Russian President Looks to Church in Fight Against Terrorism

In the fight against terrorism, the state desperately needs authoritative and influential partners, Russia’s president said Wednesday in an address to the top clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Vladmir Putin’s address came as bishops from the ROC met in Moscow’s Kremlin to hold their quadrennial synod.

A bishop whose diocese comprises the southern town of Beslan where more than a thousand people at a local school were held hostage last month by Chechen terrorists, agreed on the need for spiritual guidance in efforts to prevent similar acts.

"What we had to survive in those 52 hours together with the Ossetian people makes one thing clear: not having faith is also a route to terrorism and such acts," Bishop Feofan of Stavropol said.

The horrific standoff, which resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people was one incident in a recent string of attacks that included the downing of two passenger planes leaving Moscow, and the deaths of 10 people after a suicide bomber blew herself up outside a Moscow subway station.

During the synod, Putin called for help from the church in the fight against terrorism and in countering a “moral deficit in society” exploited by extremists.

"We count on your active participation in this common work,” Putin said.

"For centuries, the Orthodox community has been a uniting force for the multinational Russian society,” the Russian president added later.

In response, Patriarch Alexy II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said, "In the face of this terrible danger we must be united like never before."

Last week, Putin met with leaders of the Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, and Catholicism, warning of a surge in hate crimes in response to the recent terrorist attacks and urging leaders to help diffuse tensions.

Although Russia does not recognize a state religion, its preamble recognizes the "special contribution of Orthodoxy to the history of Russia and to the establishment and development of Russia's spirituality and culture."

The ROC currently has special arrangements with government agencies to conduct religious education and to provide spiritual counseling. These include agreements with the Ministries of Education, Defense, Health, Interior, and other bodies, such as Emergency Situations, Tax, Federal Border Service, and Main Department of Cossack Forces under the President.

Many government officials and citizens equate Russian Orthodoxy with nationhood—a belief that appears to have manifested itself in a church-state relationship.