07 September 2007, 11:22
The light of Christ and the Church. Report of Metropolitan Kirill, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations on the 3d European Ecumenical Assembly
Your Beatitudes, Eminences, and Graces,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The theme of today's plenary session, "The Light of Christ and the Church," is very dear to us, the Orthodox. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is perceived by Christians first of all as a manifestation of Light. This manifestation culminated on Mount Tabor where the Lord was transfigured before His disciples: "There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" (Mt. 17:2). The Orthodox theology has developed the theme of Tabor's Light in a teaching on uncreated divine energies or actions which manifest God. According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas and his associates, the Divine Light, which the apostle saw in Tabor, is God Himself communicating Himself to His creation and primarily to those whose eyes of the heart are pure and open to perceive the Light. We can see this Light with both our physical eyes and the inner vision of our hearts. It is a visible manifestation of divine grace, divine energy, "the true light that gives light to every man coming into the world" (Jn. 1:9). The human being as "the image of and likeness after God" (Gen. 1:26-27) is capable of perceiving and manifesting divine Light in his life.
To partake of the Light of Christ also means to learn to observe the Lord's commandments and to accept the teaching of Christ. Christ is Light and He is also the Logos. Therefore, the true Light is also the Word addressed to human reason. He is also an intellectual challenge. "The Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true-even in his Son Jesus Christ", St. John says in his first epistle (1 Jn. 5:20). The Word of God is the foundation of the Holy Tradition, a most important category in the Orthodox theology and Orthodox life. The Holy Tradition is not just a sum of texts and practices developed through centuries, but the Light which illuminates the minds and hearts of men and women. It is not only a way of thinking but also a way of life. The Holy Tradition is not an archaism, but the very life of the Church, and the Light of Christ is its source.
Although the Orthodox tradition makes a distinction between two aspects of the Light - the Light as grace, through which God Himself communicates Himself to the world, and the Light as the word of truth, these are not two different Lights but one Light that acts in multiple ways. The knowledge of truth is impossible without participation in the divine life brought by Christ and described in the Gospel of St. John: "In Him was life, and that life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4). The enlightenment of the human mind is impossible without the illumination of the entire human being with the Light of Christ. This is the true meaning of enlightenment. This enlightenment which combines the knowledge of truth with participation in eternal life is attained in the Church. It is in the Church that the Light as grace and the Light as truth are united to exist inseparably, as a single whole. The Church is a depository of the Light, but this Light shines also far beyond her fold, enlightening "every man coming into the world" (Jn. 1:9). It is this property of the Light as the grace of the Holy Spirit, that St. John implied when he said that "the Spirit blows wherever it pleases" (Jn. 3:8). We do not confine the radiance of the Light of Christ to the Church fold, even though we firmly believe that the source of this Light is in the Church which is the Body of Christ (Col. 1:24).
This understanding of the Light makes us respectful of other religious experiences and traditions, even though we do not forget about the Gospel's words: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mk. 16:16). In this spirit we conduct interreligious dialogues, which we consider to be important not only for a better understanding of other religious traditions but also for a fuller understanding of our own tradition.
The teaching of Christ is light because it makes visible and clear what seems dark and dim without it. It helps people to form the true knowledge of God, the human being and the world. Certainly, human beings acquire essential knowledge through their own studies of their nature and the world. Yet, this knowledge cannot reveal to them any perspective which transcends the human being. Whatever transcends the human nature cannot be cognized if not revealed to human beings. The human being cannot see even his own self but in the light that comes from above or aside. Many scholars nowadays support the idea that scientific and religious knowledge are complimentary. This idea eliminates tensions between science and religion. It means that the human being needs both religion and science in order to build his individual and social life. Christianity is interested today as never before in supporting scientific knowledge and its implementations.
In the first place, however, the Christian Churches are concerned to preserve their special message revealed to human beings by the Lord Jesus Christ, and to incorporate it in the life of modern man. We know from history that it has never been an easy task. Human weaknesses led to divisions, confrontations, and wars. In the first millennium of the Christian era, the faithful sought to express as clearly as it was possible for human language, the truths about God which were revealed to them in the message of Christ. We have a concise exposition of these truths in the Nicean Creed. It is true though that the Christian community is still divided as to the understanding of the basic dogmata of the faith. It can be stated with certainty however that until recently all the Christians had unanimous views at least on man and the moral norms of his life. 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.
Why is it happening precisely today, in the beginning of the 21st century? Why have some Christian circles come to favour so much the idea of evolving moral norms? On the one hand, there are prerequisites for it in the theology which interprets the principle of salvation by faith alone. This underestimates the moral condition of a person. But the greatest impact on this position has been made, in my view, by the non-religious spirit of this world. There is a suspicious coincidence between the new attitude to morality current in Christian circles and the spreading of the post-modern paradigm in the secular society. Post-modernism in a broad sense implies a compatibility of incompatible views and positions. Perhaps this attitude is justified in some spheres of society but it cannot be justified for Christians in the realm of morality. 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.
This attitude does not simply exist in the worldview of some people, in their private life, but it gradually becomes obligatory for all citizens through adoption of respective legal norms in some European countries and international organizations. Orthodox Christians in Eastern Europe, who have experience of life in totalitarian state, can detect today some dangerous tendencies in the development of political power. Christians know very well the principle expressed by St. Augustine: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity; in all things, charity". There is a gap today in what Christians and secularized people understand respectively as essential and nonessential. The Christians insist that only one morality is possible. If the authorities force Christians to participate in observing or promoting the moral norms which run contrary to their faith, these authorities will become for them unacceptable and even hostile.
What is the reason then that makes Christianity so unyielding to ethical relativism? This is a belief that in Christ the divine truth of the human being and the human nature has been revealed and that the rejection of this view means death of the human being and the world. The Church does not promote some partisan opinion of God and the human being, but she preaches the truth communicated through the divine revelation. If a scientist who has discovered a new terrestrial law has the right to defend the truth he has discovered, the more so the Church has the right to defend the eternal truth.
At least for us as Christians it should be clear that Christ has revealed to the world the true divinity and the true humanity. In Christ the fullness of the human nature has been revealed. Even Pilate, a heathen, recognized it, exclaiming, "Ecce homo!" (Jn. 19:5). The human nature revealed in Christ does not have to develop or evolve: it can be only accepted by human beings as their ideal. Thus, all that we can say of the human being has been revealed in Christ. The discussion on what the human being is ended 2000 thousand years ago. Therefore the idea of evolving moral norms, popular among some Christians, is actually an enthusiasm for the spirit of this world, which develops this idea today in the form of a post-modern paradigm. As a matter of fact, there are changeable customs in the Church life, since cultural, geographical, and historical conditions change, but the core notions of the human nature are unchangeable.
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. The old term "ecumenism' however is little suitable for fulfilling this task. In our view, to build a system of Christian solidarity in Europe today on the basis of the one and indivisible Gospel's morality and common witness to Christian values stemming from this solidarity, may be the last resort for Christians in their common efforts to give back a soul to Europe. For precisely this reason Christian communities should support one another, maintain friendly relations, realise exchanges, act together in face of the external world, and carry out joint public projects. The Russian Church with her experience of life under totalitarianism is well aware of the significance of the Christian solidarity in Europe. This solidarity is manifested today too. We received warm fraternal congratulations from many Christian Churches on the occasion of the reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Outside Russia. We are also in solidarity with other Christians in face of numerous challenges of secularism, lack of spirituality, poverty and radicalism. Sharing the same Christian heritage, we can find a common understanding of these challenges easier than we can do it with people of other faiths or other worldviews. It is my conviction that solidarity in face of these common challenges will give a new dynamic to the inter-Christian relations in Europe, reviving the now lost interest of many communities in theological dialogue and search for God-commanded unity.
In defending the common ethical norms, Christians should seek allies in other religions who share moral positions similar to the Christian attitudes. To this end it is necessary to develop interreligious relations in Europe and the world. For all their differences, traditional world religions do share the common awareness that eternal values have priority over temporal ones. This helps to stand together against the threats to the moral order of human life. The Summit of Religious Leaders, which took place in July 2006 in Moscow and became a major interreligious event in Europe, has shown that representatives of major world religions have similar views of morality. They all have expressed concern over moral relativism that has often gained the upper hand today.
Christians can also find some support with regard to morality among secular people who uphold a non-religious worldview but advocate moral norms similar to Christian ones. This is not surprising because already St. Paul wrote in his epistle to Romans that if heathens listen to the voice of consciousness, they do by nature the law of God (cf. Rom. 2:14-15). In other words, Christians should act together with all people of good will to find and preserve harmony in society with regard to the moral norms. To achieve this goal, Christian communities should work with the public opinion and maintain dialogue with national and international structures. While demanding that public life be governed by a single morality, Christians should leave it lying on the conscience of an individual to live his private life in accordance with his own values. In this they can follow another consideration of St. Paul: "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4). Let other views alternative to common morality remain confined to private life. They should not be subjected to persecution, nor should they be supported or propagated as norms in public sphere.
Many in Europe today, including non-believers, are aware of Christianity as a powerful source of support for the European civilization. This awareness has begun to come to Europe after it encountered the challenges of other civilizations in the global world. To survive in today's world, Europe has to remain a Christian continent. It does not mean that there is no room in it for people of other faiths and world outlooks. It only means the recognition of the eminent role played by the Christian faith in the past, present and future of our continent. This recognition will depend in many ways on the ability of Christians themselves to preserve their Christian identity in a rapidly changing multicultural world and their ability to stay faithful to Christ.
"Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Mt. 5:16). The world can see, accept and glorify the Heavenly Father only if the light coming from those who believe in Him is the light of His Son.
September 5, 2007