Interview with Maria Reshetnikova, a TV journalist who makes unique videos about the Russian Church diaspora. Maria’s documentaries can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/user/rootsfilmtv
Author’s site: http://www.rootsfilmtv.com
Deacon Andrei Psarev: So Masha, you live near New York. People from Russia have different destinies, different pasts, and each one brings these to the church. With us [in our ROCOR], seventy percent of the parishioners are women. This raises a question. How are we to help? What is lacking in the lives of our women parishioners who come to church, pray and partake in Communion and, most importantly, participate in the services? Liturgical life is important, but there is also family life. Women have issues which to some extent remain unaddressed in their interactions with the clergy. This is the topic I would like to discuss.
Maria Reshetnikova: First of all, I would like to say that I cannot speak for everyone. I can speak only for myself and about the observations that I have made. I’ve come to the conclusion that, of course, the role of women of the Orthodox Church is certainly significant. Women, for example, organize the meals. As a rule, women are in charge of or are essential elements in any kind of fundraising events or charitable evenings. Russian schools, camps, and so forth, depend on them. Everyone knows this.
In light of all this, I’d simply like to say that these are all things that a woman does for someone else; for children, for the family, for the parish. But there is still something immediately necessary for her that lies outside of all this. Of course, for the most part, a woman is happy when her children are happy. Nobody’s denying this or questioning the importance of schools and other activities for children. But as for any person — a man, for example, isn’t only a father. He’s a also simply a human being in relation to himself, right?
That’s why I think we need to have what I consider an unavoidable conversation between the clergy and the women. But circumstances are such that, after the service is over there is a meal, or some very interesting bishop has arrived, and so on. We don’t have the opportunity for a direct conversation. So, for example, if I hadn’t been filming, if I hadn’t come to someone for an interview, with questions and so on, I’d never have learned anything myself.
D. A.P. So then all women cannot be Masha Reshetnikovs, as it were.
M.R: No, they all don’t have to be Masha Reshetnikovs, thank God. But it is very important for the people to have this opportunity and they don’t need to be making a movie in order to have it.
Of course everything is cooperative. I mean that if you have an interest, then without a doubt the opportunity for communication will arise. But it seems to me that the clergy need to in some way influence the development of this interest. Sometimes women do not feel comfortable to approach a priest or start asking him about something. It would be good if we actually had the required educational reading groups that Bishop Seraphim Ivanov, in his time, wrote about in his so called Mahopac constitution. These were offered not only to children, but first of all to the parents. I feel that this would expand the perspective of many women who in turn could teach their husbands something. For it seems to me that women are the motive force in the family. In the new immigration, if children come to church it’s the woman’s doing, as a rule. The husband and children are drawn along after the woman. That’s not always the case, but more often than not.
The more a woman knows, the more knowledge will spread to her whole family. I think that this could have a great influence on the difficulties that we have with domestic violence — and we do have such things. There was an well-known and awful situation in Mahopac. For the most part this takes place behind closed doors. I won’t name names, but I’ve often heard of uneducated and aggressive husbands who go to church and who reproach their wives saying, “Go there [to church], but don’t tell them what’s going on in our home!” They say “A women should fear her husband,” and “You’re out of place,” and so on.
D. A.P. You mean they are saying, “Your church teaches you to be humble, and that I should be your head, etc.”
M.R. Yes. But the church doesn’t teach this at all. There isn’t any law or any religion that would justify such things [as domestic violence]. But I’m not only talking about male-female issues. I’m talking in general about the fact that Russian women are, as a rule, extremely intelligent and eager for knowledge. One is always hearing about some society around a certain interest. They’re drinking tea somewhere and studying about some kind of Buddhist monks. Then you think, there’s no end it, and it’s such a shame that there isn’t enough strength or enough time for it. But I wish that we could somehow find the time — because the more a woman knows, then the less she’s subjected by the stupid things that people say to her.
D. A.P. She becomes stronger somehow.
M.R. She’ll become stronger because of knowledge. You know, I sometimes hear such strange things. Our high ladies sit there and say “You know, when a man is sick it’s because the Lord is punishing him. Those people behave badly. They are sinful and that’s that.” Sometimes I hear such things and I want to say that it’s so primitive and simplistic. They are exchanging with one another the base understandings that they suppose to be Orthodoxy. If you behave badly and you sin, then you’ll be sick all the time. But of course sickness has other meanings as well. I said plainly to this person, “You should be careful to whom you say this. Life could present you with a woman with a mortally ill child, and you could finish her off with this information.” You see, you’ve got a sick one — “You’re all sinful…”
At such a moment one really wants to… We have such people. I wish an intelligent, well-read, kind and patient priest would gather us all together, both men and women, and we’d all read together. I need this. The more you read the more you need to converse about what is interesting. One gets an appetite for it. Questions arise, and do you know what happens with the priest? He becomes interested in talking with us. Because of course when you have to start with the basics, a few years later you look back and see how much more educated the conversation has become. And then an interesting dialogue begins.
You know, what’s really important is that we go beyond the borders of our own little ghettos. We live here, and that’s where we go to church; we go from home to church, etc. But the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is so rich. Even if you don’t go to Europe but just to Seattle or Washington — good Lord! We have a church in practically every city. Each church has a history, and in every church there are historically interesting people, old people. They also have their priests, like Fr. Victor Potapov. It’s so interesting to talk with him. So go to another town, take your family. Get interested, learn, ask questions, and start to have conversations.
D. A.P. Even in the New York area there are quite a few churches. So you can go there on their patronal feasts. If you knows there’s a patronal feast, then go.
M.R. Yes, certainly. But it’s essential that this be mutual, that there be a lively interaction with the clergy of the churches, even bishops. You see, this should turn into a tradition. In my experience of conversation — and I’ve interviewed many different bishops, Vladyka Michael, Vladyka Hilarion. I can’t even remember whom all I’ve interviewed, but they are all basically very approachable people for conversation, even the monks. I interviewed Bishop Peter, about whom [bishops] there’s a lot to say.
D. A.P. So you’re saying that everyone should go and talk to the clergy, and no one will turn them away. They’ll receive answers?
M.R. Yes, I’d like to say: go, although I know that technically this can be difficult with clergy of a certain rank.
D. A.P. You mean there should be some sort of format?
M.R. There should be a place for the higher clergy to converse with the people. I may be saying something seditious, but every time every time the higher clergy comes to the church they are surrounded by a certain entourage. So, what happens? The people sit at the festive meal. Then there’s very little time left. At best you might get a blessing from the bishop, greet him and exchange a few words. But when will we have a conversation?
So the conclusion that I’ve come to is this: we have a lot of educated priests. Together with them we need to start setting up some kind of round-tables and conversing. But the bishops are so interesting, and as a rule such people are deprived of the kind of close communication with people that the parish priests have. They see one parish, then another and they can’t ever have a detailed conversation. I think this would be very beneficial to them, and it would be beneficial for the people as well, because the people who have attained to the highest ranks in the church are also the most intelligent, the most well-read, educated, and they’ve seen a lot. So we should be affected by their opinions; and we at the bottom also have things to talk about.
D. A.P. You’ve reminded me of the possibility of your having your own website or radio station, and from what I’ve heard, what you’re saying is remarkable. I very much hope that this works out for you. For my part I’d like to make a video article of what we’ve done here. Thank you very much.
M.R. I’d like to say a little about the radio. Having made made films and written for fifteen years, I think that radio is a great necessity that’s long overdue; because radio is a living dialogue. It provides the possibility of living dialogue. It’s the possibility for every priest to contribute his own page to this communication.
It isn’t enough for a person to go to a church website in order to be well informed. If I go to a church website, what do I find out about any priest or rector? There’s a limited amount of information, but what else? Moreover, life has given me the opportunity to converse with many priests who, in the course of their church activity, have been involved with interesting work. But they are only able to share what they’ve learned with their own circle of parishioners. Again, how many people are we talking about? Maybe one-hundred twenty, one-hundred thirty.
The establishment of radio station wouldn’t give me the ability to interview everyone, but it would allow a forum for those who get left out by means of their own pages. We could at last hear a living dialogue between parishioners from all over the world.
Our mentalities differ depending on where we live. Our experience differs. Sometimes people fall into despair. Let’s tell it like it is. People fall into despair because in their own parish it’s not all as it should be, and they get the impression that the whole world is like that. You see? “With us the walls are falling, one after another; their are opposing factions in the parish. It’s all the same, without exception.”
But when I come and say, “But no — well of course I don’t know everything, but other parishes live quite differently.” It’s so interesting. First of all it gives people hope. Moreover we’re all Orthodox, belonging to priests and to parishes that are distinctly constructed. So if you see that something is going better with someone else, then we have something to teach each other. We must learn to compare our lives with one another, and to borrow what is better.
D. A.P. Masha, I’m very glad we’ve had this talk. I think this is our first and not our last meeting.
M.R. We should encourage one another.
D. A.P. You’ve succeeded perfectly in that.
Conducted by Deacon Andrei Psarev