We have interviewed the prior of the Divine Cathedral in Kharkov father Viktor (Marynchak).
Question:Do you believe that the Declaration of human rights is a Christian political document, which was written and adopted by the initiative of the Western, i.e. Christian countries?
Answer:All that appears in the circle of the European culture is directly or indirectly connected with Christianity. Especially it concerns upper layers of culture, whose development is carried either in the framework of Christianity or is a strained dialog with it, even polemics, but always with Christianity. Perhaps, it is senseless to describe all the parallels in order to prove that the Declaration of human rights is a Christian document, it will suffice to remark that it could appear only in the sphere of the Christian psychology and mentality, for which personalism and humanism are natural. A Christian can display his love to God through his love to other people, through respect to their dignity and freedom, through the care about their life, about their souls, about their right to be themselves, and thus realize the destiny ascribed to them by God. May be, that is the reason why we consider the Declaration of human rights as Christian, since, in the aspect of morals and right, it embodies the Christian attitude to a human being.
Q.:The right for life is one of the most fundamental human rights. What is your attitude, as a priest, to this right?
A.:The right for life for a Christian is something that does not belong to man, a carrier of this life. It belongs to God and no one else. That is why Christianity condemns not only attempts at life by someone else, but also suicide. Man has no right to raise hand on someones or his own life, since the life is created by God. Let us recall that church condemns abortion, since the mystery of germinating life is a demonstration of Gods will, for even an embryo is unique. Even the problem of contraceptives causes much strain on the side of, say, Catholic church (and partly of the Orthodox church), for it is considered to be the interference into the Gods will. I want to remind that church condemns duels too. The only right to risk our lives is when a Christian gives his soul for his friends and kin, that is for self-sacrifice, as the highest expression of love to other people and hence to God. Such a profound attitude to life is related for a Christian with the complete being here, in this world, since the post-mortem existence of ones soul is incomplete: the completeness is attainable only in the unity of body and spirit. That is why the existence in such a unity here, in this world, has a decisive role for the eternal existence of the soul and for the souls salvation. It follows from here that to interrupt life artificially is prohibited. Whatever man commits here, he must be given the opportunity of further existence for resuming his link with God, humanity and human features in himself. He must be given the chance of penitence, and prayer, and mercy. An unpardonned sinner is a pray of devil. To intercept artificially the life of a person which did not attain penitence means to terminate a possible spiritual evolution. Who has the right for it, except God? Who has the right to stop man on his way in order to throw him into the hell. Other people certainly have not such a right.
Q.:Have you ever participated in public discussions about abolishing the death penalty?
A.:I have never participated in such discussions and I think that it is unreasonable to hold such discussions. The public, the masses are not prepared to abolishing the death penalty. The responsibility for its abolishing must be taken by the legislative power, thus it is worth while to hold such discussions within the legislative power. It is necessary to find as many arguments against the death penalty as possible, and then to publish them and to press on the public thought in this direction. When one holds such discussions in public, one risks to come across people who are deeply wounded by criminals, and because of their irrational state they cannot be influenced by any rational arguments (and it would be unethical to try to convince them). The law is a sphere of the rational. The state of a person injured by a crime cannot be an argument when a rational approach is used for solving some legislative problem. That is why I think that direct public discussions are harmful. A person injured by a horrible crime must go to a priest (or a psychologist, or a doctor), but not to the legislators. The law must care about the legal and moral state of the society, about the moral, legal and psychological ‘climate, and through it must protect a person from the attempts on the life and soul both from the side of criminals and from the side of blood-thirsty state revengers.
Q.:What is your attitude to the death penalty as a human being, not as a priest?
A.:I hardly can separate a priest and a human being in myself. I may stress the social aspect of this problem, but all the same my attitude would be that of a Christian. A society where the death penalty exists is loaded with vestige. This is a vestige of the vendetta, but the vendetta was cancelled by the Sermon on the Mount, since revenge drives people into a vicious circle of evil, which is driven by devil. An emotion is an energetic phenomenon, its explosion negatively affects our spiritual environment. Just fancy how much terror, hate, deathly grief, desperation are felt by a condemned to death, by his relatives and friends! Just fancy what are the emotions of those who execute the verdict or have to be present at the execution! This shock can lead to suicide, as it is described in the story ‘Birthday present by Kotsiubinskiy. Recollect monsters with human appearance figuring in writings of L.Tolstoy and L.Andreev. In modern films of terror the condemned to death and their executors become demons, and these demons try to infiltrate into souls of all of us. The killing sacrificed by law, planned, rational, cool is, in my opinion, not much different from the killing by order. My soul cannot accept the killing which is planned coolly and rationally. The society must be protected from the remnants of the vendetta. The vendetta is characteristic of a primitive society or of criminal gangs. On the other hand, the death penalty is a vestige of a primitive interpretation of anarchism where the force dominates over the right. It is connected with the delight of power over other peoples lives. This delight is demonical by origin. Which demons triumphed when our leaders exterminated hundreds of prostitutes and thousands of priests! Which sadistic emotions were felt by the members of notorious troikas!In this context one can observe that the death penalty is a vestige of the times when a human being was treated by the authorities as chips that are not counted when a forest is cut. At last the death penalty is a vestige of the times of wars that were carried out by despots and military regimes. Despots always regarded death as the way to submit the population of the occupied countries. Thus, the death penalty is an atavism. As to myself, I, like a Christian should, identify myself not with the killer and not with his executioner. A Christian may identify himself only with the victim of the killer or of the executioner.
Q.:You are father, will your attitude change if somebody attempted at life of your children?
A.:I am a Christian and a priest, as a latter I had to deal with parents of the killed. Every time, when I meet such people, I identify myself with them, but I try to defeat in myself all low, primitive, dark emotions. It is impossible to use Christianity as a shield protecting from terror, from tragic existence. A Christian must be prepared to meet personal tragedies. I hope that when my time to suffer comes, I shall be able to suppress dark emotions. This is done by Christians through prayers. Our consciousness must not bend under the burden of our woes. Jesus Christ taught us to hate sin, not sinners. I try my best under any circumstances to separate evil from its carrier. A criminal is already a pray of evil, when he commits his crime. I have some experience when a criminal committed some evil with respect to me, and my first reaction was: ‘Unhappy man, what has he done with his soul! There was another experience, a bitterer one, when for several weeks I repeated the words of Apostle Paul: ‘Mine is revenge, and I shall render, said the God, which means that court and revenge and mercy — all of them are Gods. I always have these words in mind, and also I recollect, what God said when they hammered him to the cross: ‘Pardon them, Father, since they do not understand what they are doing. I recommend those who suffered a trouble to pray in these words. I hope that these words will not pass me and I would be able to differ what relates to me personally and what relates to our entire society. Having experienced a personal catastrophe people must not wish all the people and all the society to experience the same. Jesus Christ taught to pray for enemies and I myself try to do this and to teach people to do this, regardless of whichever trouble they suffered.
Q.:Why in your opinion it was Western countries, especially Catholic countries, that started to abolish the death penalty? What was the reason: logical arguments, statistical arguments, cultural ripeness? What, in your opinion, was the contribution of the Christian religion?
A.:I think that it was the result of the general state of the society. The Western countries have overcome totalitarian regimes, tyranny, anarchy, the prior accumulation of capital tightly connected with crime. The society demilitarized, economy became balanced, the living standard rose, the everyday culture grew, democracy developed. As to the elite culture, it was always humanitarian in Europe. For the European mentality personalism was domineering during many centuries. As a consequence, they got a good system of social protection. At last, they worked out the Declaration of human rights, there appeared a public movement of human rights protection. Besides, being secular, the European society never broke with religion. All these circumstances led to the creation of the mental, psychological, spiritual environment, for which the abolition of the death penalty was quite a natural development. I recollect a film in early 70s, titled ‘Two in a town with J.Gabin and A.Delon, which ends in executing one hero on a guillotine. The film is constructed in such a way that every viewer identifies himself with the executed. People should be asked if they are for or against the death penalty on viewing such a film. Christianity for two millennia through the image of Jesus Christ taught believers to identify themselves with the victim of the executioner. The Christian consciousness is governed by the commandment ‘Though shall not kill. Revenge is unacceptable to a Christian. This can be interpreted as follows: one must not meet evil with evil, because it results in the multiplication of evil. To sum up, both on the subconscious level and on the conscious level, Christianity favor the inaccessibility of revenge; this concerns the death penalty too.
Q.:You know that in our country, by the will of the President, the death verdicts are not executed. This is not a moratorium in the judicial sense, also it is not the abolishment of the death penalty. What is you attitude to the situation as a citizen, priest, human being?
A.:Suspension of the death penalty is a step which the circumstances demand. As a man I can sympathize with the President, as a citizen I am exasperated with the inability of the legislative power, as a priest I think of those condemned to death, who must remain in the indefinite state for years. What do they feel? Let us recall Victor Hugos ‘The last day of the condemned to death. And now fancy that there are hundreds of such last days. You, human rights protectors, must try to take an interview of several such people. Maybe this would accelerate the legislative process.
Q.:Recall the case of Chikatilo or Onoprienko or cases of other serial maniacal murderers. Do such cases influence your position relative to the death penalty? Do you believe that psychiatrists are correct when they define the serial murderers as mentally healthy?
A.:Serial murderers, maniacs are really creatures resembling humans, and from the medical point of view they may be regarded as normal, but from the point of view of religion they are penetrated with demonic forces. The church knows the phenomenon, in orthodox monasteries there are experienced ascetics who can commit exorcism. Such people could carry out a spiritual (but not psychiatric) expertise. I think that after all it may have been realized. In any case such creatures demand a specific treatment. Isolation, even for life, is unavoidable here. But who can pronounce such a final verdict? Not a man believing in God. A Christian must recollect about the possessed from whom Jesus Christ drove away a legion of demons, after which the possessed became quiet and tame, sitting at Christs feet. A Christian always feels the hope that it can happen with such creatures, at least on the threshold of death, but not a violent death. An execution is not a way to exorcise demons, this is a way to attract them. So, in such cases not the death penalty, but the incarceration for life under the observation of experienced ascetics is the only adequate measure.
Q.:You often cooperate with human rights protection activists. Do you find their position close to yours?
A.:Yes, I sympathize with your attitude to a human being, to its dignity, freedom, sovereignty. After Kant, a man is a goal not a tool. Most of all, I like in your activity respect to human being, independent of the fact whether he is a personality with high morals or a hardened criminal. That is tolerance to everyone who needs help and intolerance to every evil, violation of rights, abuse of honor and dignity. This is the ability to identify oneself with those who are in trouble. This is the attitude without which beliefs remain dead. There is one more similarity between us, maybe the most important. I think we have the same attitude to the mutual relations between a person and the society. A man has duties before the society and the society has duties before a man. The mutual character of duties is the foundation of the personalist right, morals, individual behavior and public consciousness. This is personalism without egotism and egocentrism, without extreme individualism, when ones personality is the goal of the society. This attitude is typical of a certain kind of outlook, this attitude is native for a Christian and this attitude is the philosophic background of the human rights protection movement. This attitude — and it must be specially pointed out — aids to bring together stray lonely people before their collective troubles. It is especially important in our times, because the present crisis, in contrast to the previous ones, separates, disjoins people. And human rights protection movement attempts to overcome this difficulty and join disjoint people. We, Christians, know that sins separate and God unites people.
Q.:When you think about the future, do you agree that Europe has created a unique standard concerning human rights and expands it to a larger and larger territory? This unity of approaches is positive or negative in your opinion?
A.:Yes, there exists a unique standard or, rather, unique norm of treating a human being. This is the same goal that Jesus Christ set before his Apostles, when he said ‘Go and teach all peoples. Christianity confirms universal moral values. It unites the humanity on the basis of the unique approach to a person, to its rights, freedom and dignity. Humanism has no different versions for different people, it either exists or not. That is why a Christian ought to assess positively the uniqueness of standard concerning human rights.
Q.:Why are we so far from the European standards and what shall be done to skip this gap?
A.:In order to come to the new state the society must renounce its past. Germany repented its fascist past, the Catholic church renounced its inquisition. Several post-totalitarian countries renounced their totalitarian past. Our country should do something similar, but we are not yet prepared to the repentance.
Q.:To whom it would be easier for you to give absolution: to a murderer or to a judge who condemned him to death?
A.:The pre-condition of absolution is a profound and genuine repentance of the sinner. Does the judge feel it? Or he is still sure that what he did was inevitable, was a demonstration of the right, was the victory of the good? God pardons those who repent. The absolution is independent on the concrete sin, it depends on moral and spiritual efforts of the sinner.
Q.:When a judge sentences a man to death, is it a sin?
A.:The commandment says ‘You shall not kill. This commandment covers all cases when man directly or indirectly causes death of another man. That is why sentencing a man to death is a sin. It is clear that the man who sentences another man is not free in his choice. This choice is determined by many circumstances: the crime, the criminals personality, existence of crime as such, the level of criminality in the society, the feeling of danger which, to the judges opinion, may be stopped only by death penalties, the thought about the victims of the criminal and their relatives, the attitude of the public that is not prepared to any changes in the laws involved, the pressure from different sides, etc. Nonetheless, these numerous pressing circumstances do not dismiss the sin. And it does not release the judge from his personal responsibility before himself, before God, before the criminal, before the victims and their relatives, before the relatives of the criminal, before the executioners, before the society. All the same the judge repent.
Q.:Why is our society not prepared even to set the question of the abolishing death penalty?
A.:The mass psychology of our people is loaded with a number of vestiges caused by the totalitarian past, with a militarized society from the civil war to the end of perestroyka. Even now there is a large group of people who dream of the ‘strong hand. And what is a strong hand as not an opportunity to execute those who deviate from the general line. In our mass psychology there is a frequent reaction ‘Shoot them all!, which is rooted since the times of the anarchic Bolshevism. For a tyranny the problem of a just verdict does not exist: chips fly when trees are cut. They left surrounded armies, they shot down those who manage to run. They defeated the enemy without sparing canon flesh, they exiled entire peoples. They organized the artificial famine. They demolished ‘layer after layer professionals, artists, intellectuals, officers, physicians, ‘cosmopolites. They built the Gulag archipelago, they staged mass trials of ‘enemies of the people. They directed armies of youth to Afghanistan and so on, and so forth. All this shaped a nihilistic attitude to a human being, its rights and life. A large-scale program to get rid of the totalitarian public consciousness must be carried out. And before Bolshevism we had a Tartar-Mongolian yoke, then oprichnina, then ruining Zaporozhye Sich, then building St. Petersburg on bones of serfs and so on, and so forth. All this penetrated our consciousness, down to genes. Not many people are prepared to fight this inheritance, and human rights protection activists are leading the fight. We must fight against this past inheritance on a very wide front (by the way, it would be sensible to organize mass studies of, say, ‘sources and sense of Russian Communism by M.Berdiayev). Massive repentance of the people is needed. What force in the society can organize it? Perhaps, human rights protectors. Nowadays, under the conditions of the total public apathy and moral degradation the authority of morals must be revived. Here we have a shortage of public forces that could be able to renovate and spread the idea of the public responsibility before a person and the individual responsibility of a person before the public. That is what a priest must do. Our society lives in a state of religious savagery. This is the consequence of centuries of enforced planting of religion and then decades of its rooting out. If we count wide spreading of crime linked with the primary accumulation of capital, helplessness of a man in the street, perfect bureaucratization of the state, then we shall have a sketch of our public life. It is obvious that under such conditions, before such a society it is senseless to set the question of abolishing the death penalty. The road to it is shaping humane legislation, state system, civil society. Only then our people will be able to change their attitude to the death penalty.
Q.:What you, as a priest, can say to those who believe the death penalty to be the most reliable protection from criminals?
A.:The demon, who lives in the soul of a maniac or killer, shall, after the liquidation of the body of his carrier, look for another shelter. That is why by killing a killer we do not protect ourselves, on the contrary, we give birth to a new danger. The reasonable way to protect the society from hard criminals is to isolate for life those demonically-loaded individuals.