President Medvedev stressed the special role of the Church in promoting interethnic and interreligious peace, the development of interfaith dialogue and preserving the fundamental values of tolerance, justice and peace among people, and specifically noted the contribution of the Church to the consolidation of the global Russian community, uniting compatriots abroad.
After the meeting, Dmitry Medvedev presented Patriarch Kirill the Order of Alexander Nevsky. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia was decorated for his personal services to the Fatherland in maintaining spiritual and cultural traditions.
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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Your Holiness,
Esteemed participants of the Bishops’ Council and this meeting,
The Bishops’ Council has begun its work. Without doubt, this is not only a major event in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church, but also in the life of Russian society. Therefore, first of all I would like to wish you every success.
Russian Orthodox Church is the largest and most influential institution in modern Russia. At the moment there are a number of very important processes going on right on the surface for all to see: the restoration of churches, an increase in the number of priests and, perhaps more importantly, a growing number of believers.
For the first time in the history of our nation, in more than a thousand years of the existence of our state and Orthodoxy in Russia, the Government does not interfere in the activities of religious organisations and at the same time recognises the contribution of the Church in the formation of Russian statehood, the development of Russian national culture and the assertion of spiritual and moral values in society. We work together to address the most pressing problems in the lives of our people. The most important of these challenges is maintaining interethnic and interreligious peace. Throughout its history the Church has been the guardian of our fundamental values, such as love for others, tolerance, peace among people, and fairness, which has always been especially revered in Russia.
Perhaps more than ever before, we must join efforts to strengthen social stability today. At a recent meeting of the State Council, which took place in this hall, at this same table, I issued instructions to the regional governors to personally oversee interethnic and interfaith relations matters. I would like to take this opportunity to address the Russian Orthodox Church, the diocesan bishops and the rectors of institutions that educate future priests. Spiritual and moral education and enlightenment have always been a major barrier to evil and hatred. Today, a great deal depends on your views, your sermons, your teaching, the pastor’s word directly addressed to young people. I know that your work with young people is a major task of the Russian Orthodox clergy.
Interfaith dialogue is an effective means of preventing interethnic conflicts, and the Church is a permanent and often the main proponent of this dialogue. The efforts of the Interreligious Council of Russia have also been productive in this field. Today, this experience is in demand as never before. I am also confident that the introduction of the basics of religious culture and secular ethics as a school subject, which was a landmark event that occurred relatively recently, will also serve to reaffirm respect for the historical and spiritual heritage of our country, its religious and cultural diversity.
Another important initiative that I have not only supported, but also issued a direct order to the Defence Ministry to implement, is a phased introduction of military and naval clergymen. 249 experts have been employed by the Armed Forces to work with religious servicemen; the vast majority of them, 240, are priests. In this case, I believe that perhaps we should all be more proactive since personnel work is not moving forward as fast as we would like. As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I will issue relevant instructions to the Defence Ministry to expedite these activities.
A vivid sign of Russia’s spiritual revival is the social ministry of the Church, which is conducted throughout the country and covers a large number of directions. I would also like to acknowledge the support of family values, motherhood and childhood. In my annual Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, I made a major emphasis on this subject. I consider it extremely important for the life of our state, so that our country remains within its existing borders as a strong and unified state. It is vitally important that the position of the state on this issue coincides perfectly with the views of the Russian Orthodox Church. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider possible joint State-Church initiatives in this area. In general, there is great demand for the social ministry of the Church in present-day society and the state is ready to fully support these activities.
Today, we are busy restoring our heritage, cultural and religious monuments, many of which were desecrated and destroyed, including the New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery, Solovetsky Transfiguration Monastery, Verkhoturye Monastery and many others. I believe this work must also continue as previously agreed because it is very important for the state, for the Church and for the entire Russian people, for everyone who lives in our country.
The state has made what I believe to be a very important step in strengthening the material base of the Church. A federal law has entered into force setting out the procedure for transferring religious property to the Church and other religious organisations with no pay. The work on this law was difficult and on a number of occasions I had to personally interfere in this process to ensure that in the end we have a law that can be enforced and not just a document that will remain on paper. I hope that it will make it possible for the Church to retrieve the property that was created by millions of people and many generations of believers.
The Church is making an important contribution to the consolidation of the multi-million global Russian community, our compatriots living abroad, primarily in the Commonwealth of Independent States and in other parts of the world. As His Holiness has just informed me, bishops from 22 countries representing the Dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church are taking part in the Bishops’ Council.
Shared spiritual values is an effective rallying point for the entire Orthodox world, and churches are the centres of gravity for our diaspora, helping to maintain its spiritual and cultural ties with the homeland. I must admit that the state does not have many achievements in this regard so far. To be honest, the state is not very good at working with the diaspora. In this respect, we very much count on help of the Russian Orthodox Church in order to enhance numerous contacts with the Russian community around the world.
In conclusion, I would like to express my confidence that the Government and the Russian Orthodox Church will continue their active and fruitful cooperation for the benefit of our state and our people.