Ecumenical News International / 30 April 2010 By Jonathan Luxmoore
Warsaw, 30 April (ENI)–A leader in the Russian Orthodox Church has insisted his church has no wish to be an official State denomination and will never side with any single political force.
“The threat that the church will be used by government doesn’t exist today,” said Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Russia’s Interfax news agency has reported.
“Far from giving precedence to any political party or political power, the Russian church upholds the principle of equidistance. It cannot interfere in politics, support one party against another or identify itself with any political power,” said Hilarion, speaking at a Moscow meeting with young Orthodox Christians, on 21 April.
However, the church also counted on the State to reciprocate by not interfering in church affairs, he stated. Hilarion said the church’s stance had been enshrined in the Russian Orthodox Church’s “Social Doctrine Foundations,” adopted by its Synod of Bishops in August 2000.
Russia’s predominant Orthodox church has in the past faced criticism for links with State institutions, as well as with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, which has 315 seats out of 400, in the State Duma, the national legislature.
At a separate meeting in Moscow earlier in April, Metropolitan Hilarion called on Orthodox theology students to do more to learn foreign languages in order to promote their church’s culture and spirituality abroad.
“The task of future priests is to witness to Orthodoxy, correctly and accurately, passing on information to a great variety of peoples,” said the metropolitan. Hilarion is a fluent English speaker, who holds university doctorates from Oxford and Paris, and served previously as an assistant bishop in Britain in 2002 and as his church’s representative to European institutions.
“It’s important that clerics who work and represent our church abroad should know the local language, as well as having a mastery of English,” he stated.