A round table titled “The Russian Orthodox Church and Compatriots: Cooperation in Europe” was held on November 24, 2016, at the Russian House of Sciences and Culture in Berlin, Germany. His Grace Bishop Antony of Borogodsk, Head of the Administration of Institutions Abroad, opened the meeting. He stressed that the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church throughout the world serve as gathering places for the Russian diaspora. His Grace discussed the directions taken in the joint projects of the organization Rossotrudnichestvo [Russian Cooperation] and his Administration, which was jump-started after a conference of compatriots held in November, 2015, in Moscow, and the opportunity to establish a road map of cooperation of dioceses abroad and representatives of Russia in other countries.
Vladimir Mikhailovich Grinin, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Federal Republic of Germany, participated. He noted that collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church is necessary in order to provide a moral aspect to international policy and the consolidation of the Russia world in Germany. Ambassador Grinin praised the growth in the number of parishes in the Berlin Diocese, calling the Church “an important factor in the spiritual well-being of the many millions of Russian emigres. The ambassador stressed the need to develop parish school and other educational programs for children, social-support groups and Russian-language schools.
Mr Oleg Malginov, Director of the Department of Cooperation with Compatriots Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, pointed out the priorities in working with the Russian Orthodox Church: preserving the Russian language, work with youth, support of the sense of historical belonging to Russia, and the consolidation of nationhood. “As His Holiness Patriarch Kirill said, we have common goals: to preserve the faith, traditional family values, and support of language and culture,” said the official.
His Eminence Archbishop Feofan of Berlin and Germany told the participants about the joint actions and projects between the Berlin Diocese and the Russian House of Science and Culture in Berlin. “Recently, in connection with the heightened interest on the part of the Russian Federation in the lives of compatriots living abroad, and the activization of social, educational and cultural work in our diocese, communications between us have reached a new level and regularity,” he said. The speaker revealed the development of collaboration in the fields of social work, culture, youth ministry, recreation and discussion groups. Archbishop Feofan gave a recent example of cooperation with Rossotrudnichestvo: the St Alexander Nevsky Days in November, 2016, aimed at popularizing Russian culture through the names and images of Russian saints.
Mr Oleg Vasnetsov, Director of the Department of Communications with the Federation, Parliament and Social Unions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed concern over the policy of multiculturalism in Europe in general and in Germany specifically, which lacks a clear strategy in the areas of international and inter-religious relations. All this, especially in view of the migrant crisis, can lead to the undermining of national identity, and spark a crisis of civilization in Europe, said Mr Vasnetsov. In conjunction with the expulsion of religion from European social life will lead, he said, to the dilution of religious self-identity, the destruction of traditional social institutions, including the family unit. Against this backdrop, the importance of supporting Russians abroad is multiplied. Mr Vasnetsov expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church in promoting Russian-language humanitarian projects and the contribution of dioceses abroad in the effort to consolidate Russian communities, and preserving Russian language and culture.
Adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian culture does not necessarily require knowledge of the Russian tongue, said His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. He noted that most of the parishioners of Russian Orthodox churches in Germany are Russian-Germans. “In this situation, of course, we are talking about the importance of learning the Russian language, and we are happy when parents and their children speak Russian at home,” he said. “It is important, even if one doesn’t speak fluent Russian, to give our children a sense of belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian culture. We need to face this matter, otherwise, if speaking Russian is a requirement to be a part of the Church, an enormous number of people might be lost to the Russian world,” said Archbishop Mark.
Ms Larisa Dahl, Advisor to the Head of Rossotrudnichestvo, talked about collaboration with the Russian Orthodox Church, and noted the need to develop a unified strategy among Russian dioceses and Russian centers of science and culture in various nations of the world. She said that their experience has demonstrated the need of parish Sunday schools for methods and textbooks for bilingual students, and religious literature. Ms Dahl outlined the opportunities offered by the grant program “Orthodox Initiative” and listed a number of international projects which young parishioners of the churches of the Russian Orthodox Church in the diaspora can participate in.
His Grace Bishop Tikhon of Podolsk, Administrator of the Viennese and Hungarian Diocese, noted the ability of immigrants from the former USSR to assimilate. On one hand, this is a valuable aptitude, on the other hand, children and grandchildren of emigres become typical members of their new societies, often forgetting their national roots. In the opinion of the speaker, the Russian Orthodox Church provides a guarantee in preserving religious and cultural identity. As an example, Bishop Tikhon noted the work of St Nicholas Cathedral in Vienna, which became a real magnet for the local Russian-speaking population.
Vladyka Tikhon’s speech concluded the first part of the round table. His Eminence Archbishop Simon of Brussels and Belgium opened the second half with a talk on the life of Russian Orthodox communities in that country, the social and educational work done by the parishioners of his diocese. Protopriest Anatoly Ilyin, Council Member of Russkiy Mir, gave a brief analysis of the resolution just adopted by the European Parliament, “EU Strategic Communications with a View to Counteracting Propaganda,” and proposed joint projects between Russkiy Mir and the Russian Orthodox Church. Among them is forming multimedia centers of Russkiy Mir at local parishes. Mr Alexander Anisimov, Director of the Russian Center of Science and Culture, pointed to the importance of addressing problems of juvenile justice in Germany and emphasized the importance of collaboration with the Berlin Diocese in organizing cultural and educational projects and youth ministry.
Bishop Nestor of Korsun led the audience on an excursion through the history of collaboration between the Church and the emigre community in France, and the present state of such efforts. Regarding educational programs, Vladyka Nestor noted that Russian lacked the broad cultural and educational projects that are common in some European nations. For instance, France has over 800 educational centers throughout the world supported by the French Ministry of Education.
Also presenting at the conference were Mr Yuri Jeremenko, Editor of the website Russkoje polje in Erfurt, Germany; His Eminence Archbishop Elisei of Sourozh, Great Britain; Ms Laris Jurchenko, President of the German Coordinating Center of Compatriots; Hegumen Filipp (Ryabykh), Director of the Pilgrim’s Center in Trira; Mr Timofei Kitnis of the journal Foma, Protopriest Sergy Baburin and others.
Archimandrite Filaret (Bulekov), Vice President of the Department of External Church Communications, spoke last, bringing attention to a series of internal problems within parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad. A general discussion then followed.
A presentation of a book by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, “Freedom and Responsibility: the Search for Harmony. The Rights of Man and the Dignity of the Individual,” in the German language, was then presented. The book consists of articles and speeches written by the Russian Patriarch in preparation for the publication of the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Foundations of the Teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Dignity, Freedoms and Rights of Man,” adopted on June 26, 2008, by the Council of Bishops, which drew a great deal of interest. The book explains the document’s positions and answers possible criticism. This book is now available in 16 languages.