An indifferent relationship to our neighbor, indifference to another’s problems, apathy as an ordinary state of the soul… This has become almost the norm. Why is indifference so widespread today? What should a Christian do if he feels a deadness of soul? How can a pastor avoid looking like the priest from parable of the Good Samaritan? And how can we combine responsiveness of soul and its ability to share in others’ sorrows and joys with an indifferent attitude towards the good things of this world and the world itself? To answer these questions we went to see the experienced elder, Schema-Archimandrite Iliy (Nozdrin) of Optina Monastery.
— Fr. Iliy, hello! We are very thankful that you have agreed to answer questions for our website. Today we would like to talk with you about indifference. We are simply beset by indifference, and there isn’t anyone who hasn’t come up against this. Where does indifference come from in people?
—It is a sign of our times. This is a transition period: our way of life has changed, as well as our political platform. We have turned away from the Soviet understanding of life to the present understanding, as Russia has begun to some extent to orient itself towards the spiritual. But the schools, however, although no longer Soviet, have still not changed their orientation, not to come up to the level that they should have. We have turn to God, but have the schools?
We are talking mainly about the young people. The older people, more serious, have turned to faith and to God—these people as a rule are not indifferent. They have sincerely turned to God, have sincerely understood the meaning of life and how to order their lives. We can’t say that these people are indifferent. But the young people nowadays, unfortunately, are.
Our teachers are still very permeated with the former, Soviet education. And even if they are not teaching the way they did in Soviet times, they still don’t at all give what they should be giving to the young people of today, when we have returned to our spiritual values. Today, a great responsibility lies upon the teachers. But they do not want to turn towards spiritual behavior, to forming their students spiritually and teaching them spiritual values. They are completely ignoring this. It is the same in the universities as it is in the schools… and of course this is terrible.
—Batiushka, you have started talking about education, and I can’t help asking you about one problem in particular. Today we can see that in the schools they have pulled some of the classics and replaced them with modern literature. The argument is that they are all about the same themes. For example, instead of Dostoevsky, we can choose some modern author.
—Unfortunately, we can place the responsibility today with our teachers. Even if the majority of them are teaching something new, something that differs from the Soviet period, they are still not at all conveying the understanding to the young people that a person should choose for himself what is most important. Unfortunately, this is not happening. They are not giving them the Soviet mindset, but they aren’t given them anything else either. But for the most part the teachers are not at fault—they themselves do not know this; they themselves need to be sent to raise their education level and be given the correct understanding. They do not know what to talk about other than the Soviet themes. But Soviet themes are out of fashion. Therefore it turns out that the young people choose—and they choose what they like. That is the current situation, unfortunately.
I don’t know what programs there are now nor can I judge concerning what they are teaching in the universities. Of course, students are no longer forced to study Marxism, but neither are they given what is really needed. And what is needed is the Law of God. Because sooner or later a person must receive in his life a true understanding, true spiritual values. He must partake of the Church, of Orthodoxy, through true spiritual knowledge. But people remain as if outside of all this, outside of true spirituality. Then you have indifference—which is very regrettable.
—I would like to recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. How can modern clergy not become like that priest who passed by the needy man? How can they avoid leaving someone deprived of any consolation? What should today’s clergy remember?
—The Good Samaritan took care of the man who had fallen to thieves and come on to hard times. Of course, in the parable the pastor is an object of reproach, because he should have been the first to show concern for the unfortunate man. But both the priest and the Levite passed the injured man by. Here the Pharisees and the Sadducees are rebuked, for they knew the Law of God. The Lord rebukes such a priest. He thought that he was higher, that he was on his way to do his priestly duties and was not obligated to take care of this man who had been beaten by thieves. And not only here but in other passages the Lord rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees, and along with them the priests. But the Archangel Gabriel appeared to John the Baptist’s father, also a pastor, to tell him about the birth of a son to him, which we can take to mean that this pastor fulfilled his service, albeit Old Testament service, as he should have. That is why the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him to tell him about the birth of John the Baptist.
—What should today’s pastors remember in order not to resemble those Old Testament heroes? How should they orient themselves? How should they relate to their flock?
—Of course, there should be a sense of responsibility. This is clear. The Gospels always rebuke indifference and inertia. “Woe unto to you, scribes and Pharisees!” the Lord rebukes them. This applies also to indifferent pastors of modern times.
—Batiushka, although I feel awkward citing Holy Scripture in your presence, in order to ask a question I will cite one passage. The Apostle Paul said, I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need (Phillip. 4:11-12). How can we teach ourselves to be indifferent to those things that bring pleasure? How can we refuse the world’s bounties that lead to sin?
—Now in the Church we are fasting, in abstinence. Beyond that, we are to refrain from animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays. And how many great ascetics, holy hierarchs, and martyrs we have in our Church! We need to know all this, understand, and remember it. We need to remember how our saints, our ancestors lived. We can judge how they lived by the Old Believers, who hold very strictly to the former rule. We now do sixteen bows [during the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian] Well the Old Believers’ bows are all full prostrations. We do only four full prostrations while the other twelve are bows from the waist. How much more austere it was before!
—Batiushka, could people who are not interested in spiritual or religious life be called indifferent?
—Yes, of course. And it is a great pity. Because people do not want to think about the essence of our life, its aim. This is indifference, ignorance, being wrapped up in something else.
And what can we say about faith if there is so much testimonial? Any person who thinks about it can understand that there is a God, that there is a soul in man, that there is eternal life. He comes to this squarely. Of course, much depends on the family, which may not have given him any direction in either the cultural or investigative sense. But the person himself could at least think about it. After all, there are examples of zeal for spiritual truth, for religious life. This is, after all, eternity. It has been stated: “They shall go into everlasting torment.” And there is an explanation as to why they go to eternal torment: because they refused, they did not want to know of their own volition what comprises the essence of our life. They did not accept true love.
—Batiushka, many people come to you, and you know their fates. Are there many indifferent people among them?
—Of course, here one mostly meets people who are drawn to the faith, people of spiritual disposition. But it also happens that you meet people who mock the faith. There were many such people during the Soviet period, who never gave any argument for their convictions other than ridiculing the faith. Now, either there are no mockers or they are keeping silent. They are indifferent. Of course, now there are more people who come to the faith, and make an effort.
When a person receives sufficient understanding of the faith, he enters the essence of spiritual life—and the Lord give such grace—he of course feels very sorry for his relatives, if his parents, brothers, sisters, or even associates do not believe. After all, these people do not want goodness or life for themselves. For faith makes up the essence of our lives, because man has a soul, and there is a God. There is and ever shall be! We know that, as it has been said, there will be a resurrection of the dead.
But when a person lives the spiritual life, he always has joy, peace, and love for others. And God’s grace gives him wings that can stimulate him to labor, to have peaceful relationships, and for everything good. To the contrary, a person who is far from faith cannot preserve peace in his collective, and it is often also bad in his family—the family relations are disordered.
—Batiushka, how can we conquer indifference?
—How can we conquer it? Through strong faith, and a spiritual life. If a person is yearning for God he will always manage.
—You mentioned grace. How can we not lose grace? How can we preserve this peaceful disposition within ourselves after returning home from Church services?
—What opposites do we have here? Faith and unbelief. There is God. God, and everything sacred. God gave us life. But there also exist dark powers; the devil exists. And some theologians say that there exists a separation between good and evil. Good is cultivated by God, and evil is cultivated by the devil. He tries to draw as many people as he can away from God and tempt them to have fights, to do something nasty to another person. Therefore the person in part departs from the norm, falls into indifference and sin. He gets irritated, let’s say, and he loses the peace in his soul. And of course, he loses grace. Therefore his soul sorrows. But he needs to understand where this unpleasantness and sorrow came from in his soul. That is why we have the sacrament of repentance, why we receive Communion in the Orthodox Church.
So, a quarrel has happened in a family with the children, or with friends at work, and a man feels that he has lost peace in his soul. His soul is reminding him that this is a sin, that it is not normal. This is what repentance and Communion is established for in the Church. A person confesses and prepares himself. And we must observe Great Lent without fail.
—On April 18, 1993, a terrible murder was committed against three monks. This shocked many. In connection with this I would like to ask you, father, how does the Church teach us to relate to death? And how should we live in order to be prepared at any moment to meet death?
—Death is natural for man. It is clear that he is here on earth only temporarily—even if his life is quiet and peaceful.
But some simply die with joy, with a smile. Others die very horribly, in agony. Some die a violent death, from murder or something like that. We have had many wars, and many people died in them.
The departure from this world to the eternal world is no respecter of persons.
Yes, our brothers Hieromonk Vasily, Monk Trophim, and Monk Therapont… Trophim and Therapont were ringing the bells, while Fr. Vasily was walking to the skete… Of course, the killer had a mission; this was no elemental killing. His task was to frighten those who come to the monastery, to weaken Optina Monastery. They did not want Optina to be reborn. It’s our komsomol [young communist league]… They needed to frighten people, to frighten the fainthearted….
—Batiushka, we thank you on behalf of our readers and the editors of our website for dedicating your precious time to us.