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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. The Russian Church and European culture (Article in the magazine ‘Expert’, 2010. No. 4/690)
THE RUSSIAN CHURCH AND
(Article in the magazine ‘Expert’, 2010. No. 4/690)
The current epoch of European and world history presents Christianity with new challenges in the field of Christian testimony to the world. It is customary to refer to our epoch as ‘postmodern’, characterised mainly by the formation of a special type of man with his characteristic worldview and way of life. On one hand, a modern European is the heir to the ideals of the Modern Age with his impetuous belief in progress, the power of science and the desire for freedom, including from the so-called religious beliefs enslaving people. On the other hand, he is the much disappointed heir to ideals which history has shown to be ineffective. The tragic events of the twentieth century with its wars, massacres and disasters have called into question the undeniable value of technological progress, implanted doubt as to the consistency of the natural-scientific picture of the world and disclosed the terrible abyss of human sin. As a result, an average European rejects the ideologies of past generations (in Russia the disappointment in the Communist ideology came later, at the end of the Soviet era), as well as attempts to develop any kind of universal worldview. Nothing else has been offered in place of the collapsed system of values of the earlier era, which have given way to spiritual vacuum, in the relativity of which modern people follow their personal interests and pleasures instead of observing principles.
Almost like the Roman Empire
Paradoxically, the process of secularization in European society, in recent years, is accompanied among many Europeans by an increased interest in religious matters. It is clear why: A thinking person cannot be satisfied with the spiritual nihilism that is now so pervasive in many European countries. The thirst for genuine spiritual life encourages people to seek the truth in various religious traditions, from Buddhist and Hindu movements to Islam, confessed today by a part of Europe’s population.
This presents a huge challenge to today’s European Christianity. Will it be able to fill the spiritual and value emptiness in society and adequately respond to a clearly discernible search for the meaning of life?
Christians face two tasks: they must know modern culture and modern man, his desires, aspirations and interests and they must try to transform this culture on Christian principles, making it a ‘Christianised’ culture, to use the term of Nikolay Berdyaev and the righteous martyr Mariya (Skobtsova). An example of such approach to culture we can learn from the great tradition of the Church. The Holy Fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo, sought to master foreign wisdom and culture in order to direct the achievements of the human mind toward the service of Christianity and the Church. Mastering all that has been created by the human genius throughout history, the Holy Fathers nevertheless did not assimilate the ‘spirit of the age’, but sought to the fill the gaps in human knowledge with the truth of the Divine Revelation given to us in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is no accident that the Church has a monastic ministration, which, as an eschatological dimension in the life of the Church, calls for the spiritual transformation of the world. The tradition of the Church teaches that it is possible and important to assert Christianity both by the ascetic experience of withdrawal from the world, and by using the categories of thought of secular philosophy, achievements of science and culture. The Holy Fathers tried to church the outside world, perceiving
everything useful in it and rejecting sin. In order to do so, they were in constant dialogue with the state and society, even when society and the state were not Christian.
Our epoch, in many ways, recalls the era of the pagan Roman Empire, with its loss of moral guidelines and the great diversity of often contradictory opinions. For this reason I believe the Church today has no other way than to adapt to today’s setting the work and methodology of the Holy Fathers, who, in similar conditions, succeeded in bringing their contemporaries to the understanding of the truths of Divine Revelation. The experience of the Russian Christian culture is particularly important for our time. It must be said that the culture of modern Russia and of most other countries covered by the spiritual and pastoral jurisdiction of our Church has not lost its Orthodox roots, but when all is said and done, continues to be associated with the Christian Orthodox system of values. During the Soviet period, when the voice of the Church, deadened by the godless state, was barely heard by people, the Gospel continued to be preached. Mostly, however, not by priests, missionaries or church literature. It was preached by the centuries-old heritage of the Russian culture as the bearer of the gospel message. This is not surprising, because the Russian culture was formed under the influence of Orthodoxy. This once pagan culture, having absorbed the spiritual powers of the Church, its ideological and moral message, gave it to the people at the time when the Church was persecuted. Christ is found in everything that has been created over many centuries of cultural development of our people, including Russia’s great literature, music and visual arts.
Moreover, the great Russian writers, primarily Feodor Dostoevsky, even before the Revolution, spoke prophetically of the catastrophe that awaits humanity if it refuses God and higher moral values. Part of this prophecy has come true, some of it we see today. The righteous martyr Mariya Skobtsova, in the years of atheism and totalitarian ideologies, wrote that besides godlike creativity, humanity can have ‘evil creativity’. We watch as this ‘evil creativity’ destroys the souls of our contemporaries, particularly teenagers. I am
neither a retrograde who longs for the culture of the past nor am I an opponent of the new forms and phenomena of contemporary culture. I deeply believe that the Church should not reject them indiscriminately, leaving modern forms of culture at the mercy of a godless worldview. Today, as in all times, the Church’s mission is to fight for men, against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6, 12).To rescue the human personality from the embrace of anti-culture - the embrace of anti-Christianity - and bring it back to God. This is the urgent task set before us today.
The entire missionary experience of the Russian Church and the richness of the Russian Christian culture are a living legacy of this experience, proving that today’s goal of the Christian mission in relation to culture is not the inculturation of Christianity, but in Christianization of culture. Culture cannot be used tactically. Culture itself must become the bearer of Christ’s gospel. Following the Holy Fathers and placing in a modern context their relation to society and culture, we maintain the hope of strengthening the Christian dimension in social relations and in contemporary culture. The dream of a new patristic synthesis, once expressed by Georges Florovsky, is a dream of the re-Christianization of the godless European culture.
Isolated and Inseparable
Despite their shared civilization, the Eastern and Western parts of the European world differ greatly from each other in religious and cultural terms. The isolation of the East Slavic region, the key role placed by Orthodoxy in its formation, and its difference from the rest of Europe, all this is not something dreamed up by a group of philosophers and politicians seeking deliberately to exclude the countries of historical Russia from the common European space. On the contrary, it is an objective reality that provides the colourful cultural palette of European civilization.
Rapprochement and cooperation between our regions began with the baptism of Russia. Our outstanding scientist Sergey
Averintsev expressed his perspective on the historical significance of this moment: ‘Only with the adoption of Christianity did Russian culture, through the contact with Byzantium, overcome local narrow-mindedness and acquire universal reach. It came in contact with the Hellenistic and biblical roots which are common to the European family of cultures.’ Since then, the Eastern Slavic spiritual and material heritage has been an integral part of Europe, the image and inner essence of which cannot be complete without understanding the contribution of the peoples of Russia in the development of European theoretical and applied science, social thought, theological and artistic literature, and monuments of art and architecture.
The Russian Church always contributed to European culture its most important specificity, which has not been eradicated by a few decades of atheistic regime. By this I refer to spiritual life and religiosity. This produced in the East Slavic character many features which set us apart from the people ofWestern Europe. A very interesting comparison of the spiritual qualities of the peoples inhabiting the two parts of Europe was given by the German philosopher Walter Schubart.21 Particularly, he separated out the concept of human goodness as one of the main attributes of our mentality. Spirituality and special goodness, fostered by a religious worldview, formed in the Russian, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Moldovans a sense of of mutual assistance, responsibility, brotherhood and catholicity,justice, and the desire and ability to coexist with the people of other faiths and nationalities in peace and mutually respectful dialogue. These values do not allow us to define European civilization as purely pragmatic, selfish and directing its efforts to the acquisition of material goods. I am sure that the Moscow Patriarchate, by seeking to strengthen these high ideals among its people, helps preserve the true civilizational identity of Europe, which, as is well known, is rooted in Christianity.
21W. Schubart (1897-1942), German writer, philosopher, author of ‘Europe and the Soul of the East’ (1938).
I deeply believe that the contribution of the Russian Orthodox Church and the peoples of historical Russia to European culture should lie in a constant witness of faith. The Word of Christ will always revive the worldview of European man, not allowing him to fossilise and to become insensitive and indifferent to the fate of his own home and the rest of the world. I hope that each year this perspective will gain more and more supporters among the representatives of traditional Christian denominations, government circles and public organizations in Europe.
I am sure that Christianity, like no other religion, can offer modern humans the most convincing worldview. In fact, if the highest value for a man of our time is freedom, it is in the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ that human nature has attained maximum freedom, meaning freedom from sin and evil. Christianity offers a much higher vision of freedom than just a negative concept of freedom ‘from’ things, such as freedom from exploitation, violence and restrictions. With Jesus Christ, man can attain freedom ‘for,’ meaning freedom for complete fulfilment in love for God and his neighbours. It is in this harmonious interaction (synergy) between God and man, as taught by Christianity and implemented in the lives of the saints and ascetics of the Church, that everyone can find the answers to the questions of freedom, the meaning of life and public service.
Christians need to find a new language and creative ways to preach Christian values in today’s ever-changing world, so that this preaching can be heard and accepted. I think the cultural sphere is the area in which a constructive dialogue between the Church and society can be particularly effective. Here I see the possibility of fruitful cooperation among Christians who adhere to traditional values. First of all I mean cooperation between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, who have a common view on the current problems of social and economic ethics, bioethics, family, personal morality and the like. Our common Christian tradition, commitment to dialogue and readiness to cooperate can and should become the driving force of mutual rapprochement. With
our common understanding that Europe faces a serious threat to its cultural and civilizational identity, it becomes important to look jointly for new opportunities to make Christian values appealing to modern Europeans once again. We already have successful experience of Orthodox-Catholic actions in this area. Thus, a wide public response was drawn by the conference organised by the Pontifical Council for Culture together with the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate in May 2006 in Vienna on the theme, ‘Giving a Soul to Europe: Mission and Responsibility of the Churches’.
The first Catholic-Orthodox Forum on the theme of ‘Family’ was held in December 2008 at Trento, Italy. Now, various projects have been jointly prepared by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church in the field of culture, such as the organization of ‘Days of Russian Spiritual Culture’ in the spring of 2010 at the Vatican.
‘Postmodern’ man lives in a multimedia space, which is why Christians need to use modern media to counter the images given of Christian life in order that love and kindness can replace all the images of hate, violence and moral turpitude promoted in the media. That is why I welcome such joint projects as a series of documentary films ‘The Bells of Europe’, which remind the European audience of the Christian roots of European culture.
The projects to create a new paradigm of state-to-state and inter-ethnic communication become very important in today’s difficult political situation, including that of Europe. In Rome in June 2009, on the eve of the meeting of the leaders of the ‘Big Eight,’ was held the 4th Summit of Religious Leaders. This summit became an important indication that believers can contribute to the solution of the current issues on the global agenda. I am sure that the witness of believers all over the world to the continuing importance of the moral truths preserved by the human conscience can save humanity and show it the path of goodness. The final document of the Rome summit underlined that a new paradigm for world politics, based on moral foundations, is required in order to meet
the challenges of our time. The summit proposed the concept of ‘indivisible security’ based on the relationship that exists among human beings and also between humanity and the world of trade. The financial and economic crisis we suffer reminds us of the need to address the spiritual wisdom entrusted to religion so that, based on moral principles, we can find effective ways of overcoming the crisis and making economic relations more equitable in the future. In collaboration between the representatives of the world religions, particularly between Christian denominations, I see great potential for the creation of a new ethical paradigm in political relations.
Cooperation of European Christians
Russians, according to the expression of the remarkable national philosopher Nikolay Berdyaev, ‘are neither purely European nor purely Asian people’, and in their souls ‘two principles,Eastern and Western, have always struggled with one another’. This statement is partly true because, at first glance, we do not entirely belong to the Asian or European world but instead represent a unique mix of their respective civilizational characteristics. At the same time, in a religious context we are objectively closer to Europe, as we share the common civilizational basis of Christianity, within which a great variety of European cultures have been formed.
The involvement of the peoples of historical Rus in the European and Asian heritage encouraged the appearance of distinctive traits of their national character.These, other than the spirituality and religiosity I have already mentioned, include the ability to combine opposites. As an explanation, let me give an example of the organization of social and political life or inter-ethnic and inter-religious existence in the Russian state. In the first case there was a system of social relations based on both spiritual and material principles. For example, in education, in addition to secular subjects, theological disciplines were compulsory; in forms of management, particularly in the rural community, the Christian principle of mutual assistance was disseminated.This neither caused controversy nor led to social fragmentation, as stated by the proponents of aggressive secularism.
In the second case, it is necessary to mention the model of the living together of representatives of different faiths and ethnic groups in the same state, which has survived to the present day and is actually working. Despite the enormous diversity of cultures, Russia has managed to preserve its cultural dominants, avoid bloody ethnic and religious conflicts, and involve a large number of people in the creation of a common space of trust and solidarity, economic prosperity and equality before the law.
This priceless experience is one which the Russian and other peoples under the pastoral omophorion of the Russian Orthodox Church can share with their European brothers, showing them the possibility of a painless combination of secular and spiritual life, multicultural and inter-faith existence, which will not harm their European civilizational image.
It is not an impossible task to achieve the essential combination of the dramatically divergent imperatives of neoliberalism and traditionalism, as I have stated in the article ‘The contemporary environment.’22 Why cannot Christianity, which successfully processed the declining spiritual and material heritage of the ancient world, revive the modern European system, which has reached a critical state due to its reliance on the impersonal principles of secular ethics? Surely it can. To do this, it is necessary to open the door to full participation of the Church in the political life of all European countries.
After all, from the Christian perspective, internationalization and globalization have both negative and positive sides. The negatives are that both processes accelerate the trend of transformation of original ethno-cultural communities into some amorphous mass, no longer mindful of its roots but guided by unspiritual universal principles. Additionally, we observe a standardization of the information space, or rather, its substantive content, with no concept of good and evil nor a place for morality and religiosity. Of course, in this case, the Russian Church and our non-Orthodox brothers must jointly speak about the harm this will cause to humanity.
22This book. p. 27
A positive effect of globalization and internationalization is the expansion of human capabilities to use a constantly growing intellectual base, and to communicate and develop forms of cooperation with the representatives of other culture communities.Very important here are not only language and intercultural communication skills but, first of all, individuals’ understanding of their own cultural identity.This is the key to a successful, extensive, mutually respectful dialogue between different religions and cultures. The joint task of Christians of different denominations is obvious: to help Europeans retain their sense of identity without being afraid to speak about their origins.This is the only way to save the Europe that is familiar to us as a unique and original civilizational region having equal relations with other centres in the world.
Cooperation among Christians becomes particularly necessary due to the challenges faced by Christianity. Amid threats of war, terrorism and extremism, the displacement of religion from the public sphere and public justification of sin, we need to develop close cooperation in the spirit of peace and brotherly love on the basis of the Gospel and its eternal values. The common tradition of Christianity - commitment to dialogue and readiness to cooperate - can and should be the driving mechanism of mutual rapprochement.
Today the activities of churches, government authorities and public organizations in Europe must be filled with a witness to the historical truth and the shared civilization of European countries. We need to move away from the stereotypes that hinder fruitful communication; to abandon ideological unipolarity and bring the spiritual heritage of Europe to the level of a unifying principle. This is the only way to establish an atmosphere of solidarity and openness in the relations among the peoples of Europe and thus achieve the dream of a Europe united from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
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