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.
To say that it was “bold” for Hilarion to take such a stand in such a place somehow doesn’t do it justice. It had the “holy boldness” people remember of St. Nicholas. No, not the modern secular derivation, “Santa Claus,” but the real, live St. Nicholas, better remembered for extravagant generosity and such strong Gospel-faithfulness that one tradition says he boxed the ears of the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea.
Just recently, Metropolitan Hilarion came to D.C. to meet with evangelicals who are concerned about family values and support the sanctity of life. Along with fifteen other evangelical leaders, CWA’s Dr. Janice Crouse joined the Metropolitan at a luncheon at the Russian-American Institute. Others attending the luncheon included: Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families, Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute, and Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The Metropolitan heard from each of those attending and addressed both theological and social issues. While he made it clear that he wanted to build bridges with representatives of different and varied theological positions, he was firm in stating that productive dialogue with religious groups is impossible with those who hold to non-Biblical beliefs. As a case in point, he noted that the Orthodox Church could no longer dialogue with the Episcopal Church because of its new practice of ordaining practicing homosexual clergy.
He discussed the common challenges facing the different faiths, especially the destruction of the family by secular society and negative influences of the media on morality. He was especially concerned about the values crisis — the decline in marriage and the increase in divorce and cohabitation — and the undermining of the moral principles that people have held for centuries. He lamented the fact that political correctness is replacing personal convictions and Biblical orthodoxy.
Clearly, Metropolitan Hilarion’s consistent animating principle is fidelity to Christ and the truth of the Christian gospel. Therein lie the unfailing wellsprings of charity, mercy, and saving grace. CWA looks forward to working closely with this influential Christian leader.