The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has addressed the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg on his first official visit to France.
His Holiness Alexy the Second of Moscow and All Russia used the occasion to denounce what he described as the “collapse of liberal values” in the West. He also suggested the current concept of human rights has lost sight of the traditional base of moral and ethical values.
Some experts have criticised his remarks, suggesting they could be interpreted as an attempt to justify human rights violations within Russia.
Speaking exclusively to Euronews, His Holiness clarified the role the Russian Orthodox Church plays in modern Russian society.
(Your Holiness, welcome to Euronews. In your opinion, under what circumstances should the Russian Orthodox Church work in tandem with the authorities, and when should it maintain its autonomy?)
“I think we have many common goals and need to work together to achieve them. For example, social inequality, promoting peace between different nations, peoples and religions and preventing conflict. That means the Russian Orthodox Church is not separate from Russian society and its people and service to that society is a common mission of our Church and the State. We are all concerned about the wellbeing and future of our country.”
(A number of Russian academics have criticised what they claim is the “excessive role of the Orthodox Church in the public life of modern Russia.” How do you see the Church’s role and influence in this context?)
“I do not agree that clericalism is gaining more influence in russian society. In the early 1990’s, the Church decreed that none of our priests can become deputies or hold public office in any state body. Our mission is purely pastoral. We aim to meet the spiritual needs of our congregations without becoming involved in politics. We have suggested that lessons in basic Orthodox culture be included in the national curriculum. We believe its important that every russian is given the opportunity to discover the history of their own country, including the 1000 year old heritage of the orthodox faith. Its the duty of every russian to understand the ethics and fundamentals of the religion.”
(How does the Russian Orthodox Church co-exist with the other religions present in the country?)
“We have a General Council of Confessions which meets up to five times a year. We discuss and try to resolve any problems which arise between us. While we have good relations and there is no hostility, obviously there are some questions on which we do not agree, but everyone has the right to express their own opinion. For example, as far as we are concerned, our policy on religious education is not up for negotiation. We do not agree with those who say clericalism is creeping into russian society. We are strongly committed to the principles of our constitution within which the separation of church and state is enshrined. The number of worshippers in Russia is on the rise and it is our duty to support them spiritually.”
(Did you discuss the issue of Russia’s human rights records at the Council?)
“Yes we did. We firmly believe that human rights must be protected within an ethical and moral framework.”
(One last question: How can dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church be developed? What are the obstacles?)
“I think we both face many common problems. The promotion of ethical and spiritual values, the preservation of family values, the rejection of the immoral propaganda which seems to have flooded the mass media. We must work together to protect these values, which are sacred to all of us, and deliver them to our flock.”
(Your Holiness, thank you for your interview.)