Russian Orthodox Church needs to restore democratic foundations of Christian life
Valdaiclub.com interview with Andrei Zubov, Professor of Philosophy at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and D.Sc. (History) on the role that Russian Orthodox Church plays in today’s society.
What is the role of the church today?
Just like any other religious community, the church connects people whose purpose in life goes beyond earthly interests and who seek to solve problems that can’t be solved in the socio-political sphere. First, the church is concerned with the victory of life over death. It is also concerned with overcoming people’s sense of alienation, restoring relationships based on love and friendship. It is no accident that followers of Christianity and Islam refer to their brethren as “brother” and “sister.”
Religion addresses problems of an absolute nature, which emanate from the need for the absolute perfection of man. Addressing these problems is the eternal goal of religion, and that is precisely the reason why religion does not disappear. So, religion managed to survive the onslaught of the Bolsheviks, who resorted to terrible practices, including mass killings and the Communists in China during the so-called “cultural revolution”. Mankind sets itself absolute goals. If there is no way to achieve them, many people stop feeling human. I believe that this is why society needs religion.
What is the training procedure for the staff that will be working on new church “projects,” such as in schools and the army?
As regards the increase of the church's presence in the army and schools, I am not sure there is a definite need for this. The basis of religious education should primarily be provided at home. It is there that it has power because children will learn about Christian family relationships from their parents and will observe their parents' attitudes toward the church. No priest who comes to a school to give a lesson on the creation of the world as told in first chapter of Genesis will have as much impact on children as growing up in a truly Christian family.
The church and other religious communities in schools and the army are now seen very differently to the way they were before the Revolution of 1917, when belief in God was forcibly imposed on students and military personnel. Faith is invariably about freedom – “there is no compulsion in religion,” as the Qur'an says. If we do need priests in our schools and the army, then they should just be good priests with basic knowledge and skills allowing them to work in a particular environment. There’s no point in special training. Secular disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, and even the history of religions, are taught by secular teachers who need not be trained by the church. A teacher can be a believer or a non-believer, but he or she should teach their subject as a secular discipline and as objective scientific knowledge. Crucially, a priest who goes to work in the army should have a specific interest in working in the army. Similarly, a priest who goes to work in a school should be interested in working with children and teenagers. But most importantly, he must be a good priest.
What caused the latest scandals surrounding the Russian Orthodox Church? How have they affected attitudes toward the church and religion?
Church leaders at the level of the Patriarchate and individual dioceses seem to have forgotten that they are not bosses or princes, but rather representatives of the people of God performing specific functions. It is no coincidence that the word “bishop” in Greek means “observer” or “guard”, i.e. the one who sits up high and observes what's going on. He must watch over the observance of religious norms by people and priests. Many priests and bishops are now behaving like princes appointed by the Patriarch. The Patriarch himself has been behaving rather ambiguously as well. This is a result of the control the Christian community lost over its own life, as well as the life of church leaders, during Soviet times. And this has not yet been restored. There was no such thing as church democracy in the Soviet Union. This caused a blockage of the “arteries” that carry the human will to bishops. Just as in politics, this blockage leads to corruption, cronyism and the painful degradation of the social structure. This is what has happened to our church. Therefore, the main problem now is not the Patriarch’s expensive wristwatch or luxury apartments. These are trivial matters in the grand scheme of things. The church’s main problem is similar to that which is facing our state. The state needs to restore true public self-government and political democracy. The Church needs to create strong church communities and restore the democratic foundations of Christian life.
To what extent should a secular state allow the church and religion to participate in state and society life?
We need to keep in mind that the state is the organizational form of a society that is largely religious. Society is comprised of religious communities of different confessions and it forms the government structures that are needed to run everyday life. It’s impossible to separate them, because they are the same people. There should be no division, but rather harmony. Just like in the orchestra where different musical instruments or different voices in a choir perform their functions to create a single artistic and musical harmony. Unfortunately, we seem not to understand that society includes both religion and politics. Once we understand this, social relations will become more harmonious.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.