Father Mark, priest

Father Mark (born Sergei Golovkov) calls himself “deputy foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church.” He is responsible for protocol and arranging meetings between top leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and foreign leaders, secular and religious. So, in secular terms, one may call him a diplomat for Russia’s oldest social institution.

Young Father Mark (37) displayed his diplomatic mettle in his description of the current crisis in Russian-American relations. He said he was not inclined to “dramatize the situation” and expressed the hope that “there will be no confrontation.” He noted that “this is a period of mutual adaptation in our bilateral relations ... Plus, you know, now there is a new administration in America, which has new approaches, a new vision of things ...” But he said he is convinced that “simple people can really do a lot” to make a difference. “During the Cold War,” he noted, “the Church did a lot to soften the climate in USSR-US relations. We had an active dialogue with the Episcopal Church of America and other churches there ... And recently, for example, their New York representative came to visit Patriarch Alexei II ... These contacts, our joint declarations, and the conferences we hold, create the right atmosphere and stop people from seeing each other as enemies.”

Within the ROC’s Department of Foreign Relations, Father Mark set up a Center of Pilgrimage to supervise inbound tourism for foreign pilgrims and religious visitors. It is for those, he said, “who seek more than just cheap tourism … who want to deeply understand Russians’ religious roots, the root of our Soul, the basics of our life and history.”

“In the West,” Father Mark said, “certain complexes left over from the Cold War still exist. Some fears remain—the fear of Russia and thus the desire to make Russia weaker, more vulnerable, and to take the processes in Russia under control. So our task is to show the true spirit of Russia, its true religious character. For it is in the religion, in the religious traditions, that the soul of the people is reflected best ... Our task is to help people understand Russia, to create an open society and integrate Russia into the world civilization. So it’s important to make people understand Russia and the motivation of Russians, so that they see the essence of meaning of the life of monks, religious people, so that Russia stops looking only like an unusual country where it’s so hard to live.” 

Father Mark entered the church’s seminary in Sergiyev-Posad (then Zagorsk) in 1984. In 1988 he was enrolled in the Spiritual Academy and in 1992, upon his graduation, he was posted to the Russian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem. Shortly, the number of Russian Orthodox Pilgrims to Jerusalem grew from 10 people a year to over 1,000. His  seven years of dedicated service in such a high profile mission did not go unnoticed. And, in December 1999, Mitropolit Kiril—Head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church—decided to take Father Mark on as his deputy.

In his current position, Father Mark’s duties are wide-ranging: solving issues relevant to the relations between church and state, liaising with the Foreign Ministry, the State Duma and the presidential administration. He works at the highest levels: in the Duma he deals with Dmitry Rogozin, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he works with first deputy minister Alexander Avdeev.

He also oversees the church’s relations with other churches abroad, supervises the Russian Orthodox Church’s real estate and properties abroad, presently spread across 42 countries of the world.

Father Mark speaks with deep conviction about his beliefs and his life mission, for unlike so many Russians, he did not have to live through the painful reevaluation of spiritual values in the 1990s (when the prevailing communist ideology was cast aside), as he was born into a religious family. His father studied in a seminary and still works in a church in his native Perm. His two brothers also became priests, and his three sisters work mainly in the arts.

Interestingly, Father Mark’s spirituality peacefully coexists with his attachment to technology. He is an active computer, internet and mobile phone user.

“People of the old generation think it’s important to take care of spirituality, to build churches, to conduct religious services,” Father Mark said. “And I agree. It’s great to build and resurrect churches, to conduct services. But let’s not forget that the world has gotten smaller, and that now information plays a huge role in people’s lives. I think the church must be more active in this sphere, there should be a combination of things traditional and modern. Faith is based on traditions and the church can’t exist without traditions, it is the basis for our life … But the church must use technology and master that of it which is new and positive for the good of the people and the society it lives in...”

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