Manfred Karl Böhm (Editor- Christian Affairs – Europe) OCP News Service – 26/9/18
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchal Department for External Church Relations (DECR) recently visited Portugal. There are currently 20 Russian Orthodox parishes in this Western European Country. The members of these parishes come mostly from former Soviet countries.
In a conversation with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Metropolitan Hilarion discussed on the revival and development of the Russian Orthodox Church (in Russia) and presented the President with his book “The Mystery of Faith” published in the Portuguese language.
Metropolitan also gave a lecture at the Catholic University in Lisbon, on the current situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. These regions are experiencing a fast rate of de-Christianization. After the “Arab Spring” especially in Iraq and Syria, Islamist terror organizations abducted and killed clerics and faithful. Christian Churches were destroyed and many Christians were forced to flee their homeland. Metropolitan described the strategy of the Russian Orthodox Church developed in cooperation with other Churches and denominations to defend and support the persecuted Christians. Of particular interest in the Middle East is Syria.
In 2017, an inter-religious working group was formed in Russia consisting of Russian Christians and Muslims which provide humanitarian aid to people in Syria. As the delegation from Russia brought relief supplies to Damascus and Aleppo, it became a subject of two-day terrorist gunfire. Nevertheless, the relief operation was successful. “The manifestation of this inter-religious solidarity,” said Hilarion, “has become the most important part of the project and had a beneficial effect on the regulatory and civilian situation in Syria.” At the ‘All-Syrian Forum’ held in January 2018 in Sochi, the Russian Orthodox Church supported this peace initiative. The Church also developed a program to treat and rehabilitate Syrian children (in Russian hospitals) who are injured in military operations.
“The process of the return of the refugees has begun. Over 240,000 of them have already returned home”, the Metropolitan said. The Russian Orthodox Church devotes attention to the restoration of Churches and other religious buildings in Syria. Hilarion fiercely criticized the West for supporting the terrorists. Media ignored the difficult situation of the peaceful inhabitants in Syria. Hilarion condemned the airstrikes in April 2018 on Syrian targets. The Patriarchs of the region have condemned the bombing in a joint statement as well. Pope Francis took an initiative which brought together the representatives of the Churches of the Middle East in June 2018. With one voice, the Churches reaffirmed their solidarity with the suffering brothers and sisters and called the world to help these Christians. According to Hilarion, the “spirit of the joint declaration of Havana” was realized. In this declaration in 2016, Pope Francis and Patriarch Cyrill had agreed to jointly tackle the problem of persecution of Christians.
A reception for Metropolitan Hilarion was organized by A Junção do Bem (The Junction of Good) Foundation in Lisbon. After the reception, he delivered an address on the ‘Future of Christianity in Europe’. The Metropolitan stated that “Christians in Europe encounter new challenges which affect the basic moral, imperatives and traditional values.” The historical root of this global problem lies in the Age of Enlightenment. That period saw the first signs of Christianity losing its authority as the regulator of social relations. The ‘theocentric’ worldview model is giving way to an ‘anthropocentric’ one. The modern times only reinforced this tendency, with the idea of secularism, nihilism, and relativism.”
Nowadays the majority of Europeans do not identify themselves as Christians according to the data published by the Pew Research Center. Thus, Europe is the only continent where the number of Christians is constantly decreasing. According to the Metropolitan, the greatest danger is ‘secular totalitarianism’. In a secular society, one can belong to any religion, but one will be subjected at best to criticism and at worst to persecution if one attempts to motivate one´s actions with reference to religious beliefs and freedom of conscience. Hilarion cited the case of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s where he demanded that priests should be forced to bless same-sex couples and if necessary, abortions should be nurtured as well. (https://www.thelocal.se/20170623/all-priests-should-wed-same-sex-couples-swedish-pm)
In Paris, the demonstrators who protested against equating the traditional family with partnerships of persons with non-traditional sexual orientation were attacked by truncheons and tear gas. Another example is the case of infant Charlie Gard in Great Britain. The child died because the Supreme Court rejected the treatment for the genetic disorder. According to Hilarion, this is a case of forced euthanasia. Anti-christian politics is also evident in the discrimination against Christian migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. In his speech, the Metropolitan called politicians to intervene in the situation of Christian refugees and to protect them by offering separate accommodation.
De-Christianization is not only happening in Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Europe is confronted with this problem as well. That is why people of faith should vindicate the right to freedom of conscience and religion on all levels (European and international forums).
OCP News Service