Your Holiness, dear friends,
It is my pleasure to welcome everyone here at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and congratulate you on the start of celebrations of the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus.
Celebrations have already taken place at the Kremlin to mark this event and the Church has held its Synod, at which the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad had a big delegation for the first time. This Synod, which took place in such a significant year, has affirmed the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church in all its fullness and blocked attempts to divide the Church. Furthermore, the Synod adopted the ‘Foundations of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Teachings on the Dignity, Freedom and Rights of Humankind’. The celebrations themselves provide the occasion for looking back deep into our country’s history and returning to the sources of Orthodoxy and the formation of Russian statehood.
Such universal themes as these could not but arouse the public’s interest and the Synod’s work was widely discussed in the country. This is in many ways a positive result of the Church’s revival and the important changes that have taken place in its life, including the recent reunification. Of course, this interest is also inspired by the defining importance the adoption of Christianity had for Russia’s destiny.
The conversion of Prince Vladimir and the whole of Rus to Orthodoxy were of truly historic significance and played a fundamental part in shaping our state’s development. The decision was motivated in large part by the need to unite the divided eastern Slavic tribes and a number of other ethnic groups. A desire for statehood based on a completely new spiritual foundation emerged among them. Finally, the adoption of Christianity did much to help our forefathers become part of the processes taking place in Europe and the world and amounted in essence to a choice of civilisation. It changed not only the rules of social conduct and family life but transformed state life in its entirety.
The adoption of Christianity enabled the ancient Russian state to engage in dialogue with other countries as an equal, and it enriched ancient Russian culture with the universal values of the Bible. Many of these values form the foundation of the humanistic ideals we share with Europe.
This historic choice also enabled our forebears to become more conscious of their own identity and did much to strengthen national self-awareness. I note that right from the start of its development, the Russian nation and Russian statehood formed on a multiethnic basis and grew out of a synthesis of eastern and western traditions. Orthodoxy formed its core but it was open right from the outset to other faiths and cultures.
The cooperation between different peoples, faiths and cultures that has taken shape in Russia through the centuries is the distinguishing feature of our statehood and has helped our country withstand and overcome all trials and tribulations. It remains a source of peace and harmony in Russian society today, a fundamental value recognised by the different religions and by the state. We know how much emphasis the Church’s leadership places today on inter-faith dialogue.
I also want to note that the Orthodox Church first developed in the lands of ancient Kievan Rus, but over the course of several centuries it grew into an independent patriarchate with its centre here in Moscow. This common heritage to this day unites not only the many millions of Russians but also creates ties between many peoples baptised in the same font and bound by a common historical destiny and spiritual and cultural space. Evidence of this can by seen in the current Synod, which was attended by clergy from Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. The Church is making a significant contribution to achieving peace and dialogue between religions, and this in turn helps us to resolve many of the common problems we share, achieve social and educational objectives, combat extremist sentiment and tackle other problems in society.
I want to highlight in particular the fact that in resolving these sorts of issues the Russian Orthodox Church has built up unique experience in its relations with the state. This is the result of our affirmation of the principles of religious freedom in our country and the result too of the revival of all Russia’s traditional faiths.
The celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus in 1988 was a symbolic event for country, and the two decades that followed have seen Orthodoxy flourish. Not only have churches been restored but the Russian Orthodox Church has become united once more and sacred places and objects are being returned to it.
Today too the Russian Orthodox Church has been handed back sacred objects from the Moscow Kremlin State Museum, among them such priceless objects as part of the chasuble of the Holy Mother of God and relics of the holy Prince Vladimir, who baptized Rus. We realize how important this is for believers and for the entire Orthodox world.
Once more, I offer my sincere congratulations to all present and I wish you good health and many years of active service.