In an August interview with the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) expressed his desire to work with American Evangelicals to combat same-sex marriage.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the head of the department of external church relations (DECR) of the Russian Orthodox Church (also known as the Moscow Patriarchate) was interviewed on Church diplomacy on the occasion of the DECR’s 65th anniversary. The interview touched on the Metropolitan’s week-long visit to the United States, where he met with church and political officials, among them former President George W. Bush. In regards to the meeting with Bush, the Metropolitan was asked to explain the possible benefits of a relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the “influential association of conservative Protestants.” The explanation was as follows:
“…we are in solidarity with the evangelicals in their battle against the liberalization of Christianity…consequently they are standing against so–called single-sex marriages and the ordaining of homosexuals. In this sense you can speak of evangelicals as the defenders of Christian morality.”
The Orthodox Church representative is often outspoken in his criticism of gay rights and, accordingly, of other churches that support or condone them. He has even cut ties with the Episcopal Church of the United States for ordaining gays and lesbians as ministers, and with the Lutheran Church of Sweden for blessing single-sex marriages.
Alfeyev is not a radical, however, at least not within the ROC. He is instead labeled a faithful representative with the goal of spreading a sanctioned message. Articles and official statements on the Church’s position on “sexual minorities” can be readily found on Patriarchia.ru, the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate.
On April 13, 2011, the Interfaith Council of Russia issued the following statement in response to the European Court of Human Rights’ October 21, 2010 ruling in the Alekseyev v. Russia case:
“The faithful of the traditional religions of Russia were disappointed to learn that the European Court satisfied the position of the “sexual minorities,” having found the ban against a demonstration in Moscow a violation of the international obligations of our country.”
The Council agreed that jurisdictions’ allowance of gay pride parades would infringe on the human rights of the general public, especially followers of “traditional” faiths. The Interfaith Council includes, among others, representatives from the Russian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.
The ROC is not limited to issuing statements and giving interviews. In a country where the Soviet suppression of religious activity ended less than thirty years ago, the Church once more has enough influence to collaborate with (and advise) the government. The State Duma is currently in the process of updating the federal law “on the foundations for the protection of the health of the citizens of the Russian Federation.” The ROC, which has been heavily invested in this issue, is especially interested in addressing abortions. On July 8, 2010, at the Martha and Mary Convent of Mercy, Tatyana Golikova, the Minister of Health and Social Development, signed an agreement of cooperation with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Olga Borzova, Chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Public Health, said “Together we develop coordinated decisions to questions concerning the protection of the interests of the family and children.”
The ROC has similarly expressed its fear that homosexuality leads to the decline of the Russian population and the degradation of the family.
Could homosexuality also become a topic for policy discussion with The Ministry of Health and Social Development?
Russian Orthodoxy has also seen a steady rise in its popularity among the general public: the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center’s statistics on religious tendencies published in March of 2010 revealed that 75% of the country considers themselves to be Russian Orthodox, a significant jump from 63% in the 2006 study.
In today’s Russia, where a vociferously anti-gay Church is establishing an increased influence over government affairs and enjoying high popularity among the populace, the task ahead of gay rights supporters and activists can only be an extremely uncertain and difficult one.