Editor's note: This article was co-authored by Janice Shaw Crouse and George Tryfiates.
The “great man” theory of history — that strong, unique, and highly influential individuals shape history (for good or ill) through their commanding personal characteristics that imbue them with power and influence over a specific period of time or during certain circumstances — may not be as widely accepted today among professional historians as in the past, but for many of us there is no denying what our own experience shows us: An individual’s influence can have dramatic impact in specific situations or historic eras.
One contemporary leader who has that potential is Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Moscow, who serves the Patriarch of Moscow as chairman of External Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church. His education and training has prepared him for profound impact on the church and culture; Metropolitan Hilarion is the author of more than 300 publications, including numerous books in Russian, English, French, Italian, German, and Finnish. In addition to a doctoral degree in philosophy from Oxford, he also holds a doctorate in theology from St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris.
His experience, too, has prepared him for a significant role, not only in his own church but throughout Europe and the United States as well. It was a moment of high drama three years ago this month when then-Bishop Hilarion burst into the consciousness of many American Christians. Thanks mainly to a report from the Institute on Religion and Democracy (the IRD), we know about the bold statement he made at a meeting of the liberal World Council of Churches (WCC) in which he challenged the WCC on the most important moral issues of our day, particularly abortion and modern attempts to redefine marriage. According to the IRD, he asked: “When are we going to stop making Christianity politically correct and all-inclusive?” ... “Why do we insist on accommodating every possible alternative to the centuries-old Christian tradition? Where is the limit, or is there no limit at all?” And this: “Many Christians worldwide look to Christian leaders in the hope that they will defend Christianity against the challenges that it faces. … Our holy mission is to preach what Christ preached, to teach what the apostles taught, and to propagate what the holy Fathers propagated.”
The IRD’s observer summarized it perfectly: One could almost imagine a “Preach it, brother!” ringing out from the evangelical amen corner.