The Future of Europe and the Eastern Christian Tradition

Lecture by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate in the University of Perugia, Italy, 2 October 2002

First I would like to specify the subject of my lecture. I do not intend to become absorbed in history by tracing the way of Byzantium and Russia in the religious and social life of Europe. I would prefer to talk about the role of Eastern Christian civilization in Europe at the present and - what is more important - in the future.

Eastern Christian civilization, like any other civilization, has given rise to an original way of life of its own. Its philosophy and form have appeared in the result of the efforts of many generations of people who professed Orthodoxy and who wanted to build up their private and social life in accordance with the Apostolic faith.

The theme of Europe is especially important in the process of the formation of the Eastern European way of life and philosophy of life. Byzantium, and the Orthodox Slavonic world through it inherited Greek wisdom, Roman law and state traditions, which had already been transformed by the light of Christianity. Russia joined the family of European nations through Christianity.

The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches of 1054 formed two independent centers of civilization in Europe. After the fall of Byzantium the connections between these two centres became considerably weaker. Each of them has developed the heritage of Rome in its own way. The breakthrough in the relations between East and West happened in the early 18th century as a result of the policy and reforms of Peter I. Close contacts were interrupted again during Soviet times even to the point of isolation. Free communications between the two parts of Europe were revived in the 90s.

The idea of restoring European unity in the dogmatic, cultural and even political aspects has never died either in the East, or in the West, even in the most difficult years. The idea of a united Europe, of comprehensive international union and even a common state in the European space has existed for thousands of years. Many nations which populated the continent: Greeks, Romans, Franks, Frenchmen, Teutons, Germans and - to a certain extent - the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union tried to implement this idea. Their projects were inevitably coloured with the culture and the level of achievements of every epoch. Almost fifty years ago, after the two bloodiest wars of the 20th century the nations of Europe made another historical attempt to unite for the sake of common wellbeing, peace and security.

Unfortunately, this process began when Europe was divided into two hostile ideological camps. The East, affected by totalitarianism, was perceived as a threat to the West and therefore was an external consolidating factor for the 'capitalist' countries. After that system in the East had collapsed, all countries of the continent were given the opportunity to build friendly relations. We are still going along this path, yet not without committing errors, which periodically erect new walls of misunderstanding between us.

One has to state that the countries of Eastern Europe, with rare exceptions, while destroying their political, ideological, social and economic basis, remained faithful to the major principle of Bolshevism to raze the old world to the ground, and then to build a new world on its ruins. It would seem that after the collapse of Communism these countries lost faith in their own power, as if believing that their national genius was no longer capable of developing an original model of social order. Therefore they, often unthinkingly, began to borrow foreign prescriptions.

At the same time almost the entire Western world adopted the pose of 'teaching the East about life", but has not found time to learn the individual characteristic features of the 'pupils'. Generally speaking, the Western tone of mentor irritates the East European countries. It is necessary to understand that the Eastern Europe does not want to blindly follow the rules developed some time ago by someone without its participation and without consideration of the particular features of its inhabitants' philosophy of life simply because at a given historical stage these rules provide the well being of a certain part of the inhabitants of the Earth.

Bearing in mind all the above, I would not like to look for ways of adapting Eastern Christian civilization to the Western project of a united Europe. I wish to talk about the things which the Eastern Christian world will never give up, but which it can and wants to share with Western Europe.

The reflections on this subject are no longer an intellectual exercise, as in the early 90s the question was raised of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union to the East, in particular to the countries with an Orthodox tradition: Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus, as well as the states, where large Orthodox minorities historically lived: Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Will European integration be just an expansion of the authority of the Western institutions and norms to these countries, or will West European integration change qualitatively and become genuinely pan-European?

As we know, the 'Future of Europe' Convention started its work in Brussels last March and will complete it next April. The Convention consists of the representatives of governments and parliaments of the EU member countries and candidate countries. Its mandate is to present a comprehensive report on the prospects of the development of integration to the highest body of the EU - the European Council. I hope that thanks to the Convention the voices of all countries concerned will be heard. Not only different governmental agencies can make their contribution to the process of discussing the future of Europe, but also the organizations of civil society, including religious communities.

The Russian Orthodox Church has sent a statement to the Convention, in which it expressed its attitude to many processes, which are happening in Europe. The statement also included our concrete proposals on the development of dialogue with the European institutions. You may ask why the Church deals with such matters? Why is it speaking as a subject of inter-civilizational dialogue in Europe?

Modern Russia, as well as other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, has borrowed a lot from Western culture in different spheres of life. But parallel to the Western model, which, I would say, is secular in its essence, our country retains a way of thinking and a way of life, which comprise the specific nature of Russian civilization. They are cultivated by traditional religious communities and are present in different spheres of society through believing citizens. The Russian Orthodox Church as a sum total of Orthodox believers is the main living bearer of the identity code of Russian civilization.

This is the vision of our Church, but it does not in the least usurp authority and does not infringe upon the right of the state to represent Russia in international relations. The Church has its own specific field of relations with other cultures and nations, both spiritual and philosophical. As to the themes of the deepest fundamentals of life and motivations of human activities, which include the private and social lives of people, the Church has many partners for dialogue in Europe. We maintain traditional relations with the Local Orthodox Churches, we have long-standing relations with other Christian confessions and other religions, with the world of culture, education and science and the authorities of different countries. Dialogue with intergovernmental structures has been added to these.

The changes in the social life expected in the West and in the East prompt me to think again about the role of Orthodox civilization in the building of a united Europe.

For many centuries the Orthodox faith and the Orthodox way of life have shaped the national and cultural identity of many countries of the East of Europe, including Russia. Orthodoxy was that system of coordinates by which the life of many nations was measured.

The major distinctive feature of the Orthodox community is its conviction in the necessity of religious way of life, which presupposes the relying on religious motivation in all kinds of activity and the presence of spiritual fundamentals of social order and spiritual aims of social development.

This approach affirms the active presence of the Church in the world. But for what purpose is this presence needed? The attitude of religious communities to the very idea of dialogue with secular society is often prejudiced. For instance, there is a set notion that 'the whole world is in the power of the evil one' and that evil cannot be overcome, hence a tendency to self-isolation.

Let us look, for example, at the schism of the 17th century in Russia. It was based not only on ritual disagreements on how many fingers one should use to make the sign of the cross and in which direction the procession with the cross should go - with the sun or against the sun. Time has passed, and it has become clear that the dispute was really about the place of the Church in human life, whether it is destined to save only 'the little flock' - a narrow circle of like-minded people, - or it has a mission to fulfil for society, even a non-religious one. We state that the activity of the Church should not be limited by preaching within a religious community. Movement towards the world and a desire to transform it are integral parts of church life.

So, the religious ideal for Eastern Christian civilization is inseparably connected not only with private, but also with public life, as well as with all the thoughts, words and deeds of the human person, with the ordering of the family, the collective, the nation and the state. Besides, the Christian East has other characteristic features, such as the notion of the indisputable priority of the spiritual over the material, of self-sacrifice and self-denial over the aspiration for the earthly success, of common interests over private ones, of the faithfulness to the truth and ideals over wordly benefits, wellbeing and security.

Incidentally, all these features, or at least some of them, are characteristic of other traditional civilizations - Moslem, Hinduist and partly West European - Catholic and Protestant - in their ultimate expression. Even the Communist ideology had borrowed many ideals and archetypes, which have been shaped under the influence of Orthodoxy. Nicholas Berdyaev wrote about this in his book 'The Origin and Meaning of Russian Communism'.

Recently the Russian Orthodox Church has made an attempt to give direction to the Orthodox consciousness in public and private life. As you probably know, the Jubilee Bishops' Council of 2000 adopted the "Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church". This document presents views on the tasks of the Church in human society including her attitude to the state, nations, the world of politics, law, labour, international relations, globalization, the environment, the mass media, education, culture, science and some aspects of private life.

The Church tries to bear witness to these views on the European continent. It is concerned with the artificially proclaimed dominance of the secular liberal philosophy of life on all levels of social life in the most countries of Europe and in the integration institutions. The principal question is raised whether the secular, liberal humanistic model of the structure of the state, society and international relations is entitled to the global monopoly. Does not the growth of religious influence on the social order, and of the Orthodox, Moslem and neo-charismatic influence in particular, call us to treat this influence and its challenges with the utmost seriousness, knowing that society, which is deprived of an opportunity to realize the religious idea as a major and central one, can be also deprived of a stable future? Recent terrible events have shown how dangerous can be the confrontation of the two 'global projects' - liberal humanistic and radical conservative, which claim a monopoly with no alternative. The suppression of one by the other, to which we are often openly called, is not a resolution, but a way to suicide.

The historical self-awareness of the people in the post-totalitarian counties is being revived. These people strive for a social and cultural life, which would correspond to their identity and would not suppress their character and traditions. Despite the apparent success in the economic, technological and social development, Western countries recently have also encountered a number of challenges, and their destiny will depend on how they meet them. These challenges are largely of a spiritual and philosophical character.

In the processes of integration many people see an apparent gap between the present system of EU management and ordinary citizens, including that section of society, which defends traditional moral and religious values. As the events in certain European countries have shown, this section of society is becoming larger, but does not find their hopes reflected in the policy, which is being pursued and is not visibly represented in the pan-European mechanisms of decision-making. People in the 'candidate countries' have particular fears of the process of the reformation of the EU. Many people believe that the destiny of these countries is being decided on their behalf, but without their participation.

The advocates of the humanist liberal philosophy of life should recognize the real pluralism of ideas and views in the European space as a whole, the right of different communities to preserve their cultural and religious identity with religion at its core, which happens quite often.

This task goes beyond the framework of Europe and acquires a global scale. The reform of global political, economic and military management is needed, as well as the reform of the corresponding legal norms, which could bring about the affirmation of the multipolar and multilayered world order, the recognition of the pluralism of cultures, religions, philosophies of life, legal and political systems, and the refusal to impose a 'single universal' civilizational model upon any nation.

Together we must create conditions under which the democratic freedoms of the individual, including his right to religious self-determination, would not violate the right of the national communities to remain faithful to their traditions, social ethics and religion. It is especially important in regard of the regulation of the activities of the pseudo-religious, destructive and extremist movements, and also when the facts are revealed of the misuse of religious freedom by the traditional confessions, which sometimes wage expansion in different countries of Europe thus threatening social order and tranquillity.

In this regard Russia can offer Europe its experience of interreligious relations, which has been accumulated under conditions of good-neighbourly relations between Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, unlike Western Europe which knew bloody religious wars.

I believe that the preservation of all diversity of models of Church-State relations in Europe will allow the countries and people to freely determine the extent of mutual penetration of the Church and the state, as well as their partnership in the social, humanitarian, educational, cultural and other spheres.

The Russian Orthodox Church adopts these positions and tries to bring a creative contribution into the development of spiritual, moral and philosophical foundations of the European Union through the Orthodox Christians who live in different countries, as well as through direct dialogue between our Church and the public and political authorities of Western Europe. The Russian Orthodox Church is prepared to cooperate with other European churches, public circles, and representatives of the intergovernmental structures in the development of a value structure of a common Europe.

I am deeply convinced that modern society should be structured in such a way so that an opportunity will be given to its members to live and act according to the norms of their faith. Therefore one should not limit the Church by its participation in discussing the matters which concern its legal status, interreligious relations, etc. Representatives of the Church are prepared to take part in discussing the problems of pan-European security, social activities, the ethics of using modern technologies, etc. In this regard the major task of our cooperation with the EU will be the formation of the multiformat mechanism of the dialogue among civilizations.

This briefly concerns the vision of our Church in its participation as a religious tradition in the formation of a single, peaceful and prospering Europe. We are prepared to conduct dialogue in different directions and to explain the particular features of the Orthodox philosophy of life to our friends in the West and at the same time to study their spiritual and social experience.

Thank you for your attention.

 


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