People have wondered about Fr. Mefody (the Valaam hegumen), and his attempt (or success) to kiss the hand of visiting Russian Federation president, Vladimir Putin. For those who didn’t see the video, go here.
One of the explanations rendered for the act was cultural. Fr. Mefody is Macedonian, and Fr. Mefody has explained that whenever he visits his parents, or grandparents, or other elders, he always kisses their hands. The monastery’s spokesman Mikhail Shishkov told RIA Novosti on Tuesday:
He is a Macedonian; he came to Russia to dedicate himself to serving
God. I personally asked Father Mefody: ‘A question is being discussed in
the media: why did you kiss the Russian president’s hand? …He answered: ‘I kissed the Russian president’s hand as a token of
acknowledgement of the great Russian nation by the small [Macedonian]
Fr. Mefody goes on to explain, through the intermediary of Mr. Shiskov:
As I love the Russian nation very much, this is a manifestation of my
Christian love as a representative of a small Slavic nation toward the
great Russian nation. I apologize to all people I involuntarily confused by that act.
The explanation ultimately given was that of a cultural one. Fr. Mefody explained that he always kisses the hands of those whom he loves and respects, people such as his parents and grandparents. And, frankly, that is a plausible explanation.Such manifestations of respect are known among many cultures, most especially European ones (for example, the well known Sicilian custom of kissing the hands of well-respected leaders, which example was popularized by film).
Again, RIA Novosti reports, also another motivating factor:
The Novy Region news agency quoted Alexander Okunev, a blogger, as saying
that his mother knows Father Mefody. He said Mefody became a monk in
Russia, and Putin helped him receive Russian citizenship, for which the
priest is grateful.
However, not to necessarily make a mountain out of a mole hill, I think there are wider issues here. This incident just serves as a spring board for the discussion. Now, I understand the nation I live in and which my family has lived in going back centuries (and thousands of years on one side), has many, many, many, many, many, problems. Yes, it’s bad over here; and it’s probably going to get an whole lot worse before people realize what they should do. But, that doesn’t necessitate turning a blind eye to everything else going on.
Both Russia, America, and most of the nations on Earth are very sick spiritually and culturally; they are either dying or dead. The wider issue is not this individual incident, but, it’s the general tendency of people to try and place hope for restoration of spiritual and cultural values in leaders. Especially when almost every single government, business, and in many sad cases, religious leaders, are totally corrupt, or manipulatingthe populace at large. This has been going on for a long time.
The moral regeneration people in Russia, and the former Soviet bloc nations are looking for, will not arise from any government leader; even worse, the institutional patriarchates have not only fallen into heresy ( at which they are very clever at disguising sometimes, like the Arianists and Monophysites, to fool many), but, on top of this, they are corrupt to boot. If there is to be a moral regeneration, it will most likely have to arise from the True Orthodox.
Fr. Mefody’s kiss of the hand of Vladimir Putin, assuming it was all he said it was, shows a degree of respect for the Russian leaders, that they may not deserve (well, that they don’t deserve). This doesn’t mean you spit in people’s faces, refuse to shake hands; nor does it mean you have to shake hands ( I knew one hierarch who wouldn’t even speak to a state governor because of his record on abortion). Each case may be different. However, what I detect in Fr. Mefody’s actions, is the same thing I detect in a lot of people. Everything seems horrible; spiritually, culturally, governmentally, economically, personally, environmentally, etc, etc. The Slavs and others have the tradition of a holy rulers, men who, despite the modern Whiggish theory of history, did often care what happened to their people.
Even in the depths of the degradation of real Russian history (that is, everything prior to the Bolshevik take over), the account of Peter the Great wading into freezing water in the middle of November to save Russian soldiers, and then dying as a result of exacerbated complications should be telling.
If even ‘bad’ rulers like him had some decency, then, what did the ‘mediocre’ and even good rulers have? This isn’t just a Slavic phenomenon, history is replete with people like this, from Anglo-Saxon England to late medieval Romania.
Where are all the rulers of the people, men truly worthy to have their hands kissed? I look around, and I don’t see any. I see people who are attempting to do a good job, in some cases (but, are invariably marginalized); but, not a single one worthy to have his hand kissed. We kiss the hands of Bishops and Priests, and in many cultures, our elders, because of respect; in the case of the Bishops and Priests, it is the fact of not only cultural respect, but, respect for the fact that they can convey blessings. And, most importantly of all, their hands are the hands that Consecrate, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Gifts that are the Body and Blood of the Lord. Indeed, there was a medieval European verse (variously attributed to different people), which speaks in admonishment to the Priest:
How should thy hands be stretched out to unlawful
things which hold Him that upholdeth all things?
We kiss the hands of worthy elders, but, I dare not say, that of wicked men. We kiss the hands of the Priesthood because they are the hands that by an Immaculate Blessing transform bread and wine, by the Power of the Holy Ghost, into the Body and Blood. And, did we kiss the hands, in ancient times of consecrated monarchs? But, where are such men now?
May God send rulers worthy to have their hands kissed.
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