November 4 — national unity Day
Our country has often faced difficulties, which were initiated from the outside. In such circumstances, Russia has always demonstrated the unity of the people, strengthen our national identity. And unity in matters of religion is as necessary to the prosperity of the country? Our interview with a member of the Council for cooperation with religious associations under the President of the Russian Federation, first Deputy Chairman of Euro-Asia Division General conference of the Church of Christians-Adventists of the seventh day, pastor Oleg Goncharov.
— Oleg, what, in your opinion, contributes to the unity of our people?
— Russia — a multinational and multi-confessional country. Its territory is home to more than 190 Nations. Each nation has its own culture and history. The expansion of the territory of Russia, which was carried out with the reign of Ivan IV (the terrible), was not due to the destruction of inhabited annexed land, and due to their incorporation (inclusion) in the life of the whole country. The Russian tsars were brought to his court the princes of these peoples, gave them a certain freedom and rights. Also happened with religion. Each denomination in Russia was given certain rights and be included in the common religious life of the country. Many famous Russian statesmen saw Russia’s future in its multi-ethnicity and multi-confessional character. However, in the late nineteenth century in Church-state politics, there has been another vector. The bet was made for only one state Church. What led to the policy of infringement of the rights of believers and the peoples inhabiting the country during this period, it is clear today. In the twentieth century, Russia suffered the tragic events of revolutions, repressions and wars. All this would be for us a good lesson and taught that only in respect for different peoples and faiths of Russia, we can achieve positive changes in society and to create a strong and prosperous country. That is why on the initiative of the leaders of Russian faiths in our country since 2005, is celebrated “national unity Day” — a holiday that should unite the representatives of different Nations and religions in their service of his country. This holiday is some kind of call to the citizens of our country, to the authorities with respect to all worldviews and faiths.
— What is unity? Can it be considered a unity of uniformity, when all think the same and believe?
In my opinion, unity is that, despite the different Outlook of the citizens of our country, everyone is able to respect the faith and views of the other. All people created by God are different, and that’s the beauty of God’s creation. God has given every person the freedom of religious choice. This freedom was paid for dearly. For a person to chose his life of the Lord, He went to the cross. This tells the Holy Scriptures. If the Lord appreciated the freedom of human choice at the cost of His divine life, then how can we deprive the freedom of his neighbor? Indeed, we have a negative attitude to something different, different from us. If someone has a different opinion, belief, and confession, this is alarming us, and we strive to unify, to bring under one denominator, sometimes not disdaining to use force. All this is happening because of our selfish, sinful nature we inherited from Adam and eve. Christ came to give us a different nature, Their divine nature, unselfish and unconditional love not only to those who share our beliefs and way of life, but love even your enemies. Amazingly, Christ at the last moment of His life is praying for those who crucified Him on the cross! Isn’t it an example for each of us, to whatever confession we belong to.
— Appropriate sense of superiority of one religion over another?
— Of course, everyone considers the ultimate truth of the religion in which he believes. If this were not so, then we would not have had certain religious beliefs. However, our beliefs should not become a reason for humiliation of people with different views. Our Teacher Christ gives us this example. When the disciples in his religious “zeal” turn to the Savior with a request to ban the person who is not in their religious group, doing good deeds in the name of Christ, Jesus answered them, “do Not forbid, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50). The Apostle Paul, the greatest Evangelist of the Early times of the Church, with a deep respect for other beliefs. From Scripture we know his speech, which he delivered in the Athenian Areopagus, the leaders of this ancient city. Paul not only did not diminish their faith in pagan gods, but on the contrary, praised the Athenians for their pursuit of piety and the search for religious truth at the same time, turning their eyes to the truth in Jesus Christ (Acts 17:22-31). Only respect and love for others will make our preaching effective.
— It is necessary to consider the government and the citizens to preserve the unity in a multicultural and multinational Russia?
— Need change at the level of mentality of the citizens and the authorities. But it takes time. To change for several years, the mindset of the people is an impossible task. But for this you need to move in other way we have. It is important to create a different public platform for interfaith dialogue, especially at regional level. You need to educate in younger generation respect for a different opinion and a different culture. Today these attempts are made, but, unfortunately, not as we would like. The school must educate children to respect different religious beliefs, not to set some children against others because of their confession. That’s what you should pay special attention.
In the modern world the mass media shape people’s thinking. It is important that through the media in our society has formed a respectful attitude to representatives of different faiths. Unfortunately, it is not so. We see a lot of examples when the media incite religious hatred. An example of this was the tragedy in Nizhny Novgorod.
A mentally ill person has committed a serious crime. The media learned that in the past he attended a Christian Church, seventh day Adventist and, without hesitation, accused the distinguished and traditional for Russia denomination in connection with this crime. Such publications appear in the media and in relation to other Russian confessions. This is unacceptable. On the contrary, you need to place media materials that will emphasize the good and useful that there are in any religion. This will serve as interfaith peace and harmony.
And again. If citizens and officials will strictly comply with Russian legislation confer various denominations equal rights and responsibilities, then you can avoid a lot of religious conflicts, unfortunately, existing precisely because of non-compliance with current legislation.
— It’s no secret that the Church of Christians-Adventists of the seventh day, which you represent, originated in America. But many of our fellow citizens profess that faith. What are the benefits of Adventism for the Russian society?
— The origin of almost all religions and faiths in Russia, foreign. Christianity came from Byzantium, Islam from the East, and Catholicism from Europe, Buddhism from China and Tibet, and modern Protestantism is largely from North America. Perhaps only some forms of Russian paganism was of Russian origin. So to judge a particular faith and religion, only on geography of its origin is strange and pointless. The Bible says that a good tree is known by its fruits. Follow this biblical wisdom. Seventh-day Adventists are one of the trends of North American Protestantism and appeared in Russia in 1886. Like other Protestants, seventh-day Adventists are distinguished by their strict moral beliefs. Adventist doctrine encourages its followers to be good family men, honest workers, active citizens of their country. The Adventist faith teaches the observance of a healthy lifestyle, refusal of harmful habits. Throughout its history, the SDA Church in Russia in fact showed his commitment to these beliefs. These are not empty words. In each of the Adventist Church is actively working the Department of social service and helping the needy. Adventists conduct various programmes to promote healthy lifestyles among the population, to educate youth, instilling moral and spiritual values common to all religions. Adventists teach their followers to respect other beliefs, conduct their activities consistent and not offending people of other faiths. In addition, the Adventists honest workers, which is especially important in conditions of economic crisis. I am convinced that today our country needs citizens that are Christians-Adventists of the seventh day, and believe that together we will be able to build in Russia a society in which respect for all peoples, cultures and faiths.