Viacheslav Polosin, a former priest of the Russian Orthodox Church and chairman of the Committee of the Supreme Soviet on Freedom of Conscience, recently announced his conversion from Orthodoxy to Islam. This unprecedented event of the adoption of the religion of the Prophet by a prominent Orthodox clergyman was a surprise for many. The former archpriest is suspected of psychological illness or of subtle political calculation. But he himself speaks of his owfree, spiritual, philosophical choice: As far as I know, this is the second time in your life when you have officially announced a change in your worldview. From childhood I believed in God, in my spirit.
Later, when I was in the university, I came across Orthodox literature and went to the church and found there something that I had not seen in philosophy classes. I do not regret that; I learned a lot there. I submitted my documents to the ecclesiastical seminary in 1979 and have now, after twenty years, given an interview to the journal “Musulmane;” these are two stages in the development of my life.
Interview with Musulmane
“Several years of intense work have brought me to the conclusion that the Koran does not contain an assimilation of the Creator God to his creation, humanity, which is anthropomorphism, the essence of paganism. There is no basis for the ritual practice of appeasing God like some kind of human ruler. . . . I have decided to bring my social status into conformity with my convictions and to bear public testimony that I consider myself a follower of the great tradition of the correct belief and of the prophets of monotheism, beginning with Abraham, and thus I do not consider myself any longer either a clergyman or a member of any Orthodox church. . . . As regards possible penalties, we all are mortal and all sooner or later will depart from this life, so it is better to depart from it abiding in the Truth and not in spiritual ambivalence or in the delusions of human fantasy. With regard to the practical difficulties, including the Arabic language, I must place my hopes in help and cooperation from my new brethren. My will fully shares this worldview choice.”
*How Did your Clerical Path Evolve?
Within the church circles of Moscow I was not “my own person.” There also were family circumstances which forced me to request ministry in Central Asia. I served briefly in Frunze and somewhat longer in Dushanbe. There I dealt with Islamic culture and the eastern mentality for the first time, which made a deep impression on my soul.
After half a year I was ignominiously deprived of my registration for disobedience to secular authorities, that is, to the commissioner for religious affairs. For three year I was not accepted anywhere and was in complete disgrace. In 1988, when perestroika began, I was offered a half-destroyed church near Obninsk. From there I was elected in 1990 as a member of the soviet of the RSFSR.
*The position of the Moscow patriarchate
For the Moscow patriarchate, the announcement by Archpriest Viacheslav Polosin of his conversion to another faith came as a complete surprise. In the Department of External Church Relations, his move is explained as instability of character and convictions and a quick “subsequent change” of religious views is predicted. In the patriarchate there is an inclination to let the matter drop, relying on the decision of Fr Viacheslav’s ruling bishop, Archbishop Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk.
*Were You Suspected of Conversion to Protestantism?
American protestants, who in 1991 arrived in Russia in abundance and whom I received, proposed that we begin our meeting with prayer. But I categorically objected, saying that this was a secular institution and that I protected freedom of conscience and thus there must not be any prayer here. I was cordial with protestants, but where this rumor that I wanted to adopt Protestantism came from, I don’t know.
*For many it is a puzzle what your real position on the new law on freedom of conscience of 1997 is? Some consider you its author and some recall that you have frequently criticized the law itself.
As long as I am a state employee I cannot discuss the whole truth about this law. I participated in the writing of this law as one of fifteen members of the working group and I had very little influence. Then the law was presented to the Duma where work on it went forward. I can consider myself a coauthor of what resulted from this work. But the demonization of the law was necessary to those circles and forces who figured on being able to make a name and money for themselves on the basis of the negative events that arose around the country.
Actually the law upheld the principles of a secular state and maintained the situation.
*Was Your Religious Quest Provoked by Your Displeasure with Formal Orthodoxy?
While I was working in the state apparatus I began to see more clearly how various activities within the church or politics affect the life of the people. Some people try to interpret Christianity so as to justify the irresponsibility of the government, giving it an image of divine ordination.
*There are similar examples in the history of the Islamic world: khans, Turkish sultans, palace intrigues of the Sublime Porte.
In the Koran viewing the government as “God’s anointed” is strictly forbidden. It is said that if someone usurps power and a Muslim tolerates this, then he is an accessory to this sin. In the Ottoman empire there was a stagnation of Muslim culture–the cult of the military, violence, slavery. Islam degenerated there. The Revelation itself is a different matter.
*What has been the reaction of your new Muslim brethren to your decision?
My interview with the journal Musulmane provoked lively interest, so much so that it was necessary to put out another printing.
*What has been the reaction on the part of your leadership in the Duma?
Some naturally will be unhappy, but I don’t care to please everyone. I think that nothing will change in my work in the duma. I do not intend to criticize Christianity. When I was within Orthodoxy, I criticized it rather harshly. Now I don’t. Islam, as it is presented in the Qoran, is the most democratic religion because it contains a prohibition of tyranny. There are no mediators of a priestly caste or anointed monarchs in the Koran.
Viacheslav Polosin’s office
In the State Duma he occupies one office along with Murad Zaprishiev, a former deputy and now an employee of the staff of the duma Committee for Relations with Public Associations and Religious Organizations. In a prominent place in the office there is the Koran and the walls are decorated with Arabic inscriptions. In this office Polosin and his colleague sometimes perform their prayers, for which they use a special rug. At the same time, Viacheslav Sergeevich opposes making a demonstrative profession of Islam in his secular work and especially in governmental service.
*Do you Have Plans to Return to a More Political Life?
For the time being, no. I would prefer to use my profession and knowledge for socially useful activity within the bounds of Islam. I see myself as a public and academic Islamic leader, but not a politician. But what the future will bring, only God knows. In 1990 my election as a deputy also was unexpected.
Viacheslav Sergeevich Polosin was born in 1956. In 1979 he graduated from the Philosophy Faculty of MGU and in 1984 from the Moscow Ecclesiastical Seminary. He was ordained a priest and served in parishes in the dioceses of Central Asia and Kaluga of RPTs. In 1990 he was elevated to the rank of archpriest. In the same year he was elected a people’s deputy of RSFSR from Kaluga region and headed the committee of the Supreme Soviet on freedom of conscience.
While working in the Supreme Soviet, he gradfrom the diplomatic academy of the ministry of foreign affairs and defended his dissertation on the subject: “The Russian Orthodox church and the state in USSR, 1971-1991.” From 1993 he has been an employee of the staff of the State Duma on relations with public associations and religious organizations. He was a member of the Russian Christian Democratic Movement and a member of the Council of Christian Organizations. In 1991 he went on leave from the Kaluga diocese and since 1995 he has not officiated in liturgies.
In his interview with the Musulmane journal, he officially called himself a Muslim: “I consider that the Koran is the final Revelation on earth, sent down to the Prophet Muhammed. There is no God but the One God, Allah, and Muhammed is his Messenger.” Viacheslav Polosin is the author of many scholarly works on historical,political, religious, and philosophical subjects. In February of this year he defended another dissertation on the subject: “The dialectics of myth and political myth-making.” His basic philosophical ideas are presented in his book “Myth, Religion, and the State” (Moscow, 1999).
From the point of view of Islamic theologians, to convert to the religion of the Prophet it is sufficient to recite the famous formula containing the profession of faith in the one God Allah and his prophet Muhammad. In doing so it is not important which language is used for reciting the formula. It is important that the recitation be made before two witnesses who are Muslim and can give written confirmation of the fact of the profession of Islam. (ININ note – this is not true. Once could be in the desert and make shahadah and it would be accepted).