Reflecting from Russia on World Interfaith Harmony Week
The Parliament of the World’s Religions recently welcomed Ermolina Galina of Siberia to the Ambassadors program. The following reflection shares the story of her interreligious community in Novosibirsk, Russia, observing the United Nations Interfaith Harmony Week.
The world we live in is overloaded with hatred these days, and religious conflicts bring us to disasters. What we need today is to change the paradigm of thinking from confrontations to understanding that we belong to one world, to one planet, to One God, whoever God is for each one of us.
My friends and I- being very much concerned about the situation- made attempts to find a possibility of cooperation between representatives of some religious institutions in our city, Novosibirsk, Western Siberia, (Russia).
In the beginning, I would not say we were very successful. Like anywhere, some religious representatives here are not yet able to speak cooperatively about different religions.
So when news came that the United Nations proclaimed a Week of Inter-religious Harmony from February 3 up to February 9, 2014, we decided to participate in a cultural excursion program organized by one of the public organizations working for peace in our big city since we had done events together in the past.
The purpose of this project was to get acquainted with representatives of the religions, to learn more about their unique qualities, so that it would become possible to start mutual cooperation of understanding and sharing on the basis of the Golden Rule.
Every day of the week, a group of people interested in the subject planned to visit this or that religious center, or church, or cathedral, following the list:
- Bate Menahem Synagogue
- Catholic Cathedral
- Church of Jesus Christ (Mormons),
- Christian Church and Center of the Vedic Culture (Krishnaits)
On one of the days, a concert for veterans was performed by the student-volunteers of the Federation for Peace.
I managed to visit three events of the Week: Bate Menahem Synagogue, Church of Jesus Christ (Mormon) and Center of the Vedic Culture (Krishnas).
Personally, I have already been aware of diversity in interfaith relations because I have been many times during the last ten years in the Interfaith Community of the great Saint Baba Virsa Singh in Delhi and Punjab, where I have been significantly trained and acquired experience on the subject. Also, I have tried to stay active over the last three years as a member of the United Religions Initiative.
At the end of the week reflecting on the events of Harmony Week I have come to the conclusion that the event was not only interesting for the participants, but we learned a lot and gained new experiences in relations between the people of different religions. We hope that managed to make new friendships, for almost everywhere we were welcomed to come again.
“Unity in diversity” is one of most important slogans in the world, and we had an opportunity to see it in practice. Unity and oneness was manifesting itself in the warm hospitality, peaceful atmosphere of the meetings everywhere.
However, when our group approached the Russian Orthodox Church, we were given a chilly reception with the comment that special written permission was needed. Unfortunately, many of us have faced difficult policies and responses, and this may be one of the reasons for us to join the Interfaith movement.
It was such a disappointment for all, and the situation was saved somehow by one participant who suggested to go the very special Exhibition “Holy Religious Places” of Siberia, situated quite nearby. The exposition was created by Dmitriy Dobryi who started this project a few years ago after the vision of Saint Princess Olga who told him to collect paintings, photos and other artifacts of Churches and other religious institutions of Novosibirsk region in one place for the people to see them. He himself made an incredibly beautiful embroidery portrait of St. Olga.
People like Dmitriy are those fanatics who are devoted to the values of religion, which means “connecting with the Highest.” The fact that this exhibition exists and works is a miracle itself, for there is no financial support from officials, either church or civil.
Coming back to the issue of diversity I would say that have come to the comprehending the method which every religious institution applies to attract people to their congregation.
Belonging to Synagogue, first of all, one feels protected in the midst of the surrounding world, one feels being a member of one powerful community, where one can get help if needed. It attracts even the people belonging to other religions due to the nationality or native traditional religion.
We didn’t feel any attempt to woo us into converting to this religion. Even if one can have different points of view on some fundamental things, but one can admit and accept those values which are strong within Jewish Community.
The visit to the Mormon Center was a pleasant one as well. Most of the missionaries are young smiling people from the USA speaking good Russian. From the speech of the center leader we received a lot of information about the origin of Mormon movement, its history and the development of the movement today.
We were given some materials to read at home as well. Even though the Mormon Teaching itself is difficult for me to follow, our event was devoted not to discussions or disagreements, but to finding the things which we all have in common, which can bring us to cooperation.
The Golden Rule says: “By thy God”, not by mine. It is important to Mormons to proclaim love to Jesus and God.
The last event, visiting Vedic Center was quite different from what we have seen before. Most of the people present there were young, and some come with children. I have been many times in India, and at some moments felt as if I was again there. The highlight of that evening was a presence of Indian Swami Ji, who had been touring through Russia for more than a month. He addressed the audience with a nice and wise talk, speaking about love and harmony between people, despite difference in religions.
Of course, he said much about Krishna and Krishna movement all over the world. That Swami Ji is a good example for spiritual leaders; he managed to connect vedic knowledge with every day life challenges in a good, not scholastic way.
I asked him a question what way would he suggest to stop violence in the world and the answer he had given made me happy, because it completely coincided with my thinking:
we should begin with changing the way of our thinking, with cleansing our mind. That’s what Baba Virsa Singh used to say again and again.
Bombs and bullets will not change the world,at any rate –to a better world.
It is known that “joy is a special wisdom,” and appeared that the Vedic group of people sincerely follow this rule through ritual dancing and singing. I don’t want to say that this is an example for all to follow, but they enjoyed that evening.
After talks and dancing, everyone was invited to have traditional vedic food, of course vegetarian. One of the guests belongs to the Orthodox church and came out of curiosity.
In a way the events and experiences of our project was a reflection of the situation between religions today.
In two days we came together to share experiences, reflection and for planning our future cooperation with the religious institutions of the city, taking into consideration the experiences we had during the Harmony week.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia
Above right: World Interfaith Harmony Week inspires community gathering and interreligious excursions for Siberian residents. Shared by Parliament Ambassador Galina Ermolina.
Above left: Chowing down on delicious Indian-style food in the vedic house of worship during World Interfaith Harmony week in Siberia!