Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

There Is No Freedom Without Moral Responsibility

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad

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The chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations answers questions from the 'Literaturnaya gazeta' weekly, November 2-8, 2005

Yuri Polyakov, editor-in-chief: Dear friends, we have with us today a long-awaited guest, His Eminence Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations. The LG, at various stages of its development, used to have an ambiguous attitude to religious problems, the Orthodox Church, and other confessions. We would also placed some ill-considered materials. But in recent years, LG has adopted a rather constructive attitude to this complicated and delicate problem. I hope that today's talk will be also of interest to those of our readers who belong to the Orthodox Church and to people of other confessions who read our weekly and to those who have only begun their self-determination in our post-Soviet society. This talk may well be of interest even to most of scientific atheists who are interested in the life of the Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Kirill: Thank you for your kind invitation to visit the Literaturnaya gazeta, which is well known in Russia and throughout the world and which has rendered great services to our people. The contribution that LG has made to public life seems to me very important and necessary. Indeed, a certain change in the paradigm has happened, and it has happened not only to the Literaturnaya gazeta, but also to many, including your humble servant. Some ask: Your views, your position, have changed so much in recent years. Where are you genuine - then or now? I am not ashamed of admitting that a critical and thoughtful perception of reality will necessarily make corrections to the views that were formed earlier, in the years of intellectual and spiritual growth. And the fact that such changes have also happened to Literaturnaya gazeta is not a mark of considerations of the moment, but evidence of openness to the world and ability to meet sensibly the challenges coming from the modern world.

It seems to me that the most important questions facing us today are those of the meaning of life. There are perpetual questions, but they have become very acute in our reality. In this connection, the present CDP leader Angela Merkel, with whom I had a long talk during my recent visit to Germany, expressed an interesting idea. She said that the slogan of 'A Better Life', which was so incredibly popular before, is no longer relevant for the Germans. Therefore, she wants to address a different message to the nation with a focus on the spiritual realm of human life.

The same problems are of concern to me. We know that all the reforms and all the revolutions were undertaken for the sake of a 'better life', that is, a full, well-provided-for and comfortable life. For seventy years millions in our country lived in the name of such 'bright future', denying themselves everything, and many even died for this idea. It has turned out that it cannot be realized in real life. The Socialist experiment failed not because our socialism was 'wrong' or the mechanism of economic government was too bulky and clumsy or competition was absent, etc. But why then did it fail? For me as a believer the answer is clear: because there was no blessing of God, because the ideology of the Soviet society was not so much atheistic, that is, ungodly, but expressly theomachistic.

Now the ideological vector of the state policy has changed. But look, the purpose of life upheld by the people has remained the same: to live better, meaning for most people to be richer and more successful. And this is all!

It is my profound conviction that on the basis of historical experience gained by Russia, we, as nobody else, can address ourselves to the world with a unique message and say: Building a welfare state will never make humanity happy if the search for this welfare is undertaken outside the context of human spiritual needs.

It is a complicated and manifold theme and it can hardly be understood on a single conceptual level. But the first thing I give attention to and reflect upon is the correlation between human freedom and moral responsibility. Can human freedom exist without moral responsibility and does a person who has no freedom have any moral responsibility?

In the Enlightenment age, the human being was declared the center of the universe. The human being was thought to be sinless from birth. Russeaux, for instance, as much as set forth a theory of education implying a natural social influence-free development of natural human inclinations devoid by definition of any sinfulness. Indeed, if a man is born immaculate, he should be offered full freedom to realize his potential. Hence the idea of absolute value of human rights and liberties has prevailed now in the Western liberal society. The French Revolution put this paradigm in the context of political logic to determine virtually the political thinking of the European nations and to be put in the basis of international organizations in the 20th century. Ask today's European bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg how they see their task. They would say: in the first place it is to protect human rights and freedoms because all the existing troubles are caused by failure to observe these rights in particular staes.

I am convinced that human rights and freedoms need to be protected. But I am also convinced that a human being is not born sinless. Even if the theological aspect and the Christian anthropology with its teaching on the corruption of human nature as a consequence of the fall are excluded, we can state with regret that every child inherits not only the physical but also moral vices of his parents. The latest genetic achievements have only re-confirmed this depressing truth.

It is evident from this that the 'liberation' of the individual, his free development without any correction by society will lead also to the liberation of dark 'Dionysian' principle, as the Greeks put it, which is present in every person. This is a dead-end, a destructive way for our civilization. Therefore, the liberal principle: My freedom should not restrict the freedom of another person, is very dangerous, if it is the only restraining principle.

Sometimes the opponents would say: You, the Orthodox, simply suffer from a latent allergy to the very theme of rights and freedoms. No, it is not at all so. In the Soviet time our Church as nobody else suffered from oppression by the authorities. Moreover, the very idea of rights and freedoms is based on the Christian understanding of the human being as the image of God, thus determining the high dignity of human person. But if we separate the task of observing and protecting of human rights from the moral responsibility of the individual before God and people, then we condemn humanity to the liberation of passions, to such an upsurge of instincts that can easily turn society into a pack of wolves.

The question arises: Can one be reconciled with another? Yes, but it is a rather complicated task to do. A success can be achieved when rights and freedoms are combined with traditional ethical values as they are presented in religion and the national awareness of the people. You certainly are aware of the debates going on today in the West concerning homosexual marriages. They are just about the fundamental theme of correlation between human ethics and freedom. Today there is a demand that homosexual couples should enjoy the same rights as normal families do. What can be opposed to this tendency? - Only the absolute ethical norm as sealed in the ethical teaching of the Church.

But look at what is happening now. Religion in the West has been ousted to the realm of private life almost as successfully as it was in our country under the Soviet power. You can be a believer only in church or only at home. Your Christian convictions cannot motivate your actions in social life. Take for instance the refusal of European parliament members to confirm the appointment of Italian Rocco Butiglione as European Commissioner only because he, being a good Catholic, called homosexuality a sin. And now Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky is facing legal prosecution for banning a gay-parade in the Holy City, that is, for banning an open propaganda of sin.

At the same time the secular world believes it has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of churches. In some European countries a question is raised of the need to oblige churches legally to ordain open homosexuals, and all this for the sake of observing the 'human right' to commit a sin destroying human nature.

In our days the public awareness has neglected the notion of truth, which is replaced by 'pluralism of opinion'. In this system any ideas, any views are considered to have equal rights and to have therefore the right to exist. I will give you as an example the polemic that took place in the mass media concerning the 60th victory anniversary celebrations. At that time, active attempts were made to put on an equal footing the feat of the people who stopped the Fascist onslaught and the betrayal of those who killed their own brothers with German weapons in their hands.

It is only one example where truth and falsehood are put on an equal footing, where the hierarchy of values is replaced by a market of ideas working according to their own laws, where what is more attractive is in demand. And the latter demand is determined by the moral state of a 'consumer' - the lower the morality the more popular the highly repulsive ideas.

But what enables us to determine what is truth and what is falsehood? - Only the frame of reference established by the Divine Revelation and safeguarded by the Church in the Tradition. It is absolute as it has Divine authority. A believer cherishes it in his heart, and no TV 'box', no newspaper can shake him. But here is a paradox: it is within the Christian Church during the Reformation that struggle with such understanding of the criteria of truth was initiated. In 1517, precisely 400 years before the Russian Revolution, a revolution occurred in the Christian awareness in the West. It focused on the rejection of the absolute authority of the Church in interpreting Holy Scriptures.

That is to say that every one could now say: I have the Holy Spirit in me, and my understanding of the gospel's truth is in no way worse then that of the Holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Church. But what inevitably follows from this is first a doctrinal and then a moral relativism, and the modern history is a testimony to it. But I repeat it is a dead-end way, and the sensible leaders of the civilized world have begun to understand it.

Unless we recover the ability to distinguish between good and evil, which is necessary to find one's way in the tremendous space of the modern civilization, a rise to a different, more promising way of development is impossible.

Anatoly Salutsky, writer: In the perestroika years the so-called common human values began to be actively imposed on us. Now this expression is not very popular, but the very values that were described as 'common human' are still imposed on us by the same people, persons and forces who did it in the late 80s. In this connection, don't you think these so-called common human values are really the values of the very much respected, naturally, Western, Roman, civilization, and they are different values, and their imposition on Russia is basically a continuation of the millennium-long polemic which began after Byzantium and which wants to deprive us of this national identity, national moral qualities, etc.?

When Mikhail Gorbachev first uttered that phrase, 'common human values', I realized that the domination of Marxism, at least in Russia, is over. Indeed, the Marxist ethics denied common ethical values. Moral is everything that serves the proletariat - this was its basic assumption. But the tasks faced by the proletariat vary in various ages. It means that the moral categories also change with time. Moreover, the proletariat and bourgeoisie as its perpetual enemy could not have any common understanding of morality. And now the leader of the largest world communist party and the head of the most powerful communist state speaks about values common to all people regardless of their class and social and property status, that is, he in fact recognizes the existence of a universal categorical moral imperative! Indeed, this was tantamount to the recognition of the existence of God because it is only the Absolute, that is God, who can be the source of absolute morality. In this sense the use of the term 'common huan values' is quite admissible if understood as values instilled in man by his Creator and therefore common to people in the USA, Russia and Papua-New Guinea.

But what is meant by common human values today are the values of the Enlightenment. Formulated as a result of specific socio-political development and its philosophical understanding in Western Europe, they are rooted in the heathen idea of man as measure of all things, but include, along with heathen anthropocentrism, some ideas of Protestantism and Jewish philosophy as it was taught in European universities after the Jews were dispersed. And now the Catholic ethical doctrine, the basic provisions of Orthodox axiology and the ethics of traditional Islam and Judaism have not found a due reflection in this system because it is an intellectual product of a specific civilizational model.

We treat it with respect and are ready to enter into dialogue with its representatives, but only on equal footing. But today we are allowed to speak and preach whatever we wish only if we do not encroach on the fundamentals of this worldview. Its adepts have appropriated the right to assess all and sundry on the basis on their own scale of moral values and are eager to fit all the diversity of the world into the Procrustean bed of their own standards.

It is my profound conviction that Russia should advocate the idea of multi-polar world. These poles should not be exclusively political, as diplomats would understand it. Reality demands the recognition of the indisputable fact that there are several cultures coexisting today in parallel. They are rooted in different religious experience - the experience which, paradoxically, includes even the rejection of religion - atheism. Can we find some docking points in them? I think, yes. If we all agree that there is a common frame of ethic reference, these docking points will appear on their own. Russia has set a unique example of such unity in diversity. Our history and today's reality have witnessed the co-existence of East and West, Christianity and Islam, religiosity and secularism. And Russia can become a prototype of a new world order based not on impersonal unity within standards imposed by force - which will certainly lead to a civilizational catastrophe - but on a harmonious combination based on externaly diverse but essentially one perception of absolute moral values.

Alexander Tsypko, LG political observer: I will reveal a secret: I am the author of the idea about common human values, which was voiced in Gorbachev's report to the 27th Party Congress. And my question concerns the blood-and-guts struggle of Christian religions. I am fully aware that the idea of ecumenism, a change of the canon as it was formulated by Vladimir Solovyev who advocated the unification of Christian religions in a single whole is a dangerous thing. The civilizational and cultural codes are already held by Christian religions, and if they are broken the whole human culture can break down. But I do not understand why Christian churches do not feel this danger and do nothing to oppose this liberal anthropocentrism which is actually ousting Christianity from Europe. Why do Christian churches do nothing to develop a common policy for saving not just Christianity but the common human morality and culture? Is it possible to do something to solve this problem?

Your humble servant was that person to whom the Pope Benedict XVI granted a private audience the day after his enthronement. We spoke not only about this. The Catholic and the Orthodox Churches in today's world are natural and, it seems, the only allies in the tough struggle waged between representatives of secular liberalism infected, as it is with bacillus of self-destruction, and bearers of the forward-looking idea of human salvation. And there is an experience of this work. Thus, when the draft European Constitution was prepared, we entered into an intensive dialogue with the Catholic Church and reached mutual understanding on this problem.

Vladimir Polyakov, leading editor-in-chief of the Politics and Economics department: The society which was believed to be the most equitable and which proclaimed the slogan 'Man to man is friend, tovarisch and brother' has been transformed, and we have forgotten about old people, children. And we do not see any concern in our society about that. There is only one hope left. It is the Church which has always preached concern for neighbors. It is from the Church that one expects greater concern for homeless children and the sick. Does the Church plan to become more active socially and politically?

I can see from your question that you believe the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in society to be inadequate. But representatives of the Protestant community, with whom I have met recently, believe that Orthodoxy highly dominates in social life in Russia. All depends on the point of view. The Russian Orthodox Church is an enormous organism that cannot be embraced by the eye. For this reason I will tell you about what we do in the Smolensk Diocese.

In the city of Vyazma, there is a small church asylum for orphaned children. When I wanted to turn it into an orphanage, I encountered difficulties, not only financial at that. It turned out that some of our officials are not ready yet to entrust the Church with raising orphans. And then we decided to give material support to the families who would take up orphans for holidays. A thousand roubles for a child a month is a big money for Smolensk. The diocese participates in selecting such families. And it happens more and more often that children taken up for a time stay in these families for good. And in this case the diocese pays out the same money till the child is 18. We cannot yet do more either financially or organizationally.

In another social program, our parishioners, including youth who have something of their own to do on weekends, visit the houses for the elderly to take care of old people, washing them and cleaning their rooms. And all this is done without any advertising noise, boasting or self-conceit. I am sure other dioceses carry out the same work.

There are more and more priests and lay people appearing in the Church, who do not just feel with another's misfortune, but seek to help people in trouble by deed. I will give you only one example. The parish at the Izvekovo village near Smolensk was so poor that I could not find a priest for it for a long time. And now a graduate of the Smolensk Seminary, no longer a young man and once a teacher of mathematics in St. Petersburg, approaches me, asking to send him to the poorest village parish. I sent him to Izvekovo, promising every kind of help on the condition that he will work with children and recommended him to arrange a cultural center at the church. Today there is a computer class and sports clubs there. The surrounding land is hilly, and the kids go in for skiing and snowboarding. Most of the children in this rather poor village come to the father. Every day he serves the liturgy, and every day children come to pray together with him before school. After children came their parents. Recently this riest took the children to St. Petersburg. They visited Petrodvorets. For the first time in their life some of them saw well-groomed flowerbeds and lawns. The father says something happened he never hoped for as one boy said, 'Father Arkady, let us also edge the grass at our club'.

Igor Gamaiunov, editor of the society department: I find in my mailbox regular invitations from scientologists to come to their meetings and to look at their books. They would stop people in the streets and talk to them, offering something. Our Society department maintains intensive correspondence with readers, and we very often come across letters from various sects, and these sects seem to prosper and multiply. What should the Church do in this situation? And the second question: does the Church need to introduce some changes to make herself more influential?

First, a good quality religious education is needed, as sects recruit their adepts from religiously uneducated part of society.

Secondly, we have to overcome the millennium-long inertia of our church life. For a thousand years, our people have been inchurched in a natural way - in their parish churches. Nobody had to be invited to church, as everybody was in it from childhood, praying at divine services, making confessions, taking communion, listening to sermons. So the clergy have developed a 'parish' psychology: be always in church, celebrate reverently, preach, and people will come. But the Lord said to His disciples: 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost' (Mt. 28:19). He did not say, 'Sit and wait till they come to you', but said, 'Go and teach!' And this movement towards society, to people, is the essential mission of the Church today.

Sometimes we hear reproaches with regard to the liturgical language, which makes it difficult for people to understand liturgical texts. Indeed, for a certain category of parishioners the Church Slavonic language is difficult to understand. It is because Church Slavonic is first of all a grammatical and stylistic loan translation from Greek. But it is possible to find the forms of sentence construction that would make it intelligible for modern man without degrading the style characteristic of Church Slavonic vocabulary. Such work was successfully carried out by the Synodal Commission led by the future Patriarch Sergiy in the early 20th century.

Yu. Poliakov: Traditionally, the image of a priest, a monk, a man of the Church, an ascetic, was quite popular in the Russian literature of the 19th century. There were, of course, satirical images in the tradition of revolutionary democrats during the revolution time, etc. Don't you have a feeling that now the image of a priest, the image of the Orthodox Church as a whole occupies a very modest place in our today's literature? And it is altogether absent in, say, modern TV drama. Why? And what is your attitude generally to attempts of secular authors to reflect church life, church ideas, etc.?

It is a very good question. In the past I dreamt of the time when it would be possible to shoot not 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich', but 'One Day in the Life of a Russian Priest'. I even thought what the scenario of such a film could be like. But 15 years have passed and this time has come, but there is no film.

The viewer expects an exciting plot, romanticism, but authors can see nothing of the kind in the pastoral service. May be because priests themselves distrust the writing fraternity and do not tell them much about their life. For me, the pastoral service is the greatest and the most beautiful thing of all that exists on the earth. When I was asked why I did not want to run for the supreme legislative body in the country (and this was possible in the 90s), I answered that I would prefer being a church rector in the most run-down village to being a deputy of any level. Because the pastoral service determines the fullness of personal life. The priestly service can be compared to the work of a teacher or a doctor. All the rest is an order lower. However, in modern society there are certain stereotypes in perceiving church life, which developed as far back as the 19th century under the influence of the literature critical of the Russian Church and which prevent people from understanding it adequately. Besides, he Church is a sort of sub-culture that differs from the sub-culture in which writers and journalists live. What is required for mutual understanding is a move from one sub-culture to another, which is not always easy to do.

Sergey Mnatsakanian, head of the Literature department: Your Eminence, it is difficult to ask you questions because you seem to answer them beforehand. Still in the beginning of the talk when you spoke about common human values and docking points between church life and secular life, between God and devil, I was rather intrigued. Are these docking points possible at all?

There can be no docking points between God and devil, but they are possible between various civilizational models.

Alexander Yakovlev, editor of the Literature department: You spoke about children, their education, their guiding lines. Now so many lances have been broken around the teaching of Basic Orthodox Culture in school. Human rights advocates are crying out that it is violation of human rights and so on. What do you think of this problem?

It is an absolutely farfetched, politicized and ideologized discussion. The world experience, including the experience of the so-called civilized countries, to which our human rights advocates like so much to refer, has shown the opposite. In Western European countries, except for perhaps France, school teaches not only basic Christian culture, but also doctrines, while in Greece, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Church is a state Church, and accordingly children in state schools receive valid knowledge of religion. Religious minorities are given an opportunity to study their own religious culture. All this can be easily accomplished in Russia as well, where 80% of the citizens associate themselves in this or other way with Orthodoxy.

Read the entire article on the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions website (new window will open).

Posted: 13-Nov-05

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