Vsevolod Chaplin: ''We should correct Father Vladimir’s activity, not declare a war of extermination''

Salvation or destruction: what awaits the disgraced cleric from the Chistopol eparchy?

Vsevolod Chaplin: ''We should correct Father Vladimir’s activity, not declare a war of extermination'' Photo: православный-болгар.рф

A scandal around Vladimir Golovin broke out in church circles of Tatarstan. He is the pastor of a church in Bolgar (Spas District) who practised collective ''cathedral prayers'' and gave curious online sermons due to which the religious activist was suspected in sectarianism. The Chistopol eparchy suspended the priest from service who, in turn, accused his officials in the Russian Orthodox Church and the republic's authorities. Metropolitan Feofan urged the cleric to repent. Our columnist Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin thinks Father Vladimir should be corrected, not declared a war of extermination. He expressed his thoughts in a column written for Realnoe Vremya.

Approaches outside Christian sanity

The situation around Archpriest Vladimir Golovin – famous cleric from Bolgar – wasn't at the news top, but it's very lively and very uneasily discussed among active Orthodox believers, including some elitists. I was at the Moscow Food Fair several days ago. The audience was very diverse there, mainly far from the Church. But two out of 15 questions I heard after speeches were about the situation around Father Vladimir. More was asked only about the ''autocephalisation'' of Ukraine and relations with the Vatican…

I don't like Father Vladimir Golovin's methods as a priest very much. The person is quite smart who skilfully takes advantage of the word, he too ostentatiously supports the image of a simple countryside father who is a bit fool but an ''insider'' and clear man. This works successfully in comparison with the order of the boring church official narrative – like it did both 10 and 20 years ago, including among the Moscow intelligentsia that looked for ''popular holiness'' everywhere. When people start to be keen on this kind of priest, he often starts to use the approaches that are outside Christian sanity – to hold healing sessions, to forecast the future and even make a hint that right his community had special grace and spiritual power, which was different from the rest of the Church. I remember many priests who chose this path, ended up suffering from mental disorder and took their supporters away from Christ. I'm convinced: a certain distance between parishioners, which shouldn't be confused with cold pomposity, and certain restraint when expressing emotions are important for a priest.

Father Vladimir's other statements are outside Christian religious teachings. So he said for some reason that Christ wasn't ''God but a god-man'', though there isn't any contradiction here. For some reason, he blasphemously talked about bowel and bladder functions of the god-man, which shocked many believers. He recognised more than dubious ''Fátima prophecies'', which the Vatican interpreted like a reason to subdue Russia.

''When people start to be keen on this kind of priest, he often starts to use the approaches that are outside Christian sanity – to hold healing sessions, forecast the future and even make a hint that right his community had special grace and spiritual power, which was different from the rest of the Church.'' Photo: православный-болгар.рф

Accused without proof

However, this all can be and should be corrected in a dialogue. But another scenario was used. The Chistopol Eparchial Administration presented a serious document prepared including on the basis of conclusions of several Moscow churches. Many aspects of Father Vladimir's activity were studied – and they were studied quite cruelly. In the end, he was advised to repent and destroy all records of his sermons on the Internet (I doubt the canonicity of such a requirement, it was enough to offer to delete or disavow only what didn't comply with the Christian teaching).

The Bolgarian priest gave a video apologia for even 3,5 hours. I troubled to listen to it completely. He repented of the two above-mentioned statements about Christ (famous professor Aleksey Osipov whose views were criticised at a higher level isn't thinking of repenting and continues propagating them). But Father Vladimir provided quite convincing counterarguments concerning several other accusations, which mean the eparchial document was at least not well prepared.

He accused several people too and did it without proof. This is unallowed not only in the secular legal framework but also in the church and canonical framework. If you think somebody bribes, then provide facts or at least proof of people who are ready to introduce themselves. If you accuse a certain person of being implicated in the ''gay lobby'', you should know such an accusation will remain defamation without a video of the sexual act or without the testimony of at least one witness/participant. Or use the methods of Occupy Paedophilia with the accused person's confession on camera. The rest – electronic correspondence, records, moreover, Deacon Andrey Kurayev's thoughts – can't be considered proof.

Signatures under a corresponding address to the Patriarch are collected on YouTube and other information networks. Photo: Maksim Platonov

Immediately after publication Archpriest Vladimir Golovin was prohibited to service for 3 months. And it's hard to say what will happen to him next. He's obviously ready to refuse his words and actions that contradict the Christian teaching. But he's not ready to destroy himself as a preacher. He didn't urge anyone – at least in public – to unite in his defence. People don't throw themselves to the rails, they don't assault eparchial buildings. However, signatures under a corresponding address to the Patriarch are collected on YouTube and other information networks.

Charismatic reputation makes others envy

So the story hasn't obviously ended, even if someone wants to delete the popular priest from heads and hearts of tens of thousands of people very much. The discussion about the ''agreed cathedral prayer'' he practised will also go on. We're talking about a simultaneous reading of certain prayers by different people in different places. Many communities do something similar today – examples can easily be found on the Internet. I consider it a novelty. But I don't know any dogmatic or canonical obstacles if we understand that a public prayer in the church and ''physical'' sacraments for a Christian believer are more important.

It's obvious big donations surround the Bolgarian community. Father Vladimir states the funds they are sent to publish full reports and offers the people who accuse him to do the same. I'm afraid this strongest counterargument will remain without reply…

The popular cleric also said he was expelled from Bolgar to make this place only Islamic. I'm not sure some of the local Muslims demand this. And the presence of a visited Orthodox church next to the religious centre of Russian Islam will unlikely bother pilgrims, tourists and delegations heading there. I visited this church once when going to the Islamic centre, talked with Father Vladimir's son together with Muslim friends and Tatarstan functionaries and didn't notice any tension.

''The presence of a visited Orthodox church next to the religious centre of Russian Islam will unlikely bother pilgrims, tourists and delegations heading there.'' Photo: Timur Rakhmatullin

Sadly, the charismatic reputation, especially which is accompanied by donations, often makes others envy. So, by the way, did this happen to many holy saints, which is described in lives. And we should correct Father Vladimir's activity, not declare a war of extermination justifying his sad forecast: ''They will kill''. We should remember that people who are spiritually linked with him are a precious treasure of the Church. Yes, the link with the priest is less important than the one with Christ, and a priest shouldn't overshadow God by himself. But the Church is wise because it brings everyone – both priests and the flock to Him.

By Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin
Tatarstan