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Head of Russian Church’s Hard-Hitting Interview All Christians Need to Hear

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We found this Christmas day (January 7th) interview highly interesting – the Patriarch says some truly remarkable things here. He argues that Russia is, and was for most of its history, a deeply selfless nation, helping others out of a sense of Christian duty.

He rejects liberalism and moral relativism, and predicts apocalypse unless people turn away from these false prophets. He talks about the Ukraine and Syrian conflicts and much else. Highly recommended.

The full transcript follows below.

Our contributor Gil Doctorow has written about this very insightfully here and here. The interviewer was Dmitry Kiselyov, Russia’s #1 news anchor, who asks excellent questions.

We can’t help but be struck by the difference in programming between Russia and the West – the interest and attention given to Christian issues by the establishment in contemporary Russia is extraordinary, certainly in contrast to the rampant Christophobia of the Western media.

Here is a 5 minute excerpt where he talks about how Russia has acted selflessly to help others over the centuries:

Here is a 4 minute one where he talks about how the world is headed for disaster unless the West makes some big changes:

And here is the full interview, only in Russian, unfortunately


Explanation: This translation was done by running the official Russian text of the interview through Google Translate, which we then corrected for style by non-Russian speakers. Therefore, we cannot vouch that this translation is entirely accurate, however it seems to us that it came out surprisingly well, and is very understandable to us in English.

One possible reason why this might be so is that Kirill has the unusual ability of speaking in grammatically perfect sentences, and paragraphs, without the usual idiomatic expressions, not to mention ‘ands’ and ‘ums’. It is really quite extraordinary when you see him doing it in Russian – he is somehow able to speak the way other people write, a skill that has also been attributed to Henry Kissinger.


Kiselev:

Your Holiness, on the planet is not something that is not calm, but the impression that the world is going crazy. In these conditions, your word has always been inspiring, so I want to share with you one of my own reasons: Russia will be alive as long as it retains its identity. To what extent is it so? If so, what is Russia’s specificity today


His Holiness:

Of course, each person has his own identity, there are no two identical people, and each country also has some kind of identity. Probably, this factor is formed under the influence of various circumstances – if we talk about Russia, then this is the size of the country, climate, history, and so on. 

But there is something that underlies the motivation of the absolute majority of our people if they listen to the inner voice, which we call the conscience. 

I think that the uniqueness is largely determined by the fact that Russia is conscientious, although this sometimes created problems for our country.

Here are some very vivid, well-known examples of how conscientiousness prevailed over pragmatism. Crimean War, the defense of Orthodoxy in the Holy Land, Nicholas I. One of our listeners will say: “Yes, but it was a geopolitical program.” But it was not geopolitical ideas that inspired people to protect holy things and protect the Orthodox in the Holy Land, but their conscience. 

And the Balkan wars under Alexander II? Thousands and thousands of ordinary Russian people went to fight for the Slav brothers, and together with them the generals and members of the royal family – is that only pragmatism? Why, for the sake of pragmatism, is a person capable of dying? Never in my life! 

This movement to meet the danger, in order to protect – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. And the Balkan wars under Alexander II? Thousands and thousands of ordinary Russian people went to fight for the Slav brothers, and together with them the generals and members of the royal family – is that only pragmatism? 

Why, for the sake of pragmatism, is a person capable of dying? Never in my life! This movement to meet the danger, in order to protect – also from the voice of conscience.

And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. And the Balkan wars under Alexander II? Thousands and thousands of ordinary Russian people went to fight for the Slav brothers, and together with them the generals and members of the royal family – is that only pragmatism? Why, for the sake of pragmatism, is a person capable of dying? Never in my life!

This movement to meet the danger, in order to protect – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. 

But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly. – also from the voice of conscience. And Nicholas II and the beginning of the First World War, when we interceded for the Serb brothers? Someone can also say “pragmatism”. But would people go to war if it was only pragmatism? So, in the history of Russia this conscientiousness is seen very clearly.

Kiselev:

Many believe that Russia is trying to play a disproportionate role in the world, and there are even some risks for our country. So is the cross able?

His Holiness:

“The cross is not supposed to be abandoned,” the Orthodox Church teaches. If Russia takes on this cross, then God will give and the forces to carry it. Most importantly, that what we have just said about, namely, the moral dimension in politics, is never absorbed by purely pragmatic goals, far from morality. And if we are in politics, in life, in our social order, we will strive for justice to triumph so that the moral feeling of the people is calm, then we will certainly have to bear a certain cross.

I will not go into details, but, of course, there are people in the world who do not agree with our position. But once again I want to say: if God places the cross, he gives and the forces to bear it. The mere fact of carrying this cross is of great importance for the whole world, for the entire human community.

Kiselev:

And yet you spoke recently about the apocalypse. Responses were very different, we are able to interpret, you know. But still, to what and how to prepare?

His Holiness:

Apocalypse is the end of history, and it was not invented by Patriarch Kirill. If you open the Bible, it is clearly stated there that the end of the story will come, and, in general, this is very logical, because every person at any moment will die. 

Many of us are concerned about the end of the world, but we do not realize that our own demise separates us from the end of the world not by some extended period, but by a very specific period of time – as the Bible says, the days of our seventy years , and if in the forces – eighty years (see Ps 89:10).

By the way, there is an incomprehensible, but, apparently, nonrandom regularity. People do not like liberal views when the Church deals with two topics: when the Church speaks of the devil and when the Church speaks of the end of the world. Therefore, I expected such a reaction. But the question arises why such a reaction arises. And it arises for the same reason that modern culture tries to push aside the theme of death. 

The theme of death as an entertaining is present in every film, but we do not like to seriously consider the end of human life and do not like to talk about death. And this is not only for us – in the West even more. There, and the coffin is not opened during the farewell ceremony, whether in the temple or elsewhere; The less we talk about it, the more relaxed for everyone. And why? But because this topic requires philosophical reflection,

Well, now in essence. When will the end of the world come? When human society ceases to be viable, when it exhausts the resource to exist. In what case can this happen? In the event that the total domination of evil comes, because evil is not viable. A system in which evil prevails can not exist. And if evil increases, if evil pushes out good from human life, then an end will come.

And why this need to talk today? Today we are experiencing, from a worldview point of view, a special period in history. Never before has mankind put good and evil on the same plane. There have been attempts to justify evil, but there has never been an attempt to say that good and evil are not absolute truths. In people’s minds, both good and evil were absolute truths, and today they have become relative. 

When can evil grow uncontrollably in human society? It is when such a point of view, putting good and evil on the same board, triumphs on a global scale. And since today we are not even at the beginning of this process, and a certain stage has already been passed, how can the Church not talk about it, how not to strike the bells, how not to warn that we have entered the terribly dangerous path of self-destruction?

Kiselev:

But we have had periods in history when good and evil turned out to be indistinguishable, for example, the murder of the royal family, the 100th anniversary of which we will soon celebrate. What does this date mean? And when will all the examinations end?

His Holiness:

I’ll start with the last part of your question. Examinations will end when they are completed by specialists and say: here are the results of all the studies. Nobody deliberately drags out this process, but no one is forcing scientists who are eager to answer exhaustively the questions that constantly arise. 

You know that there was a conference in the Sretensky Monastery where I attended, and for me it was extremely important to hear both the reports of scientists about the work done and the questions that they were asked. And the experts said: “We do not have a ready answer. We are not sure, we need to explore something else, which will open the possibility of reaching final conclusions. ” That’s when this happens, then we will make decisions at the Bishops’ Council, taking into account, of course, the opinion of those who still have questions to answer.

Well, now about the tragedy of regicide. I have a question that I would like to formulate, and maybe there will be someone who will help me answer it. 

In 1905, the emperor issued a manifesto, which opens the possibility of realizing the widest freedoms. A multi-party system is being created, the State Duma is being established. The tsar-autocrat opened this possibility – not a revolution, tsar! After all, there were those who said: “It is not necessary to do this; on the contrary, it is necessary to break all opposition. ” But the king goes to meet those who wanted to change the political system. It provides ample opportunities. 

The Duma is turning not so much into an arena for solving political issues as it is in the arena of the struggle around the tsar, around the autocracy. What just was not said then to the emperor!

It is now widely believed that the king was weak. But let’s think: he was internally weak or internally strong person? After all, he had the power to kill the State Duma with one clap, disperse all parties, reintroduce censorship, – he had real political power. But he did not use it. 

Our liberal historians still water Emperor Nicholas II with mud and extol the Emperor Alexander II. But who did more to open the possibilities for a democratic discussion of problems, the participation of society in the formation of state policy – Alexander II or Nicholas II? Of course, Nicholas II. But see what happens! 

He is overthrown, as he himself said, “all around betrayal,” then brutally destroying the whole family, the name is mixed with dirt, and even those who approach him without a particularly negative feeling say: “We were weak”. But if he were a weak man, he would not have accepted death as he had accepted it.

Why is the royal family canonized? Not for the fact that Nicholas II was a good ruler, a wise diplomat or military strategist. He is glorified precisely because he took a Christian death. And not only death, but all this part – the terrible part – of your life. 

He was under arrest, suffering insults and oppression. Yesterday’s tsar, who had lost everything, and such calm diary entries, a calm Christian view of what was happening to him. And this was inherent not only to him, but to all family members.

Hence, regardless of the political evaluation of its activities, people should have respect for the life path of the emperor. Especially in liberal people, but nothing like this happens! Even in the year of the century of revolutionary events, nothing appeared on the screens, except for the film, which throws another lump of dirt into the face of the martyr. That’s why people were indignant over the appearance of this picture! Really nothing else was found? Again, the liberal circles gave birth to this film, – and where is the merit of the emperor of the emperor?

In response, I do not propose an analysis of his political activities, I do not sum up any results of his rule. I’m just talking about a very important part of his life, connected with the rights and freedoms of subjects of the Russian Empire, and about how his life ended. Of course, all that happened to the emperor of the emperor, what happened to our country, should make us think about many things.

Not all, however, enough revolution

Kiselev:

In the civil war that is now in Ukraine, kill every day. The Russian Orthodox Church prays for Ukraine, for healing the split, but what else can be done?

His Holiness:

By itself, prayer is a very powerful moment. I understand that non-religious people can not understand this, but those who passed through the experience of prayer know that the heavens answer. I have said many times that if the boss deceived us once, we can forgive him. If, after coming into the office and asking for something, we did not get help for the second time, then we are already very skeptical about the prospects for further contacts. But if the third time we were deceived, then this ends up.

Throughout life, people constantly turn to God with prayer and remain faithful to the end of the days. This means that he receives an answer that the sky is not closed to him. And in this sense, when we say that we are praying for peace, for reconciliation of people in Ukraine, for overcoming the fratricidal conflict, we put our confidence in the words that the Lord will at some moment put mercy on the Ukrainian people and internecine warfare will cease.

In addition, our Ukrainian Orthodox Church plays a very important role. Today it is the only peacekeeping force in Ukraine, as she has flocks in the east, in the west, and in the center of the country. It can not serve the political interests of certain groups, parties or geographical regions of Ukraine. It is called upon to carry to all the message that is able to transform the minds and hearts of people and, in particular, to promote reconciliation.

As for the whole of our Church, we, to the best of our ability, tried to facilitate the return of the prisoners. By the grace of God, on the eve of the New Year and the birth of Christ, there was a massive exchange of prisoners of war, although not as we would like. Therefore, we believe that this is the first stage of the exchange of prisoners of war program, in the implementation of which our Church has been actively participating from the very beginning to the present day.

Kiselev:

Another hot spot is Syria. In the course of the war, many people, including Christians, died there. Did you manage to help something, and what’s next? It’s not only Syria, it’s the entire Middle East …

His Holiness:

Already in 2014, it was clear that conflicts on the territory of Syria were being incited by radical forces which, if they came to power, would begin by liquidating the Christian presence in this country. That is precisely why the Christians actively supported Assad and his government, – because in the country a certain balance of forces was secured and that is very important. People felt they were being protected.  In 2014, notwithstanding warnings about the danger, I nonetheless decided to travel to Syria.

I was in Damascus and led a church service there, and I saw what enthusiasm there was among the people. In conversations both with Muslims and with Christians, meeting with politicians, I understood that if the Islamic radicals come to power in Syria, the first ones who would suffer would be the Christians. As already happened in Iraq, where 85% of the Christians were either killed or driven out of the country. I visited Iraq still under the regime of Hussein, including in the northern regions, in Mosul. I visited the ancient Christian monasteries.

I saw the piety of the people and was overjoyed that in Muslim surroundings the Christian churches existed in peace. Now practically nothing of this remains – the monasteries have been destroyed, the churches were blown up. The same could happen in Syria. Therefore the participation of Russia was connected not only with solving questions about which I do not have full competence and about which I do not consider it possible to speak, relating to the stabilization of the situation, and not to allow…..military threats, not to allow power to be seized by the terrorists.

There was a very important idea – to defend the Christian minority. Back in 2013, when Moscow was celebrating the 1025th anniversary of the Christian baptism of Rus’, the heads of the Orthodox Churches arrived. When they met with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, one of the strongest messages concerned precisely the request that Russia take part in the defense of Christians in the Near East. And I am happy that this happened. Thanks to the participation of Russia a genocide of Christians was averted.

“Now there arises the question of restoring peace in this country, justice, security, solving a huge number of economic issues. And, what is especially close to us, – the restoration of churches, monasteries, monuments, including Muslim and ancient monuments.  Our Church is participating in rendering humanitarian assistance. We are working both in our own name, and in addition we have a bilateral agreement with the Catholic Church to jointly provide humanitarian assistance. In other words, we are acting in various areas, – I hope they will make their contribution to real assistance to those who are still suffering in Syria.”

Kiselev:

In this regard, the following question is logical. Now the volunteer movement is becoming popular. But the priest is a volunteer. Besides that he prays, he also deals with a lot of other things. In addition, we are helping Christians in Syria – what is happening here in our territory?

His Holiness:

Maxim the Confessor connects two concepts, love and will, strong-willed qualities of the person. If love impregnates the will, we speak of such people: a man of good will. That’s all that volunteers do – it is a manifestation of goodwill, when volitional efforts are reinforced by feelings of pity, compassion and love.

For the Russian Church, the creation of volunteer movements is very important. During the atheistic period, the system of solidarity within the Orthodox parishes of our country was destroyed. People could not meet, could not talk, could not create any organizations – all this was forbidden and strictly controlled. 

This contributed to the development of a kind of religious individualism, when in the temple there was, in fact, the same thing as at home – I myself pray, I turn to God, and everything that surrounds me does not directly concern me. So, the creation of volunteer movements in most parishes (if we talk about Moscow), this individualism destroys.

 People begin to recognize themselves as a community and make joint efforts to solve the tasks that they must solve, including for the sake of conscience and for the sake of their Christian vocation. The volunteer movement among young people has a very great perspective. You know, this changes and, I think, will change the climate not only in Orthodox communities, but also in our society.

Kiselev:

In two months or so, elections for the president and head of state will be held in Russia. How does the Church relate to elections?

His Holiness:

The church is very, very positive, – because the election existed in the Church earlier than in the state. Patriarchs chose and, by the grace of God, still choose. In addition, our councils are acting and making decisions through voting. Therefore, voting, elections – this is what is inherent in the Church.

If voting is permissible in the Church, then why should believers think that this is inadmissible in a secular society? It is not just permissible, but it should be welcomed when the people take part in the election of their highest leader or their representatives to parliament. For some, this is the only way to somehow influence the situation. Many people think: “Well, how can I influence, I am alone, and there are millions of people there.” But this is not so! Voices of millions are created from the voices of the units. Therefore, I would urge everyone, including Orthodox people, to participate, especially in the upcoming presidential elections. It is very important.

Kiselev:

Your Holiness, President Putin is setting a task to build a digital economy in Russia. Where is the church here?

His Holiness:

In our church, the theme of the digital economy is associated with two concepts. On the one hand, there is the concept of efficiency, this is insisted on by secular people, especially managers. Undoubtedly, the introduction of digital technologies will ensure greater effectiveness of the decision-making process, which, of course, is good. But the Church has another concept – security. And we are talking not only about the possibility of malicious forces to use digital technologies in order to render irreparable damage to the country, society or any of the people – this is the entire technological level.

I would now talk about the spiritual level. The Church is very concerned that modern technical means can totally limit human freedom. I will give a simple example. We have hot heads, who enthusiastically talk about the need to eliminate cash and go exclusively to electronic cards. This will ensure transparency, control – well, all those arguments that many are well aware of. All this is so. But if suddenly, at some point in history, access to these cards will open in response to your loyalty? Today, in order to obtain citizenship in one of the European countries, people who wish to naturalize, obtain citizenship or a residence permit, are offered to watch a video, which tells about the life of this country, its customs and laws.

The LGBT theme is very vividly represented in this video, and after viewing the question is asked: “Do you agree with all this?” If a person says: “Yes, I agree, all this is normal for me” – he passes the screening and becomes a citizen, or obtains a residence permit. If he says “No”, he will not. And what if access to finance is restricted by this kind of conditions? These are the dangers that the Church today speaks at the top of its voice.

Kiselev:

Still, back to the Christmas theme. In these days, of course, the tables are laid, and the difference is visible. Someone, so to speak, lobsters are not enough, and someone is happy and chocolate. Nevertheless, we are talking about the unity of society, although the stratification is evident. Is not this stupidity a unity?

His Holiness:

“The stratification of society is a huge problem. All this today is present in our lives. Socialism tried to solve this problem, but let’s be honest: he did not solve it. I found another certificate of my aunt, who lived in the village in the 1950s. She did not have a passport, but she somehow miraculously escaped to Leningrad to visit relatives. She talked about the horrific situation of the village of that time-all this was in a socialist society!

 Therefore, the problem of social imbalances has always existed. But the stability of society and social justice, as we have discussed from the very beginning today, depends, first of all, on overcoming this gap. Than this gap is larger, the more destabilization of society, the more negative energy, the more rejection from all that occurs in society, in the country, the more criticism.

But with what you said, you can not be reconciled. It is necessary to set the task of overcoming these contradictions. Once again I want to say that the rich and the poor will always be, but it is very important that the gap be reduced, and that poverty does not mean a person’s grave situation, on the brink of survival.

Of course, the state of many pensioners also causes anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the fact that many people lose their homes at the end of their life, they are thrown out of the apartments by “black realtors”, businessmen who seize their property. The state should provide for a very clear system that would insure people from this kind of life situations. And God grant that the development of the economy and proper domestic policy contribute to overcoming the huge division between people with wealthy and have-nots, and that justice is more and more penetrated into the bowels of our national life.

Kiselev:

Well, congratulate you on your holiday, Your Holiness.

His Holiness:

I would like to whole-heartedly congratulate our viewers on the coming Christmas. The world in which we live is not easy, and our conversation with you has highlighted many problems. But here’s what I would like to say. The Nativity of Christ, the coming into the world of the Savior is the beginning of a new era, a new era. This is an event that gives a person great strength and strengthens his sense of optimism. At the Christmas services we sing a wonderful hymn “God with us.” These are the biblical words: God is with us, understand, languages(see Isaiah 8: 9), that is, “understand, O people, for God is with us.” Indeed, through the coming of the Savior into the world, God is with us, and by establishing a connection with the Lord, we are able to acquire very great strengths for solving problems in our life – personal, family, social. Let the blessing of God abide over all our people and over our country.

Kiselev:

I am sincerely grateful to you for this amazing interview.

His Holiness:

Thank you.

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Art fakes: Disputed ‘Basquiats’ seized by FBI shake the US art world | Culture

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While New York surrenders once again to the genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition of unpublished work curated by his family, in Orlando (Florida), there is considerably more controversy over the work of the artist who died at the age of 27. An exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art dedicated to the former close friend of Andy Warhol, entitled Heroes & Monsters, has cost the head of that gallery his job, while the FBI investigates the authenticity of 25 of the works, not to mention the threats made by the director against an expert who had been commissioned to evaluate the authorship.

Although the scandal began to take shape in February, when the exhibition opened, the FBI raid took place last Friday with the seizure of the paintings with a contested attribution to Basquiat. Aaron De Groft, director and chief executive of the museum, has relentlessly defended that these are genuine works, while emphasizing that it is not a museum’s role to certify the authenticity of the works it exhibits. “[The paintings] came to us authenticated by the best Basquiat specialists,” he told the local NBC television station in February.

De Groft had for months championed the importance of the paintings, asserting that they are worth millions of dollars, until an expert showed up who’d been hired by the owners of the paintings and she began to question his version of events. The director was fired on Tuesday, just two business days after agents seized the 25 suspicious works. The museum’s board of trustees met for hours that day, but not before warning employees that anyone who dared to discuss the matter with journalists would suffer the same fate as De Groft. Hence, it is impossible to know the version not only of the former director, but of any worker at the center. Nor can any information be gleaned at the New York exhibition, a mixture of unpublished work and memorabilia, where organizers are fearful of the devaluation caused by the Orlando scandal.

FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.
FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.Willie J. Allen Jr. (AP)

“It is important to note that there is still nothing that makes us think that the museum has been or is the subject of an investigation,” Emilia Bourmas-Free told the local chain on behalf of the art gallery. Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum’s board of trustees, expressed itself in similar terms in a statement, saying that the board of trustees is “extremely concerned about several issues related to the exhibition Heroes & Monsters,” including “the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” as reported by The New York Times.

The statement refers to a disparaging message sent by De Groft to the specialist hired for the expert opinion, cited in the FBI investigation as “Expert 2″ but who the New York Times has confirmed is Jordana Moore Saggese, an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. This expert, who received $60,000 for a written report, asked the museum not to have her name associated with the exhibition, according to the FBI affidavit. Angry, De Groft threatened to reveal the amount of the payment and share the details with her employer, the university.

“You want us to put out there you got $60,000 to write this?” wrote De Groft, according to the affidavit. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.” The board said it has launched an official process to address the matter. The scandal was precipitated a few hours after the closing of the exhibition, which had originally been meant to travel to Italy.

Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.
Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.John Raoux (AP)

The mystery of the cardboard box

But how did the paintings get to the Orlando Museum? The museum and its owners maintain that the paintings were found in a Los Angeles storage unit in 2012. The New York Times reported that questions arose over one of the paintings, made on the back of a cardboard shipping box with FedEx lettering in a typeface that was not used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, according to a designer who worked for the company.

Both De Groft and the owners of the paintings maintain that they were made in 1982 and that Basquiat sold them for $5,000 to a famous television screenwriter, now deceased, who deposited them in a storage unit and forgot about them.

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Ramón Estévez regrets his name change to Martin Sheen | Culture

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At the beginning of the sixties, Ramón Estévez was desperate. His first steps as a television actor had gone well, but he felt stuck in that medium and wanted to get into theater and film. However, at the time, his name held him back: there were few successful Latinos in the United States. “Whenever I called for a position, whether for work or for an apartment, they answered me hesitantly when I gave my name, and when I arrived, I found the position already filled.” He said in 2003. And so, Ramón decided to create an artistic name by merging the name of Robert Dale Martin, the CBS network’s casting director, who had helped him in those essential appearances on the small screen, and that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who, as Estévez’s little sister Carmen recalls, “regularly appeared on TV.”

This is how Martin Sheen came about, and owing to his great talent, he triumphed first in theater and, later as an actor in the movies, notably: Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed, and Wall Street. However, the identity of Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez did not disappear: this name remains in all of Sheen’s official documents (passport, driver’s license and marriage license)… and in the actor’s soul. Last week, in an interview with Closer magazine, he confessed that one of the great regrets of his life was his change of name. He speaks with pride of the obstinacy of his son Emilio, who kept it despite “his agent’s advice to change it”. In relation to his own decision, he reflects: “Sometimes they convince you, when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later.”

Martin Sheen in 'The West Wing' reunion, last October.
Martin Sheen in ‘The West Wing’ reunion, last October.

Over time, Sheen recovered his Galician roots, the land where his father, Francisco Estévez Martínez, was born. His father was an immigrant who left Parderrubias, in Salceda de Caselas (Pontevedra), for Cuba at the age of 18 in 1916. He left with no Spanish, a language he learned on the Caribbean Island. In the early 1930s, he emigrated to the United States to a modest Irish neighborhood in Dayton (Ohio), where he married another immigrant, Mary-Ann Phelan.

Martin Sheen’s life has been profoundly marked by his childhood. His father worked at NCR Corporation, an industrial conglomerate that began manufacturing cash registers. Shortly after his marriage, the company sent him to the Bermuda Islands where his first children were born. Sheen was the seventh of ten children (nine boys and one girl), and the first to be born in Dayton, in 1940, after the family moved to the US. His left arm was clasped by forceps during birth, leaving it three inches shorter than his right arm. As a result of this, the character that Sheen interprets in the series The West Wing of the White House, President Josiah Bartlet, puts on his jacket with a strange twist of the body. As a child, he suffered from polio which kept him bedridden for a year, and at the age of 11 his mother died. Thanks to the support of a catholic charity and his own father’s efforts, the family remained united against the distribition of children to orphanages or foster homes, a common practice at the time.

Martin Sheen abd Francis Ford Coppola during the recording of 'Apocalypse Now'.
Martin Sheen abd Francis Ford Coppola during the recording of ‘Apocalypse Now’.

He was the eccentric of the family: he decided to go into acting. Against his father’s objections, Ramón, the most reserved son only enjoyed the theater and decided to study acting. “You don’t know how to sing or dance!”, his father told him, to which his son replied: “You love westerns and in those nobody sings or dances”. “But you don’t ride a horse either!” was his father’s comeback. Despite this discouragement, he moved to New York, following in the footsteps of his idol, James Dean.

In the mythical episode Two Cathedrals of The West Wing, he explains how the character President Bartlet reflects the experiences of his own childhood and adolescence. Estévez/Sheen: a practicing Catholic and relentless campaigner against global warming, a man in favor of civil and immigrant rights, he was arrested several times during demonstrations outside the White House. His activism began when he was just 14 years old in a golf club where he worked. He led a strike of caddies, protesting against the club members’ use of bad language in front of children.

Actor Martin Sheen takes part in a "Fire Drill Fridays" protest calling attention to climate change at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Actor Martin Sheen takes part in a “Fire Drill Fridays” protest calling attention to climate change at the U.S. Capitol in WashingtonJOSHUA ROBERTS (Reuters)

And then there’s the Spanish context. Francisco Estévez did not teach his children Spanish, but the Estévez family went back to their roots. Francisco was able to return to his hometown in Galicia in 1967 (just as Sheen landed his first big role in In the Custody of Strangers), where he began building a house, while making regular trips back to Dayton. He would never see this house finished. He died in Dayton in 1974, and was buried with his wife and son Manuel, who had died in 1968. His only daughter, Carmen, ended up working as an English teacher at a school in Madrid, where she married. For years people in Madrid have bumped into Sheen during his visits to his sister. Carmen finished building her father’s house and inaugurated a river promenade dedicated to his memory. Indeed, she has kept the memory of the Estévez alive in Salceda de Caselas.

The Camino de Santiago, a dream come true

In the early years of the 2000s, Sheen, his son Emilio Estévez and his grandson, Taylor, walked the Camino de Santiago. In Burgos, the grandson met a girl, and at the end of the walk he decided not to return to Los Angeles, but to remain in the Castilian city, where he got married. Influenced by that experience, Sheen and Estévez made the film El camino (2010), in which both co-starred and the latter directed. A few months ago, Sheen spoke proudly of El camino, a great success, and a faithful portrayal of his spirituality. During filming, at a lunch under huge pergolas at the back of Burgos cathedral, Sheen explained: “I am a Catholic, and a lot of that spirituality is in this movie. I have had an extremely happy life, with the normal highs and lows of a career. I have survived disease and my family is wonderful [his four children, including Charlie Sheen, are actors]… I believe in a church that does incredible work in the Third World. Other things, like some of the pronouncements from the Pope [at that time, Benedict XVI], are more difficult for me. I live my faith, and it is between God and I.” A few meters from Sheen and the journalist, at the long tables, was a strange group that didn’t not look like actors: “That’s my wife, that’s my sister and her husband, that my best childhood friend… I’ve invited them to come and have a good time with Emilio, Taylor [who worked as an assistant] and me”. Taylor Estévez currently works as a stunt coordinator in California.

Martin Sheen at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with his sister Carmen, 2009.
Martin Sheen at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral with his sister Carmen, 2009. Andres Fraga

Carmen Estévez says that for decades the family did not understand their father’s deeply Galician sense of humor, until they realized that for much of the time he was not being serious. This sarcasm was inherited by his son Ramón/Martin, and he made a display of this in Burgos. In response to a question about his career, he said: “With my resume full of bad movie titles, what can I say. I’m an actor and that’s how I’ve supported my family. But I’ve been in about 10 films that I can be proud of…” at which point he dropped his cup of coffee and blurted out: “See? For gloating over my career. Divine punishment”.

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Buzz Lightyear: To Lesbians and Beyond | Culture

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Buzz Lightyear and Alisha Hawthorne in a still of 'Lightyear' (Disney/Pixar, 2022).
Buzz Lightyear and Alisha Hawthorne in a still of ‘Lightyear’ (Disney/Pixar, 2022).Pixar (AP)

The first homosexual kiss in a Disney movie has been more than expected. Many of us wanted to see it in Frozen: some interpret the ice princess’s song “Let it Go” as a reference to being gay. Lots of people awaited it in Luca, where the love between protagonists Luca and Alberto was at times more obvious even than that of the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. We longed for a legendary, effervescent kiss, the fruit of a rebellious and passionate love. It was going to be a vindictive kiss, full of fireworks. It would be one of those kisses that precede the mythical The End, when the screen fades to black behind the lover’s mouths. It was a kiss that was going to take everything over. Above all, it was going to be the great kiss of the 21st century, undoubtedly the century of homosexual visibility and the century of the gender revolution, the moment when women fall in love and kiss for the first time and do all of it on the big screen. (Well, not all of it.)

The first lesbian kiss in Disney history appears in the recently released Lightyear, and it has sadly led to the censorship of the film in 14 countries in the Middle East and Asia. The kiss takes place in 1995, that is, 27 years ago. The first homosexual kiss of the Disney Pixar factory recognizes that it is years late. It is a 90′s kiss. It comes not from the 21st century, but the 20th. How? The film starts with the following premise: in 1995 Andy, the protagonist of Toy Story, went to the cinema to see Lightyear. This is the movie he saw then. Lightyear, therefore, is not the end of the saga but its prequel. In addition, the controversial kiss does not happen between a young protagonist and her girlfriend, but between two mature women who have been married for years. We are not facing a rebellious kiss, much less a political or ideological one. This kiss is not intended to be a novelty or to make anything visible. It is an absolutely conventional gesture. Thank you, Disney Pixar for going beyond my wildest dreams when it comes to normalizing visibility. And thank you for listening to your workers and refusing to remove the scene. In the long run, it will be more profitable to sacrifice box-office earnings than dignity.

In addition to being between two women, the kiss happens between two mothers, on the day that they celebrate their son’s birthday. It is not the classic Disney kiss, a culmination of the romantic love between the leading couple, but a stolen moment of quotidian happiness. It is a fleeting kiss, insignificant in the history of lovers. It lasts just seconds. It is not charged with any special meaning in the love story. It speaks of a way of building affections and meaning different from that imposed by the traditional heterosexual canon: seemingly unimportant gestures of are everything. It represents a kind of love where kisses do not represent a turning point in the lovers’ lives, but rather small anchor points in their story history. In this gesture, romantic love is not ultimately the center of life but part of it. In Lightyear, we witness the anodyne kiss on the lips between space explorer Alisha Hawthorne and her wife, and we realize that partners are not at the center of any story, but rather one of those fragments that give meaning to life. It is a sapphic kiss in the sense that it is another way of building love, more horizontal, quieter and healthier.

Alisha—a female, lesbian and black—does not have as much screentime as Buzz Lightyear—male, white and the story’s protagonist. She is the protagonist’s friend, confidante and inspiration. Together they are trapped on an uninhabitable planet due to a mistake he made. From that moment on their lives run parallel but radically different–almost like the story of lesbian and heterosexual love. She adapts to the circumstances and begins to live the life that has befallen her, without rejecting its difficulties. The conditions are not the best, but Alisha falls in love–with a woman–and celebrates her luck. Together they have a son. Along the way, she takes care of those she loves, she has a granddaughter, she fights and she investigates. She fills her life with meaning, and she dies. Buzz, on the other hand, insists on “finishing the mission,” “being important,” “saving the world,” “succeeding,” “being a hero,” “doing things alone” and “being the first.” Buzz, who will never know love, embodies many of the traditional values of heteronormative love, starting with the desire for protagonism and the sense of a linear life narrated through love or milestones, leading only to deep, intimate failure.

Lightyear attempts to travel into space to escape from the planet where he is trapped, failing over and over again. Additionally, though, time is altered every time he subjects his ship to hyperspeed. Every time he returns, a few minutes have passed for him and a few years–four, ten or twenty–for Alisha. He burns through life, while she lives it. In one of the final moments, Buzz Lightyear explains to Alisha’s granddaughter why he and her grandmother became space rangers. “We just wanted to be important,” he says. “Trust me, she was,” she says. And the hero understands that his whole life has been a huge misunderstanding. He will have to return home, knowing that his home is the one he has tried to flee all his life.

The film is a masterpiece, full of action, emotion, humor and imagination. Its commitment to diversity includes a warrior over seventy years old, a rebel whose role is essential in saving the world. No one is talking about the old woman for the simple reason that old age remains invisible even when it occupies the center of the scene. The film also gives us Sox, an adorable robotic cat that demonstrates how the only technology that works is that which helps people, not that which attempts to change them. It is truly one of the great Pixar movies, much more than action and stars.

At this point, it had gotten hard to explain why we humans want to keep going to infinity and beyond. But there is a moment, at the end of the film, when we understand: when the elite protectors of the universe excitedly observe the bronze statue of Alisha, a black lesbian woman, the source of meaning for humanity, because she is the one who knew how to live a small life with greatness.

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