By Milena Faustova
“Resetting relations between countries is impossible without changing attitudes to each other. Today we should think how we could add a humanitarian and spiritual dimension to relations between Russia and the US,” Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said at a meeting with US Ambassador Michael McFaul in Moscow on the 30th of March.
Such meetings with Ambassadors of many countries are everyday routine for Patriarch Kirill. He often has several meetings a week. However, this one can be called symptomatic because it took place in the year of the 145th anniversary of Russian Emperor Alexander II’s selling Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to the then government of the US. That deal signed in 1867 gave a strong impetus to the development of cultural and spiritual ties between our nations, Patriarch Kirill emphasized.
“The Russian Church was the first to carry out an Orthodox mission on US territory, beginning with Alaska, followed by California and Fort Ross. Later, the Russian religious centre was moved to New York. As a matter of fact, the first Orthodox parishes in America were Russian. Greek and Arab ones appeared later. Today, the American Orthodox Church, which has Russian roots, is autonomous but we maintain good relations with it and remember that our Russian ancestors stood at its foundation and were the first missionaries in America. This cannot be said about any other country of the world.”
The head of the Russian Church said that there were different periods in the history of Russian-American relations. There was a time of active economic cooperation in the 19th century and a time of cold estrangement in the middle of the 20th century. However, no matter what politicians said, there has never been any strong anti-American feeling in Russia. It is important to preserve the good relations between the people of our two countries. Patriarch Kirill believes that the Russian Orthodox Church could play a certain role in this respect.
“The duty of the Church is to promote peace among people, improve relations and help to overcome confrontations. When I met with President Obama in Moscow we agreed that the Church should fill the resetting of relations between our two countries with human, spiritual contents. It is not productive to rub salt into the wound and instigate negative attitudes to each other. Political and economic cooperation, struggle against terrorism and joint activities on the international arena should be carried out in the context of people’s trust, otherwise this policy is criticised or completely rejected. This is, apparently, true for both Russia and the US.”
In his turn, Michael McFaul stressed that the US is doing everything possible to find a balance between political realities and relations between our countries.
“When we speak about resetting relations with Russia, we mean establishing relations with both state and civil organizations, including the Russian Orthodox Church. President Obama is convinced that both these aspects are important and will provide an opportunity of finding a balance in case of disagreement between the governments. If there is a balance in relations with civil organizations, political relations will also be long-lived.”
Michael McFaul also promised that the White House would ‘take a more objective attitude’ when preparing annual reports on the situation of freedom of religion in Russia. Recall that recently US analysts published a report in which they recommended that the Department of State should put Russia on the list of countries requiring special attention due to the situation of freedom of religion. Many people in Russia considered that report biased. Patriarch Kirill said that when he was the head of the Department for External Church Relations he repeatedly addressed the US Secretary of State and the US Ambassador with suggestions of extending the range of sources when those documents were compiled, so as to guarantee a more objective understanding of the situation. Patriarch Kirill’s request seems to have been heard. At present, the US Embassy and the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate are preparing a meeting at which both sides could analyse the situation with religious organisations in Russia.