Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya 24 television network on the occasion of the 55th birth anniversary of Metropolitan Hilarion Moscow, July 24, 2021
Question: His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion will celebrate his birthday soon. He is often described as your analogue in the Russian Orthodox Church. Do you think that the church requires its own “foreign ministry”?
Sergey Lavrov: The name Department for External Church Relations (DECR) shows that Metropolitan Hilarion is responsible for contacts with his numerous partners. The canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church is much larger than the territory of Russia. For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has very broad autonomy, and hence contacts with it demand a set of foreign relations skills.
The department chair is responsible for relations with local Orthodox and other churches, including the Vatican, with which Metropolitan Hilarion maintains regular contacts, as well as non-Christian churches and other religions. We do not just welcome this dialogue but also support it most actively. There are a number of interstate and intergovernmental mechanisms that are designed to promote a dialogue of civilizations. The UN has a special body, the Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC), which is headed by a former foreign minister of Spain. The UNAOC is responsible for contacts aimed at promoting interfaith and interethnic accord. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) can offer its rich experience in this sphere, being one of the most active promoters of intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
Another example of cooperative actions of secular and religious representatives is the World Conference on Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue, held every other year by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the UN Secretary-General. Next time the conference will convene in St Petersburg in May 2022. We will work together with the ROC to coordinate a correct approach to forming the agenda and using the conference platform to promote the much-in-demand Orthodox values.
Question: Metropolitan Hilarion has many abilities and gifts: he composes music as wells conducts and writes books, listens to confessions and is otherwise actively involved in church services. How would you describe him in his capacity of “the foreign minister” of the church?
Sergey Lavrov: As an extremely talented individual. A talented person is talented in everything, not only in their hobbies but also in their jobs. I believe that Metropolitan Hilarion is a worthy successor in his job as the head of the Department for External Church Relations. We have been closely collaborating for many years now. We have a working group for cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church, co-chaired by State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov. We hold regular meetings with Metropolitan Hilarion and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
We have many joint projects. One of the most important of them currently is the protection of Christians, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. Working together with the DECR for many years, we hold a special forum in support of Christians on the sidelines of OSCE and UN Human Rights Council events. This forum is attended by our partners from the Vatican, the Holy See, and the foreign ministers of Armenia, Hungary, Belarus, Lebanon and other countries, who are aware of the current threats to a normal, peaceful and safe life of Christians in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of them had to flee their homes when efforts to enforce “democracy” were taken there, first in Iraq and subsequently in Libya and Syria. Christians have been affected especially painfully during the conflict in Syria, one of the world’s cradles of Christianity.
We must raise our voice not just to attract the attention of the international community to this problem, but to take practical measures to stop the persecution of Christians. This is extremely important. But our Western colleagues have taken a different stand. Although Christians constitute the majority of their populations, we have been unable for the past six years to ensure the adoption of an OSCE document on the protection of Christians and Muslims in Europe by the international community – a declaration on combating Christianophobia and Islamophobia. We proposed this long ago, after the adoption of the Declaration on Enhancing Efforts to Combat Anti-Semitism. We pointed out the importance of consistency and combating any religious phobias. So far, the “enlightened” West has been preventing the adoption of this initiative. However, I have no doubt that we will attain our goal by working together with the ROC, the DECR and His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion.
Question: I asked, if there were many people who envy him? He replied: Yes, many. And those hating the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)? He said, there was no shortage of them. Then he started speaking about Ukraine and the Patriarch of Constantinople. In this sense, can we compare the pressure being brought to bear on you and him? Do you think he finds it hard to serve in this position these days in the context of the Ukrainian schism?
Sergey Lavrov: On the face of it, this is being presented as a movement for each Orthodox people having the right of choice. All of us are well aware of how the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was created. It was not just an initiative suggested by Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. It was directly dictated by the United States. By and large, they do not conceal this fact themselves. The US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom appointed by the previous administration was doing things that were directly opposite to his mandate. He was undermining the freedom of religion and imposing organisational parameters (to use the bureaucratic idiom) on different local churches. He was destroying the unity of the Orthodox believers of Russia and Ukraine and creating in Ukraine a schismatic and, in effect, powerless church. He was also destroying the unity of the Church of Antioch and attempting to wean from it the Lebanese Orthodox believers. The same is happening with regard to the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
We are clearly aware that Constantinople’s actions that are being directly manipulated by Washington have nothing in common with the ideals of Orthodoxy and the traditions that form the basis, upon which the collaboration between the local churches has always been organised. This collaboration is being crudely disrupted. This is pressure in the sense that it requires efforts to oppose this sort of absolutely unacceptable actions. We fully support the ROC. We have many joint projects for interaction with Russian compatriots. The ROC parishes in other countries are helping to guide a huge number of parishioners. This means an additional opportunity to support people, who would like to keep their ties with their historical homeland. This compares to what we are doing in our secular line through our embassies, consulates and Russian cultural centres abroad, which, among other things, help them maintain ties with the ROC.
Question: What personal impression does Metropolitan Hilarion produce? I mean, as a person, if you had a chance to contact him outside of official functions?
Sergey Lavrov: He is a learned and highly urbane person. Very even-tempered. Knowing how to control emotions is an important quality for working in his present position. I am sure that in many situations he is overwhelmed with emotion. I am fond of him as an interlocutor. He is clever and thoughtful. He always understands a situation in such a manner as to find a way in or out of it in the interests of the ROC. We are seeking to act in the same vein in our secular diplomatic field. I believe that we can call each other friends.