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The Orthodox Church, State and Europe: A View from Russia

Metropolitan Kirill

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Interview by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, to the 'Diplomatie' magazine (No 16, September-October 2005)

What is the Orthodox world today? What are its priorities?

The Orthodox world today consists of the countries, which culture has been shaped under the decisive influence of our faith. These are Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Greece, Cyprus, Moldavia, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. However, the cultural and political realities on the historical territories of the Orthodox world are subject to considerable changes. As a result of migration and intensification of contacts between different continents the Orthodox world is no longer as homogeneous as it was a century ago. At the same time the strong Orthodox communities appear in the countries, which have never had Orthodox population. Today these people constitute an integral part of the American, Arabian, Albanian, Czech, Finnish, Polish, Slovakian and many other nations.

Orthodox people in the present-day world are united by the Local Orthodox Churches rather than by the states. Therefore, a more precise idea of the frontiers of the Orthodox world can be given by the number of believers of the Orthodox Churches in different countries of the world. The task of the Orthodox Churches is first and foremost the work among the people who are entrusted to us by God. It is particularly important for the Churches, which fulfil their mission in the countries that have freed themselves from the fetters of the state atheism not so long ago. A lot of work has to be done in these countries so that our people will again realize that they are the bearers of Orthodox civilization.

What are the relations between the Church and the state in the Orthodox countries?

The Orthodox civilization has developed its own standard model of the relations between the Church and the state, which was called 'symphony' in the legal code of Emperor Justinian. However, I would not hurry to authorize this principle of the state-church relations as a specifically Eastern Christian tradition. In the 6th century, when Emperor Justinian codified the Roman and Byzantine law, a common Christian tradition existed in Europe, and the idea of 'symphony', therefore, is a common heritage of the West and East of Europe.

It is necessary to recognize that this model has influenced the Orthodox understanding of the church-state relations. However, one should discern between a historical teaching of 'symphony', which belongs entirely to the past, and its methodological foundations, which can be applicable today. Historical understanding of 'symphony' is linked with the monarchic form of government and with an ideological role of Orthodoxy. The Church and the state were understood as the two equivalent institutes, as the two gifts of God with different domains of care for one and the same social and cultural body - the people. The Church undertook to defend the Church, and the Church undertook to support the state. Such a model has never been realized, like a democratic model will never be realized in its pure form.

The model of 'symphony' today has an important methodological value. I shall remind you that it was formulated as a result of the almost two-hundred-years search for an optimal model of the relations between the Church and the state. The Church and the state were at enmity with each other before the early 4th century, when Christianity was proclaimed the state religion, and a serious question arose of the kind of relations between the Church and the state with both institutes being in harmony, which means 'symphony' in Greek. In the 4th century Emperor Justinian presented his own solution of this task by listing the duties of the Church and the state before each other. Yet, the contents of these duties can change in different times of history, while the methodological principle of peaceful coexistence between the Church and the state remains the same. When the Russian Orthodox Church adopted the 'Foundations of the Social Concept' in 2000, she was guided by the methodology ofa 'symphony' model in a part of the document dedicated to the relations with the secular state and listed point by point the conditions and fields of a possible harmonious cooperation between the Church and the secular state at present.

There are Orthodox countries today, such as Greece and Georgia, which constitutions declare a special state of the Orthodox Church, as the overwhelming majority of the population of these countries are Orthodox. In my opinion, there is nothing bad or threatening the freedom of people of other faiths, if the State publicly declares its special relations with the religions of the majority of their countries. In this case the clear and comprehensible rules of the church-state relations appear, which can be controlled by the public. I believe it helpful for Russia to define special relations with the four traditional religions of our country: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. That would allow the State and religious communities to cooperate in various public spheres in proportion to the number of believers, who belong to this or that traditional religion.

What is the role of Orthodoxy in international politics?

There is no one Orthodox world in the political aspect today. The unity of the religious and cultural traditions allows us to speak about a potential for more close contacts and interaction between countries. In my opinion, the Orthodox world could be successfully consolidated on the grounds, which will allow it to preserve its identity in the present-day world. That could find its expression in more active humanitarian contacts in the field of education, the mass media and culture.

The main idea, which the representatives of the Orthodox world could defend together, is the affirmation of the importance of the national and religious traditions in the present-day international politics. Some countries of the Orthodox world, Russia for instance, have managed to develop during centuries a model of peaceful relations between civilizations. Therefore, Orthodoxy in international politics could play a role of assistance to the building up of a multipolar world, in which different worldview systems will find their place.

What are the views of the Orthodox Church on the growing membership of the European Union?

When national referendums on joining the European Union took place in the Baltic States, in which there are Orthodox Churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Russian Orthodox Church in person of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II stated that she supported the desire of these peoples to live in united political and economical community with other European nations. At the same time we have always stated that the broadening of the European Union should not create a new iron curtain in the East of Europe. Therefore, our Church would not like to remain an outside observer of the European integration processes. We are convinced that the Orthodox tradition is called to make its own contribution to the development of united European space.

The Orthodox peoples expect that in response to their readiness to participate in the development of the European integration the Western world will be open to the perception of the values upheld by Eastern Christian tradition. I would like to remind that with further spreading of the European Union to the countries of the Orthodox tradition (Romania, Bulgaria) the Orthodox faithful will constitute a significant number of European citizens. If the EU Western countries are open to the perception of spiritual identity of these nations, then the European integration will be a success. If it does not happen, this grand geopolitical project will collapse.

A similar problem arises in connection with the possible membership of Turkey in the EU. Everyone understands that it is not only the economic and social level of its development that is in question. First of all, the problem is how the values of Christian and Islamic civilizations may combine. At present certain processes are going on in the Turkish society that point to the lack of an open and just attitude to the traditional religious and ethnic minorities in it.

Some European politics claim: 'The EU is not a Christian club'. But these words should be followed by real actions for the Europeans to receive the values of Islamic civilization. Immigrants from Muslim countries and native Europeans still fail to get along in the EU countries themselves. Any improvement in their financial situation does not resolve the problem of their cultural adaptation and sometimes even makes their ethnic and religious identity grow. Is Europe prepared for it? It is necessary that a wide discussion in the societies of European countries should precede the decision on Turkey's joining the EU. And the final resolution on the question should be taken not only on the political level, but it should be a clear desire of the EU nations.

The Russian Church did not stand aside from the discussion that unfolded in Europe. The Department for External Church Relations made a direct statement on it before the EU Commission decided to begin negotiations with Turkey on her membership in the EU. Let me cite a small extract from this document which gives our view of a possible way of solving this problem: "Certainly, the close vicinity of the Muslim and Christian worlds can create not only divisions, but can, in the process of overcoming them, help develop a model of peaceful coexistence between these two civilizations. It can well happen that the accession of Turkey to the European Union will put a foundation stone in a bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds. The example of Russia and Central Asian republics, where Christians and Muslims have lived in peace side by side for centuries, proves that it is possible to ensure compatibility of civilizations within the same political entity".

We are convinced of one thing: peaceful coexistence with other civilization should not mean rejection of one's own tradition. It is possible, as has been demonstrated by the rich experience of the Russian Church in building peaceful relations with the Islamic civilization within one state.

What is Orthodoxy's attitude to the inter-Christian dialogue?

In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church adopted a document called "Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to Non-Orthodoxy". These guidelines formulate the aims and methods of inter-Christian-dialogue acceptable for the Orthodox Church. The most important aim of the dialogue, the document states, is the restoration of Christian unity (cf. Jn. 17:21) as was taught by Jesus Christ. Recognizing the need to restore the broken unity, the Orthodox Church maintains that it is possible to achieve only within the fold of One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, that is, within the framework of that Christian tradition which existed before the Churches were divided in the 11th century.

However, communication among representatives of various confessions on public issues is possible already today and is even demanded by the time. Challenges of today's world have created preconditions for active cooperation among Christians in solving problems of common concern. Perhaps, the greatest concern for Christian Churches is the role of the religious worldview in united Europe. Most Christians in the continent have exerted great efforts to make Christian traditions an organic part of the European identity. During the work on the draft Constitution of the European Union, Churches acted together to get an article providing for dialogue between the EU authorities and religious organizations included in it. This is an important testimony to the importance of inter-Christian dialogue and common actions to assert common Christian witness.

Combating terrorism is another item on the common Christian agenda. In order to deprive the preachers of extremism of an opportunity for using religious motivation to justify terrorist attacks, Christians and Muslims should unite their efforts, developing interreligious dialogue. Remembering it, the Russian Orthodox Church initiated the establishment of an Interreligious Council in Russia and an Interreligious Council in the Commonwealth of the Independent States. In these bodies, we seek to oppose terrorism and meet other challenges of today together.

I would like to say a few words about the obstacles arising on the way of the dialogue between Christian Churches. Our Church is concerned for the heightened activity that Western confessions have carried out among the nations belonging to the Orthodox tradition. These actions of our brothers, which have been long described as "proselytism", violate the time-honoured principle of relations among various Christian Churches. St. Paul already spoke of this principle in his letter to Corinthians, when he did not want "to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand" (2 Cor. 10:16). This principle presupposes consideration for the interests of a local Church in carrying out any missionary or religious activities in general in a land where there is already a Christian Church of its own.

Read the entire article on the Orthodox Europe website (new window will open).

Posted: 14-Oct-05



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