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Meeting of Russian Orthodox Church Bishops' Council

December 1, 2017, Moscow

Vladimir Putin spoke at a meeting of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is taking place at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of restoring the patriarchate in Russia.

Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Estonia, as well as over 20 other countries with dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church, participate in the Bishops' Council, which is the supreme governing body of the Church.

Plenary sessions of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church will take place from November 29 to December 2, with the discussions focusing on current issues of the Russian Orthodox Church's activities as well as international issues, in particular, the church schism in Ukraine and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

During the meeting, Vladimir Putin presented to Patriarch Kirill an icon of St Nicholas of Mozhaisk, which is a copy of the icon of St Nicholas the Wonderworker from the Nikolsky Tower of the Moscow Kremlin, which was damaged by bullets during civil unrest in Moscow in 1917.

The Bishops' Council will end with a celebratory church service on December 4, which is the holiday of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and the 100th anniversary of Patriarch Tikhon’s enthronement.

* * *

Speech at the meeting of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness, participants of the Bishops' Council,

I would like to begin by sincerely thanking you for the invitation to take part in the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Patriarchate, an event that was decisive for the life of the Russian Orthodox Church, for our people and for the entire state.

More than four centuries ago, in 1589, the Patriarchate was established in Russia, and became the embodiment of the increasingly important role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Orthodox world, the recognition of its authority and the selfless service of its first hierarchs.

The wise words of Moscow patriarchs have strengthened the people's faith, inspired people to constructive action and heroic deeds for the Fatherland, taught truth, kindness, mercy and justice, united representatives of different classes and helped to overcome difficult periods.

The names of the patriarchs of Moscow and all Russia Hermogenes and Philaret, their courage and unshakable faith, became for our Fatherland a symbol of overcoming internal turmoil and foreign invasion at the beginning of the 17th century, a symbol of the spiritual and national upsurge of the Russian state.

In a similarly difficult, dramatic period of our history, in 1917–1918, the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church conducted its work. Hierarchs, clergy and laity together decided to restore the Patriarchate, the historical form of organisation of church life.

In assuming the mission of patriarchal service, Holy Hierarch Tikhon certainly did a great deed in the name of God, his faith and his people. He understood that he had assumed enormous personal responsibility in a very difficult period. He understood he would face open hostility rather than honours from the authorities. Essentially, he knew what it meant for him.

However, people linked their thoughts and hopes with the newly elected patriarch. They expected him to protect and support them and to make those who were plunging the country further into internecine strife see reason.

Patriarch Tikhon and ministers of the Russian Orthodox Church fully shared the fate of Russia and its people and were together with them in their misfortunes and trials. Despite repression and harassment, the destruction and pillage of churches, as well as efforts to weaken and discredit the Church, they saved what was most important – faith – and they helped our people preserve their culture, traditions and national character here and in foreign lands.

Life puts everything in its place and clearly separates what is superficial from what is true. True values and patriotism displayed their power and served as a support for our soldiers in the Great Patriotic War, the defenders and inheritors of Russia and its thousand-year history. At that time all churches conducted prayer services and clergymen asked for “the bestowal of Victory on the warriors of our Fatherland.”

The Russian Orthodox Church and representatives of other religious organisations raised funds for the needs of the front, supported with words, and deeds those who worked on the home front, who lost their families and friends, those who were in besieged Leningrad or in occupied territory. The rout of Nazism was truly not just a military victory but a moral, spiritual triumph.

Naturally, I would like to say a few words about the mission of the Russian Orthodox Church in the period of social and economic transformation that this country went through at the end of the 20th century.

This period is described as a time of spiritual revival and enormous growth of the Church’s authority in society. When many state and public institutions were weakened and life literally turned upside down, it was the Church that supported people, gave them hope and moral guidance and urged them toward harmony and unity.

Much credit goes to the Russian Orthodox Church and other Russian religious organisations for keeping Russia together and preventing conflicts from growing into a new civil schism.

We must remember the lessons of the past. It is important to restore unity in our history, heal the wounds and reject the fissures and intolerance that we inherited from past eras so that society can advance in a confident and harmonious way.

This way of obtaining peace through mutual brotherly forgiveness was shown to us by the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, which signed the Act of Canonical Communion in 2007.

Your Holiness, participants of the Bishops' Council,

Today, like at all times, the Russian Orthodox Church performs its noble and responsible mission with dignity, each year expanding its public and social service.

The Church does productive work in the realms of moral education and charity, gives guidance to the Russian army, provides assistance to the elderly and those in need, and those who have stumbled in life.

The Russian Orthodox Church's contribution to strengthening interethnic and interfaith peace and developing a constructive dialogue with Russia's other traditional religions deserves great respect as well.

The Government, with its respect for the independence of the Church, counts on our continued cooperation in such highly important spheres as education, healthcare, preserving cultural and historical heritage, supporting families, educating the youth, and combating social ills.

In its selfless mission, the Russian Orthodox Church knows no national boundaries. Its canonical territory extends beyond Russia. You do a lot to support compatriots and Orthodox communities abroad, strengthen mutual trust and develop cultural, spiritual and human connections that unite us and have done so for ages.

We greatly appreciate that His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and other religious figures sincerely strive to help address key issues of the development of our country and society.

Relying on the centuries-old experience of Orthodoxy and Christian civilisation, they honestly and straightforwardly articulate their vision of current processes in both our country and the world at large.

New technologies, the global information space, integration and interdependence are truly having a huge influence on society and the everyday life of people in all countries, opening up colossal and truly limitless opportunities.

All of us, including, naturally, the Church and religious figures, are confronted with the most complicated task – to ensure that all this serves only to benefit goodness, the well-being of each individual and all of humanity.

What will happen if civilisation wastes its spiritual and humanistic roots, what risks will this entail for the future of humankind?

Today, we see how traditional values are already being eroded in many countries, causing the degradation of the institution of the family, mutual alienation in society and the depersonalisation of individuals.

Indifference and apathy, and the loss of moral reference points encourage radicalism, xenophobia and religiously-motivated conflicts. Self-destructive egoism turns into aggressive nationalism.

The spiritual void is filled by extremists and ideologists of terrorism, enemies of progress and all civilisation. You know what terrorists perpetrated, for example, in Syria, how they persecuted both their fellow believers and Christians, destroyed churches and killed people.

I hope that the Russian Orthodox Church, using its international authority, will do all in its power to help the international community to join efforts for the sake of Syria's rebirth, humanitarian assistance to its people and the restoration of ruined cultural and religious centres.

The Patriarch and I spoke about this more than once, I know his position, and we are ready to support all religions and all branches of Christianity – all without exception. Today, we have such an opportunity and we are ready for this joint work.

Let me repeat: the world is rapidly changing and going through a very complicated stage. This country is inextricably linked to global processes and trends. We must strive to be leaders in technology, the economy and knowledge in the broadest sense of the word in order to ensure the wellbeing and security of our citizens. Indicatively, more and more people are looking at Russia as a bearer of immutable traditional values and a healthy human lifestyle.

I am convinced that to adequately address the challenges of the future we must uphold justice and truth, preserve our distinctive character and identity and rely on our culture, history and spiritual values. We must move forward, absorbing everything new and advanced, while remaining forever Russia.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate you once again on the memorable date, the 100th anniversary of the patriarchate, and to present his Holiness Patriarch Kirill with an icon – a copy of the icon of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, which was on the Kremlin’s Nikolskaya tower.

In 1812, it withstood a gunpowder blast that the interventionists set off in the tower’s walls. It bears marks from the shelling of 1917 when Moscow was a scene of bloody fratricidal battles. I trust that together we will cherish peace and stability, understand and hear each other and work for our common goals, for the benefit of society.

I wish you strength and many blessed years of patriarchal service. I wish success to all of you, participants in the Bishop’s Council, in your service. I would like to finish my short speech with what we have always said, “Godspeed.”

Patriarch Kirill: Mr President, archpriest brethren.

Today is, of course, a historical event: the head of the Russian state has visited the Bishop’s Council devoted to the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Patriarchate in our church, which is addressing very important and urgent issues linked with the spiritual life of people, their wellbeing, moral and physical health, and which does not shy away from complicated matters, including those related to our history. I hope very much that the decisions of this council will help our church to move forward in dialogue with the people and resolve the problems that are facing the nation today.

In the year of the 100th anniversary of revolutionary events, it is impossible to avoid some analysis of the past. Given the presence of the head of state with us in the council hall, I would like to say a few words about the complicated development of relations between the church and the state in Russia.

In tsarist Russia, the church was part of the state and headed by the sovereign emperor. It was administered by the bureaucracy, notably chief prosecutors of the Most Holy Governing Synod.

On the eve of the revolution, the best minds of the church and the state started pondering the role of the church in Russian society. What does this role lack and what should be done to make it more obvious?

During a most difficult time, about a year before the 1905 revolution the then Prime Minister Sergei Witte sent a memo to the emperor. He wrote that one of the reasons behind the church’s loss of influence was the existence of the bureaucratic stratum between the church and the supreme church authority and between the church and the people. He was referring to the state bureaucratic institution.

Indeed, there was no direct dialogue between the church and supreme government power. Due to the state’s interference, there was no direct dialogue between the church and the rest of society.

I should say that following the revolutionary events, when the principle of separation of the church from the state was proclaimed, it seemed that the government would distance itself from playing a role so dangerous to the country's and the people's unity through isolating the church from the possibility of direct dialogue with citizens.

But what happened was quite different. From day one of the existence of the new government, attempts began to develop the same pre-revolutionary policy through special institutions incorporated into the security services of the Soviet state – that is, to coordinate appointments and take control over everything that was taking place at the level of the highest church resolutions, in other words to interfere with church life and pursue specific goals.

Meanwhile, during that time, ideological goals were added to those national interests. When the changes occurred in the 1990s and the church made it clear there should be no bureaucratic layers, some hotheads emerged among the revolutionaries of the time whose first idea was to create a ministry of religious affairs.

Some of the renowned figures, who were actively involved in the political changes, wanted to, and actually did, put themselves forward as perfect candidates for the position of new chief prosecutors.

I would like to cordially thank you for making sure that today Russia has no bureaucratic layers, for the dialogue between the Patriarch and the President, the supreme church powers and related ministries and departments, and for the conditions that allow for direct dialogue to proceed along the entire vertical of our institution, which gives the church the opportunity to comprehend what is happening in the country and with its people, and pay attention to such issues as public morality, social life, environmental problems, and the moral dimensions of foreign and domestic policy issues.

All this helps shape a clear understanding in society of the independent position of the Church. And what is probably the most important thing is that this position rests on the same moral principles, on which our current laws are based.

These principles are rooted in our religious and moral tradition, which, today, is not disputed by the Russian state. And there is nothing more serious and more important than a moral consensus in society.

If there is a consensus around the main moral values, then all social relations are harmoniously formed, laws that suit people are created and practical policy meets the interests of the people.

Your great personal role is part of what I am talking about. Let me thank you for the dialogue that we are conducting together, for the dialogue that the heads of ministries and departments are conducting with relevant organisations and structures of the Russian Orthodox Church, and for the atmosphere of openness, in which our society is now living. I believe that this openness will be a guarantee of successes that our Fatherland will achieve in the near and distant future.

On behalf of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, I would like to wish you, Mr President, a long life, good heath and God's help in the noble mission that God entrusted to you through the will of the people.

For this is precisely how we understand what happens in human history: the free will of the people is combined with Divine Providence. May God protect you!

December 1, 2017, Moscow