CWN - Addressing the World Council of Churches, the Russian Orthodox Church’s leading ecumenical official questioned the effectiveness of the ecumenical body and warned that Christians must face the challenges of secularism and radical Islam.
“The World Council of Churches today remains a unique instrument of inter-Christian cooperation that has no analogy in the world,” said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. “However, the question arises as to how effective this instrument is … While we continue to discuss our differences in the comfortable atmosphere of conferences and theological dialogues, the question resounds ever more resolutely: will Christian civilization survive at all?”
The “two fundamental challenges which the Christian world today faces in varying degrees,” he said, are “the militant secularism which is gathering strength in the so called developed countries, primarily in Europe and America,” and “radical Islamism that poses a threat to the very existence of Christianity in a number of regions of the world, mainly in the Middle East, but also in some parts of Asia and Africa.”
Addressing the challenge of militant secularism, Metropolitan Hilarion said:
In the countries of the former Soviet Union, in particular in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldavia, an unprecedented religious revival is underway. In the Russian Orthodox Church over the past twenty five years there have been built or restored from ruins more than twenty five thousand churches. This means that a thousand churches a year have been opened, i.e. three churches a day. More than fifty theological institutes and eight hundred monasteries, each full with monks and nuns, have been opened.
In Western European countries we can observe the steady decline of the numbers of parishioners, a crisis in vocations, and monasteries and churches are being closed. The anti-Christian rhetoric of many politicians and statesmen becomes all the more open as they call for the total expulsion of religion from public life and the rejection of the basic moral norms common to all religious traditions …
Militant secularism is aimed not only at religious holy sites and symbols by demanding that they be removed from the public domain. One of the main directions of its activity today is the straightforward destruction of traditional notions of marriage and the family. This is witnessed by the new phenomenon of equating homosexual unions with marriage and allowing single-sex couples to adopt children. From the point of view of biblical teaching and traditional Christian moral values, this testifies to a profound spiritual crisis. The religious understanding of sin has been conclusively eroded in societies that until recently thought of themselves as Christian.
Particularly alarming is the fact that we are dealing in this instance not only with a choice of ethics and worldview. Under the pretext of combating discrimination, a number of countries have introduced changes in family legislation. Over the past few years single-sex cohabitation has been legalized in a number of states in the USA, a number of Latin American countries and in New Zealand. This year homosexual unions have attained the legal status of 'marriage' in England and Wales and in France.
We have to state clearly that those countries that have recognized in law homosexual unions as one of the forms of marriage are taking a serious step towards the destruction of the very concept of marriage and the family. And this is happening in a situation where in many historically Christian countries the traditional family is enduring a serious crisis: the number of divorces is growing, the birthrate is declining catastrophically, the culture of a family upbringing is degraded, not to mention the prevalence of sexual relations outside of marriage, the increase in the number of abortions and the increase of children brought up without parents, even if those parents are still alive.
Instead of encouraging by all means possible traditional family values and supporting childbirth not only materially but also spiritually, the justification of the legitimacy of 'single-sex families' who bring up children has become the centre of public attention. As a result, the traditional social roles are eroded and swapped around. The notion of parents, i.e. of the father and the mother, of what is male and what is female, is radically altered. The female mother is losing her time-honoured role as guardian of the domestic hearth, while the male father is losing his role as educator of his children in being socially responsible. The family in its Christian understanding is falling apart to be replaced by such impersonal terms as 'parent number one' and parent number two'.
All of this cannot but have the most disastrous consequences for the upbringing of children.
“One of the direct consequences of the radical reinterpretation of the concept of marriage is the serious demographic crisis which will only grow if these approaches are adhered to,” he continued. “Those politicians who are pushing the countries of the civilized world into the demographic abyss are in essence pronouncing upon their peoples a death sentence.”
“What is to be the response of the Christian Churches?” he asked.
I believe deeply this response can be none other than that which is based on Divine Revelation as handed down to us in the Bible. Scripture is the common foundation which unites all Christian confessions. We may have significant differences in the interpretation of Scripture, but we all possess the same Bible and its moral teaching is laid out quite unambiguously. Of course, we differ in the interpretation of certain biblical texts when they allow for a varied interpretation. Yet much in the Bible is stated quite unambiguously, namely that which proceeds from the mouth of God and retains its relevance for all subsequent ages. Among these divine sayings are many moral commandments, including those which concern family ethics.
In speaking out against all forms of discrimination, the Church nonetheless must vindicate the traditional Christian understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman, the most important mission of which is the birth and upbringing of children. It is precisely this understanding of marriage that we find on the pages of the Bible in the story of the first human family. This same understanding of marriage we also find in the Gospels and the apostolic epistles. The Bible does not know of any alternative forms of marriage.
Unfortunately, not all Christian Churches today find within themselves the courage and resolve to vindicate the biblical ideals by going against that which is fashionable and the prevalent secular outlook. Some Christian communities have long ago embarked on a revision of moral teaching aimed at making it more in step with modern tendencies.
“We are not speaking about conservatism but of fidelity to Divine Revelation which is contained in Scripture,” he continued. “And if the so called liberal Christians reject the traditional Christian understanding of moral norms, then this means that we are running up against a serious problem in our common Christian witness. Are we able to bear this witness if we are so deeply divided in questions of moral teaching, which are as important for salvation as dogma?”
Addressing the Islamist persecution of Christianity, Metropolitan Hilarion said that “it is only through common energetic endeavors that we can help our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. Much is done in this regard today by the Roman Catholic Church.”