Metropolitan Kirill: Principle of Religious Freedom cannot be Taken as Absolute
- Europaica 47
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad: Principle of Religious
Freedom cannot be Taken as Absolute
Speech at the enlarged meeting of the leading officials of the Central
Federal District, Kursk, 21 July 2004
At present there is no doubt that religious convictions influence the
formation of a person and determine human behaviour in all aspects and
spheres of life.
Indeed, the Church teaches to form a good family, to work honestly and
creatively, to love one's Motherland, to respect law and authorities, to
take care of disabled. These principles, in terms of the Christian system
of values, are basic for every human person.
Today the Russian statesmen and politicians, all those who are interested
in the destiny of our country, realize that a firm moral ground is
necessary for the formation of social ideals and creation of a civilized
However, a question arises: couldn't a broad spiritual and moral
representation of different confessions in public life lead to a dangerous
competition and even clashes between different religious communities? I put
this question because it is always mentioned when some people try to limit
social mission of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The principle of religious freedom which is expressed in the Act on Freedom
of Conscience and Religious Organizations is, no doubt, significant and
necessary. At the same time, one should realize that the only one
principle, no matter how perfect it could be, is unable to cover all
richness, diversity and complexity of real life, as well as potentialities
for future development.
Besides, there exist at least two more principles which are necessary for
the normal religious life in our country.
The first principle presumes the difference between the notions of
'equality' and 'equal rights'. The Russian Orthodox Church stands for equal
rights for different religious organizations according to the law. And if a
certain legal initiative infringing legal rights of certain religious
communities is introduced, our Church, which herself quite recently
suffered from terrible persecutions, will be the first to protect these
At the same time, the role of any confession in the modern life and history
of the country, in the formation of spiritual and moral values, is to be
naturally taken into account. For example, it goes without saying that the
creative contribution of the Bolshoi Theatre into the cultural life of
Russia differs a priori from the contribution of a local house of culture,
though the Bolshoi and this house of culture are equal as legal entities.
It would be quite unjust to diminish the rights of small amateur groups.
Nevertheless, the state authorities have the right and moral duty to render
assistance to those entities which determine the cultural level of the country.
About 80 per cent of the population of our country consider themselves
Orthodox. Orthodoxy is a religion which determines our national identity,
our national self-identification. That is why supporting the principle of
freedom of conscience, it is impossible to ignore the real contribution of
the Russian Orthodox Church into spiritual and intellectual life of Russia
and the Russian people.
Now it has become fashionable to criticize local legislation regulating
legal relations in the religious sphere for its 'discriminatory' character.
Probably, certain shortcomings and contradictions with the federal norms
can be found there. However, to my mind, it is regions that demonstrate
today real understanding of the fact that the principle of religious
freedom is to be realized in accordance with other imperatives of the
national formation and that the violation of this factor leads to the
appearance of extremism and national and religious tensions.
The local legislation shows the necessity to apply one more principle in
realization of religious freedom in various regions of the country. I mean
the problem of preserving cultural identity of the peoples of Russia. This
cultural identity is not an empty word. Through this identity a person is
psychologically tied with the society and the state. It influences
activities and self-development of a person. Religion is the basic
component of cultures of all peoples of the world and determines their
identity. That is why we use such notions as 'Christian culture', 'Islamic
culture', 'Buddhist culture' and so on.
All countries which realize their cultural identity take steps to preserve
traditions, including religious ones. For example, in certain European
cities it is impossible to construct a cult building which would exceed
certain size or be in contradiction with the architectural style of the
surrounding buildings. To my mind, this is a positive measure, since such
approach protects and supports the love for one's own country, its history
I could show you a concrete example. The Russian Orthodox community in
Switzerland asked the authorities of Zurich for the permission to build a
church in Russian architectural traditions. Several versions were presented
to the municipal authorities, however, they all were rejected, since such
architectural style does not correspond to the cultural and historical
tradition of the city. And no references to human rights and to
discrimination of religious minorities were taken into account.
Recently, there was discussion in our society concerning the intention of
the Society of the Conscience of Krishna to erect their temple complex near
the centre of Moscow at the place which is significant and well-remembered
by the Russian people. The size of the proposed temple would go far beyond
the requirements of a small Moscow Krisna community at present and in
future. The size of the complex would be equal to a sixteen-storeyed house,
its capacity would be equal to that of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
The authors of the project presumed that the membership of this community,
exotic for Russia, would be increasing. And what would be the source of
this increase? It would be members of the Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist
communities. This project would come into contradiction with the religious
freedom of the majority of citizens, as well as show complete disregard of
the protection of cultural and historical view of Moscow. I believe it is
no mere chance that the idea of civil opposition to the intentions of the
Krishna community was supported not only by active faithful, but by a wide
circle of common citizens.
Problems of the kind usually arise with religious organizations of foreign
origin. Usually they have comparatively small membership, but solid
financial support. Material and financial resources which are at their
disposal permit them to carry out missionary and social activities, which
significantly overpasses their proportion in the religious life of the
country or some region of the country. Some of these organizations are
engaged in real proselytism under the disguise of educational, medical and
charity activities. They are 'fishing souls' of our co-citizens who often
live in unfavourable social situations, and are eroding and distorting the
identical culture of Russia. It should be added, that they often act
without any official state license. That is why, the requirement of
proportionality in the approach to the religious organizations acting on
the territory of Russia and of protection of identity of our people is, in
fact, the requirement for justice in the protection of religious rights of
our citizens and spiritual, cultural and historical identity of our country.
The existence of this problem, certainly, does not exclude the co-operation
with those communities whose views on the principles of the formation of
the system of interreligious and interconfessional relations in Russia
coincide with those of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1998 the
Interreligious Council of Russia was established. It consists of the
representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and the largest Muslim,
Judaic and Buddhist organizations. Besides, the Russian Orthodox Church is
open to mutual projects of cultural and social character with other
religious organizations. An example of such co-operation is a mutual
anti-narcotic action 'Train to Future', carried out last year by the
traditional religions of Russia together with certain Christian confessions.
Summing up the said above, I would like to emphasize once again: the
principle of religious freedom cannot and should not be taken as absolute
to the benefit of certain abstract considerations. It should be combined
with other value orientations, such as adequacy in missionary and social
activities, proportional role of certain religious organizations, active
protection of cultural identity of Russia. Without this we cannot form
peaceful and efficient interreligious and interconfessional relations.
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