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Metropolitan Kirill: Principle of Religious Freedom cannot be Taken as Absolute

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Europaica 47 Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad: Principle of Religious Freedom cannot be Taken as Absolute Speech at the enlarged meeting of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2004
      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
      and culture.

      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.

      Posted by DECR MP Communication Service (http://www.mospat.ru)
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