At the recent Russian Orthodox Transfiguration Meetings Festival, which was held in Moscow on August 17-18, Fr. Georgy Kochetkov and Lev Shipman, a 78-year-old pensioner, invited people to join them in repentance for the sins of the Russian and Jewish peoples during the 20th c.
This year’s Transfiguration Meetings Festival was themed “A Time for Peace”. The annual Transfiguration Meetings Festival generally brings together people active within the life of both the church and society, in spheres as diverse as the sciences, culture, arts, charity, volunteer work, history, folklore, etc. For the second year running, the festival is also a meeting place for participants in the “Those who have Hope” Forum for National Repentance and Rebirth. Below are the appeals of two of those who spoke to the assembled crowd, which we think are especially worth your attention.
Fr. Georgy Kochetkov
At some time in the 17th c., Russian Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich repented on behalf of his forefathers – for the heavy sins and crimes against both order and truth of Ivan the Terrible. At this point, we have no tsar. For this reason, every Russian person should feel himself to be a representative of our whole people, our whole country, and our whole land. Each of us is called to make repentance for himself and for his forefathers, even if they lived a long time ago and aren’t our blood relatives. We have a single history, a single destiny, and a single life before God and our fellow man, before the judgement of our own consciences, faith, hope and love!
According to our Russian tradition, repentance is something that always begins with oneself. For this reason, I as a Russian person, remembering my forefathers back to the 13th c., want to start a movement for good and pronounce my repentance before God and my fellow man on behalf of the whole Russian people, because I am ready to answer for the Russian people as a whole. Any of you here who wish to join me now, please do join me!
The first and most important thing for which I repent, is that we were unable to overcome the Soviet Communist regime, which is guilty of all forms of crime against humanity, which opened the floodgates of dishonesty to everyone, which continuously acted against the interests of the Russian nation and people, and against their church. We were unable to stand effectively against the establishment of Bolshevik power, or the evil and spite the Bolsheviks set in motion, the class envy and hatred, or the civil war, in which brother killed brother. In one way or another, we all participated in it – even if often it was against our own will. I repent!
We have allowed an insecurity complex to take deep root in us, through a break with the authentic tradition of historical Rus and Russia, and through the creation of a false image of Russian history and of the Russian person. I repent!
We have allowed the mixing of things which are incompatible with each other – the Russian with the Soviet – and have allowed the destruction of the political, economic, civil, cultural and spiritual distinctness of our own people and of our entire country. I repent!
We have allowed faith in God and in man to be mocked and abused. I repent!
We were unable to stand up to and prevent lying, informing, and the use of force and cruelty from becoming norms in both the personal and public spheres. We have not properly remembered or grieved all the innocent victims of the previous century – not even our own relatives and others close to us. I repent!
We did not find within ourselves strength sufficient to stand against the illegal seizure of other people’s property or the destruction of our sense of ownership, along with its attendant sense of responsibility for our own affairs and the affairs of our county. I repent!
Too often, we agreed with the affirmation of our state as a self-contained good, and with the political structure’s negation of the dignity of each person and each human life. I repent!
We ourselves have forgotten to live according to God’s path and in a truly human fashion; we have forgotten how to live by our consciences. I repent!
We have lost our love for our land, for our people, for our church, history, language, tradition and culture. I repent!
We have forgotten how to live together and work together, have faith, hope and love together. I repent!
Too little have we been concerned with the quality of our own people’s spiritual education and the affirmation of Christian moral and spiritual standards among the people, within the church, and within society. I repent!
We do not feel our guilt for division, weakness, pride, despair, insobriety and lack of self-control, or for placing our hope on somethings as flimsy as sheer luck. I repent!
We ask forgiveness for repressing those who think and/or believe differently from us, for causing suffering to Nonpossessors and Old Believers, and to those who we failed to support, who therefore left their/our homeland either freely or because they were forced out. I repent!
We are too fragmented and individualistic, have too little trust in each other, more often worry about ourselves, our own things and our own kin, and therefore don’t endeavor to build our lives according to the community and brotherhood principles which are native to us. I repent!
We take too little responsibility for those close to us, both near and far from us, and for being good neighbours to those countries and peoples close to us. I repent!
We have forgotten how to discern, recognize and honour our own elders and those greater than us among the people, in the church, society and government, while at the same time being ready to listen to and obey anyone at all, without exercising discernment. I repent!
Within our society, we have forgotten about truth, justice, honesty, order and rights, and about taking responsibility for our past, present and future. I repent!
Within the church, we have forgotten how to love God and man, and all our neighbours; we have forgotten to respect the dignity of every free human person and have forgotten about the authenticity of ecclesial sobornost. I repent!
I could continue this sad list or our sins and mistakes – the sins and mistakes of the Russian people, thinking both of our history and our present – but I suppose that what I have said is enough for now.
A low bow all of you who have at this time taken the decision to join me in repenting for the Russian people.
In our country, this “Russian” question is the main question and the hardest one to answer. We ourselves bear fundamental responsibility for answering this question and for this reason we begin with ourselves. But the fact that we begin with ourselves does keep others from doing the same and beginning with personal repentance on behalf of their nations and countries, on behalf of the church, society and state authorities, movers and shakers in science or culture, workers, peasants, businesspeople – whether they are friends or enemies of Russia. Too many people invested themselves in what we now call the Russian Catastrophe of the 20th c., the Russian Holocaust and anthropological catastrophe in our country, which have global significance, and for which there are no historical analogies in all of world history. Let us hope that the repentance of the Russian people will continue and lead to our own rebirth, followed by a revitalization for everyone and everything, which by God’s will must lead to a worthy and dignified future!
Once again: forgive me, my dear brothers and sisters!
Dear fathers, brothers and sisters, guests and friends… My name is Lev Josefovich Shipman. By national heritage I am Jewish. I was born and have lived my entire life in Moscow, and have never wanted to leave here, though I have had opportunities. Russia has become my homeland not only in the sense that it is the place where I was born and have lived, but also in a spiritual sense – in terms of Russian culture, which I have imbibed like a sponge since my youth, and I have loved and continue to love with my whole heart. I have never had any nationalistic tendencies; that sort of thing never really interested me in any way. But at the same time, as far as I can remember, as soon as I began to think about my life and the life of the world surrounding me, from the time of my youth – which I spent in the tight family circle of all those in my mother’s family who came to Moscow from a Jewish settlement in Ukraine in 1921 – so for my entire conscious life I have continually asked myself one question: “why does the Jewish people have such a very strange and difficult fate?”
The answer to this question I found when I was 62 years old, when in the course of catechesis, as I was thinking over various Gospel texts, I ran headlong into the words of the Evangelist Matthew, “Crucify Him!...His blood is upon us and our children!” (Mt 27:22-25). These words became key for me in terms of understanding the Jewish problem. I suddenly understood that the position of the Jewish people – not only in relation to Christ, but through Him in a paradoxical way to the God of Israel, and to the surrounding Christian world – is the reason for all the sufferings of the Jewish people. And not only our suffering in New Testament times, but also in the Old Testament period of our history. In order to understand this, it’s enough to read all the tales of Israel’s forsaking her own God in the period of the old covenant, about which all the books of the prophets speak. And the physical isolation of the Jews in the New Testament period is a twisted copy of their self-isolation during Old Testament times, and the Pale of Settlement in Russia comes from the same thing. As such, the Jewish people have everywhere called out antipathy toward themselves from the local population, first and foremost by their own relationship to surrounding society.
And over this last year (I am now in my 79th year), thanks to the Forum for National Repentance and Rebirth, I have finally understood the primary thing that the Lord demands of me – but not only of me but of the Jewish people as a whole: we must take responsibility and, it follows, repent not only of our own personal sins or the sins of our families, but for the sins of the Jewish people as a whole. We must repent of all the sins we and our ancestors have committed over the entire period of our historical fate, in full spiritual and practical detail. And now for us all, for the entire Russian people, the repentance of our sins committed during the Soviet period of Russian history is of particularly importance. I mention the sins of the Jewish people in this context not because I think of the Jewish nation as the worst people group in Russia, but because the Jewish people are my people, my bloodline – my greater family, if you will; they are my community, and if follows that they are my responsibility.
Therefore I want to say to all you who are gathered here now at this festival of the Transfiguration, that before God, my conscience, before you who are gathered and before all of Russia: I repent and confess all the sins which I have committed and other Jews have committed here in this land of Russia and during the Soviet period of her history. These sins were against Almighty God, all those who live in Russia, and first and foremost against the Russian people, and I ask for the forgiveness of the Lord, all those who live in Russia, and primarily of the Russian people. Lord forgive me and the entire Jewish nation for all the evils we have done in this world, and especially for the evils brought about by Jews during the Soviet period of Russia’s history. Forgive and have mercy on us all! I repent myself and call all my fellow contemporary Jews to repentance for the salvation of Russia and of the Jewish people! To those of you who see the necessity of this repentance, please join me.
My dear countrymen, our Russian land is standing at a crossroads at the moment. A question has been put to all of us with such urgency, that it is as if we have a knife to our throat: how should we who live in Russia now live and continue to live? How shall we arrange our lives in such a fashion that we rid ourselves of the remnants of Soviet evil and build a life in the spirit of good and of Light – now, at this point in time?! And if we don’t find the perfectly correct answer to this question, then our country and all our people will lose their independence and become a different country and a different people – whatever people remains after a general breakdown. And key for us in answering this question is the problem of repentance. It is only through this step of repentance that our nation can be healed and take on a new, purified quality. And we can and must, each of us, repent in the first place for ourselves and for those close to us – not only for our family members, but for our entire nation and bloodline. There is no other path available if we want to survive and be revitalized, because only repentance opens the door to a normal life. No other approaches, strategies, etc., can heal Russia and her peoples from their Soviet past.