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Religious Freedom and World Unity PDF Print E-mail

Vikenty Mis'kov
Ukrainian Orthodox Church

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Washington DC, April 17-19, 1998

Leaders of many countries proclaim devotion to universal values. That is a very optimistic tendency. Perhaps the biggest hope of our generation is that we could find that universal system of priorities, which can become a foundation for contemporary and future societies. We hope that will help end permanent conflicts between nations, civilizations, and cultures.

For the first time in the history, the unity of nations is based not on doctrines and ideologies but on the freedom and dignity of a person. For many generations, people have faced the same dilemma. Either they have to sacrifice their freedom for unity or they have to sacrifice their unity for freedom. We have extreme examples of that in anarchy and totalitarianism. Between these extremes, we have different social systems that develop varying degrees of people’s choices.

We have no doubt that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became a turning point in human history. But we have also seen, especially at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that there was no real understanding of the future perspectives or really deep understanding of the ways to solve the existing problems. So, many of the problems the Soviet people were facing are present even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We live at a turning point, and we are living in two eras at the same time. First of all it is a time of new developing religions. Second, it is the era of new humanism, when each person is considered to have absolute value. I would like to remind you that this understanding of human value has very deep evangelical roots. It is not based on either a special personality or on the social status of the person, religion, or nationality. This conception of human value stems from the Bible. Christ himself was just a simple carpenter before he started preaching.

The ruling ideology of the Roman Empire diminished the absolute value of the person, and the church was possessed with having the authority to proclaim absolute truth. People forgot the truth that was given to us by Christ.

On the one hand, we have to find the way to overcome our own doctrines and come to unity, even with heretics and people who don’t share our faith. That was basically the approach of the early Christians.

Christians believe that God, in the image of Jesus Christ, can communicate with each person without any mediator. We believe, and were taught by Christ, himself, that truth is absolutely necessary and is absolutely inseparable from freedom. We believe that truth is the source of our lives and will keep us from sin.

In Christian understanding, the church and the state are two separate important institutions. This doesn’t mean they don’t have any mutual understanding and cooperation. But when it comes to internal values, their understanding can be quite different. In many developed countries—such as France, Germany, the United States, and Canada—that were following Catholicism and Protestantism, people have been able to experience in their own lives this new trend of supporting different religions. Sometimes it goes against democratic principles.

Recently, the government of the Russian Federation proclaimed a new law on freedom of conscience. It gives freedom for people to follow any kind of religion that they feel coincides with their beliefs. They mentioned Unification religion, Muslims, and Buddhists. Yet, at the time, even our own church could experience a lot of violations of rights.

For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church had a special church very close to Moscow. Some time ago it was deprived of the right to use this facility. Even the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t support us at all in this claim. We were very disturbed about this violation of our rights. We think it reflects the ethnicism of the Russian totalitarian regime.

These violations of our rights make us even more desperate to solve the problems between the church and state. We often ask ourselves, how much does the government understand and follow the rule of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving to God what is God’s. The government is trying to control everything, including the spiritual lives of people. We have to find successful and effective ways to follow our own beliefs.

In closing, I would like to offer several guiding principles.

First, the integration process is not possible for countries to accomplish by themselves, because enormous problems must be solved. We have to find ways to cooperate between countries and religions.

Second, it is our responsibility to keep our cultural diversity and still find a way to unification.

Third, religion has to be the source of our eternal life and freedom, but if it serves only on the level of external rituals it will become a source of hatred and extremism. Ethnic groups in our society have to unite in our missionary efforts despite our differences in some areas of religious understanding. If we don’t find this unity, all our efforts, no matter what we want to do, will be in vain.