"We are colleagues--you save people's souls and our role is to save their lives," Sergei Shoigu, Russia's Emergencies Minister, told Patriarch Alexeii II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on 4 April after signing an official joint statement on cooperation between the church and ministry which is responsible for civil defense and rescue operations. The agreement strengthens the links between the church and the government which have already been criticized from some quarters.
The ceremony sealed the fourth agreement of its kind for the Russian Orthodox Church which has already signed similar accords with the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry, and the Federal Border Guard Service. All four enforcement agencies have troops at their disposal and play an important role in the delicate Russian balance of power. "The faith and the motherland are synonyms--there can be no motherland without the faith, and no faith without the motherland," Russia's Chief Border Guard, Andrei Nikolayev, said when he signed the agreement between his department and the [Orthodox] church.
Critics claim that the Russian Orthodox Church is providing the government with an official state ideology in exchange for a dominant position among the country's various denominations and religions. One religion commentator, Alexander Nezhny, said that "these protocols are just another attempt of the Moscow Patriarchate [of the Russian Orthodox Church] to gain some political capital."
Sergei Ivanenko, a religion expert with the Russian parliament, does not, however, see any signs of such a development. He qualified the agreements between the church and the power ministries as a "normal process" while maintaining that "it is necessary to make sure that it does not infringe on the separation between the church and the state."
Excerpt reprinted with permission from Ecumenical News International Bulletin 7 (11 April 1995), 9.
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© 1995 Institute for East-West Christian Studies