PRAGUE, April 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The World Council of Russian People brings together Russians from around the world and led by the Moscow patriarch. On the council's agenda this year is the issue of human rights. The council is expected to announce the church's position on the matter.
Metropolitan Kirill, the Orthodox Church's main authority on interchurch and interfaith relations, on April 4 set the tone for the council. He denounced the concept of "moral autonomy."
Kirill said the Orthodox Church could not accept the mocking of the sacred, abortion, homosexuality, or euthanasia. All these, he said, are often defended as human rights.
The problems Russian society faces, he said, are due to the lack of a religion-based morality:
"We should not shed any tears about rising xenophobia at a time when we open opportunities for a person, who is not restrained by any moral forces, to ravage sacred places, spit on his fatherland, and destroy his culture," Kirill said. "Such a person will go and kill someone else on the basis of race or faith. There is one single and indivisible morality."
Kirill denounced a "distorted vision of human rights," which he said has become prevalent in the West. He added that secularism is to be blamed for xenophobia and other vices of the Russian society."
Yesterday, Patriarch Aleksy II supported Kirill's concern: "To what extent does this [Western] vision of human rights allow an Orthodox people to live in accordance with the faith it professes?"
Human Rights Concept Questioned
It is not the first time the Russian Orthodox Church has questioned the validity of the concept of universal human rights. On March 30, Metropolitan Kirill announced the church's plans to set up a center to deal with issues related to human rights and liberties.
He said the center would tackle the problems in the context of Russian national and church traditions. The Interfax news agency quoted him as saying "Russian civilization has nothing to do with it [Western concept of human rights.]"
There were, however, dissenting opinions at the assembly. Russia's human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said on Tuesday that the speeches at the assembly should not be taken as a new state policy condemning the West.
Allison Gill, the director of the Moscow office for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said vices such as xenophobia have little to do with adhering to a religion or secularism.
"I don't think it's fair to blame the problems he sees [Kirill] in Russia or the problems he sees in the West on human-rights law, which sadly enough isn't fully implemented in the West or in Russia," Gill said.
Gill said that Russia has signed international agreements that oblige the state to protect human rights: "Human rights are universal and they are not granted by government but governments promised to protect them. The Russian government is a signatory to all major human-rights treaties, which means that human rights are an integral part of Russian law and not some foreign Western impost."
However, despite that, Russian officials often take notice of what the church says. And it isn't just human rights that is an integral part of Russian law. The Orthodox Church is considered the most significant body in Russian religious life.