Nowadays in Russia and in the whole world a certain principle has become topical – that of “tolerance.” The modern meaning of “tolerance” comes from the Latin tolerantia and is interpreted as “religious tolerance.” The concept of tolerance is being actively introduced into mass consciousness: entire books are written about tolerance, and diversely-scaled events are being conducted within its framework. For Russian society the apotheosis of the policy of tolerance was the World Summit of Religious Leaders, which took place in Moscow on 3-5 July 2006 at the initiative of official representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and clearly with the active support of the government. The summit gathered the leaders and delegates of Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Shinto communities from 49 countries. The final result of the work of this interfaith assembly was a joint “Declaration of the summit of religious leaders.” Currently this “Declaration” is the most open and revealing document of the policy of tolerance.
Let us present its basic ideas, which are of great interest primarily to Orthodox Christians.
The first paragraph of the “Declaration” stresses the fact that the document constitutes an appeal not only to other representatives of mankind. but also to the religious communities whose leaders had gathered in Moscow. So to what are the official Orthodox participants in this summit summoning their flocks?
New world order
The document states: “We need to build a world order which combines democracy – as the way of harmonizing different interests and as people’s participation in national and global decision-making – with respect for the moral feeling, way of life, various legal and political systems, and national and religious traditions of people.” That is, the superstructures may be different, but the base must be the same – democracy. At this point the words of the righteous Saint John of Kronstadt come to mind, that “in hell there is democracy and in Heaven there is a Kingdom.” No matter how strange such words may appear to the modern “civilized” Christian, but if one stops to think, he will invariably come to the conclusion that at least the second part of the statement is correct. Truly in Heaven – to which all Christians are striving – there is the Kingdom of God, and not a republic or a democracy.
According to Orthodox teaching, it is impossible to build a Kingdom of God on earth. The institution on earth that was closest to the celestial prototype was the Orthodox monarchy, although it, too, was naturally far from the heavenly Kingdom. In life on earth one must search for the Kingdom of God not in state institutions, but in one’s own heart, i.e. inside oneself (Luke 17:20-21). There this Kingdom is truly attainable!
As far as personal political beliefs are concerned, they may be different for Orthodox Christians in different eras and circumstances, or they may not exist at all… But that is not what the leaders of world religions believe. In the above-mentioned citation they indicate directly the kind of world order we must establish, and they further explain that “the world should have many poles and many systems, meeting the requirements of all individuals and nations.” Thus not only all expressions of religious zeal, but all monocultures in general (which Christianity is to some degree) fall under the suspicion of being untrustworthy. The fact that the coming of Christ to earth ended the era of paganism and introduced the era of Christianity used to be looked upon as a positive historical and spiritual event. It now appears that the positive nature of this event is being doubted.
Christian and non-Christian religious tolerance
It seems to us that a substitution of concepts is now taking place: there is an attempt to replace genuine religious tolerance and love of mankind with indifference and lukewarmness. Christ taught tolerance and love for all people, no matter what their faith: if a person is in need of help, he should be fed, clothed, visited in prison, or simply offered compassion. But Christ did not teach tolerance for such a person’s false beliefs. We must love people, but at the same time reject their false faiths. The Gospel does not provide any grounds for referring to Christ’s “religious conformism.” Our Lord Jesus Christ openly says: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6); “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9); “Verily, verily I say unto you: except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53).
From this it is clear that appeals for a certain abstract tolerance conceal an attempt to use the term “religious tolerance” to cover up the essentially pagan ancient spirit of religious universality.
It is well-known that Greco-Roman imperial paganism had no need to mix various beliefs into one. The pagan pantheon comprised the autonomous beliefs of various peoples. The religion of the new world order that is being established will be constructed in a similar fashion. In the “Declaration of the summit of religious leaders” we read the following: “We…deplore attempts to artificially ‘merge’ the religious traditions or to change them without the will of their adherents.” But what if religions are merged not artificially, but very naturally? What if the above-mentioned adherents should tend to change their faiths of their own free will? Contemporary tolerance is precisely geared to lead to a loss of religious guideposts and to a gradual erosion of religious boundaries. However, a complete merging of faiths will not be needed, because the future leader of combined mankind – the Antichrist – will primarily be a political leader, who at the same time will have his own “divine” place within each “official” religion.
Not a dialogue, but a mission
The “Declaration” also mentions the notorious “interfaith dialogue,” which, according to the leaders, should definitely continue. But if Christ is the only way to salvation and, consequently, Orthodoxy is the only true faith, what kind of interfaith dialogue are we speaking about? A dialogue presupposes an equal balance of forces, it presumes that each side may theoretically draw something positive from the other side. However, Orthodox Christianity is self-sufficient, it possesses the fullness of Truth and, therefore, Orthodoxy can only engage in a monologue, as exemplified by the holy Apostle Paul in the Athenian Areopagus.
The Orthodox mission is a revelation and a monologue full of humility, wisdom, and love; a monologue that does not allow for interfaith religious compromises.
Salvation of mankind without repentance is a utopia
Aside from the above-mentioned citations, the “Declaration” contains many more general words and utopian slogans, which are crowned, from the Orthodox point of view, with a truly apocalyptic appeal: “Let us help one another and all well-intentioned people in building a better future for the entire human family.”
Belief in a better future here on earth for the entire human family is – at best – the chiliastic heresy condemned by the Church, and – at worst – a conscious attempt to participate in the creation of the universal government of the universal ruler who, according to the Scriptures, will be the Antichrist. Such an appeal is already an open apostasy from the Christian doctrine expressed in the Creed: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” Nowhere in the Creed does it speak of an expectation of earthly happiness for the entire human family, but it does clearly speak of an expectation of a forthcoming eternal life in Christ. In general, the entire contemporary principle of tolerance, with its fruits that are similar to the current Moscow summit – is very earthy and worldly. We are subjected to an inexhaustible fund of naive (or hypocritical?) speeches about a bright future, about mankind’s universal overcoming of natural disasters, illnesses, and wars. And not a word about the repentance that is truly needful for the salvation of mankind! As though Christ did not come down to earth two thousand years ago and did not say: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17); “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish” (Luke 13:3).
One cannot likewise disregard the very last appeal of the “Declaration”: “Let us preserve the peace given to us by the Almighty.” Of which “Almighty” are we speaking? Our Almighty, the incarnated Son of God, plainly said to fallen mankind: “I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34), thus indicating that from that time on mankind would forever be divided into those who accept the Saviour and those who reject Him.
It is astonishing with what ease the Orthodox participants in the summit join people of other faiths in declaring their adherence to the commandments of the Almighty. Can Moslems, Jews, and pagans confess the same Heavenly Father as the Orthodox? No, they cannot, for the Son represents an obligatory condition for knowing the Father. This was presaged way back in the Old Testament: “Honor the Son, lest… ye perish from the way…Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (Psalm 2:12), and finalized in the New Testament by the incarnated Son of God: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9), and “no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). People of other faiths and pagans who reject the Son of God reject also the Heavenly Father, for the Son and the Father are one. Orthodox Christians believe in the One God in Trinity, while other faiths reject the Trinity.
For this reason, through their joint confession of some general “Almighty” together with people of other faiths and the pagans, Orthodox participants in such summits reject the Son of God and, consequently, reject the true Almighty. “He that rejects Me rejects Him that sent Me” (Luke 10:16), – said the Lord.
Choice of path
And – finally – several words about the Russian context of the modern policy of religious tolerance. The country’s political leaders are only human, and every individual, as rightly noted in the “Declaration,” is religious by nature. Precisely in which religion one should embody one’s religiousness depends on the individual’s own choice. It is extremely difficult to be an Orthodox politician, and a political leader even more so. This means that one actually has to act against the laws of the political game, to be not of this world, to follow Christ along the narrow path, to be hated by one’s enemies, yet love them at the same time, to refrain from worshipping “false idols,” yet sincerely and indefatigably urge all unbelievers to find salvation in Christ. Such a political leader and his adherents will most likely suffer defeat here on earth, yet will gain victory over evil within their own hearts and will enter into eternal life as conquerors!
For this reason contemporary Orthodox political leaders in Russia should seriously ponder the correctness of their choice of faith. And if they did not make a mistake, if they made a conscious choice, then they should no longer flirt with the fallen world lying in iniquity, but should stand in the true faith to the end, to the death, remembering the words of the Scriptures: “This is the victory that overcometh the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4).
What to do?
In conclusion let us remember the classical Russian question: “What to do?”, to which the Lord gives Orthodox Christians a precise and sobering answer: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel… He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16).
In the current situation the words “preach the Gospel” mean not only to engage in missionary work, but to preserve the already established Orthodox faith in all its purity. Such guarding is necessary because the ecumenical movement, syncretism, and tolerance are encroaching upon the holy of holies – the heart of Christianity – upon faith in Christ, Son of God, sole Redeemer and Saviour of mankind.
Our Orthodox conscience obligates all of us, according to our possibilities, to stand up today for the defense of Holy Orthodoxy!
Monk Vsevolod (Filipyev)
(Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 14, 2006.)