From Russia, with Love
I believe that the role of the church is much more inclusive. For example, very often nowadays our church will publicly express positions on what's happening in the country.
Some people ask, "Why does the church interfere? It's not their business." We believe that the church can express its opinion on all aspects of human life. We do not impose our opinions on the people, but we should be free to express them. And people will have to choose whether to follow or not to follow, whether to listen to what we say or to ignore it.
Church leaders worldwide are challenged by secularism and Islam. Which do you see as a greater threat to global Christianity?
If we speak about Islam (and of course if we mean moderate Islam), then I believe there is the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Islam and Christianity. This is what we have had in Russia for centuries, because Russian Islam has a very long tradition. But we never had religious wars. Nowadays we have a good system of collaboration between Christian denominations and Islam.
The picture is different in many other countries, and recently, even the European Parliament publicly recognized that Christians are persecuted and discriminated against in many countries, including in Islamic countries. This is a problem we have to address. Yet I believe that on many essential points, especially in many aspects of moral teaching, Christianity and Islam are allies, and we can cooperate in those fields.
Secularism is dangerous because it destroys human life. It destroys essential notions related to human life, such as the family. One can argue about the role of the church. One can even argue about the existence of God; we cannot prove that God exists to those who don't want to believe that God exists. But when the difference in the world outlook touches very basic notions such as family, it no longer has to do with theological truths; it has to do with anthropological issues. And our debate with secularism is not about theology; it's about anthropology. It's about the present and the future of the human race. And here we disagree with atheist secularism in some areas very strongly, and we believe that it destroys something very essential about human life.
What is the way forward to address secularism?
We should be engaged in a very honest and direct conversation with representatives of secular ideology. And of course when I speak of secular ideology, I mean here primarily atheist ideology.
Of course, one has to distinguish between those representatives of secularism who are atheists and those who are believers, because some of them are believers. And here there is another problem: the influence of secularism on contemporary Christianity, the problem of liberalization of theological and moral standards within many Protestant communities.
But if we speak about atheist secularism, we must have a dialogue with these people, and we must say to them that of course you have the right to believe in what you believe, but we also have the right to believe in what we believe. And we have the right to teach people and to openly proclaim our system of values. There should be no ideological monopoly of secularism in contemporary society. This is one of the themes, maybe the main theme, of our dialogue with the European political structures.
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Previous Christianity Today articles covering Eastern Orthodoxy include:
My Top 5 Books on the Eastern Orthodox Tradition | Bradley Nassif, shares his top books on the Orthodox Church and provides commentary for each. (Christian History, March 19, 2009)
Will the 21st Be the Orthodox Century? | Fascination with the Great Tradition may signal deep changes for both evangelicals and the Orthodox. (January 4, 2007)
What did the reformers think about the Eastern Orthodox Church? | CH editors answer your questions. (Christian History magazine)