Patriarch's health will not lead to retirement
"SICKNESS IS USEFUL FOR A MONK," PATRIARCH ALEXIS II RECALLS
RRN - by Nadezhda Kevorkova, Gazeta, 20 May 2003 -- "His Holiness is ill and again in the hospital." These words began to circulate in church circles immediately after it became known that Patriarch Alexis II was not present at the presentation of the president's address to the Federal Assembly. Yesterday it was confirmed for the first time at the Department of External Church Relation (OVTsS) for Gazeta that Patriarch Alexis II was hospitalized in the Central Clinical Hospital. According to the deputy head of OVTsS, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, "His Holiness actually had a fever for one day. He is getting better, although he has gotten another cold."
The patriarch's infirmities became known at Pascha, when for the first time the Easter night service in the church of Christ the Savior was held without the primate of the church. It was conducted by Metropolitan Pitirim of Volokolamsk and Yuriev, who headed the trip to the church of the Sepulchre of the Lord in Jerusalem and first officially brought the sacred flame to Russia. But on Paschal Sunday the patriarch served the festive service and then during Bright Week he received President Putin at his Peredelkino residence and exchanged gifts with him.
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin told Gazeta that on the patriarch's schedule "Petersburg still has not been changed," for the time of the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the city. The trip of the first hierarch to Voronezh for the Day of Slavic Culture has been cancelled and the long postponed visit to Estonia, the patriarch's native country, has again been put off, according to Gazeta's information.
The head of the communications service of OVTsS, Viktor Malukhin, assured Gazeta that "His Holiness now is getting better, according to the statements of physicians, and the state of his health is satisfactory, fortunately; his incapacity was not threatening." Viktor Malukhin complained that "in the quest for sensations some publications permitted themselves to disseminate fantasies about His Holiness' health to the public." He recalled that "just like every person, the patriarch can get sick; furthermore, His Holiness himself once expressed the thought that sickness is useful for a monk. You know the Lord visits illnesses and infirmities upon us for our good."
The priest of one of the churches of Moscow reminded Gazeta that all Orthodox parishioners pray during worship for the primate of the church regardless of "how he feels in a worldly sense." The priest stressed that the believing Christian, "and even more a monk, deals differently not only with the problem of health but also of death; he is ready for it."
Attention to the health of the primate of the church in Russia was first shown in 1922 by workers of OGPU, when Patriarch Tikhon was already under house arrest and court sentence. The stroke that Patriarch Tikhon suffered figured in the calculations of the workers who oversaw the patriarch. Beginning in the 1940s, higher bishops of RPTs, according to Stalin's wish, were made "prisoners of the nomenklatura." Their illnesses became secret, their movements were guarded, and access to them became difficult.
In contrast to his predecessors, Patriarch Alexis II has performed the greater part of his ministry in numerous trips about the dioceses, during which he has direct contact with the church people. In the first years of his ministry, the patriarch visited almost half of the dioceses of RPTs. The last such trip, in October 2002 to Astrakhan, eventuated in the hospitalization of the patriarch in the central hospital with a "hypertension" diagnosis.
In neither the Orthodox nor Catholic traditions are there examples of "retirement for reasons of health" of the heads of the church. Bodily infirmity never is an impediment for patriarchal ministry. (Such a procedure exists in the Anglican church and in protestant associations.) Bishops of RPTs write a request for retirement upon reaching 75 years of age. The request may be granted upon review by the Holy Synod, as a rule, only in extreme cases. The oldest bishop of RPTs, Metropolitan Antony Bloom of Surozh, is already 90 years old.