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Thursday, 10 December 2009

The New Rome-Moscow Alliance to Fight Secularism in Europe

Archibishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk
Robert Moynihan, the seasoned "Inside the Vatican" journalist who authors the blog, The Moynihan Report, detects in the recent establishment of full diplomatic relations between Russia and the Holy See and in the recent publication by the Moscow Patriarchate of a collection of writings by Pope Benedict on the theme of Christianity and its role in shaping civil society in Europe's future "a new alliance on the world stage between two powers that have long distrusted each other: Rome and Russia."

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, 43, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external Church relations, wrote the introduction for the book, in which he sets forth his vision for Europe and the new "alliance" needed to realize that vision.


Sandro Magister, another highly regarded Vatican journalist and author of the Chiesa blog, was so impressed by this introduction that he wrote:

Those who expect an Orthodox Church removed from time, made up only of remote traditions and archaic liturgies, will come away shaken from reading the introduction to this book. [...] The image that emerges from it is that of a Russian Orthodox Church that refuses to let itself be locked up in a ghetto, but on the contrary hurls itself against the secularist onslaught with all the peaceful weapons at its disposal, not excluding civil disobedience against laws 'that oblige the commission of a sin in the eyes of God.'

Those in the West, both in Europe and in the United States, who feel that unjust laws have been passed that cannot be countenanced by Christians, will find a kindred spirit in Archbishop Hilarion. The title he uses is, The Help That the Russian Orthodox Church Can Give to Europe.

Robert Moynihan (for whose analysis below we are indebted and gratefully acknowledge) describes how it begins with a very candid, and deeply felt, lamentation by an Orthodox leader for the closing of Catholic and Protestant churches in Western Europe:

When traveling in Europe, especially in the traditionally Protestant countries, I am always astonished at seeing not a few churches abandoned by their congregations, especially the ones turned into pubs, clubs, shops, or place of profane activities of yet another kind," Archbishop Hilarion writes. "There is something profoundly deplorable in this sad spectacle.

I come from a country in which for many deca des the churches were used for nonreligious purposes. Many places of worship were completely destroyed. […] Why has the space for religion in Western society been reduced in such a significant way in recent decades?
Then Archbishop Hilarion makes his main point, that Russia and its Orthodox Church, after years of being aided and supported by the Christians of the West, is back on its feets and is ready in return to come to the rescue of the West:

The Russian Orthodox Church, with its unique experience of surviving the harshest persecutions, struggling against militant atheism, reemerging from the ghetto when the political situation changed, recovering its place in society and redefining its social responsibilities, can therefore be of help to Europe.

"The totalitarian dictatorship of the past cannot be replaced with a new dictatorship of pan-European government mechanisms. […] The countries of Orthodox tradition, for example, do not accept laws that legalize euthanasia ... drug trafficking ... and so on.

In short, the archbishop is saying that the Orthodox, including the Russian Orthodox Church which he represents, are ready to fight for Christian values in the West, alongside Catholics and Protestants.

John Thavis, the distinguished Vaticanist for Catholic News Service (of the U.S. bishops' conference) wrote on December 11th:
The Russian Orthodox Church has come forward to propose a strategic alliance
with the Catholic Church aimed, in effect, at saving Europe's soul from 'Western
post-Christian humanism.' The offer came in an introduction written by Russian
Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion to a book of speeches by Benedict XVI on Europe's spiritual crisis, published in Russian by the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. In an unusual move, the Vatican newspaper published almost the entire introduction
in its December 2nd edition.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus FoundationArchbishop Hilarion has spoken publicly a number of times of such an alliance. In fact, in May 2006 the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate held a weeklong conference in Vienna, oulining the framework for such cooperation.

In November 2009, Moynihan reports his travel to Russia and meeting Archbishop Hilarion and his close associates. One of them was Leonid Sevastianov, 31, the executive director of the Russian Orthodox St. Gregory of Nazianzus Charitable Foundation, established with the blessing of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to help carry out Archbishop Hilarion's vision of working with Western Christians on behalf of Christian values.

"We want your help, the help of Catholics, and of Western Europeans and Americans," Sevastianov told Moynihan. "Patriarch Kirill has called for the moral renewal of Russia, through a return to the deep values of the Christian faith. This is our vision."

The reason St. Gregory of Nazianzus was chosen as patron of the alliance of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians in Europe is because, as a theologian in the 300s, well before the division of the Church into East and West, and because he is venerated both by the Catholics and by the Orthodox, he is a Father of the Church for all Christians. The co-founders of this new foundation are Archbishop Hilarion and Vadim Yakunin, one of the wealthiest businessmen in Russia.

Other wealthy Russians are also prepared to support this foundation. But participation by Americans and Western Europeans would also be very much appreciated, say Archbishop Hilarion and Sevastianov:

We want to try to attract the attention of religious believers, in Russia and abroad, who believe in traditional Christian values, and who want to contribute to making society more just and more moral. We want to promote the idea of the unity between the West and Russia on the basis of common Christian roots.
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