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"Diplomacy is driven by mission", +Hilarion Alfeyev interview

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    with Nezavisimaya Gazeta Religii http://www.mospat.ru/en/2011/08/03/news46022/ ‘Diplomacy is driven by mission’ – Metropolitan Hilarion’s interview to
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2011
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      with Nezavisimaya Gazeta Religii

      http://www.mospat.ru/en/2011/08/03/news46022/

      ‘Diplomacy is driven by mission’ – Metropolitan Hilarion’s interview to
      NG-Religii
       
      3.08.2011
      DECR Chairman Metropolitan Hilarion speaks
      about traditions of church diplomacy and international agenda in an interview to
      journalists of NG-Religii supplement to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Andrey Melnikov and
      Anton Kurilovich (NG-Religii, 3 August 2011).
       
      Q. Your Eminence, the
      Russian Church’s diplomacy amounts to ages and has an enormous experience. How
      would you describe the distinction of church diplomacy and how does it differ
      from the diplomacy of a state?
       
      A. Church diplomacy sets itself
      the task to represent and protect the interests of the Church, while the
      diplomacy of a state protects the interests of that state in dialogue with
      parties to international relations. In this respect they are similar. The
      diplomacy of a state is essentially based on a pragmatic approach to foreign
      relations. It should ensure a favourable external background for its country and
      an enduring international peace. On the other hand, the foreign policy of a
      state may sometimes become hostage to the regime and pursue dubious political
      aims.
       
      But the Church as a participant
      in international relations unites people of different cultures and nationalities
      who share the same faith. And the principal task of the Church in her relations
      with the external world is to bear witness to the Truth of Christ. It is in fact
      for this aim that we enter into external church contacts and cooperation with
      other religions, governments and international and non-governmental
      organizations. Witness to the faith is also expressed in the Church’s stand on
      topical issues on the global agenda and in the area of interreligious
      relations.
       
      The Church teaches to respect the
      dignity of the human personality endowed with freedom and ability to discern the
      moral values which are called to prevent evil and falsehood from prevailing in
      the world. Therefore, in our external relations we consistently stand for a due
      regard of ethical norms in international relations. Traditional morality, which
      can become the only basis for people’s peaceful coexistence in a poly-cultural
      society, excludes moral indifference, egoism, consumerism and the like. Our
      priority external policy task is to bring this attitude home to as many people
      as possible.
       
      Q. How far do the
      DECR staff follow the traditions of church diplomacy? Is it possible to speak of
      the Byzantine style in the DECR’s work?
       
      A. The age-old traditions of
      church diplomacy are built on St. Paul’s words: ‘Stand therefore, having
      fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of
      righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by
      the gospel of peace’ (Eph. 6:14-15). Throughout centuries, Russian church
      diplomacy consolidated and continues to consolidate the unity of Universal
      Orthodoxy, maintained and continues to maintain relations with other Christian
      confessions and communities of people of other religions and has played a
      special role in settling contradictions and alleviating conflicts between
      civilizations, thus fulfilling peacemaking functions.
       
      For some reason Western Europeans
      has got accustomed to describe not quite honest methods in diplomacy as
      Byzantine style. In the history of Byzantium such diplomatic ways were used
      sometimes but they were also used by a great number of other states. I see no
      grounds for ascribing some special perfidy or subtlety to statesmen of the Roman
      Empire from which Old Russia adopted the basic traditions of statehood. I
      believe it is one of the clichés used by the Western civilizations.
       
      Q. In the past
      centuries, Churches used to build their cooperation unhurriedly. In our days,
      church negotiators move around the world swiftly by plane. How does this
      increased fastness of living influence the nature of decisions
      made?
       
      A. Tradition is continuity of
      experience handed down from generation to generation. Any rejection of this
      continuity means not only a rupture with the past but also a certain radical
      transformation of the present, which will inevitably affect the future. And the
      Church is very conservative in this respect. She values both her past and her
      present. Her future grows from them. Reforms in the Church may have to do only
      with her external forms but never with the essence of her life. Traditions of
      local or temporal nature however may change. The Church is open to various
      aspects of people’s cultural life because she exists and works in diverse
      cultural contexts, setting forth her teaching in a different language and on
      different stages in the development of the human community. Therefore, the basic
      principles of church diplomacy do not depend on such things as horses being
      replaced by planes or goose quills by notebooks. The combination of healthy
      conservatism and openness to modernity on all the stages of her historical life
      is what has helped the Church to exercise, among other things, her external
      church relations.
       
      Q. How much the DECR
      resorts to the assistance of Russia’s Foreign Ministry in her work, for
      instance, in protecting the interests of Christians in Islamic
      countries?
       
      A. You have touched upon a very
      burning issue concerning the situation of Christians in countries where they are
      a minority. Christian communities have been present in these regions for
      centuries and despite their difficult situation they have managed to preserve
      their faith and cultural identity. In recent decades however, Christians have
      become the most oppressed and persecuted religious community in the world, and
      in some Middle East regions their number has considerably decreased. According
      to some estimates, nearly 100 million Christians are persecuted annually in
      various countries of the world. This is why we have engaged in active
      cooperation with national and international structures including Russia’s
      Foreign Ministry to change the situation of Christians for the better. For
      instance, one of the effective means here may lie in raising the problem of
      Christians when decisions are made to provide economic or other aid to a
      country. It is not a universal method of course since many countries of the Arab
      world are themselves financial donors. Nevertheless, relations of confidence
      that Russian diplomacy has established with Arab countries in last decades can
      become a good foundation for discussing the protection of Christians.
       
      Q. What instruments
      of cooperation do church diplomats have at their disposal? Have they ever
      managed to settle conflicts through their own religious channels when state
      diplomacy proved powerless?
       
      A. I will cite a recent example.
      On July 26, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia met with
      Catholicos-Patriarch Iliya II of All Georgia in Kiev. The absence of diplomatic
      relations between Russia and Georgia was not an obstacle for that meeting. On
      the contrary, as Patriarch Kirill noted, contacts between the Russian and
      Georgian Churches have become even more intensive than before, which makes up to
      a certain extent the absence of relations on the political level. In our view,
      it is a guarantee that good relations between our states will be restored.
       
      History knows of many cases where
      church diplomacy proved to be extremely effective in a situation of interstate
      difficulties. Suffice it to remember the long-standing representation of the
      interests of the Russian Empire by the Russian Orthodox Mission in Peking or the
      work of the Russian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem in the situation of absence of
      diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel. For all that the peacemaking
      potential of church diplomacy remains unrealized in many ways. The awareness of
      this by the Russian foreign policy department grows with each year. Evidence to
      it is the fruitful work of the Group for Cooperation between the Russian Church
      and the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The faithful of traditional
      religions have many things in common, and when the resources of confidence
      between politicians and diplomats are exhausted, they are able to preserve
      friendship and mutual respect. A testimony to this is our good long-standing
      contacts with theologians and scholars in Iran, a country being actually in
      international isolation.
       
      We hold direct discussions with
      Muslim leaders concerning the problems of the Christian minority. Early in June
      I visited Egypt and met with the rector, professors and students of the oldest
      Islamic university Al-Azhar. My address, in which I spoke about the situation of
      Christians in that country, was received with great understanding and concern.
      It is another indication of the ability of church diplomats to search for a
      solution of problems also in a situation where secular diplomacy has proved
      powerless.
       
      Q. When you think a
      Pan-Orthodox Council may take place?
       
      A. Mutual relations between Local
      Orthodox Churches are on the rise today, characterized by growing trust and
      cooperation. In the recent years, a considerable progress has been made in
      preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Council. It is impossible to foretell the
      exact date of the Council. It will take place when Orthodox Churches agree on
      the items of the agenda published as far back as the 1960s. In discussing these
      items at inter-Orthodox preparatory commissions and Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council
      Conferences, Local Churches have managed to come to consensus on most of them
      but not all as yet. At present, the Local Orthodox Churches should decide
      together whether to hold a Council on the full agenda or only those items on
      which an agreed position has already been reached by the Churches. The latter
      option will clearly draw nearer the date of the Pan-Orthodox Council.
       
      On the other hand, not all the
      items put on the agenda in the last century are relevant in our days, for
      instance, the struggle against racial discrimination. At the same time, the
      Church is facing a whole number of new challenges requiring urgent discussion
      and decisions. Among them some issues of bioethics as well as problems brought
      about by the crisis of family values in the modern society. It would be
      worthwhile to discuss these issues during the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox
      Council.
       
      Q. Is it possible to
      say that relations with the Vatican have become a priority in the DECR’s work in
      recent times?
       
      A. The priority in the work of
      the Department for External Church Relation is in the first place the
      development of the Russian Orthodox Church’s relations with Local Orthodox
      Churches. It can be noted however that for the last five years there has been a
      positive dynamic in the development of relations with the Holy See. Today we
      become ever more aware of the need to unite efforts in face of such challenges
      of today as liberal secularism, negative aspects of the globalization, the
      family crisis and the eroded foundation of social ethics. Especially urgent
      today in the light of recent events in the Middle East is the need to oppose the
      discrimination of Christians and various manifestations of religious intolerance
      in many countries of the world.
       
      Q. Recently you have
      met with ex-president George Bush. Tell us please what benefit can be drawn by
      the Moscow Patriarchate from cooperation with the influential community of
      conservative Protestants in the USA?
       
      A. My unofficial meeting with
      George Bush is only one of many episodes in our cooperation with American
      Christian conservatives. As is known, the ex-president himself ‘found Jesus’
      when he was 40 under the influence of preacher Billy Graham who helped him to
      change his former way of life. George Bush became close friends with the
      Evangelicals. They promoted his political career. Mr. Bush said on several
      occasions that his aim was ‘to propagate the biblical vision of the world’. I
      would not like to give in this context a political assessment to the political
      work of George Bush Jr. while he was president of the USA. I would like to say
      something different, namely, that we are in solidarity with the Evangelicals in
      their struggle against the liberalization of Christianity, in their advocacy of
      traditional moral norms. They have consistently come out against the so-called
      same-sex marriages and ordination of homosexuals. In this sense, the
      Evangelicals can be said to be defenders of Christian morals. At the same time,
      our understandings of the faith in Christ and of the nature of the Church
      radically differ. Photos by the Patriarchal Press Service

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