Interview With Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kyrill: 'The Bible Calls it a Sin'
Metropolitan Kyrill, foreign minister of the Russian Orthodox Church, discusses Christian values in the post-communist era, his relationship with the pope in Rome, Vladimir Putin the churchgoer -- and wrangles with SPIEGEL about homosexuality.
SPIEGEL: Your Eminence, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church seemed to have prevailed over the godless communists. But has it been able to fill the spiritual vacuum that followed?
Kyrill: I wouldn't call it a vacuum. In communism, the church had no direct way of influencing society, but it did influence Russian culture and people's awareness. I remember a tour guide in a monastery in Vologda in the early 1970s. She talked about architecture and painting as if she were giving a sermon. There was no talk of Christianity, but her speech depended on a Christian system of values. This woman was not alone. Writers and artists spoke the same way. Or, someone would see a destroyed church and discover another world beyond the gloomy prefabricated high-rises where people lived. Christian values were always kept alive among the people. They ultimately brought about the fall of communism.
SPIEGEL: Crime and corruption were rampant after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Murder, robbery and fraud became mass phenomena. Wasn't this a defeat for the church?
Kyrill: Reviving morality is a long process. We also see high crime rates in other countries. Besides, Russia faced massive social changes. Our economy was in ruins, foreign influence was growing and so was the consumption mentality, the focus on performance, all of these postmodern ideas which treat everything as relative and no longer require us to distinguish between truth and lies.
Kyrill: The church should have taken time to regenerate. We were weakened by atheism, and then we were faced with a double burden. We were like a boxer who walks around for months with his arm in a cast and is then abruptly shoved into the ring, accompanied by shouts of encouragement. But there we encountered a well-trained opponent, in the form of a wide variety of missionaries from America and South Korea who tried to convert the Russian people to other faiths. Religion was also marginalized by a secular way of thinking.
SPIEGEL: Is capitalism ultimately worse than communism?
Kyrill: The free market economy has certainly proved to be more effective than the planned economy. Unlike corporate executives, however, the church also believes in justice. As far as that's concerned, we have no fewer problems today, perhaps even more, than in the Soviet era. The gap between rich and poor in Russia is scandalous. That's an issue we are addressing.
SPIEGEL: You must find it obscene, the way the Russian oligarchs, with their palaces and yachts, show off their wealth.
Kyrill: It isn't the church's place to point to someone and say: He owns yachts and airplanes, so let's take away his riches and redistribute them. That happened in the 1917 revolution. At the time, they were saying that paradise was the next step after expropriation. But what we got instead was hell. May God protect Russia from repeating the same mistake. However, the government must ensure that the gap doesn't become too wide. Russia's future depends on it.
SPIEGEL: What should it do?
Kyrill: Our church called for a progressive income tax even before the political parties did. And we want to see a tax imposed on luxury goods. But this tax cannot be used to clip the wings of the newly created middle class. Our country needs an environment that encourages the rich to live simple lives. Many of them are already doing good things today. Wealthy private citizens already pay for almost all of the church's social programs. It would be wrong to claim that all wealthy people are bad and all poor people are good.
SPIEGEL: It's clear to see that many Russians have adopted a liberal Western lifestyle. Sex before marriage is normal for many people, and only a small minority attends church services regularly. How firmly established are Christian values in Russia?
Kyrill: Spirituality can't be measured with statistics. Nevertheless, we aren't afraid of comparisons. Less than 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of churches has quadrupled, we now have twice as many dioceses, and the number of monasteries has grown by a factor of 32 -- to 700 -- today. Fifteen thousand young people are studying theology. On the other hand, even though 80 percent of newborns are baptized in Russia, only 60 percent of Russians call themselves Orthodox Christians, and less than 10 percent attend church regularly -- even fewer in some provinces. In other words, we don't have to build any new churches, but what we must do is help our people understand how important it is to adhere to Christian values. Whether we succeed also depends on whether we can rid ourselves of outside influences.
SPIEGEL: You are referring to the liberal West. What troubles you, for example, about homosexuals marching through the streets of Moscow in a parade, just as they do in Berlin or Amsterdam?
The Millionaire Fair in Moscow attracts Russia's rich.
SPIEGEL: but not everyone says: Thou shall not be gay. Why should people have to conceal their homosexuality?
Kyrill: The Bible calls it a sin. But we do not condemn these people. The church is opposed to these people being persecuted or offended. But why should sin be propagated? The gay parade is a blatant display of sodomy. In that case, we might as well promote other sins, as has long been the case on television. This degenerates public morality. It is the church's job to call a sin a sin. Otherwise it no longer serves a purpose. Unfortunately, the tendency in today's world is to champion the freedom of choice, while freedom from evil is virtually forgotten.
SPIEGEL: It's human for a person to be homosexual. How can something that is human be a sin?
Kyrill: And what, in your opinion, is adultery -- something good or something bad?
SPIEGEL: This decision lies within the conscience of every individual.
Policemen deployed at a gay rights march in Moscow in 2006: "We are talking about morals."
SPIEGEL: But that's an enormous difference! Sexuality relates to adults who can decide for themselves. Pedophilia involves children being abused and has nothing to do with human freedom.
Kyrill: In a few years, they'll tell you that 12-year-old girls used to be children, but that they are now much further developed. Twenty years ago, no one would have dreamed that Germany would pass a law one day that recognizes homosexual marriages. But now that too has been accepted. We are talking about preserving the principle. There is something we call a general moral nature.
SPIEGEL: And it depends on time and region. There are ethnic groups that allow polygamy, for instance.
Kyrill: Dostoyevsky wrote that God and the devil are fighting for control in the heart of man. Nowadays many pursue the logic that everything they want ought to be good and justified. We are too quick to treat emotions that ultimately harm us as natural needs. When moral foundations are shaken, we unleash our instincts. But released instincts belong in the animal world. What I am saying is something that the liberal SPIEGEL will never print: You undoubtedly think that this Metropolitan Kyrill is out of his mind and that what he is saying is complete nonsense.
- Part 1: 'The Bible Calls it a Sin'
- Part 2: 'Men Can Control Their Drives'
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