President Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness, dear guests,
Allow me to wish you a warm welcome here to the Moscow Region. I am very pleased that the different parts of the Russian Orthodox Church are drawing together in such a positive way. I will not say “the two churches” because in the Russian people’s mind the Russian Orthodox Church is one. I am very happy to see that following our meeting in New York, the clergy that stood up for, defended and spread the ideas of Orthodoxy beyond Russia’s borders have finally come to the Russian Federation, seen with their own eyes – or seen once again, for some – the positive process of our people’s spiritual renaissance.
I followed your visit with attention and I can imagine that our guests are satisfied with the very full programme – a very complicated and difficult programme too, it is true – that was drawn up and practically fully realised. I have no doubt that this will benefit the Church and benefit Russia.
I welcome you from all my heart and I give you, Your Holiness, the floor. Please.
Alexii II: I would like to give you my sincere thanks for finding the opportunity to receive our guests and ourselves as delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church abroad comes to the end of its programme here in Russia. You extended the invitation while visiting New York, and now this historic event has taken place.
As I have already said several times, this is the first time a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, headed by the First Hierarch, has visited Russia, the first time such a visit has not been incognito. Previously, such visits were made incognito, while now our guests have had the chance to truly become acquainted with the life of the Russian Orthodox Church today, to attend services, to pray with us together and to see our Orthodox people who are returning to their spiritual traditions.
The programme was a very full one. In just a short time, only a week, the delegation visited Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Sarov, Diveyevo, St. Petersburg and Kursk.
I met with the entire official delegation, with the pilgrims, today at 1 p.m. They were all in a very positive mood and the programme did not exhaust them, rather, it gave them inspiration. That is how it seemed to me.
I think our guests will have their own words to say, but everywhere they went they were struck by the people’s desire to serve God and by the revival of spiritual life. They noted this in their addresses. They said that here they will speak quietly of their impressions, but back home, before their own flocks, their own parishioners, they will speak loud and clear about what they saw, what they witnessed here. I think this truly bears out the words that it is better to see once than to hear many times.
We are grateful to Metropolitan Lavr and his entire delegation because their visit took place in a spirit of openness, goodwill, mutual understanding and the desire to come closer together and find ways to overcome the difficulties that arose as a result of the tragic events of the 1917 revolution and the civil war that forced millions of our compatriots to leave the country. The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad took care of their spiritual needs over this time. We lived through difficulties of our own, as did they. Metropolitan Lavr said to me at the Ascension Cathedral, on Ascension Day, “What churches you have! Ours are small”. But within these churches could always be found love for the Motherland, love for Russia and this Orthodox faith that was handed down from generation to generation. I think that the first generation, the generation that left Russia, would be happy now. But it is now the second and third generations that are making the return journey, coming back to and uniting with the Motherland and the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the documents we emphasised that the Church is one, and you also spoke these words. The Church is one – only circumstances divided us. Let us hope that this is only a temporary situation. Thank you for taking the first step and passing on my invitation for the delegation to visit the Russian Orthodox Church, and thank you for finding the time to receive our guests today.
Vladimir Putin: It is my pleasure to do so because we see the processes now underway within the Russian Orthodox Church as more than just internal church matters. We see them as a symbol of renewal and new unity for the Russian people itself. I would like to ask Metropolitan Lavr to say a few words about his impressions following his travels around the country.
Metropolitan Lavr: On behalf of our delegation I would like to thank you for the meeting that took place in New York and for the invitation to visit Russia and the Russian Church. We said when we met this morning how grateful we were to the Lord God for giving us this opportunity to visit Russia, to visit its holy churches and monasteries and especially to go to such places as Yekaterinburg and Alapayevsk. Many people come and visit these holy places and there is much divine grace there. We were there and we saw that the church was full for the service. As Vladyka Vikenty noted, more and more people are coming from all corners of Russia and even from abroad. This, of course, is very pleasing for all of us. We were also very happy with our visit to Diveyevo, where we had the chance to kiss the relics of Saint Seraphim. The church there is being restored, there are services, monks, 550 people who keeping everything in wonderful order, and a lot of work is going ahead there. Thanks be to God that this renaissance is taking place, and materially, too. But the main thing, of course, is the spiritual wealth that the people there receive from their prayers and from the grace of Saint Seraphim and the grace of the Lord.
I thank you for receiving us and, as I already said, we will make every effort to ensure that this work that the Lord blessed us to begin will be completed.
Vladimir Putin: What were your impressions?
Archbishop Mark: I have great impressions. We followed this road spiritually. It was not by chance, you could say, that this road took us from saints who were venerated before the revolution to the throng of saints venerated here after the collapse of Soviet power and venerated by us even earlier.
It was particularly significant for us that on the first day of our visit here we were able to attend a patriarchal service in Butovo, where so many recent Russian martyrs lie buried, and where we felt precisely this unity between us, this unity that is founded on our saints. These are our common saints, shared by all of us. Our entire journey has been guided by this ideal. It is especially pleasing for us to see that after 80 years of persecution, the state authorities are helping to revive spiritual life and strengthen Russia’s spiritual and sacred places. This gave us inspiration and we saw that there is a big area where there can be no doubt about our common foundation, and that is Russian holiness. I think that this should be the foundation for our continued road together. I think that with God’s help we will be able to overcome the difficulties we still face, overcome them in a spirit of brotherly love, knowing that we come from the same source and that we should therefore return to it and create a single mighty flow. In these times it is especially important that we bear witness to Orthodoxy before the world because we have this opportunity and we must use it.
Thank you very much for contributing to this process and for supporting our visit here. We very much appreciate this and we hope that it will be the guarantee of our continued efforts together to further the Lord’s work.
Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness, dear guests, in this respect I would like to once more emphasise our position: under no circumstances and in no form will the state intervene in internal church affairs. We do not intend to and cannot, in today’s situation, have any influence on the processes taking place within the Russian Orthodox Church. But I want you to know that we will do all within our power to create the conditions for a full revival of the Russian Orthodox Church and for the restoration of its unity.