Interview with Reverend Malcolm Rogers, Chaplain of St Andrews, Moscow
Interview by John Harrison
We came in mid-August. There was a slight visa complication which meant my family arrived here 12 hours before me, but the Russian embassy in London was very helpful and fast, and I was able to catch the red-eyed flight!
How did your appointment as Chaplain in Moscow come about, and how did you react when you heard you had this appointment?
We were here from 1993 to 1995. I was already a vicar then, had met and married Alison. We came here because we were sent by the Church Mission Society to try and build links with the Orthodox Church. So we lived at the Orthodox Theological College in St. Petersburg. We had a room there, and then we were given a second room. It was hard, but we loved it. We felt at the end of two years we would like to go back to the UK and start a family.
I didn’t think that we had finished with Russia. This time, when I heard that a job was coming up, I wrote to the diocese and said I’d be interested. To be honest, there can’t be that many people who have a knowledge of Russian, links with the Orthodox Church, and a lot of pastoral experience. I have been a Parish vicar for 22 years. So in many ways I ticked all the boxes. I pushed for it on one level, and I was hoping that they would pick up on that. They did, and it feels right.
Well firstly, the setting is very different. I was in Bury St. Edmunds, which is a lovely Suffolk town. We were back there for a week for visa reasons at half term, and when we were walking into the town at about 11 o’clock at night, we noticed how quiet and peaceful it was. I couldn’t help thinking: ‘what are we doing in Moscow!’ In Bury St. Edmunds, I was vicar of a very large town centre civic church, within an Anglican Evangelical tradition. That is the tradition I come from, and I worked in London for ten years before that.
I do love the emphasis on communion at St Andrew’s; there is something very special about that. Things that aren’t different is that it is also a parish and there are people with the same issues – possibly it is a bit more intense here because there is only one Anglican Church. In the UK if you don’t like the vicar, or what’s going on in one church, you leave and go to another!
We’ve got a great building here, but it’s in need of major repairs, and we need money. So people, buildings, money – they are the same everywhere!
What does it mean to be the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Apokrisarios to the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia?
One of the big things is that you have to explain to everybody what Apokrisarios means! I think the key thing in times of political and ecclesiastical tensions, is to keep personal relationships strong, and channels of communication open. And I am only just making a start. What has it meant for me so far? Three days after I arrived, I was invited to go to a service with Cardinal Pietro Parolin who is the Vatican Secretary of State who was here for 4 days. Because there weren’t enough chairs in the VIP section they got a chair out and put me right in front of the VIPs. The problem was that I didn’t know if I was supposed to be standing up or sitting down, kneeling or whatever because I was right at the very front. I received an invitation for the opening of the Orthodox Synod, and because I speak some Russian I decided to go. I was able to understand maybe 30% of it, but it was just good being there.
I haven’t yet met the Patriarch. When the Archbishop [of Canterbury] comes on the 20th of November, he wants to represent me to the Patriarch himself. That is when he will formally announce me as his Apokrisarios.
But that must be an awful lot of responsibility – you are the man in the middle between these two churches?
At times I do feel that this is difficult. I think that it is about trying to build up networks of friendships with those people who are significant in growing relationships between the two Churches.
There are a number of key similarities between our faiths. First of all, the centrality of Jesus Christ in both Churches, and the belief that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. Secondly, in the creed. There was a split in 1054, over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father or from both the Father and the Son. The earlier creed said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Western Church, for good reasons, added ‘and the Son’. But the Orthodox Church did not like the fact that this was done without due consultation. However, today there is general agreement that the Western Church should have consulted, but that both statements have theological validity.
I would say that when we are talking about the substance of what we believe there are many similarities. But obviously in practice there are many differences. In terms of the Eucharist and what happens at the Eucharist, well the Anglican Church is the Anglican Church – you will get many different views, and certainly some of those views will coincide with what the Orthodox Church teaches. The Eucharist is one of those issues where you can have meaningful conversations.
The difficulty is that the Orthodox Church see us as a Schismatic Church, first of all because of the schism of 1054, and then because they feel we have separated from the Roman Catholic Church. So they will question whether our bishops are in the line of Apostolic succession. Secondly, on many moral issues, they feel that the West has become decadent, and, for example, that it has got the issue of gender completely wrong. They cannot accept women priests, let alone bishops. The fact that the Anglican church is even talking about blessing same sex relationships divides us; obviously that for them is anathema. Our Archbishop, two days after he became Archbishop, received a letter from the Orthodox Church warmly welcoming him, but saying that we are writing to inform you that you are anathema. So there are these big issues.
And what are your own views on these issues if you don’t mind sharing them?
My understanding of the Eucharist is constantly changing, I am getting a deeper and deeper appreciation. It is very special: this idea that you can invite God to come and live in you. In terms of the moral issues, I am more conservative. I think we have been very prejudiced against people who are gay in the West and I am glad to see that this has become an open issue. But when it comes to marriage I believe that is between man and woman. I believe that the bible teaches that the place for sexual intimacy is between man and woman. In the end, as a Christian, I have to accept the scriptures as the authority for my behaviour and teaching.
It depends what you mean by evangelicalism. In the Anglican Church you have three sources of authority, the bible, tradition and you have the Church. Putting it very simply, evangelicals are guided by scripture, liberals are guided by reason, Anglo-Catholics tend to be guided by tradition. I would say that you can bind the three together but for me, scripture is my final authority. But I can’t understand scripture without tradition. And I need reason to help me understand tradition, and scripture is necessary so that I can interpret reason. So you can be evangelical and still be quite traditional.
Alongside of that there is the whole notion of evangelicalism which is going out and preaching to people. And actually, the Orthodox Church does that. They encourage people to come to Church, to put their faith in Christ, to be baptised. And when people are baptised they want to keep them growing in the faith. In the same way, that’s what I want to do. But, and this is very important, my target audience is different from the Orthodox Church here in Russia. I am not reaching out to Russians. If Russians come, that’s lovely, they are very welcome. But my target is the international English-speaking community. My target is you.
Are you also the Ambassador’s Chaplain? What does that mean for you, and for him?
Yes I am. He was brilliant when I arrived, and invited some of the other senior religious leaders for a welcome dinner. It also means for example that we have Remembrance Sunday and other services. And the embassy has been immensely helpful with the Archbishop’s visit. I would have struggled to do that without them. But my main role is as chaplain of St Andrews. So I think it is more that we work in cooperation. Although the Church of England is still the official state church, in practice now there is a separation, and the Ambassador wants Russians to understand that separation between Church and State. The Queen is head of both but they are two very different strands.
We have updated our website. It’s www.moscowanglican.org We are trying to make it accessible. You can go there and immediately you can see when our services are on.
So anybody can come along?
Anybody can come. On Sundays, we have a 1662 book of common prayer service at 8:30 am, and we can get up to about 10 people, and it can be special. Our main service attracts about 70 people and is at 11 am on Sundays, and there is the Wednesday evening service at 7 pm.
Is your family with you? What do they think of Moscow?
Yes, my wife Alison is here. We have three boys: Peter John and Andrew. Peter has become a journalist in London, he graduated from York University last year. John is at Birmingham University, and Andrew has just started his 6th form here at the Anglo American, where he is following the International Baccalaureate curriculum. He is finding that challenging but he loves Moscow.
How many years do you think you will be here?
It’s a 5 year post.
Thank you very much.
John Harrison 18.11.17 © RussiaKnowedge