In an exclusive interview with RT, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, shared his ideas on the difficult situations of Christians in the Middle East, the US presidential election, and European multiculturalism.
RT: Your Holiness, first of all, let me congratulate you on your upcoming birthday. Thank you for taking the time to discuss these important –even global –issues with us. Let us talk about Christian affairs outside of Russia – specifically, about the Middle East and Northern Africa. As everyone knows, the dramatic events associated with the armed conflicts raging in the Middle East, especially in Syria, pose a threat not only to government leaders, individuals, secular regimes, etc., but to the Christian faith itself.Several months ago, you had a historic meeting with Pope Francis, during which you called upon the international community to stop the extermination and expulsion of Christians from these regions. Do you believe that enough is being done to stop this? Have you noticed any improvement since the time you made that statement? Or do you believe the situation has deteriorated?
Patriarch Kirill: I have on many occasions been forced to raise my voice – on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church – in defense of those whom I would call the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. Of all the minorities in the region, it is Christians who have been suffering the most. The statistics show an appalling dynamic: there used to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq – now there is less than 150,000. There used to be half-a-million Christians in Syria, and now they have vanished without a trace, whether they were killed or fled the country. But the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity, and of Christian culture. Which is why killing Christians or driving them out of the region isn’t just a crime against religion and against human rights and freedoms: it is a civilizational disaster. Because once Christian communities vanish from those countries, life there will change in every respect. Prior to the current crisis, the governments in those countries, including secular governments, had to reckon with the presence of Christians and devise their policies in a way that would ensure some kind of sectarian balance. Now there’s no need to maintain a balance. And who knows what may happen to the remaining Christian population in those countries.
So you could say our meeting with the Pope was centered on our shared concerns regarding the situation in the Middle East. We were genuinely concerned, and we were both convinced that decisive action must be taken to save the Christians in those countries. Not only Christians, of course – it is important to end bloodshed as such, and I want to make it clear that we care for all those who are suffering. But while Islamic communities are not about to go extinct in those countries, Christians actually are.
So our joint declaration included a statement to this effect. Unfortunately, the subsequent developments have not brought about a political solution for this issue, although we now coordinate our Middle East efforts more extensively with the Pope. We know that the expulsion of Christians continues in those countries, among other things, and that civilians in general suffer because of what’s going on in Syria and Iraq.
It is perfectly clear that, if the nations currently engaged in the interventions in Syria and Iraq are truly committed to eradicating terrorism, and if that stated objective is their only true goal and there’s no hidden agenda, then it shouldn’t be a problem for us to join efforts and work together. After all, what is ISIS [Islamic State, formerly ISIL]? We once defeated the Nazi powers through collective efforts, and they had half of Europe enslaved. So it seems to me it should be fairly easy to do away with ISIS, and thereby resolve the refugee crisis and all the other disasters and tragedies that are rooted in this conflict. But we are not seeing that happen. So all that is left to us as Christians is to pray and, of course, work together with everyone, so that all the nations involved realize that collaboration is instrumental. We keep hearing that the coalition has its own approach, and Russia has a different stance. Well, now is the time when we can’t have two conflicting positions any longer; we need to align ourselves with each other.
That’s why I was glad to hear what US President-elect Mr. Trump said in this regard. He clearly underlined the necessity to tackle Islamist radicalism and terrorism. Hopefully that’s the objective we will move towards, in terms of Russia-US relations as well. Terrorism poses a real threat for the entire world, including Russia, the Middle East, Western Europe, and the US, which was hit hard in the early 21st century. It’s high time we pool ideas, join forces and co-operate to solve this problem that many countries and peoples are facing.
RT: We’ll get back to Western politicians in a minute, but let’s talk about Donald Trump. You said you hoped that his administration would be able to make progress with this problem. However, quite a few people believe Donald Trump is a bigot. He’s a controversial figure in the US and the world, let’s put it that way. So do you believe that once he assumes office that US-Russia relations will get better and we’ll be able move forward and resolve the situation in the Middle East, like you said?
PK: Based on what Mr. Trump said in the course of the election campaign, we can see that he does have the intention to establish a dialogue with Russia, including first and foremost when it comes to combating terrorism. That’s good; it opens up new opportunities for cooperation, which is what I hope we’re going to have in Russia-US relations in order to tackle this. I can’t really say anything about Mr. Trump beyond that. I don’t know him personally, and I don’t know much about his life, so I can only judge based on his statements, which were in stark contrast to other politicians’ stances. There was no hope in what others were saying, while Mr. Trump’s words give us hope. It’s very important for leaders of key global powers to instill hope for a better future with their policies.
RT: About that contrast between Trump’s statements and other Western leaders’ statements. Many say that Trump doesn’t hesitate to openly speak his mind and call a spade a spade. You’ve spoken on many occasions about the persecution of Christians in this region, but Western politicians shy away from the subject. The reason could be that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or maybe it’s because of the Muslim communities in their countries or political correctness in general. Why do you think it’s not a widely discussed issue in the West? There is political correctness in Russia, too – take the legislation concerning insulting religious feelings – but to what extent do you think it prevents Western politicians from speaking about this freely?
PK: Of course, it’s in the way. It seems as if political correctness is meant to limit Christians’ freedom to practice their faith. For example, why should we use ‘X-mas’ instead of ‘Christmas’? The answer we got to this question is that we shouldn’t hurt the feelings of non-Christians. So we asked Muslims if they were offended by the word ‘Christmas’, and they said “no.” We asked if they were offended by decorated Christmas trees in the streets, and they said “no.” So if Muslims are okay with that, whose feelings are we hurting here? It’s likely it’s no one’s. In fact. Europe is a continent whose culture and even political culture is rooted in the tenets of Christianity. We are told that Europe was also influenced by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, and that’s true, but, in terms of scale, this influence can in no way compare to the importance that Christian moral values, and the laws based on them, held for many centuries. So if Europe is now cutting itself off from its roots, it raises the question of whether this is motivated by political correctness or something else. That’s the question we, the people who lived through religious persecution in the USSR, ask. Back then it was also supposedly done in the name of human rights and liberties and a better tomorrow. But it was only the believers who the state had pressured up until perestroika. The capitalists, the bourgeoisie, the rich land owners – Soviet leaders stopped fighting them all and even the Soviet economy half-resembled a market economy, not to mention the New Economic Policy of the 1920s, but they fought the Church to the very end. There is no understanding why that was. So we’re very wary when, under the guise of political correctness and universal rights and liberties, we glimpse signs of discrimination against the people who want to be open about their Christian convictions.
RT: Why is it so hard to achieve peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims in Western Europe? Some say the reason behind this is what we call a clash of civilizations. Considering the recent migrant crisis and the problem of terrorism, do you think these cultures can co-exist peacefully, in the long term? Or should we face the truth and admit – like many politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage do – that the policy of multiculturalism has failed?
PK: Multiculturalism has no future, because it implies different cultures mixing, different cultures and religions poured together and shaken vigorously to create a kind of cocktail. That would be impossible because of deep-rooted traditions. If multiculturalism implies weakening people’s connection to their religion and traditions, it automatically makes them victims of discrimination and forces them to be defensive; so this very approach contains a dangerous source of division, and I mean the fundamental division of the brother-against-brother kind.
There are other ways. Russia is a multiethnic country, but the idea of multiculturalism has never been promoted, not even back in the USSR. It was declared that we would have a new national identity as Soviet people, but everyone knew that Turkmens would stay Turkmens, Tajiks would stay Tajiks, Uzbeks would stay Uzbeks, Russians would stay Russians, and Jews would stay Jews.
This approach, which allows people to express their ethnic and religious identity freely, has especially flourished recently, in modern Russia. We’re not talking about any mixture or cocktail – we say that every person should stay who they are. But we all live in the same country, so all of us must observe the law and be nice to each other. And policies regarding this have to be aimed, not at erasing the lines between cultures and religions and making one cocktail out of it, but at ensuring support, rights and liberties are given to all – to each their own – so that a person of any faith can feel at home in their country, not among strangers. Implementing this model in the West could have paved the way for peaceful co-existence, but I fear that it might be too late now. It should have been done before Europe had to deal with this huge influx of migrants who represent different cultural and religious views, and who are opposed to the culture of the countries they’ve ended up in. A great deal of people have this internal resistance to Western values, and one of the reasons is this radical – I would even say aggressive – secularization. A religious person feels deeply uncomfortable living in an aggressively-secular society, same as we in the USSR felt uncomfortable living in an aggressively-atheistic society. When the aggression disappears, people start feeling affinity towards the society and country they’re living in.
RT: I’d like to hear your opinion on the current state of social institutions that the Church has traditionally upheld, such as marriage and family. Today, many of the historically Christian countries in the West are legalizing same-sex marriage. Some of them have even appointed special envoys for LGBT rights. Many in the West see it as progress and liken it to the situation with interracial marriages in the US, which used to be frowned upon and now are a part of life. So, many believe this is a step forward. What do you think of this trend?
PK: I’m deeply wary of it. What’s happening in the Western countries is that, for the first time in human history, legislation is at odds with the moral nature of human beings. What’s good and evil? Sin and righteousness? These could be defined in both religious terms and non-religious terms. If you take a good character from English, American, or Russian fiction, you will see that all of them possess the same qualities. Why? We have different cultures and different political systems, but for all of us good is good, and evil is evil, and everyone understands who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. So how do we distinguish? With our heart, with our moral nature. This moral nature, created by God, served as a foundation for the legislation which is designed. Laws defined moral values in legal terms, telling us what’s good and what’s bad. We know that stealing is bad and helping people is good, and laws define what stealing is and what the suitable punishment for it is.
Now, for the first time in human history, the law allows something that doesn’t correspond to our moral nature. The law contradicts it. It’s not the same thing, of course, but we could compare this to an extent to the apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws – when the law went against inherent moral values, people rebelled. They knew it wasn’t right; it was artificial; it was part of some ideology and not in sync with their moral nature. So the Church can never approve of this. We say that the Church can never redefine good and evil, sin and righteousness, but we don’t condemn people who have different sexual preferences. It’s on their conscience and it’s their business, but they shouldn’t be discriminated against or punished, as used to be common practice in some states. However, under no circumstances should this be accepted as a social norm no different from the social norm that stems from our moral nature, meaning marriage between a man and wife who create a family and have children. That’s why we believe this new trend poses a significant threat for the existence of the human race. The Church has to address this and say it’s a bad thing, but we’ve seen that authorities in some countries have been trying to silence clergymen. One Protestant pastor went to jail for calling same-sex marriage a sin in his sermon. Again, this is very reminiscent of what was happening under Soviet totalitarianism. In the countries that declare their commitment to freedom of speech, you can get punished for expressing your opinion. That’s a dangerous trend, and I hope it will peter out and the natural order of things will prevail. I don’t even want to think about what might happen to us otherwise. Our prayers and our work are so that humanity lives on and follows the principles dictated by our moral nature.
RT: Speaking of Protestants… During your meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, you expressed your concerns over the Church of England’s recent liberalization, namely its decision to ordain women and its rather modernist stance on marriage and morality. But how can you make Christian values appeal to modern-day youth that keeps turning away from the Church, especially in the West. How can we bring them back?
PK: I don’t think that the tendency of young people rejecting Christian values is a natural process. It is the result of their minds being influenced in a certain way, and we are not talking just about youth here. Just look at what’s out there – movies, television, literature. There is a clear ideological paradigm aimed at dismantling religious and moral values. And it is not always a direct confrontation. They just paint this happy, full life – without God and without the moral obligation to weigh your actions listening to the voice of conscience. It means that God is being purposefully forced out of a person’s life. It is not just some accidental trend. But it’s actually turning out this way. We know that history can unfold in different directions. When evil in this world reaches a certain point, it begins to prevail. In those cases good appears to lose. Today Christians are a minority. The values we preach are either dismissed or ignored. Why? Because we encourage people to move upwards, walk uphill, while popular culture asks people to go in the opposite direction, move down. If a person is guided by his instincts, if civilization is built on this foundation, then of course the majority will follow this road, because it is so much easier, it doesn’t require effort or work. People want this easy life. But the Bible says that “narrow is the way that leads to life.” And this narrow way to salvation requires bravery. But if this way disappears, humanity will fall into a pit. Jesus did not convince everybody with His preaching. In fact, His earthly life ended on the Cross where He was crucified. Of course, He then rose from the dead… But some might see Him as a failure. If you don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, then the end of His life doesn’t seem very impressive – he was executed. The same with all the apostles, except for St. John. They were all executed. So basically they seemed like a bunch of losers, they lost everything. But the message of Christ and His apostles has survived for 2,000 years – it keeps inspiring people. It has often inspired artists and writers who created their works despite this external pressure. But what’s more important is that Christ enters the hearts of many people. We see how people in Russia are starting to believe, this phenomenon is truly historic. The Church is being restored, young people are being converted. When people choose this narrow way, it will most definitely lead them to the stars. It is the road to heaven, to the very top. It is always difficult but it is the way of salvation.
RT: Your Holiness, thank you very much!