10/13/2014, 00.00
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Common law relationships, divorce and alcoholism are threats to the family in Russia

by Marta Allevato
The President of the Commission for the pastoral care of the family of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow tells AsiaNews about the mission of the Catholic Church in the country. Despite government policies in favour of traditional values, the divorce rate hovers around 70 per cent. Working with the Orthodox Church is difficult, and ecumenical projects are few.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - As the Extraordinary Synod on the Family goes back to work, with the participation of Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, president of the Commission for the pastoral care of the family of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, Fr Mikhail Nuzkovsky, SDB, speaks to AsiaNews about the challenges of consumerism and the still difficult relations with the Orthodox Church, including in areas like the family, where in theory, there should be more for ecumenical exchange.

Overall the goal is to rebuild trust, not only in God but in man and society, to form a solid concept of the family in Russia, where, despite government policies promoting so-called "traditional values", the harm done by state atheism still runs deep. Indeed, young people lack positive examples encouraging them to look at marriage and children with a sense of responsibility and a spirit of sacrifice.

Here is the interview.

What are the major problems facing the family in Russia today?

Russia is big and highly differentiated. Family problems in the Caucasus, where women are still in a position of submission and polygamy is still practiced, are different from those in Moscow. A broader discussion can however be done.

Abortion, low birth rate, which Europe also faces, children seen not as a gift, but as a burden are challenges that the whole country faces. Alcoholism is another problem, a huge burden that here literally destroys the family.

Nevertheless, the underlying problem - as indicated by the widespread alcohol abuse - is the general tendency to run away from problems and not confront them. There is a lack of communication, an inability to trust others, of finding time for one's partner. We are working on that in our meetings with couples.

In addition, Moscow is home to many people who just came to work and leave their family elsewhere. Unfaithfulness is widespread, destroying many relationships. It is not just a sin for the Church, because all that ruins the harmony of the person is a sin.

The family in Russia is also a political issue . . .

Speaking about the family, not just in Russia, has always been about politics, because it affects society.

Compared to Europe, this is a more conservative country, but the problem is that one thing is said officially, which people perceive and apply in their own way. There are no practical examples of these words and the media do not help to spread the "traditional values" that politicians mention.

Does the Kremlin's campaign in favour of Christian values ​​not also help your work?

Saying nice words is one thing; bearing witness to them in practice is another.

To understand what is happening we need to look at the past. The Soviet Union, for decades, tried to remove God from human life, from the family. Only later did people realise that Communism's attempt to build an ideal society was a lie. The generation that is now in power, the adults of today, do not have solid values; they are the children of the Soviet Union. For this reason, nice words are used, but then people behave differently. The family is promoted, but no one says that the family is a daily struggle, not something used to achieve status or comfort.

Where do you see the greatest difference between words and deeds?

Divorce: The percentage is increasing in a catastrophic way.

According to official estimates, we are at 70 per cent. Sociologists say that 25-30 per cent of divorces is a warning signal, because if the family is disrupted, so is society.

Children who grow up without a family look on relationships with their future partner in a completely different manner.

There is no concept of "forever", accountability, no sense of sacrifice, which is inextricably linked to love.

If there is no sense of sacrifice, there is only material interest. I serve you today, you meet my physical, emotional and material needs today, and so I use you. This way of relating to each other is widespread in Russia and occurs without moral judgment.

At least in the villages, society used to be minimally protected by the fact that people were afraid of 'what other people might think', but now this mind-set has been also lost been in the provinces as well.

At the Synod, there is a lot of talk about divorcees. What difficulties do you encounter?

In Russia, there is no concept of 'common law marriage', which is nothing more than legalised cohabitation, without the obligations and responsibilities to forge a bond before civil or even more before religious authorities. This is a widespread tendency that does not help young people to prepare for more serious relationships.

There is a misunderstanding about the basic concept of freedom. Freedom is not doing what I want; it must also include a sense of duty. If we do not educate young people in that direction, we will end up in chaos.

Is it possible to work with the Orthodox Church in this area?

Unfortunately, on this we have many differences. The Catholic Church does not recognise civil marriages, whereas the Orthodox do. For them, even those who are married civilly can receive the sacraments.

Theoretically, Orthodox divorcees can also remarry in church, even if their marriage was religious, because in their view, it is the priest who celebrates and seals it, and then - based on actual facts -has the right to dissolve it.

In the Catholic Church, however, the priest merely 'confirms', with witnesses, the sacrament, which, however, is sealed by God.

Do differences between the Orthodox and Catholic influence the pastoral care of families?

The case of mixed marriages between Orthodox and Catholics, for example, shows the difficulty of working together. To get married in a Catholic ceremony we ask for the permission of the Orthodox Church, of the parish of one of the two spouses.

But many, when faced with the application for a permit to marry a Catholic, are denied permission, often getting insults and warnings like "better to live unmarried than to marry a Catholic."

In so doing, the Orthodox clergy contradicts what is instead the official position of the Patriarchate about mixed marriages. This is due to the fact that Orthodox priests are often poorly trained; in some cases, they still rely on documents from the Middle Ages. Prejudice and distrust persist even though our relations have much improved compared to the past.

It is a shame though, because inter-confessional marriages, such as those between Catholics and Orthodox, are the greatest testimony of ecumenism: two people love each other, overcoming all differences, united by divine love.

In the pastoral care of the family, are there concrete projects of cooperation with the Patriarchate?

No, there are not. Where the Orthodox Church feels strong, because it is the majority, such projects do not succeed. They work in regions where the Orthodox are not the majority: for example in Tatarstan, where most people are Muslim. There we can have closer collaboration.

What work does your Pastoral Commission do?

With another priest, we meet couples once a month at the home of one of them, then at the home of another the next month, and so on. In all, we have six couples, some of whom are multi-ethnic and multi-confessional. We read Saint Paul and the Bible. We tell each other our impressions.

Many are surprised by how much it is still relevant today. The next step is to apply in every day life what they read. Our job is to instil Gospel values into the marriage; otherwise, it is just psychology, which is the work of others.

We also see each other periodically for outings, to teach couples the importance of finding the time to devote to one another.

Have you prepared a paper with Mgr Pezzi to take to the Synod?

Yes. In it, we highlight "incomplete" families - i.e. people living together we mentioned earlier - are our main pastoral challenged

It also looks at the need to make people understand, that in spite of their sins, the Church will not abandon them.

Finally, we want to work to bring the family in our vocation. We have to go to the family and do not wait for them to come to us. People lost confidence in society and man, not only in God. But without trust on what can one build?

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