“If you have rubbish at home, you can endlessly kneel before God and ask that God would send His angels and they clean up your house … Ofcourse you need to pray, this is a mandatory, but there are things that we must do ourselves…” A priest from Brest told why he spends weeks near the pre-trial detention center and in the Belarusian “chains of solidarity”. Father Igor Kondratyev is the rector of the Greek Catholic parish of the Holy Brothers-Apostles Peter and Andrew in Brest.
Over the past couple of weeks, he has become a famous person in the city. Moreover he is in places where few people expect to see a priest: for example, in the women’s chain of solidarity, near a pre-trial detention center or a temporary detention center. The priest gave a detailed interview to the KP-Belarus edition. (We publish it without abbreviations.)
“I am your priest!” – this is how Father Igor introduced himself when, during the rally on August 16, he approached the microphone on the square in Brest, where almost 30 thousand people gathered. Then he demanded the immediate release of the detainees. By the morning of the next day, more than 170 people were released – most of those who received a “day” in the detention center as a penalty after the protests on August 9-10.
– Why did you say: “Let’s go to the pre-trial detention center?” Many were afraid that it would end badly.
I called also the mayor to the pre-trial detention center. I meant that concrete actions are needed for people to be released. Still, Oleksandr Rogachuk did it: he went to the city executive committee and started working and making phone calls. And that evening, by 5 am, most of those who were sitting there were released. Of course, I did not mean that you need to go to the pre-trial detention center and take it by storm, no way!
– You have spent the last three weeks among the protesters. What did you talk to them about?
– I’ve been in the city since 8 am. Either near the pre-trial detention center, where the programs were broadcasted, there were always a lot of people, then in a chain of solidarity, it begans to line up from 9 am. The people were terribly frightened, and when they saw the priest, they felt better. Many expressed their gratitude for seeing someone from the nearby church. Those who had someone arrested or beaten were in tears. They needed to be hugged and supported. Well, and, of course, people were very angry. I had to calm them down a little so that they would not get more angry more so that a conflict would not start. I did everything to prevent this from turning into a provocation.
– Did you try to talk to the police?
– On the first day I tried to approach them. I saw how the police with shields and batons ran to people. I was ashamed. I would like to see the state to be strong – but in a good way. A country is strong when there is truth, dignity, diplomacy behind it. They punish and intimidate – that is impotence. I tried to talk to the police, but there was no answer. During one of the actions, when I was talking on the phone, these people in black ran up to me. I made a remark: “Don’t bother me to talk!” I looked – they were already squeezing the batons, their eyes were changing … But some senior stopped them and took them away.
The person to whom I spoke with said: “Get out of here!” But I wondered: what is going on? Here I am – a priest: in a cassock, with a cross. The policeman could say: “Hello, we have an operation here, please I ask you not to stay here.” This is a normal, common form of communication. I’m 62 years old soon, and it’s not very pleasant when a person twice younger runs up and says: “Get out of here”.
– Your presence among the protesters was assessed as participation in unauthorized mass events. For this they issued a prosecutor’s warning …
I had a hope that at least I would give my word in the prosecutor’s office. But no. It seemed to me that they were confused there. The feeling of another planet, other values. In addition, they also call me. The last call over the phone was like this: okay, I can still express my civic position, like everyone else, but in jeans and a shirt so that they would not see that I am a priest. Some officials said that they would never shake hands with me again. They ask me not to go out to people. But how can I stay at home?
– Are you scared now? For yourself, for the parish?
Of course it’s scary. I’m afraid for myself, for my reputation. For the fact that the church will be deprived of registration. I get strange calls. They call me by name and patronymic name, then they say the name of my son. “He is your son?” – “Yes”. – “Well-well”. And this is where the conversation ends, and the number is not defined. The youngest son receives messages on Vkontakte (Russian type of facebook) with all the information about me: the house has so many square meters, it is registered there. Someone shows that he is well aware of me. It is difficult to call it threats, but the implication of this is that they will say: People, look, what a rich priest. It is unpleasant. I expect that compromising evidence will be made about me to discredit me. And if they do this, f their authority will disappear before my eyes. This will be a sign that the moral level of those who create compromising evidence can´t fall any lower.
– Have you been reproached that you, a priest, got into politics?
Very often, especially from officials, I hear a reminder that the church should not be involved in politics … – Just recently the president said about this. “Churches and congregations are not for politics” and “do not follow the lead of renegades.” – It was the church that formed states and social relations. Divine laws became the laws of states. Our European civilization is based on Judeo-Christian values. There is an impression that those who are now in power are convinced that they are the last resort. “The prosecutor will give an assessment.” And I think the church should have the last word. She is still the authority. And my point of view, I think, is important for people.
– What can you say about the protests, about the harsh detentions?
If someone thinks that in church I have to say: “Be patient, you deserve it, you went to the wrong place,” then they are wrong, I won’t do that. I am on the side of the beaten. If we use the latter term, then on the side of the renegades. In the company of Jesus were sinners, sick, ugly, lepers. In today’s language, these are drug addicts, p prostitutes, criminals, renegades… This is my church. I think that many are actually not like that, but even if they were, it doesn’t matter, this is my church, these are the people to whom God sent me. I am with them. I was at the funeral of Gennady Shutov, the guy who was shot dead. I didn’t know him before, but, as I understood, he was a good person. It should not be that in a peacetime people get shot at! A person has the right to protect himself, his life, his health, his dignity in all ways. This is my deep conviction.
– How do you feel about the slogan “We will not forget, we will not forgive”? Still, Christianity teaches us to forgive.
The slogans that are shouted out during demonstrations and rallies are not something that should be taken literally. This is how people express their emotions. “Tribunal!”, For example. We do not have any tribunal. “We will not forget, we will not forgive” is a short phrase with which people express their indignation and insult. We have a very kind people. Our people forgive. John Paul II forgave the one who shot him – he did it. People don’t like lying. They do not like hypocrisy at all. When they lie to you and are hypocritical, they humiliate you, think that you are a fool and swallow everything. Every sin must be compensated f by something, you need to apologize before those against whom you sinned – before God and before people. If you have deceived a large number of people, you need to ask almost everyone for forgiveness. Although technically I have no idea how to do it.
– You must have been approached with a question that worries believers: where is God, when we suffer, what was that for?
I am very happy when people ask this question. Because then they call God their last resort. He is an authority! It pleases me. I understand: I want to say that God does not love us, we can be offended at Him… But God has many tools to teach us something, even if we do not understand it.
I do not want dry theology, but … It is hard to imagine that nheaven will open and God Himself will threaten with his pointfinger. He gave us, people, conscience, brains, left us the Bible, laws – everything necessary so that we ourselves could figure it out. If you have rubbish at home, you can endlessly kneel and pray to God so that God wouls send angels to clean up your mess … You need to pray, this is mandatory, of course, but there are things that we must do ourselves. God gives us such an honor – He takes us so seriously! He trusts, even if we make mistakes, but He does not take our freedom from us. And only a free person is capable of love.
Based on materials from KP-Belarus