‘Europe, spiritual homeland’

In “For Rome and Moscow, It’s Spring Again,” Sandro Magister on Chiesa looks at the book, in Italian and Russian, presented to Pope Benedict recently by Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk. It is a collection of the main speeches of Benedict, as cardinal and pope, on European culture made over the past ten years.

Pope Benedict and Abp. Hilarion

Pope Benedict and Abp. Hilarion

The title of the book is taken from an expression that Benedict used in Prague: “Europa, patria spirituale [Europe, spiritual homeland].” Magister translated the archbishop’s introduction (excerpts reprinted below). But listen to his amazement:

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.”

It is a text that is also striking for its frank, politically incorrect language, unusual for the pen of a high Church authority.

As you read Archbishop Hilarion’s words, note the stark contrast to the formulations of neo-dhimmitude we’ve been receiving non-stop from the Phanar of late. May God grant this bishop many years.

The help that the Russian Orthodox Church can give to Europe

by Hilarion Alfeyev, Archbishop of Volokolamsk

Introduction to: Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, “Europa, patria spirituale,” Moscow/Rome, 2009

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 places of profane activities of yet another kind. There is something profoundly deplorable in this sad spectacle. I come from a country in which for many decades the churches were used for nonreligious purposes. Many places of worship were completely destroyed, others were turned into “museums of atheism,” and still others modified to be used as secular institutions. This was one of the traits of the so-called “militant atheism” that dominated for seventy years in my country, and collapsed only in fairly recent times. But what is the cause of similar phenomena in Western Europe? Why has the space for religion in Western society been reduced in such a significant way in recent decades? Why does religion have less and less space in the public sphere? And again: why has this contraction of the religious presence in Europe coincided with processes of consolidation on the political, financial, economic, and social level? […]

Just after the second world war, when Europe was in ruins, there was a clear need for a pan-European solidarity, for the survival not only of the continent, but of the whole world. […] The presence of a “big brother” behind the Iron Curtain also drove the West to work for integration and unification.

At first, this process had only economic, military, and political dimensions. And nonetheless, with the passing of time the need for a common cultural space, a single European civilization, became increasingly urgent. It was thus believed necessary to develop a new, universal ideology that, by reducing the ideological and religious tensions that existed among the various peoples, would be able to ensure tranquil coexistence among the various cultures in the framework of a single European civilization.

In order to create an ideology of such vast magnitude, it was necessary to reduce all the cultural, ideological, and religious traditions of Europe to a common denominator. The role of this denominator was taken on by post-Christian Western humanism, the essential principles of which were formulated in the age of the Enlightenment, and “tested” during the French Revolution.

The model of a new Europe based on this ideology presupposes the construction of an explicitly secularist society, in which religion can have a place only in the private sphere. In compliance with this secularized model, religion must be separated from both state and society: it must have no influence on social development, nor interfere in political life. Such a model not only reduces to zero the social dimension of all religion, it also constitutes a challenge to the missionary vocation of many religious communities. For the Christian Churches, this model represents a genuine intimidation, because it undermines their possibility of preaching the Gospel to “all the nations,” of proclaiming Christ to the world. […]

In the Soviet Union, religion was persecuted for seventy years. There were various waves of persecution, and each of these had its particular character. At the end of the 1920’s and in the 1930’s, the persecutions were more cruel. Many of the clergy were put to death; all of the monasteries, the theological schools, and most of the churches were closed. A less brutal period followed the end of the second world war, when some of the monasteries were reopened together with a few schools. During the 1960’s, a new wave of severe persecutions began, aimed at a total annihilation of religion that was supposed to be completed by the beginning of the 1980’s.

But midway through the 1980’s, not only was the Church still alive, it was growing, albeit slowly. […] One thing never changed, however: the ban that kept religion from leaving the ghetto to which it had been confined by the atheist regime. […]

Now, the processes that are currently taking place in Europe bear some resemblance to those in the Soviet Union. For religion, militant secularism is as dangerous as militant atheism was. Both of them tend to exclude religion from the public and political sphere, relegating it to a ghetto, confining it to the realm of private devotion. The unwritten rules of “political correctness” are increasingly applied to religious institutions. In many cases, this implies the fact that believers can no longer express their convictions openly, in that publicly expressing their religious conviction could be considered a violation of the rights of those who do not share it. […]

The results of this policy are evident. In some countries, especially in those that do not have a Catholic or Orthodox majority, the majestic cathedrals that up until a few decades ago contained thousands of faithful in prayer are half empty; the theological seminaries are closing for lack of vocations; the religious communities are not renewing their numbers; Church property is being sold; the places of worship are being turned into centers for earthly activities. Once again, it is undeniable that in many cases, it is the Churches themselves that are responsible for the situation, but the destructive effect of secularism must not be underestimated. Religion is really being expelled from the public sphere, increasingly marginalized by secularized society. And this in spite of the fact that in all of the West and in Europe in particular, most of the people still believe in God. […]

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 […] Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, unlike many countries in Western Europe, are experiencing a period of religious revival: millions of people are returning to God; everywhere churches and monasteries are being built. The Russian Orthodox Church, which today is undoubtedly one of the most rapidly growing Churches in the world, has no shortage of vocations: on the contrary, thousands of young men are entering its theological schools to consecrate their lives to God. […]

“The foundations of the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church,” a document adopted by the council of bishops in 2000, is the written proof of the fact that this Church […] has an intellectual potential such that it is able to provide balanced and comprehensible answers. After reading this document, which is the first text of its kind in the entire history of Orthodox Christianity, anyone can see that it belongs to a Church that no longer lives in the ghetto, but rather finds itself at the height of its powers. Heavily damaged by militant atheism, this Church was never destroyed. On the contrary, it emerged from its experience in the fire of persecution renewed and rejuvenated. Having descended into Hades and risen from the dead, this Church truly has much to say to the world. […]

For the Russian Orthodox Church, there cannot be only one ideological model, nor a single system of spiritual and moral values to impose indiscriminately on all European countries. The Russian Orthodox Church hopes for a Europe based on authentic pluralism, a Europe in which the diversity of cultural, spiritual, and religious traditions is fully represented. This plurality of traditions must be reflected in every legal document, and respected by every court in its decisions. If the laws and if those decisions are based exclusively on principles rooted in Western secularist humanism – with its particular conception of peace, tolerance, freedom, justice, respect for human rights, and so on – they risk not being accepted by a large part of the European population, and in particular by those who, by virtue of their belonging to a religious tradition, have a perspective different from those same principles. […]

The totalitarian dictatorship of the past cannot be replaced with a new dictatorship of pan-European government mechanisms. […] For the Russian Orthodox Church, every state must have a right to legislate as it believes on that which concerns the state of marriage and the family, questions of bioethics, educational models. The countries of Orthodox tradition, for example, do not accept laws that legalize euthanasia, homosexual marriage, drug trafficking, the maintenance of brothels, pornography, and so on.

Moreover, we believe that every country must have the right to develop its own model of relations between state and Church. Legislation that is limited solely to guaranteeing citizens the right to religious freedom creates, in reality, the conditions for a savage competition among religions and confessions. We must instead create together the conditions to keep the democratic freedoms of an individual, including his right to religious self-determination, from clashing with the rights of the national communities, and to preserve his integrity and fidelity to his own traditions, social ethics, and religion. These are elements of particular importance, especially when it comes to creating regulations for destructive and extremist movements of a religious nature, as also when proof is obtained of the violation of religious liberty on the part of traditional religions, the expansion of which in some parts of Europe threatens public and social order. […]

Wherever no guarantees are given to the religious communities, collisions and clashes between religious institutions on the one hand and the secularized world on the other will be inevitable. These clashes may take place on various levels and in relation to various questions, but it is not difficult to predict that, in most of the cases, they will revolve around topics touching on morality, which the religious communities on the one hand and modern society on the other understand in different ways. There is already a fairly glaring divergence between the system of values existing in the traditional religions and the one that is characteristic of the secularized world.

“The foundations of the social doctrine” is not a manual for private use: it is a public document in which the Russian Orthodox Church expresses its official positions openly and explicitly. The language of the document differs from that of secularized society: the notion of sin, for example, is practically absent from the vocabulary of secularism. Nonetheless, the Church maintains that it has every right to express its positions publicly, not only when they agree with generally accepted opinions, but also when they disagree.

There are many positions developed in “The foundations of the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church” that may not correspond to the standards of secularism. For example, the Church considers abortion “a grave sin,” equal to homicide, and declares that “from the moment of conception, any action against the life of the future human being is criminal.” The Church also rejects, as “against nature and morally inadmissible,” so-called “surrogate motherhood,” together with any form of extracorporeal insemination. Human cloning is maintained to be “an unequivocal challenge to the very nature of the human being and to the image of God impressed on him, an integral part of which is the freedom and uniqueness of the person.” Treatment that makes use of the fetus is considered “absolutely inadmissible.” Euthanasia is condemned as “a form of homicide or suicide.” Changing sexes is considered a “rebellion against the Creator” that the Church does not allow: if anyone of a sex different from his original one should present himself for baptism, he would be baptized according to the “sex to which he belonged at the moment of birth.” […]

The church must be recognized as having the right to follow its own canonical traditions, preferring these to secularized law in the cases in which there should be overlapping or outright contrast. According to the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church, “when human law completely rejects the divine norm that has absolute value, replacing it with one that is contrary, then this latter ceases to be law and becomes illegal, no matter what the legal garments in which it is clad.”

Therefore, “in everything concerning the exlusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian must obey the law, as imperfect and unfavorable as it may be. And nonetheless, whenever respect for the law threatens his eternal salvation and involves apostasy or the obligation to commit a sin in the eyes of God and of neighbor, the Christian is called to profess his faith boldly, out of love of God and of his truth, and for the salvation of his soul, for eternal life. He must denounce by legal means the clear violation committed by society or by the state against the laws and commandments of God. And if this action should prove impossible or ineffective, then he must move on to civil disobedience.” (IV, 9)

Obviously, disobedience of civil law is an extreme measure that a particular Church might adopt in exceptional circumstances. It is nonetheless a possibility that must not be excluded a priori, in case a system of secularized values should become the only one operating in Europe. […]

I believe that solidarity among European Christians must become increasingly more manifest, with the gradual progression of the process of defining a common European system of values. It is only together that Christians, with the representatives of the other traditional religions in Europe, will be able to safeguard their own identity, combat militant secularism, and confront the other challenges of modernity. The Russian Orthodox Church is ready to collaborate on the interconfessional level, the interreligious level, the political level, the social level, and all other levels with those who are not indifferent to the future identity of Europe, with all those who believe that traditional religious values are an integral part of that identity.

Finally, I would like to comment on the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights against Italy, meaning the ban on displaying the crucifix in Italian schools. This decision goes against the right of each state to preserve its own traditions and its own identity, that is, it offends the inviolable principle of the authentic pluralism of traditions. It is an unacceptable manifestation of militant secularism. The activity of the European Court must not turn into a cynical farce. The ultraliberal attitude that prevailed in the adoption of that decision must not dominate in Europe. The origins of Europe are Christian. The crucifix is a universal symbol, and it is absolutely inadmissible that, in order to satisfy ultraliberal and atheistic standards, Europe and social institutions should be deprived of the symbols that for so many centuries formed and united people. The crucifix is not a symbol of violence, but of reconciliation. I think that in all of these areas, we can collaborate with the Catholic Church in defending Christian tradition from militant secularism and aggressive liberalism.

In this context, I would like to conclude by asking the following question: are we building a completely atheist and secularist Europe, where God is expelled from society and religion driven into the ghetto of the private, or will the new Europe be a true home for the different religions, thus becoming authentically in a pluralist? I think this is the question the Churches in Europe and the religious communities must ask, a question that the politicians have a duty to answer. It is around this question that the dialogue between European religious communities and political institutions should be centered.
The text of Archbishop Hilarion’s introduction to the book by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI “Europa, patria spirituale” was reproduced almost in its entirety on December 2 by “L’Osservatore Romano”:


  1. George Michalopulos :

    this is refreshing.

  2. In the last year or so I have more and more come to think that the Orthodox Church in this country should follow the example of the ROC. Our engagement with Christians outside our tradition has not (until the Manhattan Declaration) emphasized collaboration as it has proselytizing (and forgive me, but it is hard for me to read anything from Conciliar Press or Regina Press and not concluded this).

    With the large influx of Evangelical Christians has come as well not only the spirit of “savage competition” to which his Eminence refers but also strains of anti-intellectualism and anti-Catholicism (or at least anti-Westernism) that undermine our witness. It is more than a little interesting to me that there is almost nothing in “The foundations of the social doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church,” that is not also found in the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

    Bottom line is I think the Orthodox Church in this country needs to move away from our love affair with popular Evangelical Christianity and enter into a more serious conversation not only with our own tradition but also Catholic social and moral teaching. Yes, Evangelical Christianity is an important part of American popular culture but there is little substance there. Thank God for the Manhattan Declaration but substantive Christian thought is Orthodox and Catholic not mainline Protestant or Evangelical. The latter two traditions do not have the internal resources to withstand modernity, to say nothing of post-modernity. One negative lesson I think we can learn from the Catholic Church is that we court the favor of American Protestant and Evangelical Christianity to our detriment. Wiser, it seems to me, to follow the course outlined by Archbishop Hilarion and work with the Catholic Church and take point on a robust Christian witness in the public square. As Neuhaus argued, this witness must–necessarily–be not simply moral but sacramental. To this I would add as well ascetical. Disconnected from its sacramental and ascetical foundations, morality will eventually cease not simply to be biblical and Christian but even moral.

    God grant His Eminence, Archbishop Hiliarion many years!

    In Christ,


    • Father: I agree with your comments with respect to the Roman confession. But there are a lot of people in the plethora of Protestant confessions that share similar views on “moral” issues. They should not be disregarded or dismissed out of hand. We are dealing here with a militant secularism that Hilarion finds more nefarious than the communistic militant atheism. This is an assault on all Christian confessions and 2,000 years of our common west/east moral culture. Everyone that worships the Father, Son and Holy Spirit unambiguously needs to join in the resistence. I agree that this is different than proselytizing and is of more immediate urgency. If the cultural norm becomes the militant secularist model, there may be no one left to proselytize, assuming that it remains legal to do so in the new order of things.

      • Nick,

        I agree with you to a point. There are many, many, Protestant Christians who hold to traditional Christian morality. Where you and I (may) disagree is whether or not the various Protestant traditions and confessions have the internal resources to stand up to militant secularism. I don’t think as traditions they have the internal resources. Specifically, I think what they lack is the priesthood and so the Eucharist. Yes, there is much to admire in Protestantism, but the lack of the sacramental priesthood is a deficit that we cannot overlook. Without the priesthood there is no sacrifice and without the Eucharistic sacrifice, even the best morality cannot hope to triumph over the powers of sin and death.

        Your thoughts?


        • Father: Your point on the sacramental priesthood is well taken. However, we can still have them join us in engaging the battle against secularism. As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. One thing that they are better at than others is political action as they have demonstrated from time to time, especially during the time of Ronald Regan. This is not true in Europe where the Roman confession has been predominant in the cultural wars from the time of the so-called “Enlightenment”. It is interesting to note that Robert Bork in his “Slouching Towards Gammorah” sees the cultural decline that started in the 1960’s both here and in Europe not uncoincidentally occuring during a time that the Roman confession as an “institution” commenced to decline. The battle being waged by the secularists is to remove “God” from our psyche altogether. Those who still have “God” in their psyche (even though of a totally different confession than ours) are our natural allies in this battle. We cannot think of this as an Orthodox fight alone. Otherwise, the words of Yeats in his “Second Coming” may become all too prophetic:

          “Turning and turning in the widening gyre
          The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
          Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
          Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
          The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
          The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
          The best lack all conviction, while the worst
          Are full of passionate intensity.
          Surely some revelation is at hand;
          Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
          The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
          When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
          Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
          A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
          A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
          Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
          Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
          The darkness drops again; but now I know
          That twenty centuries of stony sleep
          were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
          And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
          Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

  3. George Michalopulos :

    Fr, I am in total agreement with you. We cannot seriously consider prosletyzinng until we clean up our own mess first.

  4. Michael Bauman :

    IMO, we should not proseltyze at all. We should witness to the truth founded upon our transformed lives. Jesus Christ transforms lives. Proselytzing is merely an effort to get people to agree with you about some mental precepts and shift social networks.

    If we live lives of repentence/forgivness, prayer, almsgiving and fasting while partaing of the Holy Mysteries, our lives will be transformed and we will be witnesses.

    Fr. Gregory, you are correct, the Holy Mysteries hold the center, but the key word is sacrifice. Whom do we serve: God or mammon?

    • Mike: If I understand your thought properly, then Paul should have been at a synagogue and then to a eucharistic gathering with Christians in Athens but should not have proseltyzed at the Aeropagus. Perhaps we have a semantic problem here but Paul talking to a bunch of philosophers about the “Unknown God” to convince them that He can become known through Jesus Christ is within my definition (and the dictionary’s) of “prostelytize”. Am I in some kind of a definitional maze?

      • Michael Bauman :

        Nick, I make a distinction between proseletyzing and evangelizing. Proseletysing is all to often a manipulative sales job intent on adding numbers to one’s own belief. Evangelizing is being a witness to the truth and allowing people to make their own decisions praying that they be open to the Holy Spirit.

        We should always be evangelizying even in the midst of scandal, dysfunction and confusion.

        • Michael’s distinction in 4.1.1. is my own and is generally accepted by most pastoral theologians and scholars in religion. It is, to be sure, an arbitrary distinction but it is useful nonetheless to get at the difference between an invitation to faith that is offered without as Michael say manipulation. I would contend that many of the apologetic materials we use in the US seem to be concerned more with proseletyzing than evangelizing. That’s harsh sounding I know, but a lot of what we produce presents the Orthodox faith in contrast to other Christian traditions. Additionally, the comparison is never favorable for the non-Orthodox confession and really risks leaving people with the impression that what we have to offer is more a rejection of what others believe rather than offering a positive, attractive message.

          Doing this, I think, not undermines our witness it helps explain why some many converts defect and why so many Orthodox Christians baptized as infants grow up estranged from the Church. I find the Orthodox faith to be very positive, very hopeful and attractive–I don’t think we need to point out why we think others are wrong or try to undermine some else’s faith.

          Nick, I agree with your response following 2.1.1–we don’t have to have theological agreement to make common cause with others in reasserting a Christian voice in the public square. But I stand by what I said, I don’t think in the main the intellectual substance that is needed is going to be found among most mainline Protestant and Evangelical Christians. It is worth noting that in one of the key issues of the culture wars–abortion–Evangelical Christians came rather late to the party (the early 80’s).

          Like I said in response to Michael, what is necessary (I think) for us to reclaim our voice in the public square is the ability to present a positive message. The center of this message is a clear, systematic presentation of the truth of what it means to be distinctively rather than merely human. Catholic Social Teaching rooted as it is in a sound understanding of natural law is really what I think we as Orthodox Christians need to learn.

          Your other point about shifts in the Catholic Church in the 1960’s points to what I think we as Orthodox Christians can bring to the table: A clear and assertive vision of the sacramentality of creation. In effect, if Rome builds the foundation, we can put up the walls and roof. Together our two Churches can build a solid framework within which not only we but other Christians and people of good will can work together.

          But that’s just my opinion.

          In Christ,


          • Michael Bauman :

            Fr. Gregory, I am not wholly opposed to a natural law approach, but I think we need to take it even further and produce modern apologethics that relay on the unique anthropology of the Church.

            When I give tours of my parish to others, I always stress the affirmative aspects of our approach to the person of Jesus Christ (based on His Incarnation) in love and communion and the healing nature of confession (rather than punitive).

            The big failing I have found with most natural law arguments is that they often devolve into a defacto deism rather than proclaiming “God is with us” in a living way that is available to anyone who wants to partake of His life. The Protestants realize the relational diminsion in a way that can make the faith attractive–particularly in a culture formed by their theology to begin with. However, as you point out, they lack the sacramental dimension that allows for a more complete and full inter-relationship with Christ and each other.

            I find it exceptionally frustrating that we keep diddling about with jurisdictions, and a calcified hierarchy when we have the balm everyone needs. We all to often lock up the door and don’t enter in ourselves while making it unnecessarily difficult for those already in the Church to “taste and see that the Lord is good”.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    I for one don’t think that we shouldn’t do both at the same time. However our bishops (esp GOA ones) should repent first of their worldliness. (BTW, I consider the incessant placement-seating of the EP’s exarchates to be Exhibit A of worldliness.) Then we can go forward and strategically cooperate with the RCs (definately) and the Evangelicals who are pro-life. And whoever else for that matter.

    Fr Gregory brings up an excellent point that I never considered as I’m not a theologian. If true (and I grant Fr Gregory the point), then we should keep in mind that for all the Evangelicals that join us in this strategic cooperation, we shall lose others. Because of their lack of an authentic priesthood and sacraments, their devotion to the truth is at base intellectual rather than foundational. We need them in other words, but they need us more because our kerygma is indivisible from the Eucharist.

  6. Michael Bauman,

    Your criticism of those forms of natural law that are functionally the equivalent of deism is spot on. And I would also with you like to see natural law arguments extended and deepened in light of the anthropology of the Church.

    Interestingly, your suggestion here is very much in line with the theological and philosophical scholarship of the late Pope John Paul II on the Catholic side and Christos Yannaras in the Orthodox side (though whether Yannaras would agree with how I characterize his work is another question 😆 ). Among Protestant theologians I think Stanley Hauerwas would be an interesting conversation partner for us.

    As for jurisdictional diddling, yeah, well, there is that isn’t there 🙄 .

    In Christ,


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