Moscow, December 7, 2017
President Vladimir Putin met with the heads of the many visiting Orthodox delegations from other Local Orthodox Churches in Moscow on Monday, reports RIA-Novosti. Among the topics the president touched upon was the continuing persecution of Christians worldwide, and the fight against terrorism in Syria.
Included in the meeting were His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Theodoros II, His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania, His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, His Beatitude Metropolitan Savva of Warsaw, His Beatitude Metropolitan Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of All America and Canada, Metropolitan Theodore of Akhaltsikhe and Tao-Klarjeti of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and Metropolitan Gabriel of Lovech of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk of the Russian Church.
The Orthodox primates and representatives were gathered in Moscow to celebrate the centenary of the restoration of the patriarchate to the Russian Orthodox Church and of the enthronement of St. Tikhon of Moscow as the first new patriarch, which took place in the Kremlin’s Dormition Cathedral on the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple in 1917. President Putin opened his remarks for thanking the bishops for coming to Moscow to celebrate such an important event “both for Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church.”
“Sadly, in the second decade of the 21st century we again face things that seemed to be long condemned and gone,” the president remarked, “that is, religious persecution, and this concerns Christians as well. We already addressed this at similar meetings several years ago. This issue is especially topical in the Middle East, and this region is the cradle of Christianity where the Orthodox faith is rooted.”
He also highlighted the situation in Syria, where tens of thousands of Christians were driven out of their homes, and churches and monasteries were destroyed. Pat. John X of Antioch told journalists on Tuesday that 120 churches have been destroyed in Syria since the emergence of ISIS in the region.
However, as the president noted, the situation is changing for the better, and “[t]he Syrian armed forces, supported by the Russian military, have liberated almost the entire country from terrorists, including places historically populated by Christians.”
In December, government forces backed by the Russian Air Force have moved to the final phase of the operation for the liberation of the territory east of the Euphrates. The Center for the Reconciliation of the Warring Parties in Syria has declared that the region will be completely cleared of all militants in the coming days, reports RIA-Novosti.
President Putin also expressed the hope that a joint-working group between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church would be able to help displaced Syrian Christians return home, and stated that Russia would help to restore destroyed religious sites of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
The head of state closed his remarks, encouraging the bishops to seek for ever deeper unity and cooperation between their respective Churches and countries: “I expect that your visit to Russia will serve to further develop dialogue between Orthodox churches, deepen the ties between our countries and between our peoples, which is extremely important in the modern world.”
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill also spoke briefly on the results of the recent Council of Bishops session, and also touched upon the situation of Christians in the Middle East and especially Syria.
As previously reported, the Russian president also personally met with Pat. John of Antioch at his personal residence, where they had an opportunity to speak more in-depth about the situation in Syria.
The full text of President Putin’s and Pat. Kirill’s remarks are provided by the Kremlin website:
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Your Holiness and Beatitude, very reverend bishops,
First of all, I would like to cordially greet you and express my gratitude for gathering here together to mark such an important event both for Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, the 100th anniversary of restoring the Patriarchate in Russia.
This, of course, emphasises the unity of the Orthodox world, which is very important in itself and because you represent churches that play a considerable role in the life of your countries and in the life of society. You call for mercy and do work in education, which is very important.
The modern world is becoming more open and interdependent. But we are also witnessing examples of the great problems of our times. We see examples of the crisis of morality, with the devaluation of traditions, moral values and everything that is the basis of human civilisation.
Sadly, in the second decade of the 21st century we again face things that seemed to be long condemned and gone, that is, religious persecution, and this concerns Christians as well. We already addressed this at similar meetings several years ago. This issue is especially topical in the Middle East, and this region is the cradle of Christianity where the Orthodox faith is rooted.
The Syria situation certainly requires the most attention. We know about this. It is very difficult. During the years of the war, terrorists killed or drove out from their homes tens of thousands of people. Many Christian churches and monasteries were looted and destroyed.
However, the situation is gradually changing. The Syrian armed forces, supported by the Russian military, have liberated almost the entire country from terrorists, including places historically populated by Christians.
For years, the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as other religious organisations, have been providing humanitarian aid to the victims in Syria. It is important to establish a peaceful life there as soon as possible, so that people can return to their homes and begin rebuilding their churches.
I believe that a working group established by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church can play a very important role in the return of the Christian population of Syria. One of its jobs is to compile a catalogue of destroyed Syrian churches for their subsequent restoration.
We will also help representatives of other religions, including Islam, who, as we know, have also suffered at the hands of militants, terrorists and extremists. We will also help Judaists. Some Jewish organisations have already asked us to help restore the Judaist temples. We are in contact with representatives of the Jewish community of Syria, namely with some of its Jewish organisations, and in the United States, including those in New York. We will work together on this problem.
I expect that your visit to Russia will serve to further develop dialogue between Orthodox churches, deepen the ties between our countries and between our peoples, which is extremely important in the modern world.
I would like to wish all the best to all of you, happiness and prosperity to your congregations.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia: Your Excellency Mr President,
Allow me to thank you for this meeting on behalf of the heads of local Orthodox churches who attended the celebrations.
I would like to say a few words about the recent council.
The council brought together almost 400 hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church from 20 countries to review our efforts over the last four years and make adjustments to our development plans.
Today, we have three priorities. The first one is education, including theological and religious education in general. The second one is welfare, and the third priority is young people. The Russian Orthodox Church will focus on promoting specific programmes in these three areas.
However, there is much more to our efforts. There is also the construction of churches, and the steady development of the entire church organisation in and outside Russia.
I would like to draw your attention to the general concern about the situation in the Middle East, as you have just mentioned. The expulsion of Christians and the destruction of holy sites is a great pain for the churches in the Middle East, who are represented here today, as well as for all of us.
Thanks to the efforts of the Russian Federation and other countries, terrorism has been almost defeated in Syria. Of course, as you have said, a lot has to be done in terms of restoring what has been destroyed, and we understand this all too well.
I would like to say that my brothers who head local Orthodox churches were looking forward to this meeting with you, and we are grateful to you for this opportunity.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.