2007-08-24 13:34:00

Lessons of Orthodox faith in the Russian schools is a very positive trend

It was near one month ago that a group of members of the Russian Academy of Sciences sent an open letter to the Russian president urging him to stop what they called ‘clericalization’ in Russia, particularly presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in schools and universities. The discussion over the issue brought about many pros and cons. The nuncio of the Holy See in Russia Archbishop Antonio Mennini shared his perspective on the problem with Interfax-Religion.

- How do you think, are there any grounds to speak of clericalization of political and public life in Russia?

- No, honestly, I don’t think so. The Russian Orthodox Church as well as other religions in Russia regains her place in the Russian society. This happens after decades of atheism and repression when believers in their millions were denied much opportunity to come the spiritual fountains of the Gospel and the moral values the Good News brings.

The fact that the Russian Constitutions provides for separation between church and state ought not to exclude cooperation between the two for the purpose of moral, social and spiritual growth in today’s Russia.

In all its treaties (concordats, agreements, etc.) the Holy See signs with different sates it has been always meant, on the one hand, that church and state should stay separate, but on the other hand - as it may be seen from the Article 1 of the Concordat between Italy and the Holy See, 1984 - that church and state are bound to ‘cooperate with each other in the cause of development of the human person for the betterment of the nation.’

I’d like to note that a few months ago Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who as person adheres to a secular worldview, considering the extremely difficult moral and social crisis in some parts of Italy, urged to form ‘a real union’ between church and state. The main reason for that was the need to pass on the moral and ethical values to the younger people so that they could achieve ‘an identity of positive citizenship’ and become good citizens respecting faith in God and different religions in the framework of a healthy civil society. It’s noteworthy that this proposal of the Italian head of state raised no criticism even from the most devout proponents of secularism in state.

The famous 19th century Italian philosopher Professor Benedetto Croce, who held liberal and quite independent beliefs, speaking of Italy, said that ‘we could not avoid calling ourselves Christians.’ I think his words symbolize accepting of the fact that Italy’s history, culture, and art and so on, owe their vary formation mainly to Christianity and Christian spiritual values. And it was the Roman Catholic Church that represented Christianity there throughout history.

The same may and should be applied to the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in relation to this great country’s history and culture as well as to the faith of most Russian people.

- What is your attitude to spreading of Basic Orthodox Culture as in Russian schools an optional point of curriculum?

- I think I can assert, especially in context of what I have just said, that it is a very positive trend. Moreover, if the subject is introduced as an option, it guarantees freedom of choice for the students who belong to other Christian confession and other religions.

- Would it be correct to add theology to the state register of scientific specializations as the Russian Orthodox Church proposes?

- As you may know, in Germany, for instance, there is an old and celebrated tradition to have theology in the curriculum of the state-run universities. The same was true in Italy until the late 19th century before the state, then very ‘secular,’ closed theology departments in all universities. They have not been reopened since than because there is no proper agreement between church and state on the issue.

My point is that introduction of theological departments must be included into an agreement between church and state, which would acknowledge a measure of church control of both curriculum and professorial staff. By the way, that is the case in Germany, too.

In Italy, for example, Catholic faith is taught in schools. The teachers of this subject, no matter priests, nuns, or lay persons, are appointed by proper secular authorities but on the advice of the local bishop. In other words, we try to avoid the risk - though there is quite little risk indeed - that an atheist is appointed to teach Catholic faith in school.