|In Memory of John Paul II
|This year the orthodox and catholic Paschal calendars differ, most likely, in the most substantial way – four-weeks difference. John Paul II passed away on the eve of the first Paschal Sunday dedicated to God's mercy in the Roman Church. It was precisely on his initiative that this day was dedicated to mercy. God's mercy and the call for mutual human forgiveness were the main themes of the universal sermonizing of John Paul II.
For us, the day of his passing was the eve of the Adoration of the Holy Cross Week. On that Saturday the evangelical reading consisted of the verses from the last Chapter of the Gospel of St. John, when Christ asked the Apostle Peter three times about his love:
Simon, son or Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because He said onto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep. (John 21:17)
The Adoration of the Cross of Christ was the core of the spiritual and pious life of the late Pope; according to his own words, he started each morning of his long pontificate with the recollection of this query of St. Peter. Listening to these words (and the following ones – about helpless old age: "and another gird thee, and carry thee whither thou woudest not" [John 21:18]) resounding from the altar in a Moscow church, I thought: "Here we also are saying good-bye to him. Here we are also visited by the memory of him – even if he was not destined to visit Russia, even if no one will honor the memory of him here as should have happened. There are things that are stronger than public opinions and political calculations. 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?'" (John 21:15).
Both dimensions of this date are too significant not to be noticed. John Paul II himself, with his faith that surprised many people (those who wrote about him called his faith "ancient," "folk," "Polish"), was very attentive to such signs. He died, having succeeded in giving his last Paschal blessing to his people – and, in some sense, having joined the Adoration ol the Cross of Our Lord in his beloved Russian land.
He indeed loved – in his own words – the "beauty of the Russian soul," which he found in Russian art, literature, and thought. He, in a heartfelt way, described the depth and beauty of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in his encyclicals. At out first meeting (there were four of them all together – every year from 1995 to 1998) he said: "I pray for Russia every day." The icon he prayed to was one of Our Lady of Kazan painted in Russia (the icon was sent to him from the Fatima Monastery after the attempt on his life, and, in his own words, saved his life) – this was the icon he presented to the Russian Orthodox Church last year as a gift. We missed the wonderful opportunity of a possible first meeting after a thousand-year interruption. But would such a meeting be desirable here in Russia? I am afraid that we have not yet become accustomed to think of ourselves as a part of the world, a part of humanity. In this case, isolation and a spiritual iron curtain appear to be preferable. Salvation on separately taken territory. . . Is it worth it to say that such a hope is not only egregiously unseemly but also impractical?
The long pontificate of John Paul II will still be interpreted and evaluated: its almost too dazzling, "starry" beginning, and the last decade when the entire world observed the physical suffering and fading of the once "most athletic," "most mobile and approachable" of all Roman pontiffs. These last years of the Pope, his testimony full of suffering for his loyalty to his mission became for many the most stirring sermon in a civilization that is afraid of old age, illness and death like fire, that fears suffering and tries to insulate itself from compassion. It is a civilization of success, health, and endlessly protracted youth. It is a civilization that in the words of our great ascetic, Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh," "backs its way to death and old age." "Open your doors for Christ! Do not be afraid!" These were the words with which John Paul II, then full of strength, hopes and ideas, that could have helped history and that came to a "dead end of direct continuation," began his Papal service. The old and sick John Paul II showed what it meant to keep these doors opened and not to be afraid.
Those who write about him usually weigh his actions and initiatives on the scales of "conservatism" and "progress." They say that in these aspects (in regard to the traditional family, birth control, women in the priesthood, or priests' celibacy), he was conservative, but in others (in the recognition of human rights, in his social thinking, in the fact that for him the personal was higher than the social, the national, etc.), he was progressive. The extreme progressives found him too conservative, the extreme conservatives – too liberal, as if these two characteristics – conservative and progressive – represented the last judgment of a person who acted in the secular world. The world was not inclined to lake the profound motives of all the decisions of John Paul II (which were radically Christian) seriously. It was hard to believe that a political figure, who stood at the top of a huge hierarchy, could be guided by "non-political interests." What are politics in the commonly accepted and not discussed meaning? They are a balance of powers, a balance of interests, at best – a "social contract," at worst – a preventive restraint of one form of violence by the threat of another. But politics, the "common cohabitation," not only in the Christian, but also in the ancient Greek, that is, in the original meaning, as it is stated in Aristotle, means something totally different: the organization of common life on the basis of mutual philia (the Greek word that is translated into Russian both as "friendship" and "love"), that very relationship about which Christ asked St. Peter. Since I do not possess John Paul II’s vigor, I do not hope that this original meaning of "political" will be remembered and lie at the basis of common practice. I am fearful that we for a long time are doomed to choose between a "bad peace" and a "good war," doomed to the notorious "balance of interests" (which are, it goes without saying, egoistical and at war with each other), perhaps, until it will be shown with all clarity that we have at least one common interest – the interest to survive on earth. An an¬thropology of a different kind than the one on which our civilization is mechanically based is required in order to believe in the existence of other, no less essential, common interests.
The anthropology of John Paul II was extremely lofty. A human being to him appeared worthy of respect and love. In one of his poems, the Son says to His Father:
I left Your eyes, full of limitless shining,
For the eyes of the people in which we
can find the shining of wheat.
In the fullest way, his project of humanity is realized in his creative work, and especially in the creation of beauty. His "Letter to the Artists of the World," which John Paul II wrote in 2000, was dedicated to precisely this.
But is it not classical humanism? Any person familiar with the rudiments of theology can ask. Isn't it well known that between the humanism and theological image of man lies an abyss? Does it mean that the humanists forgot the main thing – namely the deep taint of man – his original sin? Did they forget that we live in a fallen world and this constitutes the fundamental situation of man, conditio humana? What kind of freedom, creativity, and happiness can be in a fallen world? Obedience, self-compulsion, a lament over one's own loathsomeness – those are the appropriate forms of the piety of this place.
Yes, in some unexplained way, anti-humanistic Christianity (generally speaking, the often very caustic Christian misanthropy), to the same degree as Machiavelli's "politics," has become something run-of-the-mill and left undiscussed. "Truly pious people" are often recognized by this scorn for the "human." It is a strange but customary scandal. We must be assured that John Paul II in no way was forgetting about the "fallen nature of the world" and about human sins – and how could he who survived the Nazi occupation of Poland and the atheistic regime, and who, when visiting a country, first of all visited the places of the greatest disasters, the memorials to thousands of people killed by thousands of other people (and in Russia he wanted to visit such a place – the Solovki Islands to see the prison camps)? Nevertheless, he maintained that everything did not begin with the fall and does not end with the fall. "There is room for God's Tabernacle in every man," were his words. The task of the shepherd was to prepare this place, to recall that God's words about the creation: "It is good!" can be answered by man's words: "It is good for us with You!" and that our contemporary, who has lost his faith in him or herself, is in no way worse than those who managed to say these words.
|Translated by Slava I. Yastremski
|In Memory of John Paul II