An interview with Father Gabriel (Bunge)
, by Konstantin Matsan.
A 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.
: Isn’t there enough loneliness in your skete in Switzerland? Valaam is also a crowded place, pilgrims come there regularly.Fr. Gabriel
: 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, non-geographic reasons.
It seems to me that all this can give rise to this desirable state of seclusion in the heart of everyone who comes there.Mastan
: Is it more difficult in Europe?Fr. Gabriel
: 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 sometimes “we had it all destroyed, the Church was stamped out, etc.”
I always want to respond, “In 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.