The Repentance of Father Sergiy or Whom Will God Judge?
“For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”
-- Luke 23:31
Sergey Taratukhin – the former Father Sergiy – at a rally in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Chita (photo by Grigory Pasko)
The essence of the story, if we tell it in a dry, dispassionate language, is this:
In November 2005, the priest of the Krasnokamensk parish, Father Sergiy (né Sergey Taratukhin), who in his youth had done time in the Permian camps for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, publicly condemned the court verdict whereby the ex-head of YUKOS, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was supposed to spend eight years in places of deprivation of liberty (including Krasnokamensk), and called the oligarch a political prisoner. At that same time, as a sign of protest, Father Sergiy refused to bless the administration building of correctional institution IK-10, where Khodorkovsky was being held. After this, Father Sergiy was subjected to a “verbal admonition” on the part of Bishop Yevstafiy of Chita and Trans-Baikal and, “for the benefit of the church”, was transferred to a new place of ministry in the village of Krasny Chekoy (Chita Oblast). In March, there followed a new punishment: the bishop prohibited Father Sergiy from performing divine services “for a bad-faith attitude towards his duties”. On 10 April 2006, His Eminence Yevstafiy signed an ukase on defrocking Father Sergiy.
The comment of the press secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate, Vladimir Vigilyansky, was such: “The strict measures of His Eminence Yevstafiy are not political persecution, but bear a disciplinary character. After the first reprimand to him (Father Sergiy—G.P.), an opportunity was given to repent and return to the ministry. But Father Sergiy, apparently, made his choice.”
I have already written about the first time I met Father Sergiy, last year. I had another opportunity to meet with him on my most recent trip to Chita. Father Sergiy told me that he had “written a repentance” to the name of Bishop Yevstafiy of Chita and Trans-Baikal. There has so far been no result from the consideration of this appeal. Father Sergiy earns a small pittance working as a sexton (a glorified janitor/groundskeeper, in other words) in the Kazan Cathedral Church of Chita. He waits, he believes, and he hopes that there will be forgiveness for him, and that he will once again become a clergyman.
Here are the words spoken by Sergey Taratukhin during the time of our meeting in the middle of October in Chita: “My position is clear, there is nothing to hide. I respected Mikhail Khodorkovsky then, and I respect him now. Perhaps this is an impediment to a restoration of the priestly office… But whatever is, is.
The Kazan Cathedral Church in Chita (photo by Grigory Pasko)
“Khodorkovsky is a shining example of how a person was able to realize himself in the post-Soviet time. I repented not of the fact that I have respect for Mikhail, but of the fact that I had allowed myself impudence towards the ecclesiastical hierarchy f the Russian Orthodox Church and personally towards the Most Holy Patriarch. This is what I asked forgiveness for from the Church and the Most Holy Patriarch.
“I want to wish Mikhail strength of spirit. This too shall pass, and the day will come when he will be freed. I wish him patience…”
Father Sergiy also added that he has not lost hope of regaining his priestly office, that he “toiling as an administrator in the cathedral church”, and that he gave his word to the bishop that he’s through with political activity for good. “Well, and how will it all turn out? However the Lord wills…”, he says at the end.
I think the Lord is merciful. And maybe, this time, the person who will be making the decision about Father Sergiy will be merciful, too.
It is interesting that the topic of repentance had already arisen back in October of last year. Then, in an interview with the radio station «Svoboda» [Radio Liberty—Trans.], Sergey Mikhailovich had told that it had been proposed that he repent, and that His Eminence was constantly “exhorting” him, proposing that he renounce his words.
To the extent that I understand the situation that has developed, it was precisely Father Sergiy’s words about how Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner that had become the motive for the persecution of the clergyman. It was not the ecclesiastical hierarchy that the padre had blasted; rather, as a representative of the church, he had cast doubt on the justice of the actions of the secular power. Well, and just what is today’s Orthodox Church in relation to the prevailing power? Here is the opinion on this account of a famous person, a dissident, a claimant to the presidential chair in March of next year – the writer Vladimir Bukovsky, who was recently in Moscow. In an interview with Grani.ru, he said that today, the church is attempting to occupy the niche of the state ideology, and the power is helping it very much in this, understanding that the Russian Orthodox Church, the Moscow Patriarchate, was a part of the Party apparat in the Soviet time. “Today’s hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church”, said Bukovsky, “are former KGB, so for the power this is a convenient instrument, and more than that, an instrument that has not undergone any reforms – after all, reforms are impossible by definition in the church”.
The “case” of Father Sergiy is, in my opinion, further evidence that these reforms are impossible. From the point of view of divine services, the clergyman had acted correctly: he was not about to bless that place where iniquities in relation to a person are taking place. As Father Sergiy himself said, “it would be as if though I were blessing those torments to which Khodorkovsky had been doomed in captivity”. In addition to this, the parson underscored that he was expressing his own personal opinion and was not acting in the name of the entire Church. And he also expressed his position with respect to the conviction of Khodorkovsky quite articulately: “If they would punish everyone, then it would be according to the law. If they select one and start to press him demonstratively, that is already politics. And if this is politics, then it is clear that he is a political prisoner. I called him that, and nobody has persuaded me to this day that I am not right”.
Of course the clergyman was right, when he spoke the truth. But the fact that he repented…
Here it is necessary to know the following. From the words of Sergey Taratukhin himself it is known that after he was defrocked, he began to live in Chita, in a small wooden house, with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. He is ill himself, no work, no money… They say that His Eminence announced to the clergy at a meeting not to worry about Father Sergey, it is said that Khodorkovsky is supporting him. Taratukhin appraised this as slander and considered that His Eminence had completely compromised himself in his eyes.
His Eminence, Bishop Yevstafiy of Chita and Trans-Baikal (photo from the internet)
They say that when God sends a person trials and tribulations, He is testing him, checking his tenacity. If he withstands the adversity, the untruths, the persecutions – that means he is worth something in this life. And if he doesn’t… where there’s nothing, there’s nothing to be had.
Father Sergiy made his choice not once: first when he did time in prison for anti-Soviet agitation, and then when he called Khodorkovsky a political prisoner… And we can find an explanation for his conduct today as well. Who dares judge him? “Judge not, that ye be not judged”, it says in the Bible (Matt. 7:1). All the more so because the story with the repentance is not over yet…