In the program "What Russia Believes in". January 23, 2002 (shortened)
RR.: You know today I woke up with this thought on my mind: Orthodoxy, Orthodox Church, or Orthodox Churches - there are a few, there are many of them - are growing and growing and growing, and may be one day the moment will come when this growth is over. In your opinion what is the future of Church dependant on?
Hieromonk Gregory: I agree that this growth of Church that we have been witnessing for the past ten years is very much a shallow phenomenon. For the future of Church mostly depends on whether young generations will follow it, high school students or recent graduates, those who can come to church in 10-15 years immediately ahead. So far it can be noted that young generations have not yet formed their attitude either towards our Church or towards Moscow Patriarchy. Interests of young people usually overpass Church completely. Even if they follow some ceremonies, for example lighting up a candle, all of it is just exterior… Well, of course, now that everyone says he is baptized, but it does not mean at all that people are in Church.
That is why it seems to me, the future of Church depends on what the youth is going to choose now. Whether they will choose Church or may be they will choose something completely different…
The most important is that Church should preach to people using their language. Missioners who come to people never make them first learn some strange language of theirs so they could preach in this language. It is never the case. It is always the reverse: missioners always learn a language of these people. The main mission of our Orthodox Church is not some far-away countries but foremost our own country. If we are not efficient in our country, no one is going to listen to us in other countries either.
RR.: What language do you mean?
Hieromonk Gregory: I mean a language of culture. If we are talking about secular society Church should necessarily understand life of those people who did not come to Church, what problems they are facing. It is necessary in order to show them in what way Church could solve their problems. Being part of Church we certainly know that Church does solve all the problems that a human being could possibly face in life. But for someone who is not a Church-goer it is necessary to know how Church could solve his own problems, may be even private ones, what answer Church gives to those questions that arise in his life or even disturb him.
RR.: Excuse me, you have started a conversation about youth…
Hieromonk Gregory: If we are referring to young people we should speak with them using their language and envisage youth culture. I serve in the Church of Saint Elisabeth in Petersburg and there I try to establish a real communication with young people, try to understand the way they state questions about meaning of life. I try to explore some works created in the context of contemporary youth culture. Certainly, therethrough appears…
RR.: So you read Pelevin… and Limonov…
Hieromonk Gregory: No, Pelevin is not a youth author….
RR.: What about students… Why not…
Hieromonk Gregory: Students have various attitudes towards him. Frankly speaking I have not read a single book by Pelevin. If to talk about Limonov I have not read his books but I can attest he is more popular than Pelevin among young people. Mainly as a character, as a party with some extremism.
What attracts young people is not extremism - it is more sacrifice. For example, there are poetic works that are created among youth and for youth….
RR.: You mean mostly rock-culture…
Hieromonk Gregory: Partly yes. It is not the last thing. Certainly I had to examine part of that also…
When you talk with young people about normal everyday problems - what the point of living is, how relations with parents should function, why one should study, where one should go to college, - these simplest issues, if you are able to verbalize an idea using their language (although an idea itself should be - as a matter of course - strictly Orthodox) - then you would sound convincing, then you would be heard. And if you are heard you would get them to listen. Then probability is high that they would as well believe you.
RR.: You see, on one hand, Church holds a rather significant place, it is a part of our life, we see church buildings. On the other hand, if to take a closer look at interests of young people, it is mostly either politics, or rock culture, or carrier ("golden boys" as Yuri Chevchuk sings). But Church - if being there at all - is only one of small particles…
Hieromonk Gregory: Among youth Church is often perceived as a cultural ghetto. In the sense that Church-goers are completely strange people with their own strange interests. These people living in Church should themselves approach young people and try to learn their worries.
RR.: And what is the main problem of youth that you had to faced as a priest?
Hieromonk Gregory: The main problem is losing meaning of life. It leads to the most unpleasant things, unpleasant for their parents and adults. The most wide spread occurrence is apathy, reluctance to do something, often followed by alcoholism and drug addiction. Besides, plenty of people who are very keen on solving this thorny issue, come to conclusion to commit a suicide. When I got involved with the young people closer I was deeply stricken by the level of suicide distempers among them.
RR.: Is it so wide spread?
Hieromonk Gregory: Certainly. According to statistics on suicides, youth is in the highest risk group. These distempers are widely spread among those people who do not want to do evil to others, who want everyone to be well, but therewith keenly feel injustice of this world. Due to youthful ardor, may be due to lack of life experience, an idea of committing a suicide often comes to their mind. I was deeply affected how common it is. I believe it is a very serious social problem. And it is sad that our society does not pay enough attention to that.
Despite great importance of various therapeutic and social services to assist in solving this problem, it can nevertheless hardly be solved if meaning of life is not realized. And meaning of life is a matter that cannot be settled by doctors. They take care of life regardless of its value. Meaning of life is what Church should deal with. Certainly as a Christian I consider that there cannot be any other true answer to a question about meaning of life besides Christian.
I can assure you that people have ears. May be they have never heard about
Church before. And often these are the people who find themselves in critical
circumstances, who have lost meaning of their existence. If to assure them that
there is something that only faith could give they start thinking: may be it
is worth paying attention to this. And it is about faith and not rites, for
a rite has to be based on faith.
So how can you pay attention to church? The answer is simple: you have to start praying. Anyone can start praying even if he has never done anything similar before and did not know that it can be necessary. You can simply say "Lord, have mercy!", " Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner". If this is said in a serious situation, with all the heart, then you will feel your prayers are answered. Gradually you get used to saying prayers, and you change in everything. Not only a specific issue in your life is solved, your whole life changes.
Why do I believe it is important to deal with youth, and what is the most important in that? Self-sacrifice is inherent to young people. Of course one can call it youthful ardor but I consider it very wrong that majority of people completely lose when they become older. A person without ability for self-sacrifice cannot become a believer. Faith requires considering it the most important thing in life. For something eternal is more important than everything else. However it often happens that faith is accepted when being young, and then a person just goes through his life not thinking about it.
The most important thing is not to spoil our young people. In this case our believers would be better, and our young people and the whole society would feel better. But it is very hard not to spoil young people; moreover they are doing a good job of it themselves. And what is a way of not spoiling them? It can be achieved by showing them a meaning of life. It is necessary to help them find it.
RR.: I would like to thank you warmly for coming to my program! I do not want to stop you - it would be very interesting to hear more. But I hope it is not the last time that you are being invited to my program, the program called "What Russia Believes in".