Today, dear fathers, brothers and sisters, is a special day both in the life of our Academy, and in the life of each one of us. Today, though this may sound bombastic, is a day of real celebration for the Church, because today young people who have chosen the path of ministry have come forth to work in the field of service to the Word of God and His Truth.
Today, however, is also a day when all of us together and each of us individually step over an important milestone in our lives. For many of us, the doors of the Academy today open outwards: to new perspectives, new achievements, new opportunities. But they also open into a world filled with suffering, injustice, betrayal, lies. Today into a world distorted and overwhelmed by sin these doors send forth to heal and comfort, to encourage and minister those who themselves carry the leprosy of a nature distorted by sin, but who, at the same time, carry also the seal of the Holy Spirit, the touch of Pentecost. Such are our graduates, who just earlier were students and who have now become or will soon become ministers of the Word.
Perhaps some of us think that the knowledge that we have gained over the last few years of studying about the various aspects of the priest’s service represent a more or less plausible and realistic picture of this form of ministry. Allow me, then, to say a few words that may be unexpected or unusual for this solemn occasion. Right now, you do not know anything about this form of ministry at all. Only years and decades spent before the altar or at the confessional will give you the necessary experience. When you contemplate human joy or human suffering, bring forth from the font a newly enlightened soul or hold the hand of an old man leaving the world — only these moments will lift the veil of secrecy for a few inches. These are the secrets of a servant called to stand at the gates separating time from eternity.
Your whole life from now on is a long journey of attempting to recognize the Lord’s handwriting on the pages of your own book, in which you are both the co-author and the main character. Believe me, brothers and sisters, the true imprint of the finger of God is not in high accomplishments or in important clerical positions. Just as the voice of the Creator is not found in the noise of public squares or in speeches made in the forum. If one day you really want to see the presence of the Divine and the touch of infinity, just look at the smile of your children, live the joy of meeting with people dear to you, feel yourself a happy person in the everyday trivialities of life. This is much more significant and more powerful than all that has been made by men on the lifeless soil of imitation of being and service, imitation of thought and feeling, from which, with my fatherly care, I wish all of you to flee. Rejoice in the trifles of every day and hour and thank God for all things!
Let me say something else that I think is very important to you, our dear graduates who have already created families or intend to do so in the future. In an unbroken marriage, you will learn obedience, humility and love for Christ, you will learn to live according to His will, by yielding and giving preference to people who have selflessly entrusted themselves to you. Remember this very important thing: you can never prefer your church ministry to your own family. Your family is a small Church that is part of the Body of Christ, His Holy Church. Take care of your family, take care of its inviolability, try to spend more time with your wife and children. Do not take from them that which belongs only to them.
The enthusiasm for parish projects and even for the services in the church should not take a father away from a family. Find the golden mean between these two main poles of your life — the parish community and your own family — and serve them both wisely, honestly and selflessly. The family is your first and main value. Give your wife and children, without limit, the kindness, tenderness, affection, and care they need. Do not be shy about it. This is a manifestation of inner strength, not of weakness.
Many truly happy moments await you on the way of serving the Church, but there will also be many bad things — both inside the church yard and beyond it. This is inevitable. Life will throw you more than once such cases and circumstances, when you have to choose between being and appearing, between having and giving, between talking and being silent. Looking at our reality of life in the Church, which is far from ideal, one will involuntarily ask oneself: where does this boundary lie, where only a brand and a shell inside which one finds a businessman or a politician is all that remains from the ministry of the priest? No matter to what high or lowly, easy or difficult ministry you will be called by Providence, always remember that you are not managers, accountants or foremen. You are knights of Truth. Your ministry is serving people, being a servant for the people and only for the people. People always need human beings. No fatigue after many calls, no frustration from having to pay the bills to keep the lights on in the church, no annoyance at the poor singing of the choir can ever justify a rude word said to someone who comes in to the church. Rich or poor, dressed in an expensive suit or in rags, he deserves your elementary respect. Even if you cannot give him hope for tomorrow, consolation in grief or sincere complicity in joy, you can and must give what is in everyone’s power in a civilized society: respect for the individual. You can also give something that is not difficult at all to give: your prayer.
Today, medicine, education, mentoring and everything that has been built on human relations throughout time are marred by growing commercialization, an approach that turns many spheres of life into an industry that can breed an unreal world of monstrous proportions. Increasingly, mutual relations and mutual assistance of people with the help of technology are reduced to «transactions», acts of mutual exchange, where monetary gain is the only concern. At the same time, it seems that as technologies are developed to improve our life and make it more comfortable, we find less and less humanity in this world, we find less unselfishness, less sacrifice, fewer acts of love toward other, even unfamiliar, people. This is clearly visible already in some spheres of life and still a bit less so in others.
We see growing changes in the fields of art, architecture, literature. Art is always a reflection of life, life’s aspirations and the values of the majority. A reflection, looking into which thousands and millions of people are building their lives. After all, in many ways life is an imitation of art: we all involuntarily adopt something bright from the characters we find in books and films, we strive to surround our own life with the beauty created by artists, and this is normal. In architecture, which is the most visible manifestation of the arts, changes are always more obvious than in other fields. If the architectural center of a European city in the previous centuries has always been built around the domes of churches, emphasizing the aspiration of humanity to the high and heavenly, today the architectural center of the urban environment is built around trading and business centers, shopping malls, offices of financial corporations.
For example, you can simply pay attention to the size of the world’s shopping centers: in China not so long ago a shopping mall was built covering an area comparable to three sizes of the Vatican, almost 2 million square meters. Slightly smaller malls are found in every country, in many cities. Russia occupies one of the first places by the number of the largest shopping malls in Europe. This obsession with shopping is a quasi-ideology, whose idols are success and brief, bright pleasures and emotions. Its calculation is impeccable: it provides us with pleasure and frees us from thoughts about the bad in this life. That is why it so enthralls human souls, which have been called to heavenly life and which seek heaven everywhere, in all the details of the world.
But this is also a world of illusions. It closes true paradise from a person. And the task of each one of us is to talk about it and to demonstrate what we teach by our own example. This illusory world cannot exist if the Church offers to people positive values, which must always accompany you and which will become a way out of our daily life towards a lost Paradise.
Unfortunately, churches have now ceased to be the main focus of a city, a place where a person receives treatment for a difficult life in the world. A place where a person goes both in times of joy and in times of sorrow. A place where a person is looking for his own Paradise. Because the church, the divine service, prayers and spiritual exercises are always more difficult than entertainment. Part of this is the fault of the church workers who make it so that the church, the service, the sacraments and the special services also become a form of transaction built into everyday life. But the task of us, priests and clergymen, is to teach people to be more complex and profound, to teach them to go against the mores and tastes of this world. To teach about the fact that visiting the church is not the same as a taxi ride, a trip to a dentist or to a therapist. Our task in the present world is to heal people who seek in everything only benefits and pleasures. And this we do by speaking of the truth of the Gospel. Speaking of the unusual, the otherness of all that happens in the church. And above all, of course, our task is to seek healing ourselves in order to become genuine and sincere, because only such people are able to lead others.
Now I turn to a slightly different topic.
It is no secret that in the rating of educational institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church we have firmly come to the forefront and occupy a first place. This is the fruit of painstaking work and the colossal efforts of many people. Everyone in his position has served to the best of his talents and diligence. I offer my bow of gratitude to all for this visible and tangible breakthrough: to the vice-rectors, the heads of departments, to professors and lecturers, to employees and to students. We have developed an excellent, and, as has been shown by outside ratings, an effective team that can change reality for the better. And I was blessed to oversee this interesting and, as it turned out, breakthrough process over the past ten years. Of course, when we did our work, we were not guided by aspirations for ratings, numerical indicators and a race for primacy. Our goal was to create good conditions for the life and upbringing of future servants of the Church, clergy, choir directors and icon painters. These were simple, logical and clear goals. In many respects, thanks to the efforts of each of those present here, and many more who are absent, we have been successful.
In my speech, I addressed you today as a leader, as a teacher, as a rector and as a bishop. Now it is time to turn to all of you with a word of gratitude spoken by a simple man, whom God has judged to spend side by side with you such a long time within these walls; a man who for all these years has felt attention, care, loyalty, trust and friendship. Believe me, I have something for which to thank each of you. And I have something for which to ask forgiveness before each of you.
Today, dear friends, the whole of our academic family in its present composition has gathered for the last time in this room. This, of course, is not the end of the story, but only its beginning. I believe and pray that the path that has been trodden in the past few years to the doors of this academy for every young soul eager to know God — a path trodden not without tears, not without sweat, not without sleepless nights and many gray hairs — will not become overgrown with weeds. I hope that from year to year more and more bright minds and kind hearts will give life to these walls. That the cup of true being and being in its abundance will never dry out under these arches. That anyone who, with a purity of thought and nobility of purpose, will come here, will find what he desires — be it the art of knowledge, the art of prayer, the art of service, or the noblest of all, the art of friendship. The glorious history of the Academy on the banks of the Neva will not cease to continue to write its chronicle, the running of time will not cease to leave its mark on its pages. But as there are no two identical moments of human life, so there are not two identical pages in this chronicle. Will the following pages be better or worse than before? No, they will simply be different. The following pages will record their ups and downs, their common joys and their common upsets, but nothing from the past will ever happen again.
The page of 2019 — what will it be like? Can any one of those who are sitting here say with certainty, which of the faces that he now sees before him, he will see again, and to whom he will say «goodbye» for the last time today at this doorstep? The future is hidden from mortal eyes, which makes it all the more important for us to value the present! The fabric of divine narrative surprisingly intertwines the patterns of human destinies, suddenly bring them together, and just as suddenly breaking them apart.
The day of farewell has come. Farewells for each of us: with our academic family, with our Academy, with friends, with like-minded people. For some, this is only a brief moment, and a few months later the joy of a long-awaited meeting will again fill these walls. For others, it can be a farewell forever. Let each of us who steps over the threshold of the Academy today take from here in his heart something of exceptional value that he will keep in the depths of the treasury of his soul and carry with him through many years. Something experienced here, which made him simply feel a happy person. That, which remains with him in spite of everything will be his little light, a little guiding star, indicating the right path even when all other hope fades away, and the darkness of uncertainty thickens.
Wherever the right hand of the Most High can judge each of us to wake up tomorrow, you all have found your place in my heart. Thank you for that. And God bless us all!