District hasn't been allocated yet. But His Grace hoped that the mutual understanding would be reached. Metropolitan Feofan made several specific offers. For example, he offered to create a special fund to restore demolished churches, stage a federal meeting of the young in Tatarstan and expressed his confidence that the church-monument on Kazanka River would be restored and an easy road to it would appear.
In his speech, Yury Kamaltynov gave curious numbers of sociologic research. For instance, 78% of Orthodox Christians and Muslims think the state of religions in Tatarstan is stable. 88% of Orthodox Christians in Tatarstan suppose life in the republic is comfortable. 82% of Orthodox Christians believe representatives of different religions in Tatarstan have equal possibilities. These indicators confirm the success of the state policy on the church.