Fr Georgy Kochetkov on Patriarch Kirill’s message from the Sunday of Orthodoxy: Criticising the worship of man does not imply the denial of human rights

22 March 2016 Father Georgy Kochetkov  
People are used to thinking about human rights in terms of their own rights as individuals. But having rights also entails some responsibility, which means that there are certain limitations and obligations, willingly undertaken by the individual, out of love for God and man
Nikolai Ge. Quod Est Veritas? (Christ and Pilate), 1890
Nikolai Ge. Quod Est Veritas? (Christ and Pilate), 1890

Fr Georgy Kochetkov, Rector of St Philaret’s Institute, commented on the Patriarch’s recent message and subsequent public reaction, saying that it is important to distinguish between fighting against human rights and criticising their abuse.

Speaking on Sunday in Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Patriarch Kirill warned against “the global heresy of man-worship, the new idolatry, which casts God away from human life”, stressing that many “will give higher priority to human rights than to the word of God”.

“This is an important topic, which, naturally, the general public doesn’t immediately understand. But I fear that many within the church may also lack understanding,” said Fr Georgy, commenting on the words of the Russian Orthodox Church leader. “Judging by reactions, many are missing the point by a wide margin.”

“Modern secular society accepts human rights as a stand-alone value, independently of the source that determines them. Modern secular society regards human rights as originating within the social sphere, or from industrial relations, or from social need, the cosmic order of things, or from the individual himself – the very ‘individuum’ – of whom the Patriarch spoke. This ‘individuum’ is the empirical, fallen person, who is neither a saint, nor one who aspires to holiness and communion with the Holy God and his saints”, said Fr Georgy.

“Modern people are used to thinking about human rights only in terms of their own rights as individuals,” he stressed, “and they often fail to understand that having a right also entails a certain human responsibility; indeed, the responsibility may even come first, as long as it is accepted freely, out of love for God and man, love for God’s creation and life, regarding every kind of life as a gift from above.”

“In his message, the Patriarch mentioned Christian anthropology, which is key. Speaking on the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, he denied the idea of worshipping man, pointing out how easy it is to turn man into an idol – to make any fallen human being or “the majority opinion” the criterion for ultimate truth,” said the SFI Rector.

According to the Patriarch, “failure on the part of our contemporaries to understand deep anthropological issues and basic divine revelation leads to an abundance of egotism and feeds human passions of all types: physical, psychological and spiritual, individual and communal. As a result, the victory belongs neither to the human being – in his calling as the image and likeness of God - nor to God who created man and the world and gave them the virtues of beauty, love, freedom and truth, and the ability to learn and understand.”

“Often, for the contemporary secular person, these virtues do not exist.” he added. “And then it is natural that any criticism of the abuse of human rights is perceived as an attack on human rights per se, simply because these rights are not seen at the same level of depth and integrity as Christian eschatology and anthropology – as well as cosmology – allows us to see them.”

The Patriarch’s message, Fr Georgy stressed, “opens a path to the study of anthropology and brings us back to the deep issues that for too long have not been discussed in the church, but about which much has been written in the past, including by the great Russian thinkers, theologians and philosophers.”

“You may wish to remember what Nikolay Berdyaev wrote on this topic. He of all people can hardly be accused of being servile – particularly in relation to the Soviet authorities. In his Philosophy of the Free Spirit [1], chapter 6, part 2, he writes: “Our ecclesial thought has not yet given a positive answer to the heresy of humanism; it has not yet revealed all the potential within Christianity to resolve the religious problem of the human being. And there is no reason to deny that ecclesial thought will sooner or later respond to the heresy of humanism with a dogmatic revelation of the true Christian anthropology… However, the Church’s answer to the heresy of humanism will differ significantly in its nature from her answers to the heresies of the past. The Church’s answer to the heresy of humanism will have to reveal the truth about the creative nature of the human being”, quoted the SFI Rector.

Berdyaev, he stressed, “has done much to connect Christian anthropology with the gift of creativity, freedom and love – to help us see a personal being, rather than just an individual or some kind of ideal being, in the human being. And we need to draw our conclusions from this.”

“It is time to continue this work within the church itself. The church could demonstrate to people around the world what a human being really is and how a person can live before God not as a slave, but as a worthy child – a worthy son of God,” said Fr Georgy.

[1] Published in English as Freedom and the Spirit (1935). The quote here is a direct translation of the text in the Russian edition.

Arina Filipova
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