‘You don’t even realise yet how big this loss is’

A priest who sincerely believed that Tatarstan was a “laboratory of peace and harmony” passed away

Metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan Feofan who passed away on 20 November cherished the dream of opening the revived Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral and didn’t live just a bit to see this great moment. According to the memories of people who were long-time friends with him for many years, he was a kind and open person who nevertheless wasn’t afraid of entering the attacked school in Beslan or overturning a superior opinion. Realnoe Vremya’s experts reminded us about the metropolitan’s warm relations with Muslims, understanding of their mentality too. However, he himself repeatedly talked about “cooperation” with Prophet Muhammad’s followers. As for Tatarstan, he called it “a laboratory of interfaith and interethnic harmony”.

“Co-worker” and member of “laboratory”

Tatarstan learnt sad news on 20 November — Metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan Feofan (Ashurkov) passed away. He was the chairman of the republic’s Orthodox community for five years, since 2015. During this time, he was remembered by all Tatarstan residents as a sincere supporter of peace and friendship between representatives of different religions and ethnicities on the earth.

“I'd pay attention to the synergy,'' said the metropolitan. “'We're in Bolgar, amaze at Islamic culture sites. But there are Orthodox churches next to them. We don't have problems. The museum in Sviyazhsk, which we created together, amazes everyone now. Only synergy, there is no other way to what a person aspires to — to peace and harmony. Humankind will be able to conserve its human face only this way.''

The word “cooperation” was probably Feofan’s one of his favourite words when he described the situation in the region or paid tribute to the work of first Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev and Renaissance foundation.

“Tatarstan is a bird with two wings: Orthodox Christianity and Islam,” the metropolitan said about good neighbourly relations of the two religions in the region.

By the way, he put Tatarstan as an example using another word “laboratory” at all meetings, sessions, on conferences.

“Tatarstan is a great laboratory that already bears fruit, it is a laboratory creating society’s life consisting of different religions, ethnicities,” he claimed.

He told this not only “his” people but also guests from other regions and countries.

“When I am talking about the laboratory — this laboratory is located in Tatarstan. And the main weapon manufactured there is a weapon of peace and harmony between religions, nations, governments,” the metropolitan stressed.

Moreover, during conflicts with supports of Islam, Feofan backed Muslims noting their religion’s peaceful character. For instance, in October, he commented on the high-profile murder of the teacher in France noting that the origin of extremism shouldn’t be looked for in religion.

“It is impossible to solve this problem with just force, doctrines and other measures,” His Grace noted. “We saw the latest ugly case in France — a teacher was killed. Where is this extremism rooted? Is it in this teenager’s head? Or is it in the head of the teacher who cruelly provoked young minds illustrating caricatures of the highest values in class? What did it lead to? To education? Or to the incitement of hatred, malice and offence? We should care about this too.”

He also expressed his opinion about a “headscarf scandal” when a school director and local functionaries banned teachers and high schoolgirls from wearing headscarves at school in a Tatar village in Mordovia in late 2016. The metropolitan was also on the believers’ side urging society “to consider the nation’s traditions”.

Moreover, during conflicts with supports of Islam, Feofan backed Muslims noting their religion’s peaceful character. Photo: realnoevremya.ru

Peacemaker and negotiator

According to the priest’s official biography, Ivan Andreyevich Ashurkov (his secular name) was born in Dmitriyev city, Kursk Oblast, on 21 May 1947. During his service in the army, he began going to the church. He worked in the church for two years and entered the second grade of the Moscow Theological Seminary in 1970, he graduated from it in 1972 and was admitted to the Moscow Theological Seminary.

Upon graduation, the would-be metropolitan began his service as a novice at the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius where he took the monastic vow. In 1977, he began working in the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem for five years. From 1984 to 1987, he worked in Latin America, from 1989 to 1993, he was the Moscow patriarch’s exarch under the Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa (Egypt).

He was famous as a peacemaker and negotiator in various conflicts. For instance, during the autumn confrontation in Moscow in 1993, he participated in attempts of establishing a dialogue between the conflicting sides — he personally held negotiations with Aleksandr Rutsky, Ruslan Khasbulatov and others in the House of Councils. He repeatedly remembered taking injured schoolchildren out of the school in Beslan in 2004. He arrived in South Ossetia during an armed conflict in 2008.

In 2000, Feofan officially became a bishop. Previously, he had been chairing the Eparchy of Magadan and Sinegorye. During his career, Feofan chaired eparchies in different parts of Russia, from the Far East to Stavropol Krai and successfully established relations with representatives of authorities and leaders of other religious communities everywhere. Moreover, he actively returned historical buildings to believers and restores churches.

In July 2015, Feofan was appointed metropolitan of Tatarstan. He combined his activity as bishop with the work of the rector of the Kazan Spiritual Seminary. Moreover, he publicly claimed he read the Quran.

Friendship with muftis, revival of churches

In Tatarstan, Feofan became a frequent guest of Muslim events. He went beyond official congratulations on Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr — he personally called Mufti Kamil Samigullin and Talgat Tadzhuddin. He seldom missed milestone meetings in Bolgar, including the Holy Bolgar Congress. The metropolitan annually participated in republican festivals of breaking the fast by sharing the repast with supporters of Islam and always attended forums held under the aegis of the Tatarstan Muslim Theological Directorate, Russia — Islamic World Strategic Vision Group, Russia’s Association of Muslim Entrepreneurs, International Association of Islamic Business and so on. In fact, he never missed the Tatar-Bashkir Sabantuy festival.

Feofan called Renaissance foundation’s projects on the construction of Bolgar Islamic Academy and restoration of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral priorities.

The metropolitan left this world on 20 November. He allegedly died from coronavirus-induced complications. Metropolitan of Yoshkar-Ola and Mary John is temporarily performing his duties. Patriarch Kirill has signed such a decree. Feofan’s funeral was in the Kazan Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral on 23 November. Director of the Moscow Patriarchy Metropolitan Dionisy Voskresensky led the burial service. Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhnov, State Adviser to Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiyev, Prime Minister Alexey Pesoshin, State Council Speaker Farid Mukhametshin as well as leaders of the region’s religious communities expressed their condolences to Feofan’s relatives and the republic’s Orthodox Christian community.

“During the short five years of his service in our republic, Metropolitan Feofan became truly dear to many Tatarstan residents gaining authority and respect of representatives of different nationalities and religions,” Minnikhanov noted in his letter.

According to him, the recreation of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral of the Virgin Mary Monastery in the Tatarstan capital will become a special monument to Metropolitan Feofan.

“The rare personal qualities, multifaceted knowledge and rich organisational experience of Metropolitan Feofan were personified in many areas of activity — from the construction and revival of churches to the participation in the work of international organisations. His Grace’s contribution to the development of the Orthodox-Islamic dialogue, reinforcement of friendly links of the Tatarstan metropolis of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Muslim ummah of the republic is huge. Metropolitan Feofan’s main concern in the last years was the recreation of Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral of the Virgin Mary Monastery, he devoted all his energy to its revival and beautification,” reads the official obituary written by top officials and representatives of traditional religions of the region.

“The metropolitan worked in the Caucasus during the toughest years of the terrorist war, he wasn’t escorted”

The deceased metropolitan was a close and significant figure for journalist, political expert Maksim Shevchenko. Their personal acquaintance was as early as the 1990s.

“Not that he was my mentor but when I was in Kazan I always tried to call him, I often met with him in the Caucasus,” Shevchenko told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent. “Of course, the metropolitan was a significant figure for me. We got acquainted with him in the Danilov Monastery in the early 90s when he was an archimandrite in Moscow. He was an exceptional person, he told me about his work in the Near East, Palestine, his intimate familiarity with Yasser Arafat when he was young. The metropolitan worked in the Caucasus during the toughest years of the terrorist war, he wasn’t escorted, helped protect interests of Orthodox Christians, often held negotiations. He was in Beslan during the scariest days. He was an unselfish, brave, surprising man.”

Our interlocutor remembered that when Feofan was sent to Kazan, a handful believed he would succeed here. But life showed that they were wrong.

“When he was appointed in Tatarstan, many considered something would go wrong,” the journalist goes on. “Like he was a weak Orthodox bishop, everybody knew that a strong one would arrive then and were very scared. While I said in the beginning that Feofan’s presence would just strengthen Tatarstan because Orthodox Christians would have a strong voice — this is what happened. I said that Tatarstan was lucky that the metropolitan was appointed as a bishop to Kazan, he knows how to speak with Muslims, he understands the mentality of Muslim peoples very well. It is simply a huge loss, you don’t even realise yet how big it is.”

Shevchenko also noted Feofan’s courage who wasn’t afraid of defending his opinion in front of superior church bishops.

“He was a big, courageous person. For instance, he was the only person in the Bishops’ Council to be against Kirill’s patriarchate. He told the truth — upped and said why with arguments. He was respected, his opinion was taken into account. He was a constructor, creator, peacemaker, pastor. I am very sad, to be honest, I feel a very serious loss in my soul,” Maksim Shevchenko concluded.

“He was very open, with a big heart”

State Duma deputy Oleg Morozov is also proud his personal acquaintance with the deceased.

“We were familiar for many years, since his service in North Ossetia. We met in different events in Moscow, talked about the place and role of the church in the modern world a lot. And of course, when he became the metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan. He was a very educated and deep person,” the parliamentarian said.

Morozov noted that he could talk with the metropolitan on serious topics linked with religion and a man’s place in the modern world for hours.

“He was very open, with a big heart, as people say. It is a huge loss for Tatarstan and Russia,” the deputy concluded.

“He always warned people about coronavirus but he didn’t protect himself”

State Duma deputy Fatikh Sibagatullin was familiar with Feofan since 2003 when the latter was appointed in the Stavropol and Vladikavkaz Eparchy. According to him, the metropolitan was even a candidate for becoming a patriarch. The parliamentarian and the Orthodox bishop met a lot and debated.

“Feofan is a person not only familiar in Tatarstan, Russia but also around the world. He worked both in Israel and in South and Central America. He was a top diplomat. He did his job, and moreover, nobody was offended by him. He wasn’t stubborn — some claim only this about Orthodox Christianity. Feofan was politically neutral. He always found a solution to any situation. It is a pity he didn’t see the opening of the church,” the deputy said.

He also noted that the metropolitan very quickly “acclimatised” in Tatarstan.

“He always warned people about coronavirus that they should be careful. While now you see what happened... he didn’t protect himself,” Sibagatullin said.

“Tatarstan imams are shocked at the metropolitan’s death”

Chairman of the Tatarstan Muslim Spiritual Directorate Kamil Samigullin also always had mutual understanding with the metropolitan.

“Tatarstan imams are shocked at the metropolitan’s death, as it is impossible to overestimate his contribution to strengthening the interfaith harmony and peace in our society,” Khazrat Kamil commented for Realnoe Vremya. “His speeches and urges united Tatarstan ethnicities!”

The mufti added that the metropolitan gained authority of the public of the republic with his incredible energy, frankness, firmness in achieving a goal that was set and huge working experience. According to the Muslim cleric, Feofan was a very smart man with a rich spiritual world, he was responsive and merciful.

“I thank the Creator for giving me a chance of talking with him. I thank the deceased for the joint work in protecting and strengthening general human values. I sincerely wish his family and friends, colleagues energy and patience to tolerate the pain of this irreparable loss,” Kamil Samigullin said.

“He knew how to firmly stick to his religious and human principles”

Chief Rabbi of Kazan and Tatarstan Itskhak Gorelik is also sad about the loss of Feofan.

“The Jewish community of Tatarstan is expressing deep condolences due to Metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan Feofan’s death. The Republic of Tatarstan lost a top religious leader, wise man who knew how to firmly stick to his religious and human principles and at the same time be careful about everybody, respect religious and human values of every person,” Gorelik notes.

He added that Feofan “did a lot to create the atmosphere of peace and well-being the Republic of Tatarstan is famous for”.

By Timur Rakhmatullin, Kristina Ivanova
EventsBusiness brunch Tatarstan