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Kirill (Gundyaev), patr. Giving a Soul to Europe (Opening address to an international conference ‘Giving a Soul to Europe — Mission and Responsibility of the Churches’, Vienna, May 3-5, 2006)
GIVING A SOUL TO EUROPE
Opening address to an international conference ‘Giving a soul to Europe -
Mission and Responsibility of the Churches’, Vienna, May 3-5, 2006.
Today we have gathered to discuss a common concern, the focal point for which is Europe: Europe, a unique cultural and spiritual phenomenon that has been shaped over the centuries and is currently undergoing fundamental changes. Why should we, as representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, be concerned at the fate of Europe? We are concerned because Russia, while possessing its own distinctive culture and self-consciousness, is also an integral part of Europe. It is not by chance that Dostoevsky, who like nobody else was conscious of Russia’s uniqueness, nevertheless called Europe his second home. In the Russian soul Europe occupies a special place, primarily because of its Christian roots. I would like to stress that these roots go back not only to Western Christianity, but also to Eastern Christianity, mainly through Byzantium.
Historians tell us that the very name Byzantium is artificial and came into use only in the sixteenth century in the West. Until then Byzantium was known as the Roman or Romaian empire, and the Byzantines called themselves Romans or Romaians. From its capital of Constantinople, this empire extended both westwards and eastwards. With its Eastern and Western parts it decisively influenced the formation of modern European civilization. For example, nobody will contest the assertion that St. Augustine is a father ofWestern European thought, but it should be remembered that Eastern neo-Platonists exerted decisive influence on him. Western Scholas-
ticism, which became the cradle of modern philosophy, was formed under the influence of the Eastern Cappadocians and the Corpus Areopagiticum. The legal culture ofWestern Europe grew out of the Code of Civil Law of Emperor Justinian. And even after the tragic division ofWestern and Eastern Christendom, the Byzantines continued to exert tremendous influence on Western thought and culture. It is not by chance that the mass emigration of educated Greeks to Italy after the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in the fifteenth century coincided with the beginning of the Italian Renaissance. Vestiges of Byzantine culture in the West can be seen even today in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice and in the Spanish paintings of the Cretan iconographer Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco.
In modern times great Russian writers, artists and composers inspired by the Orthodox spiritual tradition have made their unique contribution to the formation of Western European literature, painting and music. One could cite innumerable examples of such influences and the intertwining ofWest and East in Europe’s history. All this leads us to state that Europe’s identity has been formed under the influence of both Western and Eastern culture, and of both Western and Eastern Christianity. For the reasons just indicated, the processes taking place now in what I would not hesitate to call our common European home cannot but concern Russia and also the Russian Orthodox Church, whose canonical territory extends far beyond Russia’s boundaries and into the West.
What is occurring in modern Europe? We are all observers of a dramatic weakening that is taking place in Europe’s Christian identity. Europe is losing the characteristics given to it by Christianity, both Western and Eastern Christianity alike. Borrowing some words from the title of our conference, Europe is losing its soul. Over the centuries the Christian soul of Europe gave it life, made it remarkably attractive for the most remote countries and peoples and endowed its culture with universal character.
European values are becoming more and more secular, but I would not say that these values have totally lost their ties with
Christianity. Many of them could never have appeared if there had been no Christianity in Europe. They represent a watered-down, worldly version of traditional European Christian values. And it is this devitalized version that is often turned against the Christianity that gave birth to these values, casting doubt on the Christian identity of Europe. Breaking with the spiritual foundations of European civilization, these values risk losing the good that was placed in them by Christianity. Our concern is that Europe, having lost its connection to Christianity, may end up exercising forms of oppression or even violence against the individual that have always been foreign to her. Russia, as no other country, has experienced just how grave the break with one’s spiritual roots can be for civilization, something that threatens societies not only with the loss of their countenance, but also with the rise of violence toward the person, flagrant violations of personal freedom and a brutal disregard for people’s spiritual needs. The history of Russia in the twentieth century can act as a warning to Western Europe: the rejection of the spiritual and cultural bases of one or the other civilization can represent a serious threat to civilization itself. Indeed, the forms of social relations that were shaped in twentieth century Russia were to a significant extent secularized variants of values characteristic of the Russian spiritual tradition: collectivism was a secularized variant of sobomost and the communal idea, a single state ideology substituted the spiritual authority of the Church, and so on and so forth. The effects of this substitution are well-known to everyone. For this reason, secularism, the break with spiritual traditions, represents such a great threat to the existence of European civilization.
Today one can point to the dramatic rise in Europe’s Muslim population. In view of this, can Europe remain Christian while not entering into conflict with Islam? The recent scandal caused by the publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad demonstrates that it is not Christianity that causes collisions, but rather secularism, the secularization of society which behaves with disdain toward spiritual values and the sacred. In this regard the positive example of Russia - where Orthodoxy, Islam and other traditional religions
peacefully coexist to the extent that respect for faith and sacred things is maintained in society - is remarkable. In other words, Islam is ready to coexist peacefully with Christianity. Extremism, rooted in radical sentiments within Islam, is as a rule directed not against Christianity itself but against the lack of spirituality and the secularization ofWestern societies. Of course, we do not attempt to justify extremism, but simply speak of the causes that give rise to it. Thus, the secularization of Europe not only undermines the foundations of European identity but also provokes conflict with religious groups which do not wish to subject themselves to the general tendency of secularization.
In view of this it seems to me extremely important to return to the Christian meaning of the European values that underwent secularization, central to which are freedom and human rights. In their secularized form these values, as mentioned above, lose their profundity and can even turn against the person and the spiritual foundations of his personality. A month ago, from April 4-6, 2006, the Tenth World Russian People’s Council was held in Moscow. One of the highlights of this forum was the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights and Dignity of the Person. Some have already christened this document a specifically Russian declaration of human rights, affirming an understanding of rights opposite to the Western understanding. Such was not, however, the task of those who prepared this Declaration. Their task was rather to give a Christian interpretation of certain fundamental categories - those of human rights and liberties - that drive world politics today. We have attempted to integrate a theological foundation into this concept of human rights, thereby uniting, or rather re-uniting, this concept with traditional Christian views.We have attempted to demonstrate the Christian roots of the human rights concept.
This declaration makes a fundamental distinction between two meanings of human dignity, which we have agreed to call value and dignity, as well as between two meanings of freedom: freedom as the non-determinate nature of human actions and freedom as not being subjugated to evil and sin. The fact that man is created
in the image of God, as well as the fact of the Incarnation, that is the assumption by the Son of God of our nature for the salvation of the human race, serve as the basis for the affirmation of the preeminent value of human nature. This value cannot be taken away or destroyed by other people, society, the state, etc. An integral part of human nature that gives it special value is the freedom of choice. This freedom was placed into human nature by God Himself and cannot be violated by anyone: not by other people, not by evil forces, not even by God himself.
By itself, this freedom is only an instrument with which the person realizes his moral choices. Freedom of choice should be used for attaining freedom from sin. Only by liberating oneself from the shackles of sin and acquiring the ‘freedom of the glory of God’s children’, as St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans (8:21), can a person give meaning to his inherent ability to make free choices and acquire that which in the Declaration is called dignity. Human dignity is the highest goal of existence. Expressed in theological terms, it corresponds to the likeness of God in the person. Dignity is acquired when one makes his choices in favour of the good, and is lost when one chooses evil.
Just as freedom of choice, human rights, to which the Declaration is dedicated, are instruments that should serve the higher goal of the moral perfection of the person. On the one hand, the Declaration recognizes human rights as an important social establishment that defends people as God’s creation from infringements from outside. On the other hand, it places the category of human rights into a moral context. The text of the Declaration states: ‘We are for the right to life and against the “right” to death, for the right to creation and against the “right” to destruction. We acknowledge the rights and liberties of the person to the extent that they help the person rise toward the good, protect him from internal and external evil, and help him to realize his potential positively in society’.
Therefore, as mentioned in the text of the Declaration: ‘Rights and liberties are inextricably connected with the obligations and responsibilities of the person’. In the Declaration the categories of
the liberties and rights of the person received an additional, very important dimension — the moral dimension. This dimension sets a higher goal to the essentially instrumental categories of the freedom of choice and rights. Thanks to this moral dimension, the category of human rights acquires a teleological completion and a goal that lies beyond its own boundaries, in the realm of the most profound areas of human existence. From this perspective the Declaration contains a more multi-faceted, complex and holistic approach to the problem of human rights, an approach that reflects the fact that the person bears the image of God and that his existence should have moral significance.
Along with the participants of the Tenth World Russian People’s Council, we too can testify to the fact that the welfare and perhaps the very existence of human civilization in a globalized world will to a great extent depend on the ability to combine rights and freedoms with moral responsibility. For this, the freedom and morality that have been placed by God Himself into human nature and which belong to everyone regardless of their culture or religion, are able to unite the existing civilizational models in a peaceful and viable manner.
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