09/20/2019, 10.05
RUSSIA
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Fr. Viktor Grigorenko: mercy and conscience towards the youth of Moscow

by Stepan Chebrets

The priest, one of the closest followers of the martyr Fr. Alexandr Men, is among the signatories of the open letter in defense of those arrested for the demonstrations in Moscow. "Every priest is also a good citizen, who cares about the life of his country". "We have to work with young people, it's a fundamental issue."

Sergiev-Posad (AsiaNews) - The open letter from Russian priests in defense of those arrested for the demonstrations in Moscow is creating waves within Russian orthodoxy. We sat down to speak with one of the signatories, protopriest Viktor Grigorenko (photo 1), parish priest of the church of St. Sergius in Semkhoz (photo 2), part of Sergiev-Posad. The church was built on the site where in 1990 Father Aleksandr Men, a great preacher of the Soviet times and martyr of the new Russia, was killed. Fr. Viktor is one of his closest followers. Below is a summary of his reflections.

Why an open letter

It was a natural reaction for priests presented with what happened, in our desire to do something for the people who were arrested. We believe their rights have been violated. I think that in such situations even many other priests would have thought of doing the same. One of the young men [then arrested - editor's note] explained the slogan of "Mercy, this is all that we aspire to", these are words of Father Aleksandr Men, and we responded to that appeal.

Our letter is not a political initiative, but a reaction to the illegality that we believe is taking hold today, I say this with great caution. We must not remain indifferent, we cannot be silent when situations arise in which it is necessary to intercede for our citizens in difficulty. Every priest is also a good citizen who cares about the life of his country.

The Church reaction

Each priest expressed only his personal opinion, and these opinions were summarized in the open letter. We see many priests of the Russian Orthodox Church are signaling their support: at the beginning they were 35, by now I think they are over 100 ...

As I understand it, Church leaders accuse us of having exceeded the limit of political neutrality, but this remains the conscience of those who accuse us. Many parishioners have told me that ours has not been a heroic gesture, but the normal reaction expected from an Orthodox priest. I do not mean in any way  to foster comparisons between those who signed and those who did not, maybe someone preferred to come together in prayer, and this is also an important reaction. The Church is all of us, every priest represents his own bishop and for this reason we say in a personal way that we invoke mercy, seeing in this a priestly duty.

Lies and false testimonies

I hear the confessions of many people, it is my priestly task, and I know very well what I am talking about, and what many of my brothers talk about. First of all we must resist falsehood and false testimony. It is very important, we cannot ignore these serious sins of civil society: there is so much lying, for example when there are elections. I am only a priest, I cannot prove it with documents, but I can confidently say that in our province of Sergiev-Posad elections are held amid widespread fraud and false declarations. Those who push others to do such things clearly bear the responsibility for this, but it is clear that precepts are broken, and a priest cannot be silent. If one declares himself a Christian, he cannot act against the precepts, and if he breaks them, he will welcome us when he wants to repent.

The young people and the words of Fr. Men

Today young people read very little, it is a pity, but there is always someone who reflects on their own life, and even reads something, even if not in the form of a book, then through the internet ... These young people read what they need, what they need for their soul; if there are few young people, it is also our fault of us priests. We must work with young people, it is a fundamental issue. People come to church for many reasons, also due to illness and suffering, the question is not slogans, but the reality that we live, just watch television.

Pepsi-Cola's advertising from us is "Get the best from life!", Which is also an invitation which many try to find their way. Advertising is like the "panem et circenses" of ancient times; we have the bread more or less, but our spirit is not being fed, the atmosphere in which we live is against the Church and our sermons. We ask to respect the divine commandments, but it’s as if people's conscience is  narcotized. If we then look at the judicial system, so many questions arise, people question everything and thus begin to think for themselves  when they begin to think for themselves.

United against lies

I see that a spirit of unity has been created among those who have signed this open letter, unity against lies. I am glad to see that, despite everything, there are people who are not afraid. Some time ago, there were people from the administration who tried to intimidate me when I intervened against the garbage dump of our city. Never as today there are those who see us as a threat, instead of seeing ourselves as a resource and a support. There is an attempt to suffocate us, but it is not possible, sooner or later these questions of the people come out and the more they crush them, the more they explode into the open. I also collaborated with the Council's Culture Department, and there are so many pressures ...

Many have asked me if we do not fear persecution because of the open letter. It is a provocative question, we acted as ordinary priests; I hope some bishop will also sign our appeal. The authorities unfortunately often try to manipulate us, perhaps to exploit us in electoral periods, and this cannot fail to provoke protests: we cannot treat people as slaves and pretend to decide their destiny, perhaps forcing them to give false testimony.

Our life flows very quickly, and for each person certain moments arrive when one cannot hold one's feelings. This is what is called conscience, it is not an ideological demonstration, but the open expression of one's point of view, something so normal, that it seems strange to me that some would condemn.

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