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    MOSCOW, MARCH 31, 2004, (RIA NOVOSTI). - Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All Russia has suggested that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Education Ministry should join hands in educating the younger generation.

    On Wednesday, Patriarch Alexis II had an official meeting in his Moscow quarters with Andrei Fursenko, the newly-appointed Minister of Education and Science. The prelate expressed concern over the growing proportions of immoral behavior, cruelty, drug abuse, and alcoholism in today's Russia and stressed the importance of instilling moral values in young people from their formative years on. In the millennium-long history of its existence in Russia, the Orthodox Church has accumulated a wealth of experience in teaching ethics and morality and would now like to share that experience with the State, he said.

    Alexis II expressed hope that his meeting with Mr. Fursenko would further cooperation between the Church and the Education Ministry. The two institutions signed a cooperation agreement back in 1999.

    As the Russian Patriarch pointed out, keeping society in moral healthy is a mission shared by the Church and the secular education authorities. It is the nation's future that is at stake here, he emphasized.

    Alexis II said he was pleased with the fact that courses in Orthodox Christian culture had now been put on the school curriculum in some of the Russian regions. He classified the subject as part of cultural rather than religious studies.

    This move has, however, aroused much criticism from opponents of compulsory religious education, who object to such courses being taught at secular schools.

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