View from the Hermitage. I hope that we will
find a formula for agreement
Two events coincided in the May calendar -Museum Day and the signing (on its eve) of a canonical agreement which lay the foundations for the long awaited unification of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and abroad.
Essentially, the church split reflected a profound division between Russia as a people and Russia as a state. So long as this separation exists, we have the feeling that other contradictions also are maintained.
If you approach these issues analytically, there were two Russias not only in the 20th century but earlier as well. One is here and the other is over there. Each had its own historical tasks already in the19th century. Let's recall that Gogol wrote Dead Souls in Italy. Turgenev was busy with his writings in France...Borders existed. Even in those days it was not easy to go abroad. Nonetheless, you can say that in Russia there was a tradition of living in two worlds. In the 20th century, these really were two different worlds. We always talk about their division, though it seems to me that in fact they complemented one another.
On the other hand, there was Soviet Russia, where, despite the political structure, science and culture developed and there was a development of statehood, however difficult. This was the country which defeated Fascism, the country where splendid authors, artists and musicians worked and where museums were created and built. Abroad there was another Russia, which preserved much of what was here under threat and exposed to danger. On this side of the border many people, and not only persons in the Church, made their compromises in order to serve Russia. Abroad, by contrast, people rigidly held to their ideals and did not make compromises in order to preserve the pure spirit of Russian tradition. Both here and there, people did everything to ensure that Russia would exist. Now the borders and the prohibitions have disappeared. Russian culture abroad has poured in here and our culture has begun to exist freely abroad. A Russian writer living in another country is no longer an emigre today.
When all other distinctions have been erased, the main bulwark of delimitation has been the Church differences. They are very acute even after a signed agreement. Those of us who are not actively participating in Church life nonetheless are concerned over what will come in the future. For example, will the question of ecumenism be solved? Is a dialogue between churches possible in the future? Is there a presupposition of rapprochement of positions or will the dialogue be founded on the differences?
The question posed by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is a cultural question. I don't know how it will be solved theologically. Let us remember that in the Soviet period participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Council of Churches opened broad prospects for general cultural matters and not only church affairs.
The traditions of culture are the uninherited memory of generations. Tradition cannot be passed along in the genes. You can only pass it on. The Church is the curator of historical and cultural tradition. And museums are the curators of historical and cultural tradition. In the lives of both there have been various upheavals.
If you look at it philosophically, museums and churches should educate new generations and instill what has been received from the preceding generations. In the normal situation, each fulfills its function. In exceptional circumstances one can assume the functions of the other. For example, in countries where there are no museums, their role is carried out by storerooms attached to houses of prayer. Ancient temples and medieval churches collected cultural monuments. In our history, museums saved valuable objects when the state looted the churches. At the time the museums managed to preserve the church's artistic tradition, since it got a significant part of the confiscated monuments.
Nowadays people say that museums carried off everything and the time has come to give it back. But what happened to the other valuable objects which did not end up in museums? They perished. Icons which did not end up in museums were destroyed. Items of church services which were removed and kept in museums were saved.
In this regard, the story of two Petersburg sacred objects - the silver iconostasis of the Kazan Cathedral and the silver shrine of Alexander Nevsky - is instructive. The shrine was saved through the efforts of museum staff. They persuaded the authorities that this was an artistic and not a religious monument. Let's recall that twice there were plans to melt it down. The second time was when it was already in the Hermitage. The museum showed that the shrine did not really contain that much silver and gave away some of its duplicate coins in order to save the monument. But curators were unable to prove that the iconostasis of the Kazan Cathedral was an object worthy of a museum. The iconostasis was lost and it will have to be reproduced.
When discussions arise over the Alexander Nevsky shrine, I say that the Hermitage cannot give it away. This is a monument of Russian jewelry craft and it has been in the Hermitage for a hundred years now. For the Church it is not important that the silver decoration of the shrine be the very same. It can be reproduced as a copy and solemnly set up on the existing shrine to Alexander Nevsky in the cathedral. This can be done at the expense of the state or using private money together with some contribution from the state.
There are things which should remain in the secular sphere. In churches people kneel before icons. You cannot study and examine their artistic merits there; that would be indecent. Miracle-working icons which possess a special energy should be returned to the Church and they are being returned. But you also can proceed as they do in the Tretyakov Gallery. There they have an in-house chapel where icons are kept while observing museum rules. You always have to look for compromises.
Nowadays there are many who wish to pit the museums against the Church. As a rule, these people are themselves from outside the Church and museums. When property disputes arise, there is always some third party who hopes to gain. The Hermitage has excellent relations with the Russian Orthodox Church and with Church leaders. The Hermitage is one of the centers of Orthodox studies. It has always been an active participant in people's contact with cultural and religious objects of value. I hope we will find a formula for agreement. In this sense what is happening between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church Abroad is a parallel for many events.
Religion is a part of world culture. Cultural dialogue is important, just as religious dialogue is. The idea that all men are brothers doesn't work. There are dogmas which one cannot transgress. There is another form of dialogue. People converse even as they understand that there are things on which they will never agree. These things are put aside for the moment.
You have to have an understanding of the differences. Now the question arises whether or not to teach the fundamentals of Orthodox culture in the schools, and it is an acute question. Several years ago the Catholicos of All the Armenians visited the Hermitage and told us proudly that in Armenia they were beginning to teach the history of the Armenian Church in the schools. I think that the history of Orthodoxy should be taught, just the same as the history of Islam. You cannot simultaneously believe in Buddha and in Allah. But you can and should understand what cultures exist behind them. The son of unbelieving parents is not obliged to know the catechism. But he should have an idea of what the Khalkidon Council was, who were Nikon and Sergius, why the Churches split...This is the history of religion and part of the history of world culture. It can be taught on an elective basis. Then it will not be a lesson in divine law.
One of the most acute problems of present generations is the lack of knowledge. Amusements do not provide knowledge. You can get knowledge only by effort. The Bible is difficult to read, as is the Koran. You cannot spend more than two hours in a museum. A correct upbringing helps preserve traditions.
The story of the Russian Orthodox Church is a brilliant example. People went separate ways and solved the question of “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's” in different ways. They saved what it was necessary to save. Eight decades in the history of a nation is an insignificant time.
The crowning glory is when an agreement has been achieved. I saw how in Denmark during the ceremony of return of the ashes of Empress Maria Fedorovna representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the Russian Church Abroad together led the service. This was touching and inspiring. What happened was a rapprochement of Churches and of parts of Russian history.
I think that there will still be many disputes ahead, but there is a tendency to find points of contact.