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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Religious faith as the source of social norms. Correlating traditional and liberal values in individual and societal choices (Address to the Theological Conference of the Russian Orthodox Church “Orthodox Theology at the Turn of the Third Millennium”, Mos
RELIGIOUS FAITH AS THESOURCE OF SOCIAL NORMS:
CORRELATING TRADITIONALAND LIBERAL VALUES IN
INDIVIDUAL AND SOCIETAL
Address to the Theological Conference of the Russian Orthodox Church
‘Orthodox Theology at the Turn of the Third Millennium’,
Moscow, February 7-9, 2000
The most fundamental conflict of our present era is the clash that between the liberal model of civilization on the one hand and national cultural and religious identity on the other. For me it is the single largest challenge facing the human community in the twenty-first century. Research into the genesis of this opposition and the search for ways of overcoming it need to occupy an important place in Orthodox theological studies.
Resolving this conflict could play a major part in determining the future shape of human civilization. This explains why the fact of raising this problem and initial attempts to define it arouse both genuine interest and no less genuine anger.
The anger comes from those who, from certain ideological positions, deny the very existence of such a problem: from those quarters that fear a revision or correction of the liberal ideas which underpin current attempts to form a new and global image of human community from the melting pot of civilizations and cultures.
And no less anger comes from those zealots or religious and cultural fundamentalists who have long since resolved all these problems in their own minds, deeply convinced that the only road to salvation is to retreat behind tightly-bolted doors. Despite this, it is encouraging that many people, both in Russia and abroad, have expressed lively interest in further discussion of the relationship between liberal and traditional ideas and values.
Methodologically, and by the very nature of the problem, this discussion belongs not only to the realm of international relations and the need to create a just world order, but equally to that of the individual and of modern society in general. Resolution of this fundamental problem will also help answer a whole range of related problems of Church-society, inter-confessional and inter-religious relations.
Of course, knowledge of the Church’s teaching, personal experience of prayer, the ability to distinguish Orthodoxy from other denominations, an understanding of the historical roots and spiritual culture of their country and any many other faith-related areas remain essential for an Orthodox man or woman in the twenty-first century. But the foremost priority must be to assimilate religion into life, into a lifestyle predicated on religious motivation. Modern society is constantly inculcating into people that religious faith is the purely private, indeed intimate affair of the human individual. In liberal, secularized societies, the only choices for which religious motivation is seen as permissible are those limited to a citizen’s personal or, in extreme cases, family life. In other aspects of human existence there is no room, nor can there be, for religious motivation.
Personal ethics do indeed lie at the very heart of Christian morality. The Christian message is aimed in the first place at the individual person, seeking to elicit a personal spiritual experience and response which will open the way to the transfiguration of his or her soul. Nonetheless, these salvation-bringing changes in our inner worlds take place, not in isolation from the external environment, not in special laboratory conditions, but in real and living contact with the people around us, in the first instance in our families, then with our
colleagues at work, with society and ultimately, with the institutions of state. It is not possible to be a Christian inside the walls of one’s own home, in one’s family circle or in the solitude of one’s cell and to cease to be Christian when teaching at university or in school, standing in front of a television camera, voting in Parliament or undertaking a scientific experiment. Christian motivation must be present in everything that constitutes the believer’s sphere of vital interests. A believer cannot exclude his professional life or scientific interests, his political, economic or social activities, his work in the media and the like from this spiritual and moral context. Religious belief encompasses everything a believer is or does. The religious way of life is the mode of existence in the world of people whose choices are motivated and determined by their religious principles.
The religious way of life - and in this case I am are talking of the Orthodox way of life - is distinguished by its rootedness in the tradition of the Church. For the Orthodox Christian, tradition is a set of creedal and moral truths that the Church has accepted from the testimony of the Apostles and which it has guarded and developed as a function of the historical circumstances and challenges facing it down the ages. Briefly, tradition is the living, grace-filled stream of the Church’s faith and life. Tradition provides the norm by which the life of faith is necessarily and vitally governed. Every departure from tradition is therefore understood by the Orthodox as a violation of this norm of faith, or, put simply, as heresy.
It is the tradition of the Church that provides the criterion of whether a particular way of life is Orthodox or not. Rooted in it, it is Orthodox, outside it, it is not. Here, of course, we are talking not so much of the external manifestations of faithfulness to tradition or of the cultural significance of tradition in the history of individuals and society. This rootedness in tradition is revealed in the values by which we live our lives. Only a life lived in accordance with tradition as normative for faith and behaviour may be regarded as truly Orthodox life.
Today, many of our countrymen face the challenge of not only assimilating and holding fast to the faith, but even more of assimilat-
ing and holding fast to the way of life defined by this faith. For the norm of faith to become the standard by which a person governs his life calls not only for knowledge about, but for real, first-hand experience of life in the Church. We have to be partakers of its Mystery. Only then will following the norm of faith be as natural as ‘breath, glorifying the Lord’. Only then will it not become an ‘unbearable yoke’ or, worse, Pharisaism killing the very spirit of faith. Rather, like a blessed ‘covering mantle’, it will protect the believer throughout his life. Adherence to this norm does not constrain or limit or violate human freedom. Rather it protects it from destruction, just as the mother’s womb protects the life evolving in it.
Maintaining this norm and affirming it in modern society as a vital, ontological value is the task of every intelligent member of the Church. It is also, more specifically, the task of contemporary theology. This norm is as strong as it is fragile. As the experience of individual lives and entire communities demonstrates, it can be damaged or even destroyed. It can also be preserved and strengthened by contact with different cultural and civilizational standards, with other norms of life. We come into contact with such ‘otherness’ when, for example, we live side by side with people of other views and convictions, bearing other cultural and civilizational codes.
To these I will now turn my attention. In most cases where other ways of life are based on their own traditions, they do not represent any danger to Orthodox values. Orthodox have in Russia lived side by side and interacted for centuries with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and certain other Christian denominations. Throughout the history of our country such religious-cultural intersection has almost never taken on a destructive character. In the context of Russian civilization, the various rules, standards and traditions of each group more often than not did not conflict with, but rather supported one another. And for this reason Russian Orthodox people have always lived peacefully with foreigners and peoples of other faiths.The only exceptions have been where an alien faith and alien standards of life have been imposed on our people by force or by proselytism. Then the people have risen up to defend their faith
and the lifestyle that they perceived as the norm and under threat of destruction. Typically, this has been due to foreign aggression. And for this reason our whole history is marked by the struggle, not only to preserve our national and political independence, but also to maintain the tradition of our fatherland, the norm of faith and its associated form of life. However, in the absence of such attacks on their religious and cultural identity, Russians’ co-existence with bearers of other civilizational standards has proved remarkably harmonious.
Orthodox people have interacted with interest, curiosity and often genuine respect with foreigners and non-Orthodox, paying tribute in particular to their professional and military skills. They have frequently adopted foreign cultural realities, social skills and working methods. It may be precisely because of what Dostoevsky called the Russian people’s ‘responsiveness to the whole world’ that our land has not been watered with the blood of religious wars. Rather, we can speak of the formation, fir back in Russian history, of a model of peaceful coexistence of various religious codes and lifestyles, each rooted in its own tradition and each having its own clearly defined - and therefore well known to each other - value systems. The fact that Muslims and Jews fought side by side with Orthodox in the Russian army to defend their common homeland is visible embodiment of such mutual respect for each others’ religious and cultural experience and an implicit rejection of any desire to impose one’s own way of life on one’s neighbour.
The rapid development of communications and mass media in modern times has radically changed not only the face of the world, but also the structure of inter-personal, inter-ethnic and inter-state relations. In today’s world almost all the boundaries that formerly separated national cultures have come tumbling down. Today people move with unprecedented ease right around the globe, freely choosing to live and work anywhere in the world.This is producing enormous cultural and ethnic displacements, the full consequences of which we have not yet fully grasped.The era of mono-ethnic and mono-confessional states is gradually disappearing before our very
eyes. For example, the Muslim presence on the European continent is a socio-cultural factor that can not be ignored.The world has become open, diffuse, inter-penetrating. How should individuals and human communities respond to this challenge?
As the historical experience of Russia witnesses, contact and mutual influence between religious and cultural traditions may, under certain conditions (rejection of proselytism, aggression, etc.) be not only harmless for the conservation of cultural and religious identity, but also mutually enriching.
The real problem lies elsewhere, in the absence of barriers in today’s world to protect nations’ spiritual health, and their religious and historical identity, from the expansion of alien, destructive social and cultural factors, from the new way of life that is arising and taking shape outside of any tradition under the influence of today’s post-industrial world. At the basis of this lifestyle are liberal ideas, combining pagan anthropocentrism - which entered European culture through the Renaissance - Protestant theology and Jewish philosophical thought. By the end of the Enlightenment these ideas had shaped themselves into a certain set of liberal principles. The French Revolution marked the culmination of this spiritual and ideological revolution, based on the rejection of the normative significance of tradition. Where did this revolution start? It began with the Reformation and with the reformers’ rejection of the normative significance of tradition in the field of Christian dogma. In Protestantism, tradition ceased being a criterion of truth, to be replaced by the believer’s personal understanding of the Scriptures and personal religious experience. Protestantism is in essence a liberal reading of Christianity.
Allow me to add in passing that the current crisis of ecumenism is in the first instance a methodological crisis. Why? Because, at the start of inter-confessional dialogue, instead of attempting to agree on the most important thing, that is an understanding of Holy Tradition as normative for Christian faith and practice and a criterion of theological truth, Christians began to discuss individual questions, however important these may be in themselves. The manifest
success in the discussion of these questions is really almost irrelevant, because what meaning can doctrinal agreement have when one party (a significant portion of Protestant theologians) does not recognize the very concept of normativity for Christian faith and practice? Any agreement in these fields is open to withdrawal or revision when new ideas and new arguments appear, introducing new seeds of division. Is not this the phenomenon we are facing today with the problem of women’s priesthood and acceptance of homosexual lifestyles? A propos, the history of women’s priesthood and homosexuality is the best proof of the thesis about the liberal nature of Protestantism. It is very clear that the introduction of women’s priesthood and acceptance of homosexual lifestyles occurred under the influence of the liberal idea of human rights. In the case in point, these rights represent a radical departure from Holy Tradition, and a portion of Protestantism has resolved the problem in favour of human rights, ignoring the clear norm of tradition.
But back to my main theme: what we are facing today is a new post-industrial way of life, based on personal freedom from any conventions and restrictions, other than the limitations imposed by law. How should we handle this theologically? The concept of liberalism rests on the idea of liberating human beings from all that is understood as limiting their desires and their rights. Asserting the absolute value of the individual, the liberal standard takes individual freedom as the goal and means of human existence. Let me point out that this thesis is not contested by theologians, including Orthodox ones. Thus far we have not crossed the borderline into transgression of the teachings of the Church. For the Lord himself, creating man in His own image and likeness, placed in him the divine gift of free will. Thus, man’s freedom of choice belongs to God’s predetermined plan and its violation is a sin.
However, on the other side of this borderline begins the region of sly, diabolic and destructive falsehood. When the Apostle Paul calls us to freedom, he is speaking of man’s destiny to be free in Christ: that is liberated from the shackles of sin. Man finds his true freedom in being liberated from sin, from the dark powers of
instinct and of evil hanging over him. The freedom of choice that man possesses has been granted to enable him to make his own independent choice of consciously submitting to the absolute and saving will of God. What is proposed to man is the path of free unification with God through complete submission to Him, becoming like Him in holiness. This is the purpose of the great gift of free will. Indeed there was nothing to stop the Creator from placing into His creation, from the outset that which we desire and long for: His grace, likeness to Him, and the happy, constant sense of His presence in everything that is in us and around us. Put very prosaically, the Creator could have programmed us for super-abounding grace like we wind up an alarm clock. But, being absolute Goodness and Freedom by nature, He deigned to communicate His property of freedom to mankind. And it is only this type of freedom that we understand as God-given.
The liberal idea does not call for any freeing from sin, because the very concept of sin is absent in liberalism. Man is allowed to behave sinfully, providing he remains within the law of the land and does not violate the freedom of another person. In other words liberal doctrine releases man’s potential for sin.A free person is entitled to reject everything that binds him and prevents him from adopting his sinful ‘me’. In all this he is entirely independent of anyone but himself. In this respect, the liberal idea is diametrically opposed to Christianity, and may be justly labelled anti-Christian.
The problem we are considering is considerably complicated by the fact that modern liberalism has long outgrown the baby clothes of the philosophical emancipation of the human individual. It has continued its forward march into all spheres of human life, including economics, politics, law, religion, social relations and the organization of society. From this liberal idea stems the generally accepted understanding of civil liberties, democratic institutions, the market economy, free competition, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience - all that is included in the concept of'modern civilization’.
At this juncture some people will throw up their hands in horror at the ideas I am expressing. For them, any critical examina-
tion of liberal doctrine is tantamount to the attempted assassination of the ‘sacred principles’ of rights and freedoms. For example, one commentator on my article ‘The Conditions of Modernity’ which was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta said that I advocate a society based on the precepts of Ayatollah Khomeini, and intend to light up Russia’s skies with the flames of the stakes of the Inquisition.
It is important that society understand that liberal ideas are open to criticism from other political and economic thought systems - an approach which, incidentally, is totally concordant with ‘liberal’ principles. Such criticism is normal and healthy, just as normal as the co-existence of liberal ideas in politics, economics and social life with other models that do not share its concepts and points of view. There is therefore no reason why liberalism cannot be critiqued from a theological standpoint. It is not for the Church to define whether Russia should be monarchist, republican, capitalist, socialist or what have you. Resolving this issue is the prerogative of society as a whole and of each citizen individually. The Church can only welcome free and committed discussion on the best forms for the ordering of Russian society, on the social, economic and governmental principles on which our homeland should be based. Such discussion will also require of us a critical interpretation of certain pages of our history. On the other hand, the civil rights and freedoms, including the possibility of unconstrained existence for our Church, which have been conquered in the last decade of the development of Russia, remain in our eyes an absolute and unquestionable value.
Returning to our earlier question of how individuals, society and, ultimately, theology should respond to challenge of the liberalization of the modern world, we need to proceed now to examine two widely prevalent approaches to this issue, each with its particular assessment of the phenomenon, and each proposing its own model of behaviour. The first model is isolationistic. Its proponents suggest that we enter in by the ‘wide gates’ into a confined national and religious ghetto, shutting ourselves up against an external enemy, defending our identity and protecting it in every way possible
against the alien, corrupting influences of a changing world. This view exists in some political circles and also among a certain part of our church community. But I ask you: is such isolation feasible and viable in an open, inter-permeating world which is entering into an era of scientific, economic, information, communication and even political integration? Yes, you can artificially insulate from the outside world a small group of people somewhere in the desert or taiga, although even the Old Believers’ family that for many decades fled the world into Siberia was unable to preserve its privacy, nor indeed its very existence. But is it possible, so to speak, to send into isolation, into a sort of cloistered existence, a great church and a great country? Would not such a choice signify the rejection of the mission bequeathed by Christ the Saviour Himself to the Church, of testifying to the truth to the world?
The second option offered to us is to adopt the liberal model of civilization in the form in which it has developed to date in the West, and mechanically transfer it onto Russian soil, if necessary forcefully implanting it into people’s lives. Unlike similar attempts in the past, this no longer requires the power of the state and its institutions.That of the mass media, of advertising and the possibilities of the educational system are quite sufficient for the task. All this presupposes, of course, that our country’s cultural and historical tradition is outdated, that only ‘universal values’ have the right to exist, and that uniformisation is the sole path of integration. In this case, too, the Orthodox would find themselves in a ‘spiritual reservation’, the sole difference being that in the first case it would be of their own volition, in the second as punishment for refusing to surrender their religious birthright for the ‘mess of pottage’ of post-industrial civilization. It is not difficult to predict that in such a situation the followers of other religious and cultural models will inevitably share the fate of the Orthodox. This second option too has its adherents both in the political world and in society at large and, to some extent, in church circles, because this new standard, under which its proponents seek to range all of God’s diverse world, presents itself as a universal and comprehensive phenomenon, existing ‘above bar-
riers’, as a half-way house accommodating if not all, at least a large portion of mankind.
Clearly the two models we have described above are mutually exclusive. Equally obvious is that both models enjoy quite strong support in public opinion and in political circles. The clash of these viewpoints and their numerous variants to a large extent determines the tension and confrontation we find in today’s society.This tension is reflected in the life of the Church. My question therefore is: is it possible to resolve this issue peacefully, without sinning against the truth, and to propose a model of behaviour and social structure which could enable liberal and traditional ideas and values to exist side by side? Clearly this is no easy task. It calls for mutual understanding and concerted action from the parties involved. Here I can see a wide field for the cooperation of the other traditional religions, and of all the healthy forces in our society who love Russia and sincerely wish her good, with the Russian Orthodox Church, and especially with its theologians, who can help modern man to an understanding of the importance of tradition as a normative factor, as a determinant of a system of values, including the cultural, spiritual and moral orientation of the individual and society. Orthodox theology needs to lay bare the nerve-centre of the problem under discussion, insisting that the existence of liberal institutions in economics, politics, social life and inter-governmental relations is acceptable, feasible and morally justified under one condition only: the non-implantation of the principles of liberal philosophy as these pertain to the human person and interpersonal relations. But if liberal ideology is used to trigger disinhibition and the release of harmful desires, provoking an explosion of carnality and giving central place to human selfishness, if liberal institutions serve to legitimize the right to sin, then such a society, lacking norms of individual and social behaviour, is inevitably doomed to spiritual degeneration, to becoming a stage for dark and unruly passions. Under the pressure of sin unleashed and triumphant, a society accepting such a value system will sooner or later be doomed to failure. If we do not want this, then the presence of liberal ideas in political, economic and
social life must be regarded by us as valid only if coupled with the clear rejection of the liberal system of values as applied to the human person.
The Church openly calls sin by its name, and devotes its efforts to saving man. One of the most important tools for achieving the goals I have just spoken about ought to be the establishing in our people of an understanding of the Orthodox faith as a norm of life. I venture to think that both those contemporary Russians who are suffering, humiliated and left to fend for themselves, and those who are relatively well situated have a vital need for the religious way of life to be universally accepted as a natural and unconditional value. And if indeed we take liberal ideology as the model of government and society for the development of our country, then we need, in full accordance with the liberal principle of checks and balances, to counterbalance this with a policy of affirming traditional Russian values in education and interpersonal relations.The question of what form law, education, culture, social relations and public morality should take becomes the question of whether we will be able to maintain our national civilization in the coming century, whether it will find its place in the world community of nations, and whether we survive as an Orthodox people.
I believe this will be accomplished through the prayers of all the saints who have illumined the land of Russia. May Russia’s tragic experience in the twentieth century, unbearable for any other country, and not the first in our history, serve the good of all mankind, by pointing it to the danger to be avoided by all means. Under the eyes of all, Russia’s resurgence in the new century can potentially provide an alternative, positive and salutary lesson to the world: that of the organizing of the life of individuals and society in accordance with principles in which dependence on the moral law unites with personal and civil liberties.
How, practically, can this general approach be implemented? How can we move, not in the direction of isolationism, but towards the participation of the Church and of every Christian in the life of a modern secularized society, but subject to maintaining our Chris-
tian identity, our originality and our vision of life as defined by the Orthodox tradition?
In theory, of course, we understand that we cannot turn back the pages of history, that nostalgia for the Golden (we think) Age of Christianity ‘profiteth nothing’ (Jn 6:63), that God calls us to live here and now. But when it comes to the real business, that of developing and implementing a true, Orthodox, ecclesial relationship with the complex phenomena of modernity, we oftentimes fall prey to the sin of despondency. This is of course understandable, because the life of today’s society, based on the principles of liberalism, is so arranged that religious belief is constantly ‘put into brackets’.
The world seeks to oust religious motivation to the margins of social life. (As yet), no one particularly persecutes us for our own religious views ( ‘Believe what you like, it’s none of our business.’). Many times we are all too willing to accept such an arrangement, to park in the comfortable spot in the lay-by allocated us. With our accumulated stock of spiritual values, we can sit there quite comfortably, whiling away the intervening period until the apocalyptic disaster that we see threatening a humanity speeding past us on the road towards ‘progress’.
But is it right to give way to the temptation to escape from our social, cultural, political reality? We have been sent by Christ in this world for its salvation (Jn 17:18).The Lord ordered us not to flee from the world, not to hide from the world, but to conquer the world with our faith (1 Jn. 5:4), to go out into the whole world, preaching the gospel (Mark 16:15), and to be the light of the world and salt of the earth (Matt. 5: 13-16). Of course, this is only possible if we, remaining in the world, are people ‘not of this world’ (Jn 17:16), living not ‘according to the course of this world’ (Ephesians 2:2), not ‘after the rudiments of the world’ (Colossians 2:8), distancing ourselves ‘from the corruption that is in the world through lust’ (2 Pet. 1-4).
The Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1917- 1918 under the chairmanship of Patriarch Tikhon adopted the Decision ‘On the Relationship of the Church to the State’. Not
everything in this document is of equal value - in many ways it is conditioned by the circumstances of its time. But even then, on the border of the new era, the fathers of the Council rejected the presentation of faith as a ‘private matter’, without public significance: ‘The Church of Christ... is a new leaven, transubstantiating the entire nature of human life, and there are no elements of this life that are completely inaccessible to this leaven. (...) Therefore, these teachings that condemn the Christian faith to ultimate impotence in life (...) relegating its purpose to the personal mood, as if a matter of taste, in fact condemn the Christian faith and act contrary to its very essence. In no sense can this ‘victory that overcomes the world, even our faith’ be separated from life or considered as the private matter of the individual.’
The question, on the resolution of which will largely depend the future of the Church, can be formulated as follows: are we are able to realize the vision of life which is born of faith, in actions that are are meaningful for the community, with convincing answers to the problems of today? If not, then everything we say about the proper balance between tradition and liberalism and about the vitality of our faith and our tradition will remain only a declaration, no more than a naked structure, a lifeless, muscle-less skeleton.
The most important theological task in this regard is the development of the social teaching of the Orthodox Church, which, rooted in tradition and responding to the issues facing modern society, will serve as a guide for priests and laity, and will give the outside world a clear idea of the Church’s position on the most important issues of our time.
It is clear that as long as the Church in our country was not free, the formulation of such a doctrine in anything like its full scope was impossible.The formulation of individual parts of it began soon after the Local Council in 1988, when the Church began to find itself facing hitherto unthinkable questions like whether bishops and priests should become involved in government and in political and public organizations.Various statements of His Holiness the Patriarch, definitions of the Holy Synod and decisions of the Arch-
bishops’ Councils of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1992, 1994 and 1997 made a significant contribution to the formulation of this social doctrine. Increasingly, however, it became clear that it was impossible for the Church to confine itself to specific responses to pressing problems. What was needed was a common doctrine that would guide the Church, not just for a year or two, but for a long period, and not only in Russia but also in the other countries of its canonical territory.
Establishing this doctrine became the task of a Synodal working group.With its remit defined by the 1994 Archbishops’ Council this group began preparing the papers for the perhaps rather clumsily named ‘Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church on church- state relations and the problems of modern society as a whole’. The draft concept was to be finalized and submitted to the Archbishops’ Council by the summer of 2000.
It is impossible, within the confines of a newspaper article, to give an idea of all the problems that this work needs to encompass. But let me mention here its basic themes and some of the most pressing and controversial issues.
One of the most important themes, of course, is the relationship between Church and State and the participation of the Church and its members in political life. At the 1992 Archbishops’ Council it was already publicly stated that ‘the Church is not bound to any public or governmental system, nor to any political force. She is above ‘right’ or ‘left’.’ It is important, however, to set out the theological basis for such a position, rooted in the tradition of the Church, and to present a detailed comparative analysis of the origin, nature, functions and goals of the Church and of the State. Orthodox Church tradition has at times included a very special relationship to the monarchy as the preferred form of government. Today, some see such a relationship as quasi-dogmatic for the Orthodox faith, others assert that this was entirely due to transient historical circumstances and can in no way be transplanted into the soil of modern political reality. To what extent and in what form can the historical teaching about the symphony
of monarchy and the priesthood be applied to the contemporary system and structure of government?
Could it be that this ancient political ideal is founded on certain principles of the Orthodox attitude to government as service and of the boundaries of authority of state power that are still valid today? I want to emphasize that we are not talking her in any way about political time-serving, or about the ‘fit’ between our heritage and the results of any regular elections or public opinion polls. Our task lies elsewhere - it is rather to reveal how the norms of tradition can be applied to the specific circumstances of modern life.
The Hierarchy of our Church has in recent years repeatedly explained that the Plenitude of the Church is not involved in the political struggle. It does not call on people to vote for this or that party, does not identify itself with any parties, that is, partial interests. This is evident from the very catholic nature of the Church. But if we confine ourselves to saying: ‘The Church stands outside of politics’, will that not in fact denote the triumph of liberalism (religion as a purely personal matter, with religious organizations outside of political life)? Does the Church really have no positions on political issues, does it really have nothing to say to politicians and do Orthodox people really have nothing to do with politics? Life insistently demands of us to indicate clearly on what basis a Christian - precisely as a Christian - can participate in the political process and in government.
The political problem intersects with the area of law in such matters as the relationship of the Church to State laws and decisions which are contrary to its understanding of the world and impede its mission (including the question of the limits of its obedience to the authorities). It is important to set out the Church’s relationship to the principle of freedom of conscience (and in general to the issue of human rights). As you know, in this area too we encounter in the Church, and among theologians, mixed opinions, and it is important to understand which of these are in line with Church tradition, and which to a greater degree reflect personal views and are fed by external socio-cultural and secular philosophical ideas. The same applies to the controversial issue of the death penalty.
Can we express in this case a common Church position, based not on the arguments of secular humanism, but on the norms of Holy Tradition and the experience of the Church?
Can the Church make a constructive contribution to the worldwide debate about the problems of economic, political, informational and cultural globalization? I have already addressed this issue above. I am convinced that it is essential to formulate a Church-wide position on this issue. Such a position would provide a basis for the Church’s interaction with international organizations (the UN, EU and others).
Another sensitive topic is that of Church and nation. Unfortunately, in this area, very one-sided affirmations are presented as the teaching of the Church. Some seek to deny the very concept of Christian patriotism and the right of Christians to national identity. Others effectively degrade the Orthodox faith to the role of one attribute of traditional national identity. It is therefore vital for the Church to show how, based on the word of God and Tradition, national and universal principles blend harmoniously with Christian life. These disputed questions include: can we speak of an ‘Orthodox nation’ and of the nation as a unique guardian of the faith? Does the Church recognize the doctrine of ‘collective sin of the people’ and ‘general repentance’ for it?
Nor can economic problems remain without proper assessment by the Church. What is the attitude of the Church towards different kinds and forms of ownership, including that of the land? Are the fruits of labour to be allocated solely on the basis of the merits of the worker or should they to some extent belong to all members of society?
Nor can the Church remain indifferent to the problems of the ecological crisis, which is becoming an increasingly critical threat to the very existence of human civilization. For us, it is important not simply to repeat the alarmist assessments of secular experts and environmental activists, but to bring to the understanding of this challenging topic our own, more in-depth approach, rooted in the biblical understanding of the world and of man’s role in it.
What answer does Orthodoxy give to the challenge of modern feminism? Should its answer be a total negation of this direction of public opinion, or can the Church, based on its historical experience, positively assess certain aspects of the idea of political, social, cultural equality for women? What position does the Church take towards the discourse on the position of sexual minorities and on the future of the family which predicts an evolution towards ‘multiple forms of cohabitation’? What can be the religious and moral assessment of ‘family planning’?
Particularly difficult are the problems of bioethics, with the new biomedical technologies at times presenting us with ethical and legal issues inconceivable at the time of the Ecumenical Councils. What is the status of human embryo, when does it becomes a human being? When you can recognize that a person has already died? Can I use his organs for transplants? The pre-natal diagnosis of disease or ‘genetic certification’ of all births - are these good or bad? Why cannot people be cloned? Reproductive technologies to overcome infertility- how do we evaluate these from the Orthodox point of view?
The easiest way is to say: ‘As late as yesterday we knew nothing of this - all this is from the evil one’ and remain in one’s isolated circle, fencing oneself off from this vain world. It is much harder, but much more fruitful, to try to develop a theological, thoughtful assessment, and if we say ‘No, you can’t’, to explain why and, if we say ‘Yes, you can’, to indicate why we are in agreement. Such work of course requires the cooperation of physicians, geneticists and philosophers. We must also take into account here the experience of our Orthodox brethren in the West who have already encountered similar problems.
It may also be useful to study the positions of other faiths. Our aim should be, not the arithmetic mean between extremes, not a set of arguments borrowed from all sides - ‘here a little and there a little’ (Isaiah 28:10) -, but precisely the Orthodox, religiously- grounded approach, the development of which is the creative task of modern Orthodox theology.
The same can be said about the work on the social doctrine of the Church in general. In conclusion, I would like to express the purpose of this work in the words of a remarkable St. Petersburg priest and professor of theology, my father’s teacher, Mikhail Cheltsov, whom the Bolsheviks twice sentenced to death and eventually executed. As early as 10 years before the October Revolution, he wrote of how he saw the task of the Church in a changing society, where its influence could no longer be supported through the state structures. Above all, he pointed out that Christianity should be ‘manifested in life in all its inherent strength, revealed in the unity of being of faith and life and producing a Christian way of government, way of being society, economy, culture, science - in short, to Christianize life in all its manifestations’.
And the last thing I want to say, thinking about the task of theology in relation to the Church and the world, is that a faith-based norm of life, as captured in the Apostolic Tradition and guarded in the Church, will manifest to us its fullness and its real worth once Christians themselves are filled with the desire to put into practice what they have learned. And to this task are called not just theologians, but the entire Fullness of the Church, under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
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