Christian Witness to Uniting Europe

Paper delivered by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev at the International Symposium ‘Wisdom as a Source of European Unity’, Rome, Chamber of Deputies, Italian Parliament, 15 November 2002

When traveling in Europe, I am always astonished at seeing churches abandoned by their congregations, especially those that are transformed into pubs, clubs, shops, or places of other secular activity. There is something deeply deplorable in this sorry spectacle. I come from a country where for many decades church buildings were used for ungodly purposes. Many houses of worship were completely destroyed, others were converted into ‘museums of atheism’, and still others were redesigned and given over to secular institutions. This was one of the features of so-called ‘militant atheism’, which reigned in my country for seven decades and was dethroned only relatively recently. But for what cause do similar phenomena appear in Western Europe? Why has the place of religion in its society been so noticeably reduced in recent decades? How is it that religion has less and less space in the social domain? Moreover, why has this reduction in religious presence in Europe coincided with processes of European consolidation at political, financial, economic and social levels?

This paper will not attempt to answer all these questions. In what follows I shall limit myself to a few observations on the role of religion in modern Europe, on a possible contribution of the Churches and religious communities to the process of European integration and on the ways in which the Churches may develop their relationship with the secular world. I will speak both as an official representative of the Russian Church to the European Union and as a person whose personal experience includes exposure to European cultures. I shall therefore not only present the official position of my Church, but also offer my own comments.

1) European integration and the danger of ‘militant secularism’

Europe is a unique ethno-cultural phenomenon. Here, in a comparatively small territory, coexist diverse cultural traditions, each having its own identity, language, and centuries-old traditions. Over the course of its history, the nations of Europe have been torn apart by disagreements, which often led to armed conflicts. In most cases these acts of aggression resulted from the collisions of the political interests of particular countries, but not infrequently their origins were cultural. Some conflicts also had a religious dimension, such as those between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Muslims. Certain inter-confessional and inter-religious rivalries continue to present day: suffice it to mention Northern Ireland and Kosovo.

During the age of colonialism, when the world was divided by the European empires into spheres of influence, inter-European contradictions assumed worldwide magnitude. The two world wars of the twentieth century, which coincided with the disintegration of the colonial system, were in fact European wars, since they resulted from collisions between leading European states. But these wars affected the entire world, and, more than this, they revealed a huge destructive potential in the multifarious conglomerate of European nations and cultures.

After the Second World War, when Europe was in ruins, it became obvious that there was a need for pan-European solidarity for the survival not only of the continent, but also of the whole world. World War III was to be avoided at all costs, since it could destroy the entire human race. This is why immediately after 1945 a system of mutual support and solidarity began to be shaped, a process of integration for the Western European countries into the ‘United States of Europe’ began. The presence of a ‘Big Brother’ behind the iron curtain also prompted the West to work towards integration and unification.

In the beginning this process had only economic, military and political dimensions. As time went by, however, the quest for common cultural and civilizational space became ever more acute. It was deemed necessary to develop a new, universal ideology which would ensure the safe coexistence of various sub-cultures in the network of one European civilization by reducing the ideological and religious tensions that existed among different peoples. In order to create such a wide-ranging ideology, it was necessary to reduce all cultural, ideological and religious traditions of Europe to a common denominator. The position of such a denominator was assumed by Western ‘post-Christian’ humanism, whose basic principles were formulated in the Age of Enlightenment and ‘tested’ during the French Revolution.

The model of a new Europe based on this ideology presupposes the construction of an admittedly secular society, in which religion could only have a place in the private sphere. According to this secular model, religion had to be separated both from the state and from society, it was neither to influence social development nor would it interfere in political life. Such a model not only reduces to zero the social dimension of any religion, but also defies the missionary imperative of many religious communities. For Christian Churches this model presents a real challenge, since it undermines their possibility to spread the Gospel among ‘all nations’, to preach Christ to the world. If the secular model is imposed on Europe unconditionally with no special consideration given to the place of religion in society, religion will be driven into a ghetto, where it may be allowed to exist but from which it will hardly ever be able to emerge.

The faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church lived in a ghetto for many decades. When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, one of their first decrees was that ‘On the Separation of the Church from the State and of the School from the Church’. The introduction of the first principle, i.e. of the separation of the Church from the state, had in fact been long awaited. For from the beginning of the eighteenth century the Church in Russia had been under state control and was looking for ways to be liberated from it. But to separate the school from the Church meant that the Church could no longer play any role in education. Shortly after the Revolution, when the Bolsheviks adopted the doctrine of militant atheism, the Church was banned from running any educational centres of its own. It would not be allowed to publish books and periodicals, teach religion to children and youth, invite adolescents to participate in divine worship as altar-servers. For many decades, until the 1980s, it was unimaginable that a priest should be seen in a school, or that a schoolteacher should go to a church, or that a schoolboy should serve in the sanctuary. The borders between the ghetto and the world beyond were strictly observed and trespassers from either quarter were punished.

For seventy years religion was persecuted in the Soviet Union. There were different waves of persecutions and each had a different character. In the 1920s and the 1930s persecutions were most cruel: most of the clergy were executed, all monasteries, theological schools and the majority of churches were closed. A less brutal period followed in the aftermath of the World War II, when some monasteries and a few theological schools were reopened. In the 1960s a new wave of severe persecutions began, which aimed at the complete extermination of religion by the beginning of the 1980s. In the mid-eighties, however, the Church was not only still alive but was in fact slowly growing. As the Soviet ideological system began to decay, this growth was becoming ever more rapid and the state increasingly viewed the Church with favour. Some noticeable changes of the state’s attitude to religion were therefore taking place. But one thing forever remained unchanged: religion was forbidden to come out of the ghetto into which it was driven by the atheist regime; it was always far removed from any exposure to the life of society, and society was well shielded from any possible religious influence. To be a believer meant to be a social outcast. Matters relating to faith were not openly discussed, religious views were concealed, and conversations on spiritual topics were avoided.

Now the processes currently taking place in Europe are somewhat similar to those in the Soviet Union. Militant secularism becomes as dangerous for religion as militant atheism. Both aspire at casting religion out of the social and political spheres, driving it into a ghetto, reducing it to the realm of private devotion. Unwritten rules of ‘political correctness’ are also more and more often applied to religious institutions. In many cases this implies that believers can no longer express their convictions openly, since public expression of religious views may be regarded as an infringement of the rights of those who do not share them.

To this one may add that the Western secular press is largely negative towards Christian Churches, whose real life does not interest journalists. The latter are usually more interested in scandals within or among Christian communities. One cannot absolve the Churches of responsibility for these sorry episodes, but it is not only of them that the life of the Churches consists, and yet it is only they that are covered by the media. The question arises: is this negative reporting by the media deliberately designed to undermine Christian witness to the world? And if so, this may surely be seen as a part of a wider policy towards the further marginalization of Christianity and its expulsion from society.

The results of this policy are quite evident. In some countries, especially those that are not predominantly Catholic or Orthodox, majestic cathedrals, which several decades ago contained thousands of worshippers, are half-empty; theological seminaries are being closed because of lack of vocations; religious communities are not being replenished with young people; church property is being sold; churches are being transformed into places of secular activity. Again, one cannot deny that in many cases the Churches themselves are responsible for this situation, but the undermining effect of secularism should not be underestimated. Religion is being effectively cast out of the social sphere; it is more and more marginalized by secular society. And this is in spite of the fact that most people in the West in general and in Europe in particular still believe in God.

Many Europeans ask the same questions: how can we preserve the Christian witness to the world? How can society be averted from slipping down into the abyss of secularism? How can the youth be brought back to God? How do we build bridges between the Church on the one hand and the state, the society, and the mass media on the other? The Russian Orthodox Church, with its unique experience of survival under most severe persecutions, of combating militant atheism, of emerging from the ghetto when the political situation changed, of recovering its place in society and of redefining its social responsibilities, can assist Europe in finding answers to some of these questions. Unlike many Western European countries, Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union are experiencing a period of religious revival: millions of people are returning to God; churches and monasteries are being built everywhere. The Russian Orthodox Church, which is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing Churches in the world, does not have a shortage of vocations: on the contrary, thousands of young people enter its theological schools in order to dedicate their lives to the service of God.

The Russian Church undertakes serious intellectual efforts in order to comprehend the role of Christianity in a secular world, in order to define its relationship with society and the state, and in order to formulate the position of the Church on the key issues of modernity. ‘The Bases of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church’, adopted by the Bishops’ Council of 2000, are graphic evidence of the fact that the Church approaches these questions in a mature and responsible way, and that it possesses powerful intellectual potential that gives a balanced and intelligible response to them. Upon reading this document, which is the first text of its kind in the entire history of Orthodox Christianity, one sees that it belongs to a Church which no longer lives in a ghetto, no longer in crisis, but rather is at the peak of its powers. Though heavily damaged by militant atheism, this Church was never destroyed by it. Instead, it came out of the fiery experience of persecution renewed and rejuvenated. Having descended into hell and risen from the dead, this Church has a lot to communicate to the world.

The unique situation of the Russian Orthodox Church, its rich experience in the field of church and state relationship, its rootedness in European culture, and its important role in the building of a new Europe are acknowledged by the leading officials of the European Union. In his letter to Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad of 16 May 2002, the President of the European Commission Mr Romano Prodi stated:

Europe is a continent where multiple ethnic groups live together, each having its own face, its language and culture. All these elements are in interaction. We have an important task: to fight for further development of these elements which must not lose their characteristic traits. This is why I consider the cultural and spiritual contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is so deeply rooted in many areas of Europe and of neighbouring countries, necessary and timely. I regard this contribution as most precious. The Russian Orthodox Church has the full right to further the implementation of the ‘European project’: this is conditioned by its history, by its Christian tradition and its presence... I am convinced that the collaboration of the Russian Orthodox Church is needed by a new Europe. (see Europaica No 1)

2) How can the Russian Church contribute to the ‘European project’?

Mr Prodi’s words indicate that the interest in cooperation between the European political institutions and the Russian Orthodox Church is mutual. But what could be the specific contribution of the Russian Church to the ‘European project’ and how could our Church foster its implementation? These questions are addressed by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia in his letter to Mr Prodi of 3 October 2002, written on the occasion of the opening of the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to the European Union in Brussels:

The Russian Orthodox Church works for bringing a creative contribution to the development of the spiritual, philosophical and moral foundations of cooperation between the peoples of Europe through her believers who live in different countries, as well as through direct dialogue between the authorities of the Moscow Patriarchate and the European intergovernmental institutions. <...>

The Russian Orthodox Church is prepared to cooperate with the EU agencies in the field of developing an integral dimension of a united Europe. We can take part in discussing the problems of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations and in elaborating legislation which would regulate the status of religious communities. Moreover, representatives of the Church have something to say on the issues of the philosophical basis of law, dialogue among civilizations, common European security, prevention and overcoming of conflicts, social problems, the ethics of applying modern technologies, migration, etc. (see Europaica No 1)

The Russian Church is therefore prepared to cooperate with the European Union in various areas of common concern. One such area is in the discussions on the future of Europe launched on 28 February by the European Convention. The work of the Convention must result in a legislative document for the whole of the European Union, a kind of European constitution, or, as it is now put, ‘constitutional Treaty’. This process is crucially important for the future identity of the European continent. Many Churches and church-related organizations have already expressed their interest in discussing this document, since it will also have an impact on their future. The main question that is asked in connection with the document is on what system of values will it be based on and what place will be assigned in it to religion.

The interest of the Russian Church in this discussion is conditioned by the fact that its dioceses and parishes are already present in the countries of the European Union and that its presence will be significantly increased with the expansion of the Union in 2004. Moreover, this discussion affords to the Russian Church a timely opportunity to reflect more generally on the role of the Orthodox tradition in a uniting Europe and to share its reflections with the European political institutions. The expansion of the EU will increase the significance of several cultural and religious traditions whose impact on the integration process and whose role in shaping a pan-European system of values have so far been rather limited. The Orthodox tradition will definitely be one of them. Together with other local Orthodox Churches, the Russian Church is concerned about the necessity of strengthening the spiritual and moral dimensions of the integration process by allowing the Orthodox positions to be fully represented in the constitutional documents for Europe.

For the Russian Church, there can be no single ideological pattern, no single system of spiritual and moral values that could possibly be imposed on all European countries indiscriminately. The Russian Church has the vision of a Europe based on true pluralism, a Europe where the diversity of cultural, spiritual and religious traditions is fully represented. This plurality of traditions must be reflected also in such legislative documents as the future European constitution. If the constitution is based exclusively on the principles ingrained in Western secular humanism, with its particular understanding of peace, tolerance, freedom, justice, respect for human rights etc., it risks not to be accepted by a large portion of the European population, notably by those who, by virtue of belonging to a particular religious tradition, have a different vision of the same principles.

According to the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate as reflected in the statement by its Department for External Church Relations made in connection with the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Western secular model does not normally presuppose any link between religious values and social order. At the same time religious factors play a crucial role in shaping political and social doctrines in many places outside of Western civilization. In some countries, like Iran, religion is assumed as a basis not only of social order, but also of political structure. There are regions, like Tibet, where religion penetrates all levels of social life, forming, as it were, the very national identity of the people. These examples are taken from outside Europe, but even inside it we can find a great diversity of attitudes to the role of religion in society. Moreover, the influence of various religious streams in Europe becomes ever more visible. Hence the questions asked by the Russian Church:

If the European Union is called to become a common home for many people, does the liberal humanistic model of political structure have the right of monopoly in it, being for the most part Western European and North American model? Should we not take most serious consideration of the growth of religious, in particular, of Orthodox, as well as Islamic and neo-charismatic influence on social order? Has the time not come to understand that the society which is deprived of the possibility to realize a religious idea as main and central may also be deprived of a stable future? Recent threatening events in America showed how dangerous can be a collision of two ‘global projects’, liberal humanistic and radical conservative, which both regard themselves as having no alternatives and which both have pretensions of monopoly. The suppression of one of them by the other, which is sometimes openly advocated, is not the way out but a way towards suicide. The partisans of the humanistic liberal vision must accept true pluralism of ideas and views in the entire European space, they must recognize the right of various communities to preserve their cultural and spiritual identity, whose nucleus is very often constituted by religion.

These general observations lead the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate to make concrete proposals regarding the clauses that should be introduced to the future constitutional treaty of the EU. It should be stated, in particular, that for many believers it is the divine commandments that are perceived as the source of universal values, while non-believers regard these values as having different origins. Religious organizations should be treated as representing a distinct sector of society; their freedom to have their own vision of fundamental values should be respected. The freedom of every individual must be counterbalanced in the constitutional treaty for Europe by the freedom of cultural and religious communities, which have the right to protect their integrity and preserve the values on which their existence is based.

The extension of the European Union to the East, continues the statement by the Department for External Relations, must not involve the expansion of standards alien to the culture and the way of life of ‘candidate countries’. Totalitarian dictatorship must not be replaced by a dictatorship of pan-European governing mechanisms. In the enlarged EU each culture and each nation must have the freedom of self-expression and access to the mechanisms of decision-making.

There should be a clear division between the responsibilities and rights of the Union, and those of its member states. Each state, according to the official position of the Russian Church, must have the right to have its own legislation regulating the status of marriage and family, bioethical issues, systems of education. The countries of the Orthodox tradition, for example, do not accept juridical norms which legalize euthanasia, homosexual marriages, drug traffic, maintenance of brothels, pornography, etc.

Each country, moreover, must be allowed to develop its own model of relationship between church and the state:

The legislation which secures only the right of citizens to religious freedom creates, as a matter of fact, the conditions for ‘wild competition’ between confessions. We must together create such conditions under which democratic freedoms of an individual, including his right to religious self-determination, would not infringe on the rights of national communities to preserve their integrity, faithfulness to their traditions, social ethics and religion. This is especially important when approaching the regulations concerning the activity of pseudo-religious, destructive and extremist movements, as well as when detecting the facts of violation of religious freedom on the part of traditional confessions, whose expansion in some parts of Europe threatens public and social order.

In many European democratic countries religious freedom of every individual is counterbalanced by the support of traditional confessions at juridical and social levels. It is necessary to preserve the diversity of models of church and state relationship inherited by Europe from its history, allowing different countries and peoples to freely determine the degree of interpenetration of the church and the state, of their partnership in social, humanitarian, educational, cultural and other areas. In order to secure this principle it is important that the Appendix 11 to the Amsterdam treatise, which makes the questions related to the status of religious organizations the prerogative of national governments, should be included in the new document on the European Union.

The statements cited above show that the Russian Orthodox Church has already given careful consideration to questions relating to the future of Europe as they may be reflected in the constitutional documents of the European Union. However, dialogue between the Russian Church and European political institutions is only beginning. It is to be hoped that this dialogue will be mutually enriching and that the Church itself will profit from a closer collaboration with European political institutions. For the Russian Church, which is still in process of self-definition with respect to modern society, such dialogue is essential.

When speaking of the contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church to the ‘European project’, I have mostly concentrated on theoretical issues related to the future European legislation. But there are also quite a number of practical questions which are of common concern both for the Russian Church and the European Institutions. The newly-created representation of the Moscow Patriarchate in Brussels will therefore have a double task: to participate in theoretical discussions which are already underway in the European Union and to strengthen practical cooperation between the Russian Church and European society. Inter-Christian and inter-religious activities, as well as contacts with the Western press, will also be among the priorities of the representation.

3) Traditional values and secular standards

Let me now return to European integration and offer some remarks concerning possible practical consequences if the secular system of values should be imposed on the European Union. In a situation where no special provision is made for religious communities, collisions and clashes between religious institutions on the one hand and the secular world on the other will be inevitable. These collisions will take place at various levels and around various questions, but it is not difficult to predict that in most cases they will centre upon the issues of human morality, which are understood differently by religious communities and by modern society. There is already quite a glaring discrepancy between the system of values existing in traditional religions and that characteristic of the secular world.

The following story, told by the minister for integration policy of one of the European countries, is a good example of such discrepancy:

An Islamic leader <...> articulated publicly that homosexuality is a disease. This led to an outcry <...> not so much about the opinion – everyone is allowed dissenting views – but because it was a publicly expressed opinion of religious leader <...> Homosexuals felt endangered and I, as the minister for integration policy, felt obliged to have a conversation with the Islamic clergy and Muslim opinion leaders to explain the impact of such statements on tolerance, acceptance and respect between different citizens and various ethnic groups.

This, in my view, is a typical example of collision between the position of a religious leader on the one hand and the standards of modern secular society on the other. Three observations can be made in this connection. First of all, homosexuality is viewed by the aforementioned minister for integration policy as a commonly accepted phenomenon, and any negative or critical attitude to it is regarded as a ‘dissenting view’. Secondly, it is assumed that, if religious leaders should have dissenting views, i.e. those that do not correspond to the standards of modern secular society, they would still be allowed to have them, but would not be allowed to express them publicly. Thirdly, a minority group, when feeling ‘endangered’ by a certain statement coming from a religious leader, is believed to be in need of protection, the state authorities being obliged to ‘have a conversation’ with the religious leader in question. The story shows, therefore, that religious leaders with their dissenting opinions can act at a private level, but cannot enter the public domain: whenever they cross the borders of their ghetto and express views that are in discord with public opinion, secular authorities need to intervene.

Let us now look at what the Russian Orthodox Church says on the same issue in its ‘Bases of the Social Conception’ (XII. 9):

Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Church unequivocally deplore homosexual relations, seeing in them a vicious distortion of the God-created human nature. The Orthodox Church proceeds from the invariable conviction that the divinely established marital union of man and woman cannot be compared to the perverted manifestations of sexuality. She believes homosexuality to be a sinful distortion of human nature, which is overcome by spiritual effort leading to the healing and personal growth of the individual. Homosexual desires, just as other passions torturing fallen man, are healed by the Sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance, reading of Holy Scriptures and patristic writings, as well as Christian fellowship with believers who are ready to give spiritual support. While treating people with homosexual inclinations with pastoral responsibility, the Church is resolutely against the attempts to present this sinful tendency as a ‘norm’ and even something to be proud of and emulate. This is why the Church denounces any propaganda of homosexuality.

How would these statements correspond to Western secular standards? Could they not be perceived as ‘endangering’ homosexual groups, as promoting the spirit of intolerance? Would the state authorities not be obliged to intervene and to ‘have a conversation’ with the leaders of the Russian Church in order to convince them to keep their opinions private? ‘The Bases of the Social Conception’ is not a manual for private use: it is a public document in which the Russian Church expresses its official positions openly and explicitly. The language of the document differs from that of secular society: the notion of sin, for example, is practically absent from secular vocabulary. And yet, the Church believes that it has the full right to express its positions publicly not only when they concur with generally accepted opinions but also when they disagree with them.

There are many other positions expressed in the ‘Bases of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church’ which would not correspond to secular standards. For example, the Church regards abortion as a ‘grave sin’, equal to murder, and states that ‘from the moment of conception any encroachment on the life of a future human being is criminal’. The Church also rejects so-called ‘surrogate motherhood’, together with all kinds of extracorporeal insemination, as ‘unnatural and morally inadmissible’. The cloning of humans is regarded as ‘a definite challenge to the very nature of the human being and to the image of God inherent in him, the integral parts of which are the freedom and uniqueness of the personality’. Foetal therapy is considered to be ‘definitely inadmissible’. Euthanasia is condemned as ‘a form of homicide or suicide’. Sex change is claimed to be a ‘rebellion against the Creator’, not to be recognized by the Church: were a person of altered sex come to baptism, he or she would be baptized ‘as belonging to his or her sex by birth’.

Presumably, as long as the Orthodox Church keeps these positions strictly for its own use, they will be tolerated by modern society (similar positions are also held by the Roman Catholic Church). But what if a particular country were to adopt some of these positions and make them part of its legislation after European integration? Would this not be regarded as a deviation from a common European standard? Hitherto each European country has had the right to develop its own norms vis-à-vis human morality. It is crucial that in a new Europe each country should continue to enjoy this right and that no single standard should be imposed on all members of an enlarged European Union. It is equally crucial that Churches and religious communities have the right to express their positions on moral issues not only privately but also publicly, without being accused of interfering with established norms or of endangering minority groups or of promoting a spirit of intolerance.

The Churches must be able to reserve for themselves the right to follow their own canonical traditions choosing them over secular law in all cases where these two overlap or where there is an apparent contradiction between them. According to the ‘Social Conception’ of the Russian Orthodox Church, ‘in cases where human law completely rejects the absolute divine norm, replacing it by an opposite one, it ceases to be law and becomes lawlessness, in whatever legal garments it may dress itself’ (IV. 3). Thus,

In everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law, regardless of how far it is imperfect and unfortunate. However, when compliance with legal requirements threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbour, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession for the sake of God’s truth and the salvation of his soul for eternal life. He must speak out lawfully against an indisputable violation committed by society or state against the statutes and commandments of God. If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience. (IV. 9)

Obviously, disobedience to civil law is an extreme measure, only to be taken by a particular Church in exceptional circumstances. Such a possibility, however, cannot be excluded if a secular system of values becomes the only one to operate in Europe. In order to eliminate this possibility, European legislation must be sufficiently inclusive to allow for the plurality of positions to be represented in it, including the traditional views of the major European religious communities.

4) A ‘soul for Europe’ and inter-confessional solidarity

In 1992, Jacques Delors, the then President of the European Commission, said: ‘We won’t succeed with Europe solely on the basis of legal expertise or economic know-how... If in the next ten years we haven’t managed to give a soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up’. In saying this, Mr Delors most probably had in mind the need to recognize the spiritual dimension of the European integration rather than a requirement to invent some new kind of ‘European spirituality’. Indeed, Europe has a soul and a centuries-old spiritual tradition. It is this tradition which has to be rediscovered and given back to Europe at a time when all traditional values are being put into question.

Another former President of the European Commission, Mr Jacques Santer, stated that ‘Europe is inspired by a humanism based on its Judeo-Christian heritage’ and that ‘this should be reflected in the declaration of fundamental rights’. While agreeing with this statement in principle, I would like to specify that the importance of the Judeo-Christian heritage is not limited to shaping a humanistic civilization: both Judaic and Christian traditions are living traditions, and their value, together with that of Islam and of other major religions, has to be recognized in their own right. A humanistic ‘common denominator’ must not be applied to all traditions indiscriminately, since their systems of value do not always coincide with it.

While the European Churches and religious traditions differ in their attitude to modern issues, they are united in their claim that they have the right to preserve, to express publicly and to implement their systems of values, while remaining at the same time a vital part of the European integration process. Most Christian Churches of Europe, through the Conference of European Churches and the Catholic Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, have already formulated common proposals relating to Churches and religious communities in a constitutional treaty of the European Union:

The European Union recognizes and respects the right of the Churches and religious communities to freely organize themselves in accordance with national law, their convictions and statutes and to pursue their religious aims in the framework of fundamental rights.

The European Union respects the specific identity and the contribution to public life of Churches and religious communities and maintains a structured dialogue with them.

The European Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of Churches and religious communities in the member states. The Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organizations.

These articles, which have been submitted to the Convention on the Future of Europe for inclusion in appropriate sections of a future European constitution, reflect the common mind of the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and other Christian Churches. I believe that solidarity among European Christians must be made ever more manifest as the process of defining a common European system of values progresses. It is only together that Christians, along with the representatives of other traditional confessions in Europe, will be able to protect their own identity, combat ‘militant secularism’ and confront the other challenges of modern civilization. The Russian Orthodox Church is prepared to cooperate, at an inter-confessional and inter-religious, as well as political, social and other levels, with all who are not indifferent to what will be the future identity of Europe and with all who believe that traditional religious values are an integral part of that identity.

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To conclude, I would like to pose the following question: are we building a completely secular and atheist Europe, where God will be expelled from the social domain and religion will be driven into the ghetto of private existence or will the new Europe become a true home for different religions by being truly inclusive and pluralistic? I believe it is this question that has to be asked by the European Churches and religious communities and that has to be answered by the politicians. It is round this question that dialogue between religious communities and European political institutions should be centred.