Vienna, April 16 – The representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to European institutions in Brussels has called for the organization of an inter-fraction deputies group in the European Parliament to advance the values of Orthodox civilization, a task Archpriest Anatoly Ilin calls “extremely ambitious but completely real.”
In yet another indication of the more activist stance the Russian Church is likely to take under newly-installed Patriarch Kirill, Archpriest Ilin told Interfax today that Kirill and his Church very much believe that “liberal secularism must not become the only standard for the taking of legal decisions” (www.interfax-religion.ru/orthodoxy/?act=news&div=29799).
Such an approach, the archpriest continued, would effectively “exclude the Church and religious communities from an active dialogue at the level of civil society” and ignore the increasingly important role of Orthodox communities within European institutions, such as the Council of Europe and the European Union.
“The project of European integration began,” Father Ilin said, “as a Western one but it cannot be continued exclusively in that way anymore, especially after the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU, and also taking into account the eight-million-strong Russian-speaking diaspora in EU countries which is culturally linked to the Orthodoxy of the Russian tradition.”
The Russian Church has long been a handmaiden of the Russian and earlier the Soviet government in Moscow’s dealings with European institutions. Indeed, the Church’s offices in Brussels, Vienna and Strasbourg have quite often been larger and often more vocal than the corresponding Russian government representations.
But with the elevation of Kirill, who for many years was head of the Patriarchate’s External Relations Department which was responsible among other things for the Moscow Church’s activities abroad, the Moscow Patriarchate appears set to become more active on three major fronts.
First, the Moscow Church hopes to expand Russia’s influence within European institutions by appealing to a broader swath of conservative opinion on the continent, especially with regard to the Islamic world and Muslim immigration into European Union countries, through the Church’s references to the importance of traditional Christianity.
Earlier this week, for example, Kirill’s successor at the External Relations Department, Bishop Ilarion, called on Europeans to worrying about “the Islamization of Europe” and to devote “greater efforts to the rebirth of the Christian system of values” which could block the spread of both secularism and Islam (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=29766).
Ilarion said that “today much is said about the Islamization of Europe and about the conquest of Europe by demography. We must not get angry about the fact that Muslims have large families. That is natural. [Instead,] we ought to be asking ourselves why Christians have so few children.”
The answer to that question, the Russian bishop said, lies in “the system of values of contemporary people” which “is not based on religious values. For many people, material well-being, a career, and comfort are in first place but not children and not the family. Support of the family is a common task of European countries and Christian churches.”
And such support, the Patriarch’s representative in Brussels added, “will be the answer to the so-called Islamic threat.”
Second, the Russian Church like the Russian government is concerned about the increasing number of cases in which the European Court of Human Rights is ruling against the Russian authorities. Kirill, for his part, has criticized the universal legal principles on which many of these decisions have been taken.
This week, Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta” published a major article describing the extent of Moscow’s defeat in this court and the anger of the secular authorities in the Russian Federation about this “outside” intervention (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/039/00.html). Ilarion’s words suggest the Church will echo this anger in the coming weeks and months.
And third, by pushing for an Orthodox group within the European Parliament, the Russian Patriarchate is seeking to underscore its self-appointed position as the defender of Orthodoxy in Europe and in particular European countries and to lay the groundwork for the recognition of Russian as an official language of the EU.
Last month, for example, the Moscow Patriarchate denounced the Strasbourg court for a decision it took regarding the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria, calling the decision “a profanation of the law” and demanding that the court and European institutions respect national traditions and the Church (www.interfax-religion.ru/orthodoxy/?act=interview&div=214&domain=1).
And as Ilarion pointed out to Interfax, there are now an estimated eight million Russian speakers in the European Union, the largest linguistic community there whose language is not an official one in the EU. Moscow has long sought that recognition not only for status questions but because of the consequences for language policies of countries like Estonia and Latvia.
Now, the Moscow Patriarchate has taken up this drive, and Archpriest Ilin and his several hundred colleagues in the Orthodox mission in Brussels can be expected to press for exactly that, setting the stage for yet another increase in tensions between what some call the countries of “old” Europe and those of the “new.”