Moscow church official assails state approach to school programs

MOSCOW. Nov 18 (Interfax) - Metropolitan Sergiy of Solnechnogorsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's executive office, has criticized what he called the "atheist" approach of Russian officials to school programs.

Deputy head of the Russian government office Alexei Volin said last week that in Russia, which is a multi-confessional and multiethnic state, the teaching of the fundamental principles of the Orthodox culture is dangerous. "Russia is a secular state. Religions must not be taught at Russian state schools. This reminds me of obscurantism in the Dark Middle Ages," Volin said.

The Russian Orthodox Church has reacted angrily to this statement. "The rejection of Orthodox culture as a subject is rooted in the long- time religious atheism of individual government officials," Metropolitan Sergiy told journalists in Moscow on Monday.

He expressed regret that, as before, "everything in our society, including higher education, is fermented with atheism."

Meanwhile, if the state is separated from the church in this country, atheism must also be separated from the state," he said, noting that he meant the teaching of Orthodox culture, not the Orthodox religion.

"It would be a political mistake to exclude Orthodox culture from our school programs. All educated people must know the principles of Orthodox culture," he said.

He also noted that "in places populated by representatives of other religions, the essentials of Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist and other cultures could be taught." "This would enrich our peoples and help consolidate our society," Metropolitan Sergiy said.