Strong faith and a clear conscience An exclusive interview with the priest who was defrocked for supporting Khodorkovsky By Grigory Pasko, journalist Sergey Mikhailovich, please tell us a bit about yourself. For example, about how you were a political prisoner even before you took Holy Orders in the Church. I’m 50 years old. I was born in Chita. At age 18 I was convicted by the Chita Oblast Court for attempting to create an illegal anti-Soviet youth organization. Punishment I served in the Permian political camps. There, by the way, I made the acquaintance of the human rights advocate Sergey Kovalev. I became Orthodox in the colony. I’ve got to say that the political prisoners had a big influence on me. Including on my views concerning the Church. After camp I worked as a trolleybus driver. I’d go to church. In the years of perestroika I became a priest. In 1997 that was. I served in Krasnokamensk. For what were you defrocked? In 2005, when they brought Khodorkovsky to colony No. 10 to Krasnokamensk, I, answering the questions of journalists, said that Mikhail Borisovich, in my opinion, is a political prisoner, and that everything taking place with him is selective justice. Besides this there was also this situation: The administration of the Krasnokamensk colony asked me to consecrate the headquarters building. It was like, the brass were pressuring, consecrate it, padre, so God would help. I refused, motivating it with the fact that lawlessness goes on among others within the walls of the administration building and as long as Khodorkovsky is behind bars, I can’t consecrate the building. Photo of Sergey Taratukhin at picket in support of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in Chita, by Grigory Pasko. I was accused of violating the arrangements between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Main Administration for the Execution of Punishments, as well as of interfering in politics and involving parishioners in it. By the way, I did explain to the parishioners as well why I did not consecrate the administration building of the colony. After this, I was transferred to a faraway parish in the taiga, and after that they completely defrocked me. Fast and thorough summary justice. How did you meet Mikhail Khodorkovsky? We actually only met once. That day, when I refused to consecrate the headquarters building. We talked for maybe twenty minutes. You notice Khodorkovsky’s intellect right away. Against the background of that contingent with which I dealt as a clergyman, the difference is huge. Although everybody was always emphasizing that he’s the same as everyone else. No, he’s not the same as everyone else. He’s different. His condition then was elevated – he had just spent three days’ visitation with his wife. I asked him a couple of questions on behalf of journalists. How’s your health? He said it was normal, gastritis wasn’t bothering him. And how was it that they’d sent him so far? God’s will is in everything, he replied. He said that he believes in God, self-identifies himself as Orthodox, although he hadn’t been baptized. He said that he’d had splendid relations with the Patriarch of All the Russias. I said that arrest shouldn’t have changed anything in these relations. (By the way, when they were defrocking me, they also rebuked me for slandering the Patriarch). After the defrocking, it goes without saying that they stopped letting me into places of deprivation of liberty. The prisoners were left without spiritual nourishment. But in our country, apparently, this isn’t of much concern to anyone. Yes, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and I also touched upon such a topic as the moral-and-psychological aspect of sitting in a camp. I said that for us, in the Permian politcamps, it was easier: we were all of one world view. But Khodorkovsky is with common criminals and young people who are still without any maturing life experience. I then also recalled the words of one chekist who told us in the camp: you just wait, a time will come and you, politzeks, will be sitting not separately, but at common zones, you’re going to be broken by the urki [the hardened “real” criminals, as opposed to politicals or one-timers—G.P.], not just by us. Everything that the chekist was promising then has come to pass under Putin. True, as applies to Khodorkovsky, it’s not just the urki, like Kuchma, who are breaking him, but also the employees of the administration of the SIZO and the colony. I have many acquaintances, who said this: an order came from Moscow in relation to Khodorkovsky: “press the goat”. That is, systematically put pressure on him. After this came the punishments, his placing in the penalty isolator (ShIZO). The attitude towards Mikhail Borisovich changed. If there weren’t one Kuchma, another one would be found. What is faith for a person in confinement? The main thing isn’t politics, but a person’s internal freedom. Jesus lived in those times when Israel was occupied by Rome. But he said that the Kingdom of God is inside every person. For a person who believes, it is much easier to endure imprisonment. Many come to faith precisely in confinement. And after release they, as a rule, do not become murderers and rapists, they already live honestly. Do you regret that Khodorkovsky’s fate has also drastically changed your fate? I acted according to my conscience, therefore I have nothing to regret. My conscience is clear. I did not break Church laws – it is my superiors who decided this, that I had violated. Yes, I had had internal disagreements with the top ranks of the Church in the past as well. I tried not to react to a lot, in my parish I tried to make sure everybody lived according to their conscience. What do you think, why are there so few defenders of Khodorkovsky in our country? First of all, the majority are busy with themselves, their problems, of which there are many. They don’t understand that anybody can be the next to be thrown in jail after Khodorkovsky. This is an example of selective justices. Selective justice – this is lawlessness. If the power would punish all of those who had violated the law in those years, you could speak of some kind of fairness. But when they punish selectively, then this is – lawlessness. Many of those who are perpetrating the lawlessness are believers – the president for example… The Bishop of Chita once declared that it is right that Khodorkovsky’s in jail. The Church had an opportunity to live in a new way: the power of the KGB had nearly gone. But the people remained the same: both in the KGB and in the Church. Therefore, when the KGB became strong again, the Church hierarchy once again laid itself down under the KGB, as it was accustomed to do. The symphony of the Power and the Church. But the Scriptures say – all power is from God. Yes, but render unto God the things which are God’s, and unto Ceasar the things that are Caesar’s. People perceive of the Church as one of the sources of power. But it shouldn’t be that way. In the years of the revolution, the Church was unable to constrain a fratricidal war. And now it can’t, because it has lost its authority. And everything began with the schism of the Church in the 18th century. The Old Believers. Afterwards the Church already officially became an institution of the secular power. And once again we’re stepping on the same rake. How do you live now, Sergey Mikhailovich? I live, having returned from Krasny Chikoy, unemployed. At first I attempted to work at the plant as a labourer, but illnesses let themselves be felt, and I was forced to drop physically heavy labor. Former parishioners sometimes support me. I have small needs – as long as I’ve got a piece of bread… But my conscience is clear. A human’s happiness – this is when his conscience is clear. If I had kept silent then, in Krasnokamensk, my conscience would have continually tortured me. ———————– How Sergey Taratukhin lives “Father Sergiy’s wife’s name is Irina Nikolayevna. Because the pre-school doesn’t give five-year-old Anna an Orthodox upbringing, the grandmother sits with her granddaughter and doesn’t work. They are inseparable. Grandmother has just gathered and driven grandfather off to work in a faraway parish. After several weeks, she once again traveled to grandfather and brought him back already unemployed. Father Sergiy’s daughter has just found a job. But she has yet to find a job that would bring at least more or less enough money. There is no husband. At first there was. Then there stopped being one. They try not to talk about this in the clergyman’s family.” (Source). ——————————– Editor’s note: The above Russian-language web link also provides information about two special bank accounts (one in rubles, one in euros) that have been opened for the Taratukhins In the first two months since the account was opened and publicized, the family of the now unemployed and unemployable priest has received approximately $4000 from Khodorkovsky supporters all over the world. If you would like to contribute, the bank details for the euro account are provided in English and Russian.