Secular Theological Higher Education
The Russian State Social University (RSSU) is the first and unique University in Russia preparing specialists for the social sphere. There are more than 70 branches and representations of this University in Russia, and 8 international centers of social education have been opened in Baltic countries and in the former USSR. There are more than 100 thousand students at the University. The RSSU has prepared more than 20 thousand professionals for the social and labour sphere of Russia, for the institutions for social aid, for the territorial administration. This year the Department of Theology has been opened at the Faculty of Humanities.
We have interviewed the priest Vladislav Mishin, the head of the Department.
- Father Vladislav, what is the purpose in your opinion of the revival of the theological higher education in Russia, and namely, of the opening of theological departments?
- 15 years ago the Church was permitted to hold a direct and open dialogue with the society, to talk directly to the people about Christ outside the church buildings.
Many good things have been done, but also many opportunities have been missed.
When in late 80-s they opened the frontiers, an enormous flow of new non traditional religions, sects and cults rushed in. Today the pages of any popular edition is full of advertisements of various magic saloons, astrologers and magicians. The State and the society cannot stay away from these problems. That's why recently the intense system of religious education has been set to prepare qualified professionals who would be qualified in the questions of contemporary spiritual culture.
Theological education requires a deep study of history, faith, religious cults on the basis of the fundamental Humanities education. Theological course in secular institutions will partly allow to diversify the Russian Humanities education. We do not purpose to make all our students churchgoers. But if these people are competent in religion, we could say that our labour is not vain.
It is necessary to say that the Orthodox tradition unites a considerable part of our country. Orthodoxy in Russia is not just traditional but culture-forming religion.
Without knowing the foundations of the Orthodox faith it is impossible to understand Russian philosophy, literature, art, it is impossible to explain the peculiarities of the Russian history and national mentality. And what is more, Christianity as a spiritual tradition is the basis for studying and understanding all the European culture. That's why it is inadmissible now to have a considerable part of Russians and even Russian intelligentsia not having a basic notion about Christian faith, Orthodox spiritual tradition. The question is about basic knowledge which is important to each person independent on their personal convictions.
On the other hand the problem of preparation of qualified specialists having a good command in Humanities and Theology at secular universities has become particularly urgent in connection with the question of the teaching the foundations of Orthodox culture at public schools. Periodically the necessity of this subject is discussed in the society, the Church is criticized, they have even invented a corresponding term - "clericalisation of the education". But to each objective observer the lack of religious knowledge even among the well-educated part of the Russian society is obvious, particularly among the younger generation.
There are few such departments as ours in our country and in our capital. One of the first departments of Theology was opened in the Moscow State University of the Ways of Communication. Also the department graduating theologians functions at the Faculty of German Language at the Moscow State University of Linguistics. To talk about Russia as a whole, the Department of Theology at the University of Tula with archpriest Lev Makhno at the head deserves an excellent mark. The lectures on the Foundations of the Orthodox Culture are read to the students at the University of Tver, and at the Far East University the Department of Theology and Religion has been created.
- What is your main purpose in the training of students? Where may your students be needed in future?
- In the Russian State Social University the Department of Theology has been functioning for the first year. We have admitted 20 students whom we are going to teach for five years and give them the qualification of "teacher of Theology".
There are different specializations in Theology.
The specialization of the RSSU is the teaching of the Foundations of the Orthodox Culture. I.e. our students are future teachers of the Foundations of the Orthodox Culture who are so needed. They can be needed in schools and other institutions. But I am deeply convinced that we cannot be limited by a narrow task of preparation of the teachers for the public education institutions only. In our country there is a catastrophic lack of religiously educated people in state establishments and business structures. This problem is still urgent for the majority of the population and after fifteen years of freedom of the Church we cannot justify everything by our godless past. This year I've had an opportunity to attend the short-term courses at the Russian Academy of the State Service. There were state officers, heads of press offices of ministries and departments, Federation Council officers in the group of 50 people. It was easy to notice that the people having such a high social status are often religiously illiterate, when it is very important to be acquainted, if not spiritually close, to the religious questions in order to communicate with the Church from the part of the State. It does not mean of course that we must have some representatives on the relations with religious organizations, but there is no doubt that our compatriots must have elementary knowledge in Orthodoxy and other traditional religions of Russia.
The people now show a sincere and lively interest for the Orthodoxy, many of them have the experience of communication with the church people, and not always a positive one. That's why almost each time during such conversations you have to mention the eternal question about the dignity of Christianity and shortcomings of particular Christians.
By the way, now among our students there are no traditional believers and churchgoers. But it is not the reason for losing heart. When I told the rector of the St.Tikhon's University, archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev, about the opening of the Department, he wisely observed that the opening of the Departments of Theology in secular universities and colleges is a missionary cause first of all. If we start admitting students only by their level of religiousness, we will contradict ourselves, in my opinion. The official papers of the Ministry of Education state directly that the educational program of preparing a theologian has a secular character. We will grade our students by the concrete knowledge and skills on the subjects we give. The University is responsible for the main organization of the educational process: our 20 students study for free, we've been helped to design the class-rooms and given a room for the Department, now we've been buying books and supplies. We are not going to keep our students within the walls of our University all the time, we are planning to make for them classes in the Trinity Lavra of St.Sergius, visits to the Departments of Theology at other Moscow Universities, to invite interesting lecturers. Our University is social, and at present the Russian Orthodox Church carries a heavy burden of social activity in the country. And in this field our students will have to study hard, and we could show them many things.
-What was the attitude towards the priests as teachers in the University?
- Clergy is still taken by many people as a rather closed group. And the only thing that a priest appeared in an educational institution as a person living the life of the University - is constantly present here, participates in the sessions of the academic council, has meal in a local canteen, causes a sincere interest. Among the teachers of Theology there are three priests of the North-Eastern Deanery, two graduates of the Moscow Theological Academy, one teacher of a classic school. We meet a very friendly and respectful attitude from the part of the employees and the students of the University. We are now on the first stage, when we must gradually deserve the trust of the people. The teachers understand that we are colleagues, and we do a common work - teaching students. Nevertheless it might take more than one year to set interfaculty, interuniversity relations, to be taken for full and equal colleagues. A wide field for activity is opening. Only inside our Faculty of Humanities there are many interesting specialties. There are specialists in Politics, Culture, in Public Relations, journalists, historians. And we have something to tell the students studying one of these specialties. One of our nearest plans is to make a periodically updated stand of the magazine Neskuchny Sad with the applied materials from the Internet site of the Synodal Department for Charity and Social Ministry.
- Father Vladislav, tell us a little bit about yourself.
- I graduated from the Urals Academy of Architecture and Arts. I am an architecture-restorer. Since 2000 I've been in the Moscow clergy. In 2004 I was ordained a priest. I graduated from the Moscow theological Seminary as a correspondent student. I was recommended as a head of the Department of Theology of the SSUR by the dean of the North-Eastern district archpriest Serguiy Kiselev, who has borne the full brunt of organizing the work of the Department. I think I find a common language with the teachers as well as with the students of the University.
My main occupation is the service as a parish priest in the church of St.Sergius in Bibirevo. As the majority of the clergy of the North-Eastern deanery I periodically visit the prison #1 Matrosskaya tishina. But I think that we must put our knowledge, our forces in the youth. If we lose our younger generation now, we risk to meet a crowd of cynical officers, heartless businessmen who would take the Orthodoxy for a nice but useless thing.
- Father Vladislav, the consecration of the church-chapel of the Feodorovskaya icon of Mother of God has been prepared on the territory of the main building of the SSUR. What does it mean to the University in your opinion?
- This scholar year several important events have taken place in the RSSU connected with the Russian Orthodox Church. In September our University in the person of the head Vasily Ivanovich Zhukov has been awarded the prize The Found Generation. In the context of the Forum dedicated to 625 anniversary of the Battle on the Kulikovo Field one of the five conferences took place in the RSSU. On 1st November the President of the Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad was solemnly presented with the diploma of the Member of the Russian Academy of Social Sciences and with the Peter the Great golden token of honour For the noble work of the RSSU. This chain of events is interesting because it illustrates the movement of the University towards the traditional values of Orthodoxy. The head of our University has long-term and warm relations with the archbishop of Kostroma and Galich who leads the Synodal Department for Youth Affairs.
The administration of the University has made up their mind to have the church services on a regular basis. The peculiarity of the new church is that it is situated on the territory of a university. The only fact that the Liturgy will take place in a University is a great miracle. Of course, there won't be any forced catechism of the students here. Only those who are truly fond of the church services will attend them. People must see that we are open for the contact and for the cooperation.
In conclusion I would like to say that combining educational activity of the Department with the prayers in the church we intend to sow in a young generation the seeds of morals, true love, patriotism, to prepare qualified specialists who could build the spiritual foundations of the Russian society. The renaissance of the theological education in Russian universities and other educational institutions is called to serve this high purpose.
By Svetlana Ryabkova
The interview of the head of the Theological Department of the RSSU, priest Vladislav Mishin, to the newspaper Tserkovnyi vestnik