Bi-lateral symposium with the Russian Orthodox Church

The Bishop  has given a speech at the bi-lateral symposium with the Russian Orthodox Church on the theme ‘Renewing the Christian Spirit in the Modern 21st Century World’,  hosted by the British Embassy in Moscow.  The text of his address and that of the Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who also attended the event, can be found below.

‘Renewing the Christian Spirit in the Modern 21st Century World’

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO

Last Sunday I was leading the prayers at the Cenotaph in Whitehall in the presence of The Queen.

It is of course the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and I was thinking of the cost involved in defeating Nazism. In the midst of more personal commemorations I was also reflecting on the huge sacrifices made by the Russian people, their courage in adversity and their perseverance.

The victories of 1945 shaped the world for half a century but now we have entered a new historical era in which the whole Christian world is being challenged to exert itself in finding new ways to promote a sustainable peace. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant remarked however little we may know about the past, we know this much for certain about the historians of the future: “that they will be interested in us and in our age only insofar as we have contributed to the establishment of world peace”.

With Christian friends we urgently need to recover confidence in the universal scope of the Christian narrative. Jesus Christ is never the hero for some sectarian cause, a lesson he taught the demoralised disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. Rather he is the Creator of a new world with the power to inspire a new community composed of “a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds, and people and tongues” {Revelation VII:9}.

We have the responsibility of co-operating in developing anticipations and sketches of this new reality in particular Christian communities. I am very glad that Father Anders Litzell has been able to participate in this conversation as the Prior of the new community which the Archbishop of Canterbury has established at his official residence in Lambeth Palace. Fr. Anders will be able to speak about Archbishop Justin’s intentions in establishing this new community. I am also aware of the great renewal of monastic life in the Russian Orthodox Church and look forward to learning more about this phenomenon which I am convinced has pan-European and global significance.

As an introduction to our theme of the renewal of the Christian Spirit in the 21st century world I want to share some candid reflections from a Western point of view on the trends of the past more than forty years that I have been ordained and some reasons for the renewal of confidence that there are great Christian centuries to come.

I left Trinity College, Cambridge in soixante huit the year the barricades went up in Paris. I have learnt from Church History that if you want to understand a person, find out what was happening and what people were thinking when they were in their early twenties. I was 21 that year.

I went to Theological College in ‘68 and left before the end of my course under a cloud. The Vice Principal said to me, “Chartres, I have to tell you that a man with your views has no future in the modern Church of England”. He was right of course and I left to become deputy headmaster of the International School in Seville. After various vicissitudes I was eventually ordained in the early seventies.

The Church, which had been very much at home in Churchill’s Britain was bewildered by the social revolution and was trying a succession of desperate expedients to stem the decline in numbers. The commentariat, however, was convinced that the story of God could only have one end – relegation to the leisure sector, a harmless life style choice like vegetarianism. Mark Thompson the former Director General of the BBC recorded this unanimity on the part of the new establishment in a notable lecture in Westminster Cathedral. He also described the universal assumption that the whole world would follow the lead set by NW Europe and that secularization would accompany modernization.

Just over thirty years ago as secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Runcie I had my first experience of China.

China was just recovering from the Cultural Revolution and sober estimates indicated that there were barely 400,000 Christians in the country.

Bishop Ting our host was very cautious in his dealings with us and we caused a sensation by insisting on a meeting with the Catholics who in China are regarded as a separate religion.

Last year I returned as President of what was formerly known as the British and Foreign Bible Society to have discussions with SARA – not a Bond girl but the State Administration for Religious Affairs. The Bible Society has a share in the Amity Press in Nanjing where last year we printed 20 million copies of the Holy Scriptures. Over half were in Chinese and this reflects the astonishing growth of indigenized Chinese Christianity over the past thirty years. Sober estimates today put the numbers at 40 million and we are only at the beginning of seeing the impact Chinese Christianity will have on the 21st century world.

I have asked Chinese friends to account for the phenomenon.

They point to the destruction of much traditional culture and a consequent vacuum. Christianity is associated with modernity and churches constitute a zone of trust which is hard to find in wider society outside the family. This network of trust, just like the North Italian banking families in early modern Europe and the Jewish community at so many periods, creates propitious conditions for doing business.

But we are running ahead. Wind forward to just about 20 years ago when I was appointed Bishop of Stepney in the old East End which every foreign visitor seems to associate with Jack the Ripper. The Berlin Wall had fallen in 1989 and Western, more precisely American, hegemony was unchallengeable. In 1992, the year of my consecration, Francis Fukuyama wrote his famous book The End of History.

With the triumph of liberal democracy and market economics, it appeared that the human story had reached its climax. There were dark places in the world waiting for enlightenment but in a neat inversion of Marxism the inevitable goal of history had been reached. Heaven on earth was achievable with God as an emotional prop for those who needed it but with no truth claims which could be admitted to the daylight world.

The mood was summed up in Millennium Year 2000 by the influential journal the Economist which printed an obituary of God.

It was in many ways a golden age in which countless millions enjoyed security and a standard of health unparalleled in human history. The 21st century had hardly begun however when tragic events gave us all a rude jolt.

Almost everyone can recall where they were when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Centre.

I was in the car and the Romanian Ambassador telephoned to say that something dreadful had happened and that I should get to a TV screen. Since then history has obstinately moved on. The West though still formidable does not enjoy unchallengeable hegemony in an increasingly multi-polar world and we are confronting the need to re-shape international institutions in a way that matches today’s global configuration of power.

By 2009 the editor of the Economist had co-authored a book entitled “God is Back”.

In the 21st century the story of God has been given a new twist for good and ill. Although surprising to the Anglo-American elite, this might have been predicted. It is part of being human to worship.

Of course some put “atheist” on their census returns but still shape their lives by constant reference to something that they regard as attractive or fearsome – most often today some idea like glamour, power or wealth. The ancient Greek clothed these notions in human forms – Hercules for pimply adolescents and Aphrodite for the readers of Vogue. Today of course the same ideas are projected onto celebrities and their lifestyles. Sometimes, however, these projections take on a more sinister colour. The bruised and humiliated ego surreptitiously re-ascends by projecting its own rage and lust for power on some idol-god made in our own image. Dr Ali Goma until recently the Grand Mufti of Egypt and I agreed, when we met in Jordan recently, that this was the nature of the appeal of IS.

This is serious and not just to be reduced to the mould grown on the rock of economics because of another law of the spiritual life. Some prayer is always answered in the sense that we come to resemble whatever god it is we worship.

The London which I seek to serve is a laboratory for testing whether it will be possible for the cosmopolitan civilisation which is becoming a global reality to hold together. We are in the midst of debate about identity including what it means to be British. Some in the world are reacting to change by retreating into ever narrower definitions of their identity and merely invoking the universal concepts of tolerance and respect with which we probably all agree does not generate one iota of the energy required to transform lives and build a community.

You cannot exorcise the satanic by creating a spiritual vacuum. Other life forms conform, without the possibility of conscious choice, to the laws laid down for them. We humans are shape shifters who shape ourselves and our futures by referring beyond ourselves.

No doubt social and economic factors have a role in incubating religious extremism but the religious element cannot simply be reduced to something else. It is part of being human to worship and if there is no worthy object of worship then the vacuum is filled by something banal or dangerous.

The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral is a representation of the one world in which we all live. The dome is supported by eight figures, four teachers from the East looking West and four Western teachers looking East. It is a place for thanking God that we have been called by God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. His self-giving love revealed on the cross is the very opposite of the self-aggrandisement characteristic of idol worship.

In some parts of the UK Christendom is still in the process of evaporating in the second decade of the 21st century. London, however, like Moscow is a world city. In just one of our 150 church schools in the Diocese there are seventy languages spoken from Albanian to Zulu.

In consequence we are more exposed to global cultural and spiritual currents. In London, despite a changing demographic profile and in consequence a population that less naturally identifies with the Church of England, our electoral rolls have nearly doubled over the past twenty years. Planting new congregations began with charismatic evangelicals but is now certainly not confined to them. Evangelicals and Catholics have been able to be friends and partners in the gospel, although our tastes differ. Recently I welcomed a great company to the Royal Albert Hall for the annual leadership conference organized by Holy Trinity Brompton. They are kind enough to invite me to be part of an occasion which crackles with spiritual energy but they also know that I cannot stand the music so when I stepped down from the stage I was presented, with typical graciousness, with a pair of ear plugs.

International gatherings like the one in the Royal Albert Hall illustrate one of the most obvious developments of the past century which is having an impact on the shape of our own world. One of the perennial topics of debate between Orthodox and Latin Christians has been the occlusion of the Holy Spirit in the thought and practice of the Western Church in the High Middle Ages. Pentecostalism represents a global movement which has reasserted the central place of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. Religious sociology in South America and other continents has been transformed as a consequence. The danger is that divorced from other aspects of the apostolic tradition, the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit can become unbalanced. The challenge is to accommodate Pentecostal energies without distorting the shape of the historic church out of recognition.

Probably the most thrilling local London development related to this challenge has been the foundation of St Mellitus College in which more than 220 candidates for the priesthood are currently in training from every part of the Anglican spectrum. We used to train candidates for the ministry in colleges which typically had a particular churchmanship affiliation. Under the banner of “generous orthodoxy” it has been possible to train young people together in a prayerful atmosphere and in a culture in which they do not lose their cutting edge but they emerge with greater respect for other expressions of church tradition. We have already established a hub in Liverpool and plans to develop a centre in Kuala Lumpur are well advanced.

Renewed vigour has also made us more outward looking. Recently I helped to launch a thoughtful and visionary report from Tear Fund entitled “The Restorative Economy” which explores Christian responsibility and our lifestyle at a time when economic growth, which has lifted millions out of poverty, is developing in a way which is increasingly unsustainable, with grave consequences for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. A longstanding covenanted partnership between London and Mozambique has raised our consciousness of how much work there is for Anglicans in partnership with other Christians to do internationally and how salutary and transforming it is to encounter the hope and the abundant faith of fellow believers who experience poverty and the devastating effects of climate change.

Work in country like Mozambique and indeed in London as in Russia raises the inescapable challenge of inter-faith relations. I have learnt much about what is possible from the experience of rebuilding an ancient church in the heart of the City of London which had been all but demolished by a terrorist bomb. St Ethelburga’s Church is now a Centre for Reconciliation with an international programme for preventing and transforming conflicts which have a religious dimension. Participants are drawn from every conceivable faith and illustrate the large area of concern, in which we can be allies.

I am glad that we are also facing this century of promise and peril in company with friends in Russia. We have a long friendship and next year we shall be celebrating three hundred years of Russian Orthodox worship in London. I remember a display in the former Museum of Atheism in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan now happily restored to Christian worship. One case was labelled “Foreign Friends of the Russian Orthodox Church” and there in pride of place was an unflattering photograph of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey – a very mild mannered man who had been caught with his Canterbury cap at a villainous angle holding his primatial cross as if he was about to use it as scythe to attack the crowd.

It seems to me that precisely now, in this century of mingled promise and peril, is a moment for cherishing and deepening our friendships and I should like to pay tribute to Metropolitan Hilarion’s contribution to relations between our two churches.

These are dangerous times. Earlier this year, I was in Armenia recalling the events of what the Armenians call the “Great Catastrophe”, the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. The Pope of Alexandria was there and Christian leaders from Syria, Iraq and the Indian sub-continent. Christians are being martyred in large numbers in the convulsions of the Middle East. Disharmony in the international community and the negative effects of the interventions in Iraq and Libya, have been immobilizing. It is a time for Christian solidarity. There is nothing inevitable about the shape of the immediate future. The Astronomer Royal has analysed some of the challenges facing 21st century human beings and has published a book entitled “Our Final Century”. We confront various possible global scenarios flowing from the evident shifts in the tectonic plates of economic and military power against the background of environmental change. It is a time for renewed confidence in the power of the Spirit of the Word made flesh as together we seek to make a unique Christian contribution to securing a hopeful future world order.




The Renewal of the Christian Spirit in Modern Society

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

There was a time when the Christendom was associated with Europe. In the latter half of the twentieth century the situation began to change. Society quickly has become secularized, doubt has been cast upon the immutability of Christian traditions, secular rights and freedoms have moved to the fore in public life. As a result today many European countries are implementing policies of de-Christianization and are moving towards a new world order in which Christianity is to be expelled from the public sphere. A radical change has taken place in peoples’ consciousness, linked to the fact that the scale of spiritual and moral values has been transformed. T. S. Eliot once wrote: ‘Society ceased to be Christian when it abandoned religious rites, when behaviour ceased to be guided by Christian principles and when as a result there remained but one goal – the prosperity of the individual or group of people in this world.’

In our time secularism has become aggressive, extremely dangerous for civil society when under the pretext of freedom of speech and self- expression believers’ feelings and religious holy objects are subjected to insult and mockery. In many European countries and North America Christians are today, according to the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, in a ‘new minority’, sometimes even within their own Churches.

‘I mean those who’, Cardinal Dolan continues, ‘by placing their hope in God’s grace and mercy do all that is possible to retain their dignity and faith. They are the couples who come to church to bless their marriage (only a half do so in North America); they are the couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, stay together no matter what difficulties befall them; they are the couples who receive from God the gift of having many children; they are the young man and girl who refuse to have relations before marriage; they are the homosexually orientated who have chosen the path of chastity; they are the families where the wife has decided to sacrifice a successful career in order to bring up children – today these remarkable people often feel themselves to be a minority in our society and at times in the Church. I think they are more numerous that we are ready to believe, but as a result of external pressure they feel themselves to be marginalized.’

Anti-Christian too in essence is the so called ‘sexual revolution’ which, according to the renowned Russian thinker Serge Averintsev (who died in 2004), ‘has long acted in an aggressive manner, unleashing moral terror.’ At the same time, secular society, aimed primarily at the gratification of individual needs, is incapable of giving the human person clear moral direction. The crisis of traditional values which we see in consumer society leads to a contradiction between various preferences, including those in the realm of family relationships. Thus, radical feminism views motherhood as an obstacle to a woman’s self-realization, while by contrast having a baby is more often proclaimed as a right to be attained by all means possible. More often the family is viewed as a union of persons irrespective of their gender, and the human person can ‘choose’ his or her gender according to personal choice.

The recognition of the legal right to depart life, so called euthanasia, including that of minors, is yet one more ominous result of the mutation of human consciousness under the influence of secular ideology. A minor does not bear civic responsibility: for example, he cannot vote nor legally conclude transactions as society does not recognize that he is has the ability to take proper decisions. However, the state gives its assent to the euthanasia of children, assuming that by doing so it (the state) is adhering to the principles of humanism and philanthropy.

An analogous understanding of human rights leads to the same conclusions in the justification of abortion, which is interpreted as a woman’s inalienable right to do as she wishes with her body and foetus. The denial of the status of person to the foetus is the fundamental principle of abortion’s defenders. The acceptance of abortion as a legalized practice without public ethical limitations and commentary is a symptom of the deep moral crisis in society.

The authorities in a number of European countries and America, in spite of numerous protests, continue to carry out policies aimed at the destruction of the very concept of the family. They have not only granted equal legal status to same-sex unions as marriage, but also criminally prosecute those who out of their Christian convictions refuse to register such unions. Immediately after the head of the Roman Catholic Church visited the USA, President Barack Obama openly declared that gay rights are more important than religious freedom. This clearly testifies to the intention of the secular authorities to continue their assault on those healthy forces in society which defend traditional family values. At the same time the ‘new values’ born of a secular ideology are purported to be universal and common to all humanity, and they are imposed without discrimination upon all people in spite of the national, religious and cultural peculiarities of a particular nation or country.

Today we prefer to speak of values rather than truth in order not to come into conflict with the notion of tolerance and democratic relativism. Yet this change in terminology does not resolve the issue of what are true and false, absolute and relative, values. The new values are insistently and persistently imposed upon the majority by the minority, and now the majority are inclined to accept these values in spite of the fact that they obviously contradict human nature.

Secular ideology is being transformed into a self-sufficient force that cannot tolerate dissent. It allows well organized minority groups to impose successfully their will upon the majority under the pretext of observing human rights. In essence human rights have been turned into an instrument for manipulating the majority. It is in this way that the struggle for human rights has become the dictatorship of the minority over the majority.

Christian ethics, in remaining true to itself, no matter how tactful and peace-loving the approach of its bearers, is inevitably becoming a challenge to the secular mindset which today is celebrating victory and is striving to force all those who dissent from it into unconditional surrender. Yet for us Christians the absolute truth is Christ and our main values are his commandments. According to T. S. Eliot, ‘in vindicating the truth of Christianity, some people emphasize that Christianity is the foundation of morality, although we ought to begin with the premise that the need for a Christian morality proceeds from the truth of Christianity.’

Secular society today not only does not heed those who, like Jürgen Habermas, defend the right of religious people to freedom of expression. The philosopher writes: ‘Equality of outlook on life by the state authorities which guarantee equal ethical freedoms for each citizen is incompatible with the political distribution of a secularist worldview upon all people. Non-religious citizens, since they take on the role of citizens of the state, ought not to reject in principle a religious vision of the world as a potential of truth and ought not to take from believing citizens the right to make with the aid of religious concepts a contribution to public discussion.’

No matter how paradoxical it may sound, the modern-day world displays intolerance towards Christians in the name of tolerance.

The Letter to Diognetus, a second-century document which reflects the exceptional loftiness and freedom of early Christianity, is especially relevant. The Letter reminds us Christians of what we are called to and who we are to become: ‘For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe… The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines… they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners… They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring… They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all… what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world (Jn. 17, 11; 14, 16)… he flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures.’

This was stated even before the birth of ‘Christendom’ when believers in Christ needed defending but did not demand it. All of their hope was in God’s mercy.

Russia has experienced the persecution of Christians similar to those in the first centuries of the Christian era. The 1929 Law on the Separation of the Church from the State and the School from the Church and Law on Associations placed the Russian Orthodox Church outside the law. Persecution of the clergy and faithful would quieten down and then flare up with renewed force as in the pre-war period and in the period after the Second World War. By numbers of martyrs who suffered for the faith the Russian Church has surpassed many times the host of Christian martyrs who accepted suffering at the hands of the heathen Roman empire in the first centuries of persecution.

During the years of godlessness when atheism was forcibly imposed upon our people the flame of faith in Christ continued to burn in the hearts of confessors, and culture to a certain degree continued to be a bearer of those Christian values which were embedded at the heart of the eastern Slavs’ identity as a civilization since the time of the baptism of Rus. This is perhaps why the Russian Orthodox Church so acutely feels the new attack on Christ and on faith in him. Our country recalls the millions of victims of the atheist regime. Many thousands of Russian Christians of various confessions, cruelly persecuted in Soviet times, are alive today. They remind us of St. Paul’s injunction: ‘Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men’ (1 Cor. 7: 23).

Christianity’s enemies have changed their mask, methods and form of attack, yet the essence and goal remains as before – to weaken faith until it is fully eradicated. We should not allow, as Sergei Averintsev puts it, ‘for the ethic of resistance, simultaneously both peaceful and uncompromising and developed through confronting totalitarian regimes, to be lost by yesterday’s Christianity. For resistance towards this under all conditions remains a Christian imperative, the Christian rule of life: resistance to the prince of this world – and only when it indirectly or not at all relates to the sphere of politics. “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12: 2), St. Paul taught us. Our soul, our spirit should not servilely accommodate itself to the spirit of the time, to the impersonal – and transient – state of the world… Yet political conformism is but one of the possibilities of evil: in certain times and under certain conditions conformism in lifestyle, conformism in fashion, conformism to the spirit of the time is considerably more dangerous. The Christian who is not willing to accept that people will look askance upon him and at times be mocked for being not quite the same and for living differently from the way the children of this world live and who requires that all be in “contemporary taste” is not worthy of the name of Christian.’

Yet if confronting the secular and sinful has always been the Church’s task, then today a new reality has arose whereby secularism and sin are spreading within Christian communities.

The Church is called to be a luminary and beacon in the darkness of this age, and Christians to be the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light to the world’. We all ought to recall the Saviour’s stern warning: ‘If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men’ (Matt. 5: 13-14). The salt which has lost its savour are those Protestant communities which call themselves Christian, but which preach moral ideals incompatible with Christianity. If in this type of community a rite of blessing of same-sex unions is introduced, or a so called lesbian ‘bishop’ calls for the removal of crosses from above the doors of churches to be replaced with the Muslim crescent, can we speak of this community as a ‘church’? We are witnessing the betrayal of Christianity by those who are prepared to accommodate themselves to a secular, godless and churchless world.

That is why today we have to speak of the renewal of the Christian spirit. We Orthodox Christians understand this in our own way. The Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin wrote: ‘The spirit of Christianity is not literal, not pedantic, not regulatory; it is renewing and liberating. The acquisition of this spirit is not gained through a legalistic interpretation of words and texts but in the acquisition of love and faith, conscience and freedom… To be renewed according to the Gospel – wholly and to the end – is not granted to everyone. But to enter upon this path, or at least to try to enter upon it, is possible for everybody, at least for everyone who thinks seriously about Christian culture. This renewal is accomplished when the reader of Scripture does not merely register in his mind what has been said but endeavours to seek out and strengthen within himself and, if necessary for the first time, create within himself that which is described in the text: to evoke within oneself a feeling of mercy and commit oneself to it; to evoke within oneself repentance and to experience it creatively, to contemplate with one’s heart the perfection of God and abide within it until the heart and will have been filled with it (an act of conscience); to discover within oneself the power of love and turn it (albeit for a moment) towards God and then towards people and all that lives… At first the Christian begins to ‘put off the old man’ (Col. 3: 9 – 10; Eph. 4: 22) and then asserts the new within him. The true divine nature of Christ is revealed to this new man. And all of this is to be accomplished in the heart and feeling, but not only in them – it is to be accomplished by the intellect, but not only by the intellect; by the will, but also through deeds; through faith, but also through deeds; and first and foremost through vital love’ ( Ivan Ilyin, The Foundations of Christian Culture).

Russian culture has always been deeply Christian and christocentric. It remained so even at a time when the values of secularism began to be implanted in our society.

Dostoevsky was not merely a deeply Christian writer but in each of his novels and in many of his literary images he revealed and experienced anew for himself and for the reader the image of Christ. Indeed, those Christ-like images which he created, whether it is Prince Myshkin or Alyosha Karamazov or the Elder Zossima or Tikhon or a number of others, is an attempt to draw near to the mystery of Christ, and though one’s own experience convey this experience which is concealed in the Gospel but which is unveiled also through the experience of the life of of the Church.

I firmly believe that for the renewal of the Christian spirit we, the Orthodox, are as much needed by Christians of the Western as we need Western Christians. I shall once again recall the wise words of Sergei Averintsev, a true Christian whose heart ached for the future of our faith: ‘The Christian West today has an acute need of the Orthodox feeling for mystery, for ‘fear of God’, the ontological; in the distance between the Creator and creation, in the help of Orthodoxy against the erosion of the sense of sin. Otherwise those among the sons and daughters of the West who will not tire in seeking a religion worthy of its name will more often go over towards the non-Christian East, for example, to Islam. And yet the Christian East cannot survive without the Western experience of having lived for two centuries confronted by the challenge thrown down by the Enlightenment, without everything that has been produced by Western reflection upon the problems of moral theology, without the Western taste for patiently distinguishing nuances, without the imperative of intellectual honesty. Otherwise the vital right of democratic civilization will be repeatedly used as a card to trump Christianity which we will have nothing to counteract with by being a minority. Western Christianity has so often been right in telling us ‘Brethren, be not children in understanding ‘ (1 Cor. 14: 20). Yet sometimes we have reason to remind our Western brothers: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ (Prov. 1: 7) (Op. Cit. p.89).

Today we cannot but recall the disaster that has befallen Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. The pain of their tragedy echoes throughout the hearts of millions of believers of Christ all over the world.
As a result of the so called Arab Spring the persecution and destruction of defenseless Christians has taken on the scale of genocide. Militants have done everything possible to drive Christians from the lands they have inhabited for almost two thousand years. Ancient churches and monasteries have been destroyed, many Christians have lost their lives and property. Under the conditions of war the ideology of extremists has becomes attractive to certain groups within the population.

We have to counteract this ideology with a single voice of faith that testifies to the unsurpassed values of the Gospel. Today history has given to us Christians a chance to work together to save those who believe in Jesus Christ dying in their hundreds in the Middle East and abandoning their homes by the hundreds and thousands. We should together follow the Lord’s commandment: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn. 15:13) and renew within ourselves the spirit of Christian solidarity in common labours for the salvation of human life and Christianity itself in these lands.

We are all called upon to recall the words of St. Paul, as never before relevant to our time: ‘Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God’ (Rom. 12:2).