Fr Vsevolod Chapin (1968- ), the Chief of the Division for the Synodal Church-Society Relations, is perhaps the closest confidant to KMG. Don’t be fooled by the Boy Wonder’s impeccable English or the number of books he has written. Give me a down-and-dirty stump-puller like Fr Vsevolod, any road… he’ll come through when the chips are down (unlike the Boy Wonder’s crash in England).
We must speculate, however, on how Orthodox Christians should see public service. Today, the interaction of Church and society in Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova are largely the same, because our societies are composed mainly of Orthodox Christians. Hence, the same people largely make up both church and society. Christians have a duty to serve the public good, even if it is only as professionals in various fields of public life and society.
We have many Orthodox public officials, athletes, politicians, businessmen, artists, workers, peasants, that is, people of different professions, each of whom have certain socially important tasks. When we talk about the social mission of Orthodox Christians, this means that anyone who works in any area of society or the state must show themselves as a Christian, they must be a person of faith, no matter what they do and in whatever sphere of public life they labour.
Moreover, Orthodox Christians in the aggregate have a kind of public mission that they exercise when they labour at their ordinary tasks, coordinating and integrating their efforts, just as Orthodox Christians should, positively influencing this or that sphere of society and public life. We need to reject a certain idea that some secular elements wish to impose upon us; indeed, some people in the Church echo this error. Simply put, this idea posits that we must not even think of combining our church life and our secular life, that our church life can affect our everyday activities. They try to tell us that we can only be Christians in church; we cannot be Christians at work or in the secular world in general. We often hear such views; it is how secularists and atheists naturally interpret existing legislation. However, we also hear it from people, as I said earlier, in church circles. We sometimes hear some say that we should not bring Christianity into talk about politics, about the economy, about the life of the state, or about the law. This separation is partly a holdover from the Soviet period and partly because the new apologetics for secularism is, in my view, unfamiliar to Christians. As we all know, a house divided against itself cannot stand. People cannot split themselves into a church being and a social being. There is no social environment, whether a local community or the entire nation, where one can divide one’s spiritual mission and one’s so-called secular life.
When we talk about the separation of church and state, firstly, we mean that we do not mingle the governing bodies of the state and the canonical structures of the Church into a single organism. Incidentally, the law “On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”, which gives the official interpretations of the principles of secularity and the separation of church and state, gives these principles very precise definition. It says that it means specifically the lack of overall management mechanisms in the state from religious groups, and, in principle, nothing more. According to the law, public authorities are not subservient to the Church, and Church authorities do not participate in the leadership of the state. However, certainly, this does not mean that we can divide the life of an individual Christian or the life of the Christian community into a secular sphere and a spiritual sphere. Therefore, individual Christians as part of a particular community can exercise their faith in socially important matters. Moreover, they do, thank God. According to [Vladimir Legoida], the editor-in-chief of the magazine Foma (Thomas), who just spoke in this hall, there are many Christians in the arts, in business, and in politics. Furthermore, everyone knows who they are.
It’s good that we have strong Orthodox individuals identifying themselves as believers in every sphere of society. What we have now is not enough, though. What we need is synergy; we need the influence of Orthodox Christians in all facets of society and state. However, we can only exert such influence through the coordination of our efforts. We must perceive the Church acting in the world. We should perceive that we are a community, who together, in all conciliarity (соборно), and not singly, affect the creative arts, the economy, the public administration, indeed, all the spheres of life in which we work. The task ahead of us should not intimidate us. If we are the majority in our own country, or, shall I say, in our own countries, as I see people from Belarus, the Ukraine, and Moldova in the hall, we have every right to have our moral principles, our vision of the present and future, as the decisive ones in those areas of society and state in which we work. To do this, we must be able to formulate our objectives. To do this, we must be able to develop mechanisms that would allow Christians, especially the laity, to define the role of Christians in all spheres of life of the people and country. So far, we’ve made a few steps in this direction. There is an association of Orthodox women and a Council on Economics and Ethics advises Holy Patriarch Kirill. I think that [the Holy Synod] will create a body that will coordinate Church and social activities in the arts, and we have functional contacts in the sporting world. This is only a few areas, but in all areas we need to make plans, you need to articulate the tasks ahead, you need to raise the question of how to ensure their implementation.
It is important to avoid duplication. Today, we have many Orthodox public organisations; the day after tomorrow, the Christmas Readings will hold a roundtable to discuss the coordination of efforts of these organisations. We will make every effort possible to combine all our efforts. I think that is very important to not just make formal management solutions, that is, simply create new organisations, new associations, new coordinating bodies, and new information structures. We need to help people to know what others are doing and what they can best do themselves. Most of all, we need to change our consciousness. I mean this in the sense that Orthodox Christians, especially the laity, would find their place in those areas of public life and society in which they work. We should not abandon people who are on Sundays and holidays are Christians, and, on all other days, all the rest of the time, are people living ordinary lives, according to the laws of this world. We should act as a vigorous and active community; we should be Orthodox Christians in an Orthodox country.
Thank you very much.
27 January 2010
Fr Vsevolod Chaplin
Chief of the MP Synodal Division for Church-Society Relations
One wonders why SVS does not translate Fr Vsevolod’s writings, but pumps up the Boy Wonder and such marginal figures as Serge Hackel and Sophrony Sakharov. That is to say, English-speaking Orthodox are only getting a partial, and, therefore, distorted view of Orthodox thought. Reflect well on the fact that SVS fanatics have accused me of “cherry-picking”. Methinks the pot calls the kettle black in this case! Bear in mind that no human being (myself included) is impartial and “objective”. Some of us DO come closer than others do, and I would submit that I come closer than the Scarsdale Road commandoes do. After all, according to “St Schmemann”, there are one million members in the OCA and Orthodoxy is a major religion in the USA. Note well that JP and Hatfield do not repudiate this. Caveat lector.
Note well that Interfax did not translate this in its entirety… one wonders about English submissions on Russian sites. Is Zacchaeus Wood influencing things (it would explain the schizophrenia between the Russian and English versions of Pravoslavie.ru, for instance)? After all, Moscow does not consider the Orthodox in the USA, Canada, and the Anglosphere in general, important at all (I wish that they did, but they don’t, that is what it is).