RT's "Not Alone" project received a request from Orthodox families from the United States and Canada to help them relocate to Russia. It was initiated by Joseph Gleason, an American priest who converted to Orthodoxy himself and moved his family to the Yaroslavl region several years ago. As the main reason for the move Joseph names commitment to traditional values and pressure in the U.S. on those who adhere to them. In an interview with RT, Vladimir Legoyda, chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church's Synodal Department for Relations with Society and the Media, shared his views on what pushed the foreigners to take such a serious step.
Vladimir Romanovich (VR), we have been approached by American Orthodox families in the "Not Alone" project with a request to help them relocate to Russia. Is this important from a media perspective?
VR: I think it's important that RT is not limited to the classic functions of the media — to inform, educate or entertain. In your work, such a pronounced social dimension is very good. Because if there is any such dimension in the media today, it is politicized and, it seems to me, more likely to have a destructive function for society. But actually helping to support people — that is really valuable.
Thank you. And how many Orthodox foreigners are coming to Russia? From what countries?
VR: We do not have complete statistics, but we can say that dozens of such families are ready to move to Russia. The pandemic has slowed this process down.
Is it possible to say that this is becoming or has become a trend?
VR: If you analyze the situation in the United States, it has to do with the nation's process of actively accepting LGBT values, same-sex marriages, and so on. As this process intensified, people began to think about moving to other countries, including Russia. About ten years ago this process became more active, more visible. This is largely due to the whole notion of "traditional values" and the desire of people to bring up their children precisely in such guidelines, and also due to the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult to do so. I think that 15-20 years is the horizon when things start to change. And so people who don't accept that, have started to think about what they're going to do next.
Would you say they are persecuted for their religious beliefs?
VR: Moving is a very serious issue. And people aren't looking for economic preferences. They are not leaving because they want to raise their standard of living. They are aware that, economically, the United States is a richer country than Russia. Maybe they do not feel persecuted yet. But they are willing to sacrifice some domestic comfort in order to raise their children as they see fit, without the societally imposed values that they do not accept.
Why do they choose Russia?
VR: Certainly not because they think it's perfect. But then again, they consider it a point of principle for them to educate their children in the faith they believe is right, to instill in them the values they believe are right.
Of course, they don't want their children to be told about the concept of gender in sex education classes in schools. When simple terms like "dad" and "mom" go away. It's not like they are dealing with fairy tales.
I have heard from our bishops, who took part in various discussions at international forums, and this was 50 years ago, the following: they said then that the time is not far off when there will be a serious shift in values, the legalization of same-sex marriage and so on. And they were told, "No way, that will never happen." Now, within a few decades, the situation has changed. And now we are saying that the legalization of pedophilia is on the horizon. And they say to us, "Come on. You know, this is different, this will never happen." And we could have been comforted if we had not had the same conversations about LGBT a few decades ago.
America, in this sense, is a country of victorious minorities. The situation began with the protection of rights, but has developed into a dictatorship.
It turns out that we are still holding on in this sense.
VR: Yes. But the important thing to understand here is that any culture, as a system of values, has certain lines that you cannot cross. "This is good, and that is evil." "This is good, and that is bad." And we need to be clearly aware that when we talk about what a family is, we are touching on fundamental things for society. People just don't realize that the very topic of gender is a tectonic shift for Christian civilization.
Our culture, as experts say, stands on three pillars: Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Christianity, Rome is Roman law, Athens is Greek philosophy and art.
For centuries these foundations have gone nowhere. And now we have come to the point where they have begun to erode. These processes, of course, do not bypass our country. But we are the last trench in this sense, since there is the concept that "Moscow is the third Rome." How long can we hold out?
This is all very serious. This is not a ridiculous fight against traditional values. From the time of Socrates to modern times, civilization has stood on these foundations. And now those foundations are wavering. One should not underestimate the importance of such changes.
The Russian Orthodox Church, among other things, does a lot to preserve Christian values and ideals in our country. Do you see this trend of Orthodox foreigners coming to Russia as a positive result of their work?
VR: As for the concept of sin, it is important to understand that the Church will not support any sin. Whether it be sodomy, or adultery, or murder.
Of course, we warmly welcomed the amendment to the Constitution that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Many such things could be listed. But in general, there is little serious analysis in our media and expert community of what changes have taken place in recent decades and what role the Church has played in them. I personally miss this kind of analysis. There is either parade-duty praise or obligatory rejection. In fact, it would be very interesting to conduct such an analysis. I think it would show that Orthodoxy and church life have had a very serious impact on our society. Maybe not in the way we want, but there are fundamental and profound changes, they do not happen quickly. The church generally works on the long haul.
How does this translate, in your opinion?
VR: Fifteen years ago I asked V.A. Fadeev, the editor-in-chief of Expert magazine, what place morality occupies in the media agenda. He honestly said no. But now questions of what it means to forgive, for example, are being raised more and more often. What is permissible and what is morally impermissible. These questions are becoming at the center of the public media agenda. And this is also about the influence of the Church.
Many government officials say that they are Orthodox people, so they cannot accept one point of view or another. Ten years ago this was impossible. It is clear that the Church played a role in this.
I don't want to exaggerate it. Many who call themselves Orthodox now see Orthodoxy as a cultural value rather than their own religiosity. And there are not many people who motivate their actions by faith. But there are, and their numbers are growing. The church is becoming the touchstone against which life is measured. Not in everything, of course. Some of the claims that people make about the Church are justified. But there is also the information struggle against the Church, which has become a serious public force.
In 2014, the synod adopted a document concerning principles for dealing with migrants. Tell us more about how the Church helps them.
VR: The document dealt with the general situation and was a response to the new realities. Globalization, migration flows, people are forced to move. It's clear that the Church can't stay away. It is important to understand that when a church document is adopted, it must work on the territory of canonical responsibility, in different countries. If we talk about Russia, we are talking about humanitarian aid, access to medical services and language learning. As for the arrival of coreligionists, this is more a question of diocesan relations. And in each case it is decided differently — depending on what is really needed for the family.
In 2018, American priest Joseph Gleason asked Patriarch Kyrill at the Faith and Word festival to help Orthodox families from the United States and Canada obtain Russian citizenship. Since then, has the ROC been able to somehow assist these people in obtaining documents?
VR: The Patriarch responded that we would help if these particular families approached us. For anyone who asks us, of course we will respond appropriately and provide any possible assistance.