Metropolitan Hilarion on Modern Morality in the Church

A recent address by Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church from  the official Russian Orthodox Patriarchate website:

Address by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations to the Annual Nicean Club Dinner (Lambeth Palace, 9 September 2010)

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

A few highlights — the entire text can be read at the link above:

Our Church must sever its relations with those churches and communities that trample on the principles of Christian ethics and traditional morals. Here we uphold a firm stand based on Holy Scripture….

What can these churches say to their faithful and to secular society? What kind of light do they shine upon the world (cf. Mt. 5:14)? What is their ‘salt’? I am afraid the words of Christ can be applied to them: If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men (Mt. 5:13).

We are aware of the arguments used by proponents of the above-mentioned liberal innovations. Tradition is no authority for them. They believe that to make the words of Holy Scripture applicable to modernity they have to be ‘actualized’, that is, reviewed and interpreted in an appropriate, ‘modern’ spirit. Holy Tradition is understood as an opportunity for the Church to be continually reformed and renewed and to think critically.

The Orthodox, however, have a different understanding of Holy Tradition.  It is aptly expressed in the words of Vladimir Lossky: ‘Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church – the life giving to every member of the Body of Christ the ability to hear, accept and know the Truth in its inherent shining, not in the natural light of human reason’.

It is impossible to pass silently by the liberalism and relativism which have become so characteristic of today’s Anglican theology. From the time of Archbishop Michael Ramsay of Canterbury, the Church of England saw the emergence of so-called modernism which rejected the very foundations of Christianity as a God-revealed religion. Among its most eloquent representatives was the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, Dr. I. A. T. Robinson, the author of the sensational book Honest to God. The Bishop of Woolwich’s worldview can be described as ‘Christian atheism’. Indeed, he rejected the existence of a personal God, of the Creator of the world and of Providence. He also denied the existence of the spiritual world in general and of the future life in particular. It should be admitted that these views provoked protests on the part of some Anglican bishops, led by Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury.

It is appropriate to recall here the words of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Bishops’ Conference in February 2010. Concerning the liberal novelties introduced by some Protestant communities, he stated: ‘What has happened reveals only too clearly a fundamental difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The principal problem lying at the basis of this difference is that Orthodoxy safeguards the norm of apostolic faith and order as fixed in the Holy Tradition of the Church and sees as its task to actualize this norm continually for the fulfilment of pastoral and missionary tasks.  On the other hand, in Protestantism the same task allows for a theological development that can remodel this same norm. Clearly, the search for doctrinal consensus, as was the case with regard to Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry in the multilateral dialogue initiated by the World Council of Churches, has lost its meaning precisely because any consensus may come under threat or may be destroyed by innovation or interpretation that will challenge the very meaning of these agreements’.

Regrettably, what His Holiness the Patriarch says about Protestantism can be applied equally to many Anglican communities. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Orthodox communities discussed seriously the recognition of Anglican priesthood based on its recognized apostolic continuity. Now we are very far from this. And the gap between the liberal Anglicans and the Orthodox keeps growing.

One of the priorities in the work of the Russian Church today is to bear witness to the eternal significance of Christian spiritual and moral values in the life of modern society. In 2000 our Church already made a considerable contribution to the systematization of Orthodox tradition in this area by adopting a Basic Social Concept and, in 2008, a Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights. Today the Church is engaged in major work to compile a Catechesis which will give a clear exposition of Christian doctrine, on the one hand, and will respond to the burning problems of today on the other.

We are not alone in our concern for the preservation of Christian values. Liberal tendencies in Protestant and Anglican communities present a challenge to those Christians and churches that have remained faithful to Gospel principles in doctrine, church order and morality. Certainly, we seek and find allies in opposing the destruction of the very essence of Christianity. One of the major tasks in our inter-Christian work today is to unite the efforts of Christians for building a system of solidarity on the basis of Gospel morality in Europe and throughout the world. Our positions are shared by the Roman Catholic Church, with which we have held numerous meetings and conferences. Together we are considering the possibility of establishing an Orthodox-Catholic alliance in Europe for defending the traditional values of Christianity. The primary aim of this alliance would be to restore a Christian soul to Europe. We should be engaged in common defence of Christian values against secularism and relativism.

Today, European countries as never before need to reinforce moral education, since its absence leads to dire consequences such as accelerating extremism, a decline in the birth rate, environmental pollution and violence. The principles of moral responsibility and of freedom should be consistently implemented in all spheres of human life – politics, economics, education, science, culture and the mass media.

We should not remain silent and look with indifference at a world that is gradually deteriorating. Rather, we should proclaim Christian morality and teach it openly not only in our churches, but also in public spaces including secular schools, universities and in the arena of the mass media. We do not presume to impose our views on anybody but we wish that our voice be heard by those who want to hear it. Unfortunately, we cannot convert the whole world to God, but we should at least make people think about the meaning of life and the existence of absolute spiritual and moral values. We are obliged to bear witness to the true faith always and everywhere so that at least some may be saved (1 Cor. 9:22).

For further reading:

Orthodox Mission in the 21st Century (4 part article) by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)

2 Responses to Metropolitan Hilarion on Modern Morality in the Church

  1. Matthew says:

    I just love this guy!
    I pray that Orthodox people embrace his words and begin to live them out as a witness especially to our Anglican/Episcopal brothers and sisters.

  2. […] ran across an article (via OrthoCath’s blog) by Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding Protestantism and specifically […]

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