Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Bible Calls it a Sin -- Part 2. Interview with Met. Kyrill

Der Spiegel

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Part 2: Men Can Control Their Drives

SPIEGEL: We like to argue. But you can't possibly characterize homosexuality as an animal instinct?

Kyrill: Instinct is not a term with negative connotations. Take hunger, thirst, the sex drive, for example. If God had not given us these instincts, man would not exist. The difference between men and animals is that men can control their drives.

SPIEGEL: Most Russian politicians apparently share your views on homosexuality. Which form of government does the Orthodox Church consider appropriate in Russia? Some of your officials are attracted to czardom, that is, a monarchy.

Kyrill: Supporting one form of government over another is not our main concern. Saving the soul is fundamentally possible in any form of government. Various peoples and religions have coexisted peacefully in Russia for hundreds of years. We can only have a future as a unified nation if we resist regionalism and separatism. Russia is unimaginable without Orthodoxy.

SPIEGEL: Vladimir Putin says that he often reads the Bible on the presidential plane during long trips. He and his ministers and his officials like to be seen attending church services, despite the fact that many of them were staunch supporters of atheism during the Soviet era. Does this make you happy or angry?

Kyrill: Most of the believers we encounter in church today were atheists yesterday. If an engineer can undergo this transformation, why shouldn't it work for a politician? Unfortunately, they rarely attend church. I would like to see the president and the ministers go to church every Sunday and not just one or two times a year.

SPIEGEL: Conversely, it is our impression that the Orthodox Church is quite well-disposed toward President Putin -- and that it hopes to enlist his help in solving some of its problems.

Kyrill: I understand the gist of your question quite clearly, but we have forbidden our priests from joining political parties. Some ran for parliament in the 1990s. This cannot be. The church is there for everyone. When our parliament came under attack in 1993 and we faced the threat of civil war, this monastery where we are sitting today was the only place where the opposing sides could meet. It was because everyone understood that the church supports neither the one side nor the other. In a multiparty state, it cannot have any political adversaries or allies. No one should be able to stand in front of a church and say: I refuse to go inside, because that's where my political opponents feel at home. And politicians, for their part, cannot enlist the church in a trite attempt to gain popularity.

SPIEGEL: But your church has just clearly taken sides. It effusively welcomed Putin's Byzantine decision to name Dmitry Medvedev (more...) as his successor. And it also called upon Putin to continue as prime minister.

An elderly woman holds a plate of food she received at a distribution point for homeless people at a train station in Moscow: "The gap between rich and poor in Russia is scandalous." Kyrill: We didn't react positively because Vladimir Putin supports him, but because Medvedev is an experienced politician. And the idea of Putin becoming the head of the government does not contradict our constitution. Putin heads the party that captured 64 percent of votes in the Duma election -- it has the moral right to put forward the head of the government.

SPIEGEL: That's certainly true, but you have nevertheless chosen a side. May we remind you of Metropolitan Sergey, who decided to support the Bolsheviks 10 years after they came into power? Back then your church chose to cooperate with the communist leadership -- including the KGB -- even though it was severely oppressed. Its actions haven't been forgotten to this day.

Kyrill: After the Bolshevik Revolution, when a persecution of the church that was unparalleled in Russian history began, some members of the clergy believed it was necessary to choose the path of compromise with powers that were hostile to the church. They did this simply to preserve the possibility of holding services and preaching to the people without having to hide. Others rejected this approach, and their so-called catacomb church was almost completely destroyed. We do not have the right to condemn either group. All of them experienced brutal repression.

SPIEGEL: Meanwhile, the church's influence is so strong again that Russian Nobel prize winners recently wrote a letter to President Putin warning against the growing clericalization of society.

Kyrill: These gentlemen want to see a return to the Soviet Union. Did they raise their voices to protect the church back then? No. It didn't bother them that many churches were destroyed. Besides, the rumors of a fusion of church and state in Russia are heavily exaggerated, to put it mildly. I would like to see us come as far as Germany in this respect. To this day, we have no ministers in the army or in hospitals.

SPIEGEL: But you have no qualms about blessing all kinds of weapons: tanks, ships and guns.

Kyrill: Priests do that when they are asked.

SPIEGEL: Many Russians are upset about the fact that you recently tried to introduce your religion as a mandatory subject in schools.

Kyrill: We want to teach the fundamental aspects of the culture of traditional religions, and we now propose that students be given the choice of choosing Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish or Buddhist religion as a subject in school. It will begin in 2009 as a subject called "Spiritual-Moral Culture." A subject will also have to be offered for children from non-religious families; it could be called "Secular Ethics." Germany is a role model for us in this respect.

SPIEGEL: How do you feel about Orthodox priests who want to remove Darwin's theory of evolution from the curriculum, because it contradicts the story of creation in the Bible?

Kyrill: The study of the physical world should not be the subject of religion, and for this reason the church should not misappropriate any scientific theories. The Catholic Church made this mistake when it preached geocentrism. When scientists later discovered that it was not the earth but the sun that was at the center of our system, they were considered heretics. Copernicus was also a priest, and the Catholic Church of the day also saw itself as a community of science. The Orthodox Church never did this.

SPIEGEL: How would you approach Darwin's theories if you were a teacher?

Kyrill: I would say that the theory has many adherents, but also a few unanswered questions. For instance, no one has provided precise proof of the transition from one species to another. It would be wrong to treat Darwin's theory as the only correct one. It is the leading theory today, but it could be replaced by another theory tomorrow. There was also a time when Marxism considered itself the only correct and scientifically justified theory...

SPIEGEL: But you cannot equate these two theories. Besides, Darwin's theory is now largely undisputed.

Kyrill: For the sake of objectivity, allow me to add that Darwin was a devout man...

SPIEGEL: The fact of the matter is that Darwin, as a scientist, questioned his faith.

Kyrill: Under no circumstances should Darwin's theory be misused to fight religion. On the other hand, the Bible is not a textbook on cosmology.

SPIEGEL: But apparently it is a manual for how to proceed in foreign policy. In an essay, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has invoked the New Testament to criticize a unipolar world dominated by the United States.

Kyrill: Christ's commandment from the Gospel of St. Luke -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" -- also applies in international relations. Arrogance is as dangerous in politics as it is in interpersonal relations. We, as the Orthodox Church, are opposed to all attempts to establish a unipolar world. It would constitute the introduction of a forced entity that would level the differences among religions, cultures and civilizations.

SPIEGEL: Could you envision a reunification of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, which have now been separated for close to 1,000 years?

Kyrill: The division is a consequence of human sin. In this respect it resembles a divorce. The Christian West and the Christian East parted ways because they believed that they didn't need each other anymore. Reunification can only be achieved through spiritual rapprochement. It doesn't matter how many documents we sign. Unless we have the feeling that we love each other, that we are one family, and that each member needs the other, it will not materialize.

SPIEGEL: When will the long-awaited meeting between Pope Benedict and the head of your church, Patriarch Alexy II, take place?

Kyrill: Our relations have improved since Benedict became pope. He has removed the issue of a visit to Moscow from the agenda. This sort of visit would not have solved any problems, but it would have provoked new ones. Many of the faithful in Russia mistrust Catholics. This is a legacy of the wars and of proselytization efforts in the 17th and 18th centuries.

SPIEGEL: Could you imagine the pope and the patriarch meeting in a third country, essentially on neutral ground?

Kyrill: It's certainly possible. The entire development in bilateral relations is moving in the direction of such a meeting coming about.

SPIEGEL: The fact that the pope is no longer Polish ought to make him more palatable to the Russians.

Kyrill: In this case, I would like to give you an official response: Nationality is unimportant.

SPIEGEL: Your Eminence, thank you for this interview.

The interview was conducted by Martin Doerry, Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp in Moscow.

Read Part 1 of the Interview with Met. Kyrill.

Read the entire article on the Spiegel Online website (new window will open).

Posted: 20-Jan-08

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Copyright 2001-2018 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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