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V.1. In the contemporary state, citizens participate in the government of the country by voting. Most of them belong to political parties, movements, unions, blocs and other such organizations, based on various political doctrines and views. These organizations, seeking to order social life according to the political convictions of their members, have as one of their goals to hold or reform power in the state. Exercising powers given to them by popular vote during elections, political organizations can participate in the work of the legislative and executive power structures.

The presence in society of different, sometimes opposing political convictions and discordant interests generates political struggle, which is waged by both legitimate and morally justified methods, and by methods that sometimes contradict the norms of civil law and Christian and natural morality.
V.2. The Church, according to God’s commandment, has a task to show concern for the unity of her children, and peace and harmony in society and the involvement of all her members in common creative efforts. The Church is called to preach and build peace with outer society: “If it is possible, as much as lies within you, live peaceably with all men7(Rom. 12:19); “Pursue peace with all men’(Heb. 12:14). It is even more important for her, however, to be internally united in faith and love: “I beseech you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ... that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind” (I Cor. 1:10). For the Church, the highest value is her unity as the mystical Body of Christ (Eph. 1:23), on which the eternal salvation of humanity depends. St. Ignatius of Antioch, the God-Bearer, addressing the members of the Church of Christ, writes: “You all make up as if one church of God, as if one altar, as if one Jesus.”

In face of political differences, contradictions and struggle, the Church preaches peace and cooperation among people holding differing political views. She also acknowledges the presence of various political convictions among her episcopate, clergy and laity, except for such views that clearly lead to actions contradicting the faith and moral norms of Church Tradition.

It is impossible for the Church’s Supreme Authorities and for the clergy (hence for the Church as a whole), to participate in some of the activities of political organizations and election processes, such as publicly supporting or running political organizations, or working for particular candidates in election campaigns, and so forth. The clergy are not allowed to be nominated for elections to any body of representative power at any level. At the same time, nothing should prevent bishops, clergy and laity from participation in the expression of the popular will by voting along with other citizens.

In church history there have been a number of instances when the whole Church gave support to various political doctrines, views, organizations and leaders. In some cases, this support was linked with the need for the Church to defend her fundamental interests in the extreme conditions of anti-religious persecution and the destructive and restrictive actions of the non-Orthodox and non-Christian powers. In other cases, this support resulted from pressure from the state or political structures and usually led to divisions and controversies within the Church and to the falling away of some of her people infirm in their faith.

In the 20th century, some of the clergy and hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church were members of some representative bodies of power, in particular, the State Duma of the Russian Empire and the Supreme Soviets of the USSR and the Russian Federation, some local councils and legislative assemblies. In some cases, their participation in the work of governmental bodies was beneficial for the Church and society. However, it sometimes generated confusion and divisions. This happened especially when the clergy were permitted to run for elective offices without the blessing of the Church. The practice of this participation as a whole has shown that it is almost impossible without one’s assuming responsibility for making decisions which are in the interests of only a part of the population and against those of others. This is a situation that seriously complicates the pastoral and missionary work of the clergy, who are called to be, according to St. Paul, “all things to all men... that by all means some may be saved” (I Cor. 9:22). At the same time, history has shown that the decision of the clergy to participate or not to participate in political activities was made and should be made depending on the needs of each particular era, and on the internal condition of the church organism and its role in the state. From the canonical point of view however, the answer to the question of whether a priest should work as a professional in public office is unequivocally negative.

On October 8, 1919, St. Tikhon appealed to the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church not to interfere in the political struggle. He pointed out in particular that the servants of the Church “by virtue of their rank should be. above and outside any political interests. They should remember the canonical rules of the Holy Church whereby she prohibits her servants from interfering in the political life of the country, joining any political parties and, what is more, from making the liturgical rites a tool of political demonstrations.”

Prior to the elections of the USSR people’s deputies, the Holy Synod resolved on December 27, 1988, that 44in case of the nomination and election of representatives of our Church, blessing is to be given for this activity, in the conviction that it will benefit the faithful and our whole society.” In addition to being elected as USSR people’s deputies, some bishops and clerics occupied deputy’s posts in republic, regional and local soviets. The new situation in the political life compelled the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in October 1989 to pay more attention to two questions: “First, how far can the Church go in assuming responsibility for political decisions without casting doubt on their pastoral authority; and, second, is it permissible for the Church to refuse participation in legislation and the opportunity to make a moral impact on the political process at a time when a particular decision may determine even the fate of the country itself?” As a result of this discussion, the Bishops’ Council recognized the Holy Synod’s decision of December 27, 1988, as valid only for the previous elections. It adopted the procedure for the future, whereby the Supreme Church Authorities, namely the Holy Synod (in case of bishops) and ruling bishops (in case of clergy under their jurisdiction), should decide beforehand in every particular case whether the participation of the clergy in an election campaign was desirable.

Notwithstanding, some representatives of the clergy did take part in the elections without obtaining the necessary blessing. The Holy Synod regretted to state on March 20, 1990 that “the Russian Orthodox Church declines the moral and religious responsibility for the participation of these persons in the elected offices.” For the reasons of oikonomia, the Synod refrained from using appropriate sanctions against the violators, stating that “such behavior lies on their own consciences.” On October 8, 1993, in view of the establishment of a professional parliament in Russia, the Holy Synod, at its enlarged session, decided to direct the clergy to refrain from participating in the parliamentary elections in Russia as nominees to parliament. It resolved that the clergy who violated this decision would be defrocked. The 1994 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church approved this resolution as “timely and wise,” and resolved to apply it to “the future participation of the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church in any election of representatives to bodies of power in the CIS and Baltic countries, on both national and local levels.”

The same Bishops’ Council, responding to the challenges of time -- in faithfulness to the holy canons -- adopted a number of rules concerning the subject under discussion. Thus, in one of its resolutions, the Council decided: “to reaffirm the impossibility for the Church as a whole to give support, first of all in election campaigns, to any political party, movement, bloc, union or a similar organization and to any of their leaders ... To consider it extremely undesirable for the clergy to join political parties, movements, unions, blocs and similar organizations which are intended primarily for pre-election struggle.”

The Bishops’ Council that took place in 1997 developed the principles of the Church’s relations with political organizations, and made one of its previous resolutions even stronger, by refusing to give its blessing to the clergy to join political associations. It resolved, in particular, in its statement On Relations with the State and Secular Society: “to welcome the Church’s dialogue and contacts with political organizations, if such contacts are not supportive politically; to consider it admissible to maintain cooperation with these organizations in tasks beneficial for the Church and the people, unless this cooperation can be interpreted as political support... to consider inadmissible the participation of bishops and clergy in any election campaign or their memberships in political associations whose constitutions provide for the nomination of their candidate to elective offices on all levels.”

The fact that the Church as a whole does not participate either in political struggle, nor in the work of political parties, nor in election processes, does not mean she refuses to express publicly her position on socially significant issues and to present this position to governmental bodies in any country and on any level. This position may be expressed only by Councils, the church authorities and those empowered to act for them. In any case, the right to express it cannot be delegated to public offices or political or other secular organizations.

V.3. Nothing can prevent Orthodox laity from participating in the work of legislative, executive and judicial bodies and political organizations. This involvement has taken place under various political systems, such as autocracy, constitutional monarchy and various forms of the republic system. The participation of Orthodox laity in secular and political processes was difficult only in the contexts of non-Christian rule and the regime of state atheism.

In participating in governmental and political processes, Orthodox laity are called to base their work on the norms of the gospel’s morality: the unity of justice and mercy (Ps. 85:10); the concern for the spiritual and material welfare of people; the love of the fatherland; and the desire to transform the surrounding world according to the Word of Christ.

At the same time, the Christian politician or statesman should be well aware that in historical reality and, all the more so, in the context of today’s divided and contentious society, most decisions adopted and political actions taken tend to benefit only a part of society, while restricting or infringing upon the interests and wishes of others. Many such decisions and actions are stained with sin or connivance with sin. Precisely for this reason the Orthodox politician or statesman is required to be very sensitive spiritually and morally.

The Christian who works in the sphere of civic and political building is called to seek the gift of special self-sacrifice and special self-denial. He needs to be utterly attentive to his own spiritual condition, so that his civic or political work may not turn from service into an end in itself that nourishes pride, greed and other vices. It should be remembered that “principalities or powers, all things were created by him, and for him... and by him all things stand” (Col. 1:1647). St. Gregory the Theologian, addressing the rulers, wrote -”It is with Christ that you command, with Christ that you govern, from Him that you have received the sword.” St. John Chrysostom says: “A true king is he who conquers anger and jealousy and voluptuousness and subjects everything to the laws of God and does not allow the passion for pleasure to prevail in his soul. I would like to see such a man in command of the people, and the throne, and the cities and the provinces, and the troops, because he who has subjected the physical passions to reason would easily govern people also according to the divine laws... But he who appears to command people but in fact accommodates himself to wrath and ambition and pleasure ... will not know how to dispose of power.”
V.4. The participation of Orthodox laity in the work of governmental bodies and political processes may be both individual and corporate, within special Christian (Orthodox) political organizations or Christian (Orthodox) units of larger political associations. In both cases, the faithful have the right to choose and express their political convictions, to make decisions and to carry out appropriate work. At the same time, lay people who participate in civic or political activity individually or within various organizations do it independently, without identifying their political work with the stand of the Church as a whole or any of the canonical church institutions or speaking for them. At the same time, the supreme church authority does not give special blessing upon the political activity of the laity.

The 1994 Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved that it is admissible for lay people to join political organizations and “to found such organizations, and if they describe themselves as Christian or Orthodox organizations, they are called to increase their interaction with the church authorities. It is also possible for the clergy, including those representing canonical church structures and the church authorities, to participate in particular activities of political organizations and maintain cooperation with them in tasks beneficial for the Church and society, if this participation is not supportive of political organizations and contributes to building peace and accord among people and in the church community.”

A similar resolution of the 1997 Bishops’ Council reads, specifically: “We believe it is possible for lay people to participate in the work of political organizations and to found such organization if the latter have no clergy among their members and conduct responsible consultations with the church authorities. We resolve that these organizations, as participants in the political process, cannot enjoy the blessing of the church authorities and speak for the Church. The Church’s blessing cannot be given and, if given previously, will be denied to the church-civil organizations involved in election campaigns and political agitation and claiming to express the Church’s opinion, which is expressed before the state and society only by church Councils, His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod. The same should be applied to both church and secular mass media.”

The existence of Christian (Orthodox) political organizations and Christian (Orthodox) units in larger political associations is perceived by the Church as positive as it helps lay people to engage in common political and secular work based on Christian spiritual and moral principles. These organizations, while being free in their activity, are called to consult the church authorities and to coordinate their actions in implementing the Church’s position on public issues.

In relations between the Church as a whole and Christian (Orthodox) political organizations, in which Orthodox lay people participate, and individual Orthodox politicians and statesmen, situations may arise where their statements or actions essentially differ from the Church’s stand on public issues or impede the realization of this stand. In such cases, the Church authorities should ascertain the fact of differing positions and state it publicly, in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding among the faithful and society at large. The statement of such a difference should compel the Orthodox laity participating in political activity to think whether it is appropriate for them to continue their membership in this political organization.

Orthodox Christians should not participate in organizations having the nature of secret societies that presuppose one’s total subjection to the leaders and conscious refusal to disclose their inner essence when consulting Church authorities, and even when making one’s confession. The Church cannot approve of the participation of Orthodox laity and, even more so, clergy in non-Orthodox societies of this kind, since by their very nature they divest a person of his total commitment to the Church of God and her canonical order.
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