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Address at the Meeting of the European Commission

Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev)

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Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria: Address at the Meeting of the European Commission, President Jos Manuel Barroso, and the Chancellor of Austria, Wolfgang Schssel with Religious Leaders on 30 May 2006.

Mr President, Mr Chancellor, esteemed members of the European Commission,

I represent the Moscow Patriarchate, the second largest Christian Church after the Roman Catholic Church, with a total membership exceeding 160 million. The Moscow Patriarchate (or the Russian Orthodox Church) is the majority Church in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova; it is the largest religious community in Latvia and has strong presence in Estonia and Lithuania; it has dioceses and parishes in Western and Eastern Europe, in Central and South-East Asia, Middle East, North and South America, Africa, Australia and even Antarctica.

In the territory of the European Union the Moscow Patriarchate has several dioceses, hundreds of parishes and millions of believers. During the last fifteen years, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Russian-speaking people immigrated to Western Europe and created Orthodox religious communities, which serve as spiritual and cultural centres. However, the Moscow Patriarchate is by no means a Church for the Russian-speaking people only: it has a multi-ethnic character and widely uses other languages both in liturgical services and in preaching.

Being one of the prominent religious communities of the European Union, the Moscow Patriarchate is deeply engaged in the current discussion on the future of Europe. This future, in our opinion, largely depends on the system of values which will be laid as a foundation of the European civilization. The question of values is not as simple as it may appear, and the conventional talk about 'common human values' cannot eliminate tensions between different value-systems coexisting on the European soil.

In the modern debate about values people sometimes find themselves on opposite sides of the barricades, with those inspired by religious ideals on the one side and those whose world-view is formed by secular humanism on the other. Indeed, secular humanists will acknowledge in word the right of the person to belong to any religion or belong to none at all. However, in practice secular humanism is often inspired by an anti-religious pathos and thus strives to weaken religion as much as possible, drive it into a ghetto, force it out of society and minimize its influence on people, especially on the youth. The anti-churchly and anti-clerical orientation of modern secular humanism is obvious. It is precisely because the humanist ideology is acquiring increasingly clearer characteristics of militant secularism that the clash between it and religion becomes ever more discernible.

This clash is sometimes depicted as a conflict between, on the one hand, an outdated world-view based on pre-scientific ideas, on 'metaphysical and theological speculations of the past,' and on the other, a progressive, scientific and modern view of life. In reality, however, the secular ideology has not at all come to replace the religious world-view, since the religious value system will continue to exist alongside the liberal-humanistic one. It would be incorrect to speak of the succession of value systems in their historical development: the question is rather about their opposition to one another, which sometimes leads to political, religious and armed conflicts.

The potential explosiveness of today's inter-civilizational situation is to a significant degree caused by the fact that the Western liberal-humanistic ideology, acting on the idea of its own universality, is imposing itself on people who were raised in other spiritual and moral traditions and have different value systems. These people see in the total dictate of the Western ideology a threat to their identity. The evidently anti-religious character of modern liberal humanism brings about non-acceptance and rejection by those whose behaviour is religiously motivated and whose spiritual life is founded on religious experience. The question here is not only about individuals for whom faith is a matter of personal choice, but also about entire nations, cultures and civilizations formed under the influence of religious factors. It is at the international, inter-cultural and inter-civilizational levels that the opposition between secularism and religion can grow into an open conflict.

There exist several variations of the religious answer to the challenge of totalitarian liberalism and militant secularism. The most radical answer is given by those extremists who have declared jihad against the Western civilization with all its 'common human values'. Another variation of the religious answer to the challenge of secularism is the attempt to adapt religion itself, including dogma and morals, to modern liberal standards. The third variation of the religious answer to secularism is the attempt to enter into a peaceful, non-aggressive dialogue with it, with the aim of achieving a balance between the liberal-democratic model of Western societal structure and the religious way of life. Such a path has been chosen by many Christian Churches, as well as by many representatives of Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.

The recognition of the necessity of dialogue with Churches and religious communities is also spreading among European politicians, who realize that conflict can arise when religious communities are deprived of their right to public self-expression. More and more politicians are seeking contact with religious leaders, understanding that the opinion of Churches and religious communities should not be ignored during the process of elaborating those values which will serve as the foundation of the 'new world order.'

A characteristic example of such an understanding is the European Union. Until recently the attempts of Churches and religious organizations to conduct dialogue with the institutions of the European Union were almost exclusively the initiative of the Churches themselves. There did not and still does not exist to this very day a structure that might allow Churches to carry out a systematic and constructive dialogue with the European Institutions. However, the call to an 'open, transparent and regular dialogue' of the EU with Churches and religious organizations that is stipulated by the draft Constitutional Treaty, may lead to creation of a more formal platform for the dialogue between religion and European political leaders.

As I said during our previous meeting on 12 July 2005, I believe that our dialogue must be significantly broadened and better structured. From an unofficial dialogue whose participants are not mutually accountable, meeting from time to time without any further obligations, we must move towards an official platform for a dialogue in which the politicians and religious representatives will be placed on an equal footing. I believe that the time has come for the European Commission to create an advisory board, or a think-tank, or a permanent committee consisting of religious leaders from the four traditional European religions, i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, in order to foster this dialogue, make it official, transparent and efficient.

Concluding these remarks, I would like to thank President Barroso, Chancellor Schssel and their colleagues for the opportunity to exchange our opinions on important matters related to the future of Europe, and to express my hope that similar meetings will take place in the future on a regular basis.

Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna and Austria is the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions.

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

Posted: 04-Jun-06

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