Russian Orthodox anxious about ethical decline in Europe

By Ecumenical News International
September 9, 2007

A senior leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has said the major churches in Europe need to join forces and seek allies from other faiths to ensure society upholds traditional ethical values.

But he warned that Christians who no longer stood for moral norms previously accepted by the church were undermining this task - writes Stephen Brown for ENI.

"A struggle for a single public morality and for Christian values in today's Europe is impossible without joint actions, first of all among Christians of major confessions, regardless of their doctrinal differences," Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad said on 5 September.

He was speaking at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in the Romanian city of Sibiu, where more than 2000 representatives from Europe's main Christian traditions have gathered.

Kirill is head of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and he told the assembly that, "Christians should seek allies in other religions who share moral positions similar to the Christian attitudes."

He asserted, however, that the church itself was facing divisions about ethical norms that undermined this task.

"It can be stated with certainty … that until recently all Christians had unanimous views at least on man and the moral norms of his life," Kirill said in his address to the assembly. "Today, this unity has been broken as well. Some Christian communities have unilaterally reviewed or are reviewing the norms of life defined by the Word of God.

"Believers cannot recognize at the same time the value of life and the right to death, the value of family and validity of same-sex relations, the protection of child's rights and the deliberate destruction of human embryos for medical purposes," the Russian church leader said.

Kirill's remarks come against the background of divisions within the worldwide Anglican Communion and other Christian groups about homosexuality, as well as moves in some countries to place same-sex partnerships on the same basis as heterosexual marriage. Attempts to legalise euthanasia have also been advanced in some countries.

Speaking to journalists after addressing the Sibiu assembly, Kirill said that divisions within Christianity about ethical issues were putting at risk the ecumenical movement for church unity. "We are now approaching a crisis of the ecumenical movement," said Kirill. "We need to have a very strong moral basis to continue on the ecumenical pilgrimage."

The Sibiu assembly is organized by the Conference of European Churches and the Council of European (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conferences (CCEE). The two groupings account for most of Europe's Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches. The present gathering in Romania follows similar assemblies in Basel, Switzerland, in 1989 and Graz, Austria, in 1997.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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