Your Grace, how is the Church involved in this forum and why the spiritual perspective is so important in relation with the view on family?
It is a very good question. Family is simply a spiritual manifestation. When God created man, He gave Eve to Adam and told them: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1, 28). So God created family, He created them man and woman. And the first problem that appeared in the family was created by the devil. Then Adam and Eve distanced themselves from God. Which makes our present-day fallen nature.
In other words, the spiritual nature of our life is unquestionable. That is why the problems of the family and each person’s particular problems are always both spiritual and physical, because we also have a physical presence here, on Earth. Therefore, things are related.
And the Church is involved in all this, through its pastoral role, which is of the utmost importance. Family is a unit seen as a church within the Church. Our Orthodox Church also considers that a single person is a church in oneself. Which perfectly explains the involvement of the Church in this issue.
I should tell you that approximately one century ago, the first attack on family was carried out during the First World War, when man was isolated from his family. Men left their families for four years and did not produce anything anymore, they only fought. And – be they men from attacking or attacked countries – they all killed each other and their women and children were left alone. Men were also alone.
So, the first separation of and attack on family took place during the First World War. It is more than obvious. It was then that some things started to happen for the first time. Of course, there had been problems before – sins, inappropriate decisions etc –, but the notion of family in itself had remained untouched until then. And then appeared single women with children. Women who had no man. Political parties appeared, discussing whether women should have the right to vote or not. And after the war there were the crippled men, the women who had lost their husbands and were left alone, or those who never married after their fiancee did not return from war.
I knew such women. My generation saw in Paris 70-year old spinsters who had said: “I’ll never marry, the man I loved went to war“. They never had children, in the best case they remained as they were.
Then there’s emigration, which appeared after the (communist – ed. note) Revolution, after the war. Therefore, the very history of this century was an attack on family, generating a situation which may be new for the Church, but as real as possible. I myself was born to a family of emigrants. My father had left Russia during the civil war and gone to Paris, so we lived in Paris, in a close-knit family.
Well, these families who found themselves abroad created the Russian Emigration Institute, they built churches. Families did this, not solitary people. Family is in itself a very special entity, living for a particular purpose and function, as one of her roles is exactly this: to build churches which can unite people. This is one of the basic aspects related to your question.
Thank you! Your Grace, we have heard here about support centers for pregnant women created by or functioning close to metropolises, eparchies, parishes. Why it is so important that the Church be involved in supporting life and family?
It is not only about young mothers. At stake is the destiny of a man and a woman. I was telling you about emigration. There were many people like my godfather, who left Russia leaving behind his wife and children. But the Church cannot leave them behind. The Church had to reconfirm, to remarry the widows and widowers etc. The Church is always very careful towards its pastoral mission and its duty to be involved in all events of people’s lives. The Church will always feed the hungry, receive the homeless, organize the lost and lonely. In other words, it’s only natural for her to deal with these things, it is her vocation. The Church is like a mother.
Have you noticed a change in young people’s morality after they leave the country for the West? Are they less respectful regarding the notion of family?
When they leave Russia? Hard to say. One cannot say the West is a special environment. Of course, problems differ depending on the case. We cannot generalize. Family history differs, just like people’s behaviour when they reach a certain place. Personalities, characters, types of intelligence, abilities are different. There are people who, on the contrary, once they get abroad, they set up a family and become believers.
When they came from Russia, women told us they had had 15 abortions done. I thought I was dying when I heard something like that for the first time. In 1996, women would give me numbers like 8, 12, 5, 16… It was simply… We weren’t accustomed to that kind of thing! We did not use to have such situations. These women came with terrifying stories. After confession, a woman whom I had just absolved (I did not know her well, I thought she was Orthodox), said: “I’d like to ask you something. The woman with whom I share the apartment told me abortion was not ok. Is it true?” I looked at her puzzled and asked her: “Why do you ask? How many abortions have you had?” She said: “16”. Then she looked at me for a minute and asked: “Are you ok?” I wasn’t. It was a disclosure I could barely take. And the woman asked if I was feeling well. I told her: “Well, I was just reading you absolution prayer”.
I looked at her perplexedly and told myself I needed to do something immediately. Since she asked me how bad it was to have an abortion, I could not simply tell her it was a bad thing, I needed to do more for her. I told her: “Starting from today, you will come to confession every Sunday and I will give you Holy Communion every Sunday for a while and then I shall be able to give you a penance. In about six months or a year. But for now I need to bring you back to life”. Afterwards, I would ask all the women who came from Russia: “How many?” It was one of the biggest differences between people coming from Russia in 1996 and those who lived with us (in the West – ed. note), where an abortion is a terrible drama, something which needs healing. But now, all of a sudden, I was told unthinkable things I wasn’t accustomed with.
A huge, caricatural difference in people’s lives… Once I was even told after I gave absolution: “You know, I am not sure I was baptized!” Under the circumstances, you would suppose that those coming to confession were obviously Orthodox. Therefore, another difference between those coming from Russia and those in the West.
Then I started asking those who came for confession five questions. First of all: “Have you been baptized?” Secondly: “When?” Thirdly: “Where?” Then the question: “By whom?” And the last was: “How?” I would ask these questions when someone came from Russia and I did not know them. I could see thus that many of those who came would start a spiritual life abroad, while in Russia they knew not of such thing. Of course, there were also those who went to church while they were in Russia, but in very unostentatiously. Therefore, another difference. One could practically say they started going to church once they got abroad. Such was the situation for many, indeed.
Your Grace, we kindly ask you to send a message to Romanian families.
We have spoken a lot about maternity during this conference. A family is made of a father, a mother and children. This conference also pointed out there is need for many children. We very well know this is not the trend in today’s world. There are many reasons for this and I won’t comment on them now, because it would mean to reproduce the whole conference and it would take us too long.
But the message I can send to Romanian women is the one arising from this event, where priests, laymen, politicians, doctors and all sorts of people with all sorts of perspectives spoke. They all said – and I think they were right – that a family does not mean a single child, but many children. For the respective child’s future, which coincides with the future of family in general – will these children set up their own families eventually? –, we need to make today’s world better. And only family can do this. And family needs to be numerous, which means at least four children. This is my message, which I extracted from the teachings of this conference.
Citeste in romana interviul cu Arhiepiscopul Michel de Geneva pe stiripentruviata.ro