October 09, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yegor Bulatov


The Russian Orthodox Church launches bridges to Western Christendom over the abyss of immorality

The first days of October 2007 were marked with revitalization of the Russian Orthodox Church's foreign policy. On October 4-5 in New York, in the framework of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, Russian clergy took part in the Dialogue on Inter-Confessional and Inter-Cultural Understanding and Cooperation for the Sake of Peace. This event was organized in accordance with the General Assembly's Resolutions No.61/221 d/d December 20, 2006 and No.61/269 d/d May 25, 2007.

The forum was opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and involved leaders of international institutions, foreign ministers and politicians of many UN member countries, religious and public leaders and activists of non-governmental organizations. Russia was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko; Valentin, Metropolitan of Orenburg and Buzuluk; and Archpriest Alexander Abramov, Representative of the Universal Russian People’s Sobor at the United Nations.

The Most Reverend Metropolitan Valentin was the first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to address the United Nations. In his speech, he emphasized that today, "many people are coming to the conclusion that the attempts to deprive the Church of a right for expression in public sphere, to reduce the Church's role to private life, are unreasonable and ominous for human freedom.

"The major problem, faced by the societies which have lost its religious identity, is ultimate atomization. Quite naturally, egocentrism and the cult of consumption alienate people and thus render them helpless. Without a spiritual, "vertical" dimension of human life, neither money and entertainment nor technologies will bring people happiness. Without adherence to everlasting moral principles, neither law nor liberties are able to protect a personality and to uplift it to ideals of good. That is why I am convinced that it's the traditional moral which can serve as a durable base for peaceful coexistence of peoples of various cultures and origins.

"Extremism largely emerges from spiritual illiteracy. For this reason alone, the younger generation should be brought up in the spirit of traditional religious views. This idea was recently supported by President Vladimir Putin. To my mind, people should acquire knowledge of their religious tradition, as well as of the views of their neighbors, in secondary school, though on a voluntary basis", the Metropolitan said.

In the headquarters of the United Nations, the Russian Orthodox Church was also represented with a photo exhibition. On the occasion of its opening, Patriarch Alexy II issued a welcome letter.

The next international event, involving the Russian Orthodox Church, was the 6th Russian Week on Corfu, Greece, organized by St. Daniel's Monastery, Russky Predprinimatel (Russian Entrepreneur) Foundation and Rosoboronservice-Hellas A.E.

On October 6, Saturday, Theodore, His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, started his tour across Russia. The program included a trip to Nizhny Novgorod Region, to the holy remains of St. Seraphim of Sarov; a conference, dedicated to the 90th anniversary of re-establishing the status of Patriarch in the Russian Orthodox Church; an finally, a travel across Ukraine.

"With this visit, I am going to acknowledge recognition of only the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine", said the Patriarch of Alexandria.

On October 6 evening, Patriarch Theodore met for the first time with Patriarch Alexy II. On Monday, October 8, on the day of commemoration of St. Seraphim of Sarov, both religious leaders celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Laura.

However, the key event took place in France. This country was visited by the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The program included a personal meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy, a dialogue with political and clerical figures, and a press conference. However, the central event was the Patriarch's address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The Patriarch spoke to the Assembly for the first time, though the Russian Orthodox Church has got a Permanent Mission to PACE since 2005.

The significance of the Patriarch's speech could be estimated from the standpoint of today's organizational crisis of the European Union, which surfaced when the population of France and Netherlands rejected the draft European Constitution at national referendums. Many politicians and public activists, as well as ordinary citizens, were disappointed with absence of any reference to Christianity in this basic document of the European community. The amended version of the draft also contained no provisions concerning universal Christian values.

Speaking to PACE's audience, Patriarch Alexy II reminded that the Christian concepts of dignity, freedom, and morality create a unique code of European conscience, possessing an inexhaustible potential of progress in personal and public life. "The Christian attitude to a human being was crucial in denunciation and eradication of slavery, in perfection of court justice, in upgrading social standards, in development of a refined ethics of personal communication, in the advance of science and culture. Moreover, the very concept of human rights, the central political idea of today's Europe, emerged under influence of the Christian teaching about human dignity, individual freedom and morality.

"However, the relationship of human rights and morality is being disrupted today. This phenomenon, ominous for the European civilization, is expressed in the new array of declared rights, contradicting to morality, as well as in justification of immoral behavior by human rights. The decomposition of the basic principles of morality is likely to result in destruction of the world view of a European individual, and to drive the peoples of the continent to the brink of deprivation of spiritual and cultural identity – and therefore, of Europe's exceptional role in human history".

Next day, His Holiness addressed the French TV audience. He emphasized that Russia and Europe "are unified not only with common history, as well as cultural, political and economic connections. We belong to the great European civilization, which is indivisible from Christian culture, Christian thinking, Christian values. This adherence is determined by our predecessors who once made their choice of identity.

"Today, we are facing a question whether our civilization is going to survive, or to be replaced by other cultures with a stronger commitment than ours. This question once stood before the Roman Empire, and at that time, Rome saved itself by following Christ. Are we able to save ourselves today? I believe we are, but only in case we return to the everlasting moral principles, without which neither money nor weaponry or any inventions of scientific mind could save us. I am convinced that if we wholly realize that we won't survive without moral perfection, without sanctity, we'll be able, in the words of the Gospels, to experience a 'divine rebirth' and achieve a great future".

Meeting with French journalists, specializing in religious problems, the Patriarch focused on the issue of dialogue between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Answering the question from Le Monde's correspondent over probability of a personal meeting of the Patriarch and the Pope, Alexy II emphasized that such a meeting should not be organized in a fashion of an official entertainment. "The personal dialogue should be preceded with a profound change in the relationship of the Holy See and the Orthodoxy", His Holiness said. "At present, there are too many obstacles for such a personal meeting".

The first obstacle, according to the Patriarch, emerges from the verbally expressed view of the Holy See in 1990s, characterizing the post-Marxist Russia a "spiritual desert" and Vatican's missionary territory. The second obstacle is the dissemination of the "Uniate" (Eastern Rite Roman Catholic) Church in Ukraine.

The Patriarch's visit to France demonstrated that the Russian Orthodox Church is committed for a dialogue with Western Christians and for cooperation with them in a joint effort to overcome the spiritual crisis of today's world. For this purpose, the Russian Church prefers to address directly to ordinary Europeans, sharing basic Christian values.

The emphasis of universality of basic Christian values, made by Patriarch Alexy II, demonstrates to Western Christians that their resistance to the inflow of immorality is shared also beyond the borders of the European Union. This is a strong counterargument to liberal globalist media which speculate over "reactionary views" of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In its effort to ascend to new civilizational heights, and to establish itself as a serious factor of the international endeavor for the world's conservative renovation on the basis of traditional spiritual values, the Russian Orthodox Church, as an institution, will be successful to the extent of the ability of Western Christians themselves to overcome the negative views of Russia and Orthodoxy, imposed upon them for centuries before.

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