During the meeting, the President congratulated Patriarch Kirill on his birthday.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness, we agreed long ago to meet to discuss current matters.
We should probably begin with the situation in which all of us, including religious organisations, the Russian Orthodox Church, have been working. How would you assess the situation?
Patriarch Kirill: The Church has joined in the general efforts very actively. We have a group of clerics who are working in clinics. They have the necessary training. I would like to say that they have been doing their duty selflessly.
Those who have been placed in isolation because of the disease have an enormous desire for communication. But believers also want to confess or to pray together with a priest.
Initially, of course, some of our medical colleagues had misgivings about our devotion. But now we have developed an algorithm according to which our priests can provide pastoral support at the request of believers directly in the places where the coronavirus patients are staying. I would like to say that this is having a very positive effect on people’s hearts. When people lie in isolation wards and even their families cannot visit them, a priest can find the right words to help them.
In addition, I would like to say a few words about our work in hospitals and, in general, about our social work with the parishes. In the past, our work was limited to worship, as the law prohibited the church from doing anything else. But we have very many opportunities in new Russia, so we implement important social programmes in the parishes. We now have a corps of volunteers, young people who give their time and effort to participation in the socially important programmes that are being implemented by the church.
Speaking of this pandemic, it has not spared our clergy. There are victims, unfortunately. But that mostly happened because they were doing their duty. A priest cannot avoid doing his duty, even if he has to risk his life. This is what their ministry is about. I cannot cite the exact numbers now, but indeed, some people have left us because this virus has affected their bodies in ways incompatible with life.
On the other hand, we have also gained new experience. Unlike the usual visits to a hospital, we now had to wear those “spacesuits” and comply with all the medical requirements and continue to carry out our ministry in these conditions.
The priests hear confessions, give communion, talk to people, and we encourage this in every possible way, because indeed, being in isolation with a drastic diagnosis without a chance to meet with their family, talking to a priest is sometimes the only opportunity they have. Therefore, by the grace of God, we do what we are obliged to do.
This is in fact something church should have always been doing. Yet, for many years, we lived in a situation where we could not even think about carrying out any kind of social work; it was prohibited, just like working with young people. Therefore, of course, the new position of the Russian Orthodox Church in modern Russia provides this opportunity – to reveal the spiritual potential of those who, through participation in church activities, aspire to make the world better.
As a Patriarch, I am grateful to you, personally, and to the government of Russia, and simply to modern Russia for this change. Things have really become quite different now, and the church can now vigorously perform its calling, called by the Lord himself.
Vladimir Putin: Very good.
For my part, I would like to thank you, and all the clergymen of the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions present in Russia for the ministry that you perform in these very difficult conditions.
Indeed, we talk a lot about doctors, about their heroism, and that is fully justified, but in this sense, all those who do something to help people, they certainly deserve special words of gratitude for the work that they do.
So thank you very much.
Patriarch Kirill: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I see that you have a question.
Patriarch Kirill: Yes, I have a practical question I would like to discuss with you.
Vladimir Putin: Go on, please.
Patriarch Kirill: Next year, in 2021, we will celebrate the 800th birth anniversary of Alexander Nevsky. It is a special date in the history of our nation because Alexander Nevsky played a special role in saving Russia in a period when its future was decided.
Russia was attacked both from the East and from the West. Alexander Nevsky wisely saw through the motives of those who invaded Russia. Those who came from the East were after our stomach and purse, whereas those who came from the West were interested in our minds and hearts. While fighting the Western invasion of the Teutonic Knights, Alexander Nevsky demonstrated great diplomatic resourcefulness in developing ties with the Eastern conquerors and in fact defended Russia from dangerous Eastern invasions. The St Alexander Nevsky Monastery was built in St Petersburg in his honour. It is logical that the celebration of his anniversary will also take place there.
In this connection, I have several requests. I would like to ask you to look at the state of the monastery, which has not been repaired for a long time. And the situation is also difficult at the St Petersburg Theological Academy, which is a special place for me because I was its rector for 10 years.
I would like to share a few ideas with you, primarily when it comes to the development of the St Petersburg Theological Academy as a major intellectual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. I hope to receive your support for the further development of this educational and spiritual centre of the church.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
Your Holiness, we will now look at the matter carefully and discuss all the details.
But before we start working, I would like to say that we are meeting on your birthday. I would like to wholeheartedly congratulate you on your birthday, wish you health and success in your service to the benefit of Russia, as well as to thank you for what you are doing for the country.
Patriarch Kirill: Thank you.