Moscow, August 28, 2010.
August 2010, the eve of the Dormition of the Most Holy
Mother of God, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk
officiate at the All-Night Vigil at the church of the ”Joy
of All Who Sorrow” Icon in Bolshaya Ordynka Street in Moscow.
Concelebrating were Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, a
vicar of Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain
(Patriarchate of Constantinople), president of the ”The
Friends of Mount Athos” charity society, clerics of the
church, and a well-known Swiss theologian, Hieromonk Gabriel
(Bunge) who became Orthodox before the divine service.
parishioners worshipped at the church together with the
members of ”The Friends of Mount Athos” representing Great
Britain, the USA, Greece and other countries. The object of
the society is to promulgate knowledge about monastic
tradition and the Holy Mountain and, promote restoration of
the monasteries there, and to attract pilgrims. The
delegation is on a visit to Russia with the blessing of His
Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. The
pilgrims venerated holy sites in Uglich, Kostroma, Yaroslavl,
Rostov the Great, Nizhniy Novgorod, Gorodets, Kalyazin, and
the Laura of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius.
divine service, Metropolitan Hilarion addressed his
archpastoral words to the worshippers, congratulating them
on the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of
God. He said: ”Today we glorify her Dormition and
contemplate our life and death. Our life on the earth should
be full, spiritual and divine, while our death should not be
a tragic event, but a natural passing to life eternal; it
should be dormition, rather than death.
tomb that emanates grace, peace and love, the Most Holy
Mother of God testifies that the mortals can pass from death
to life, from sin to grace, from human life to divine life.
believes that the Mother of God never sinned even in her
thoughts. We are sinful people, but the way to the Heavenly
Kingdom is not closed to us. This way leads through death
that could become Dormition in case we live in accordance
with the commandments of God and pray to the Lord and His
Most Precious Mother to grant us shameless and peaceful
death leading us to life eternal.”
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk addressed Metropolitan
Kallistos of Diokleia, saying: ”I cordially greet
Metropolitan Kallistos, a hierarch of the Patriarchate of
Constantinople and a teacher at the University of Oxford in
Great Britain for over forty years. Fifteen years ago I was
fortunate to be his student. He was my supervisor when I
worked at my thesis on St. Simeon the New Theologian. Today
Metropolitan Kallistos is a most renowned theologian of the
Patriarchate of Constantinople. He has arrived in Moscow as
head of the group of pilgrims that includes clergymen,
professors, and laymen. For ten days they have visited
Russian cities, venerated holy sites of our land, and have
get to know our religious culture. Tomorrow Metropolitan
Kallistos will concelebrate with His Holiness Patriarch
Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Cathedral of the
Dormition of the Moscow Kremlin.
you not only as a hierarch and an outstanding theologian,
but also as my teacher and friend. I wish you a blessed stay
in Russia and God's help in your archpastoral ministry and
scholarly work. May He keep you for many and good years.”
Metropolitan Hilarion presented Metropolitan Kallistos with
a mitre made at the workshops of the Moscow Patriarchate.
chairman cordially greeted Hieromonk Gabriel (Bunge) who has
lived a solitary life in the Swiss mountains for over thirty
years. Metropolitan Hilarion said to him, ”You have been a
Catholic, but an Orthodox deep in your heart. Today, before
the All-Night Vigil, you have become Orthodox, thus
naturally completing a long spiritual path.”
congratulating Fr Gabriel on this move, Metropolitan
Hilarion presented him with an icon of the Mother of God
called ”Joy of All the Afflicted” to which the church in
which Fr Gabriel joined the Orthodox Church is dedicated.
Metropolitan Kallistos said to Metropolitan Hilarion that it
was a great joy and privilege to concelebrate with him on
the eve of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.
Adding that Metropolitan Hilarion's ministry in this church
and for Orthodoxy in the world will be blessed with grace
from the Lord through the intercession of the Most Holy
Mother of God.
A Catholic Hermit Converted To Orthodoxy
By Konstantin Matsan
well-known theologian, hieromonk Gabriel Bunge, rarely gives
interviews. He leads a hermit's life in a small skete in
Switzerland, never uses the Internet, and the only means of
communication with him is the telephone. The latter works as
the answering machine in a distant room. If you want to talk
with him, you have to leave a message with the time when you
are going to phone again, and if Father Gabriel is ready to
talk, he will be near the telephone at the time you
specified. We were lucky not to go through this complex
operation because we met Father Gabriel in Moscow. On August
27, he converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism.
conversation, Father Gabriel told us about the motives for
his decision, about the main differences between Valaam and
Switzerland, and about many other things.
”We Are Like Weirdos”
If someone comes from one Christian tradition to another, it
must mean that they feel they lack something vital in their
And if this person is seventy years old, like me, this step
cannot be called a hasty one, can it?
No, it can't. But what did you lack, being a monk with such
a great spiritual experience?
A: I have
to speak not of one decision, but of the whole life journey
with its inner logic: at one point an event happens which
was being prepared by one's whole life.
young people, I was searching for my way in life, so to
speak. I entered the University in Bonn and started studying
philosophy and comparative theology. Not long before that, I
had visited Greece and spent two months on the island of
Lesbos. It was there that I saw a real Orthodox monastic
elder for the first time. At that time, I was already
inwardly being drawn to monasticism and had read some
Orthodox literature, including Russian sources. That elder
amazed me. He became the incarnation of the monastic that I
had come across only in books before. Suddenly, in front of
me, I saw a monastic life which from the very beginning
seemed to be authentic, true, the closest to the first
Christian monks' practice. Afterwords, I was in touch with
that elder my whole life. So I got an ideal of monastic
came back to Germany, I joined the Order of Saint Benedict –
it seemed to be the closest to my aspirations. The structure
of the Order itself resembles one of the early Christian
Church. In the Order, there is no vertical system of
subordination, each community exists on its own. What
guarantees the unity of these communities is the tradition
and the Church Typicon. That is, not the juridical order but
the spiritual ideal. By the way, in this sense I think that
it is the Benedictines, of all Western believers, who are
ready to understand the Orthodox believers most keenly. But
still my spiritual Father and I saw very soon that with my
fancy for Eastern monasticism and the love of Eastern
Christianity on the whole, I was not in my proper place in
this Order. So the abbot, an elderly and experienced man I
still honor, decided to transfer me to a small monastery in
Belgium, and not without regret. I spent 18 years there,
acquired great experience, and from there, with a blessing,
I went to the skete in Switzerland. All those transfers were
caused by one reason: the attempt to progress to authentic
monastic life, as it was with early Christians. Like the one
I saw with Eastern Christians.The most recent step on this
way was the conversion to Orthodoxy.
did you decide to adopt it? One can love Orthodoxy with all
one's heart and stay within the traditional Catholicism.
There are many such examples in the West.
many people who are drawn to Orthodoxy stay within the
Catholic Church. And this is normal. In the majority of
Western cathedrals there are Orthodox icons. In Italy, there
are professional schools of icon painting taught by Russian
specialists and others. More and more believers in Europe
are interested today in Byzantine hymns. Even the
traditionalists of the Catholic Church have been discovering
Byzantine singing. Of course they do not use them during the
divine service in the church, but outside of the church, for
example, at concerts. Orthodox literature gets translated
into all European languages, and the books are published in
the major Catholic publishing houses. In short, in the West
they really have not lost the taste for all authentic,
Christian, that the Eastern tradition has preserved. But,
alas, it changes nothing in real life of people and society
on the whole. The interest in Orthodoxy is more cultural.
And those wretched people like me who have a spiritual
interest in Orthodoxy, are left in the minority. We are like
weirdos; we are seldom understood.
to Know Where Everything Comes From”
Q: As a
theologian, you have often spoken on the problem of West and
East's separation. Can we say that your conversion to
Orthodoxy is the result of your meditation on this topic?
A: When I
was in Greece and started turning towards Eastern
Christianity, I began to perceive the schism between the
East and the West very painfully. It stopped being an
abstract theory or a plot in a Church history book, but
rather something that was directly affecting my spiritual
life. This is why the conversion to Orthodoxy started
looking like a very logical step. In youth, I sincerely
hoped that the union of the Western and the Eastern
Christianity was possible. I was waiting for it to happen
with all my heart. And I had some reasons to believe in it.
At the Second Vatican Council, there were observers from the
Russian Orthodox Church, including the current Metropolitan
of Saint Petersburg and Ladoga Vladimir (Kotlyarov). At that
time Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) was very active in
international affairs. And many people thought that the two
Churches were moving towards each other and would eventually
meet at one point. It was my dream that was becoming more
and more real. But as I was growing older and learning some
things deeper, I stopped believing in the possibility of the
reconciliation of two Churches in terms of the divine
services and institutional unity. What was I to do? I could
only go on searching for this unity on my own, individually,
restoring it in one separate soul, mine. I could not do
more. I just followed my conscience, and came to Orthodoxy.
Isn't it too radical an opinion?
still in Greece, being a Catholic, I realized that it was
the West that separated from the East, not vice versa. At
that moment, it was unthinkable for me. I needed time to
understand and accept this. I cannot blame anyone, of course
I can't! We are talking about a whole big historic process,
and we cannot say that this or that person is to blame for
this. But facts remain facts: what we call Western
Christianity today was born as a chain of ruptures with the
East. These ruptures were the Gregorian reform, followed by
the separation of the churches in the XI century, then the
Reformation in the XV century, and finally the Second
Vatican Council in the XX century. This is, surely, a very
rough scheme, but I think it is correct on the whole.
However, there is an opinion that the chain of these
ruptures is a normal historic process because any phenomenon
(and Christian Church is no exception) goes through its
stages of development. What's the tragedy in that?
tragedy is in the people. In a situation of radical,
revolutionary events there always appear people who start to
divide life into ‘before' and ‘after.' They want to start
counting only from this new point as if everything that
happened before had no meaning. When the future Protestants
proclaimed the Reformation, I do not think they knew it
would lead to the separation of the Western Church into two
big camps. They did not realize it, they just acted. And
they began to divide those around them into the healthy ones
– those who accepted the Reformation – and the unhealthy,
sick ones – the followers of Pope.
history repeats itself: the same is happening now around the
Second Vatican Council within the Roman Catholic Church.
There are people who did not accept its decisions and people
who consider it to be some kind of a starting point. And
everybody reasons along those lines. A simple example: if in
a conversation, someone mentions ‘council' without any
additional details, everybody automatically assumes that
they are talking about the Second Vatican Council.
What's your opinion on the modern liberal moods among
A: I am
very glad to have the opportunity to address myself to the
Russian audience and say that you should not reduce all
Catholics to one level. Among them are such who would like
to be more secular, more liberal. It does not mean they are
criminals, it's just their point of view on life. There are
others, those who are fully dedicated to tradition. I would
not call them traditionalists, because tradition itself is
not so important to them. This is not an ancient folklore
that one must nourish artificially and keep aswim. No!
Tradition to them is what in every epoch ensured and still
ensures live personal contact with Christ, everyday living
in God's hands. As John the Theologian said, ”That which we
have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may
have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with
the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). I
am sure that the position ”there is God and there is me” is
for heretics. For Christians, it is ”God, me and everyone
else.” Everyone else is other believers, and those who for
many centuries have preserved the faith for us. If people
had not listened to other people so devotedly, if they had
not written it down and had not passed it on, there would
have been no New Testament. It means there would have been
what, in this case, should our attitude be to those who are
not very dedicated to tradition?
should not beat them in the face and of course we should not
chase them out of the Church. Any person deserves Christian
mercy. If I, being an Orthodox, saw a Catholic in an
Orthodox church, I would like to approach him and tell him
openly, softly, and confidentially, ”Listen, brother, you
might be interested to know that in the beginning we all
crossed ourselves in this way: from right to left. Now
everything has changed. No, I am not calling you to
reconsider all your life and rush to the Orthodox Church. I
just want you to know where things came from.”
why did you choose the Russian Orthodox Church?
A: I think
the key factor in such decisions is the people who surround
you. When my acquaintances, Russian bishops from Saint
Petersburg, learned I was adopting Orthodoxy, they said,
are not in the least surprised! You've always been with
us. But now we are going to have closer communion, a
sacred one – at one Chalice.”
Metropolitan Hilarion, the current head of the Department
for external church relations of Moscow Patriarchate, for a
long time. We first met in 1994 when he was a hieromonk. I
consider him to be my good friend and I cherish this
Hilarion, if you will, is one of the most competent and
knowledgeable people I've ever met. He actually became for
me the only person I could turn to with my request, who knew
me, my beliefs and my situation. And who, as I was sure, was
ready to respond. And that's what happened.
will it help you in reaching your ideal of spiritual life?
want prophecy from me, but I am no prophet. I do not know
specifically what will happen next. We shall simply live.
Even now I have already found in Russia many things that
keep me interested.
example, I visited Valaam. You know, in the West if a
believer is drawn to a life utmost monastic seclusion, he
actually has nowhere to go.
such as they are in Russia, do not exist in the West. This
form of life seems to be outdate already. As a monk I am
constantly in search for the utmost seclusion, even
loneliness. In Valaam, I felt all of it was there.
Isn't there enough loneliness in your skete in Switzerland?
Valaam is also a crowded place, pilgrims come there
Switzerland is a small and densely populated country. The
skete is surrounded by a forest, but in a 15 minutes walk
there is a village with approximately a hundred people
living there. In Valaam it is much more quiet. Yes, of
course, there are many people there. But the place itself,
as I felt, is isolated from the rest of the world. Maybe it
is so because it is an island, or maybe it is due to other,
to me that all this can give rise to this desirable state of
seclusion in the heart of everyone who comes there.
it more difficult in Europe?
A: To put
it roughly, we can say this does not exist in the West
altogether. The authentic monastic tradition in the West was
practically stamped out in the course of the French
bourgeois revolution in 1789. I have a firm belief that the
consequences of this revolution for Europe were no less
heavy than the consequences of the 1917 revolution and the
70 years of atheist power for Russia. In France after those
bloody events monasticism had to be restored almost from
scratch. Common priests, not monks, were to perform this.
There was no one else. In Russia monasticism survived
in-spite of all the shocks and horrors. Yes, it happened at
the level of particular individuals, namely, elders. But
they existed! And they kept the spiritual tradition and
authentic monastic life. It seems to me that in everything
that concerns monastic life, Russia did not have to start
from scratch. This is why I am sorry to hear Russians say
had it all destroyed, the Church was stamped out, etc.”
want to respond, ”On my opinion, you have it all, new
martyrs and confessors, monastic elders.” And they are all
near, just stretch out your arm. Only you have to stretch it
out, take this wealth and use it in practice, so to speak,
in your life. I often get the impression that the majority
of people in Russia do not value this. Or they just do not
understand that this is valuable.
in your opinion, does it happen so?
Speaking of problems, people concentrate on material, at
times external difficulties that monasteries and the Church
face nowadays. Yes, there is much to reconstruct. But this
is only the technical part, so to speak, only the walls and
the roofs. It goes without saying, people complain: roofs
and walls cost money, and where can one find money… But if
we mentally go above the roof – let it be with holes – we
shall see that the walls is not the main thing, it's more
important with what kind of heart one enters the walls. The
Russian saying goes,
church is not in the logs but in the ribs.”
is the most important thing, this spiritual tradition, that
is still within Russians. Monastic elders and new martyrs
preserved all of this for us. Sometimes people argue,
there are so few elders now, most of them died already.
There is no one to teach us.”
you have no living elder to teach you, turn to the
deceased one. You have his hagiography, his texts, his
teachings. Read them, and correlate with your life.”
mean to say that I have never met people in Russia who know,
value, and cherish this knowledge. There are many, many
people who do and my visit to Valaam proved it.
into the Water
must change now in your daily life after the conversion?
course, there are things that cannot but change. Having
become a member of the Russian Orthodox Church but still
living in Switzerland, I submit to Archbishop Innokenty of
Korsun. My relations with the Catholic Church cannot,
naturally, remain the same.
reaction do you expect from your spiritual children? They
must be all Catholics…
Firstly, I fortunately deal with good understanding people,
and I am sure they will respect my decision. And secondly, I
have never kept my opinions and beliefs in secret. All my
spiritual children have known that my ideal of Christianity
is in the East. I do not think they will be that surprised.
I had not said anything to them beforehand to avoid
unnecessary discussions. But I do not think anything
extraordinary will happen. I believe that the tradition of
spiritual talks my children used to come for will remain, I
have no reason to stop it. Finally, people I communicate
with regularly share my spiritual ideal more or less;
otherwise, they would not be coming.
about divine services?
course, from now on I won't be able to administer communion
to Catholics. But even before I used to do it very seldom:
the skete is away from the big world, the territory is kept
locked, the services are also private, the chapel is small –
for ten people at the most. Only at Christmas and Easter we
open the doors for everyone who wants to join us.
you could and wanted to give contemporaries a very short
piece of advice about organizing their praying life, what
would you say?
A: If you
want to learn to swim, jump into the water. Only that way
you can learn. Only the one who prays will feel the meaning,
the taste and the joy of prayer. You can't learn to pray
sitting in a big warm armchair. If you are ready to kneel,
to repent sincerely, to raise your eyes and hands to Heaven,
then many things will be revealed to you. Of course you can
read many books, listen to lectures, talk to people – these
are also important and help to understand more. But what is
the value of all these things if we don't take any real
steps afterwards? If we don't start praying? I think you
must understand this, too. Obviously, you are asking this
question from the position of one who does not believe…
Exactly. Our magazine is for those who doubt.
is nothing wrong with doubts, they are even useful. One
should not search for them, however. But if they do appear,
one must simply recall that we all have a chance to hear:
”Reach your finger, and behold My hands; and reach your
hand, and put it into my side: and do not be
unbelieving, but believing” (John 20: 27).