The Value of Inter-Religious Dialogue

(RIA Novosti) Speech by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the department of external religious relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, at the Second Inter-religious Peacemaking Forum in Moscow on March 2-3.

Many peoples with their own cultural and religious traditions live in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The break-up of the former multiethnic state, which aggravated interethnic differences, confronted us with the need to find a modus vivendi that could allow different ethnic groups, religions and cultures to co-exist peacefully.

Where should we look for it? Some say that the most successful example of interethnic dialogue and cooperation is the experience of prospering non-CIS countries. We study this experience with all due respect and largely use it. However, should we rely on this alone?

The history of Western Europe is littered with wars and conflicts. Although these are part of the past, western European countries are still unable to settle arising conflicts. Thus, the French government secured, contrary to the will of many believers, a ban on wearing religious symbols in public places: Muslim hidjabs, large Christian crosses, Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans and so on. Is this not an act of despair or an attempt to hide, by imposing bans, from reality where religion is playing a more and more prominent social role?

In CIS countries, relations between different religions, as well as between religions and secularism are calmer. Indeed, we have passed through a bitter confrontation between faith and atheism, which ended in civil peace. There have been interethnic and political conflicts, but they have never escalated into religious wars. The same is true of the conflict in Chechnya, the gravest in recent years.

It is hard to imagine more turbulent times in Russia than the early 20th century, when revolution swept the country and a fratricidal war broke out, straining all class and interethnic relations. However, Maxim Vinaver, editor of Berlin’s Jewish Tribune, wrote in 1922: "The Orthodox Church as a whole, as a unity of believers and, especially Orthodox believers, has never shown with regard to the Jews either the desire to proselytise, or sharp intolerance or zealous persecution. True Russian believers, who are accustomed to a diversity of opinion in issues relating to faith and who are inclined to look for such issues and explore them, have not only reconciled themselves to the existence of people professing other religions, but also understand and respect them provided their faith is true and sincere".

We have our own efficient model of peaceful co-existence, of settling differences in a worthy manner. I think that this is due to our historical, spiritual and cultural heritage. We, the inhabitants of the CIS, are united not only by a common history, the common personal experience and common experience of our peoples. We are united by largely similar spiritual ideals and one of these is the ideal of humility.

Very little is said today about the virtue of humility. However, humility is not voluntary mediocrity the way secular conscience sometimes sees it, but a conscious rejection of pride, in particular, of any attempt to build God’s kingdom on Earth on our own, of haughty "social construction". We humbly love the Creator and the beautiful world created by Him. Relying on human forces alone is not our tradition.

The striving to create a single quasi-religion and form "global ethics" is alien to us. We respect and preserve the traditions of our peoples that stretch back for centuries. Each of these peoples, each ethnic-cultural community has the right to its own principles for building its social model. No one may impose a different one on them, especially by force.

At present, opening borders, improving international cooperation, the joint participation of countries and peoples in global processes, are stimulating dialogue and cooperation between religions. At the same time, for us, followers of traditional religions, our attitude to integration processes is determined by our duty to preserve and develop the unique nature of the individual, family, people, the original spiritual traditions of nations and ethnic groups. The possibility of losing our homeland’s faith will never become an acceptable price for believers for integration with anyone, which has been proved by history many times.

On the other hand, it is important that the search for national identity and its protection should not assume the forms of nationalism and xenophobia, which are capable of leading to bloody conflicts. One should note the role of inter-religious dialogue, which is important not only as a means of settling potential misunderstandings and suspicions between religious communities, but also as a means of jointly upholding in secular conditions the spiritual and moral values proclaimed by traditional religions, upholding the right to a religious way of life, led both in private and in society.

The future of the global system lies in the mutually respectful coexistence and cooperation of all cultural models, not in the smelting furnace of civilisations that destroy religious and other traditional values. It is important that none of these models should claim the right to be called universal and suppress others by political, economic or military means.

Will a system incorporating many civilisations lead to the break-up of the family? No. But only if mutual isolation and alienation are avoided. This is why integral ethnic-cultural communities need dialogue. This dialogue should not be aimed at mixing faiths or uniting them around secular ideas of developing a world system, materialism or rationalism. We need a dialogue which will allow each religious tradition to reveal its potential in creating private, family and social life, in building a lasting and just peace.

The CIS is a unique place in the world where such dialogue is possible. I believe that CIS religious leaders will make the most of this opportunity for the benefit of their peoples and the rest of the world.