Pushing the Patriarch into Putin’s Arms

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and  Vladimir Putin attend celebrations marking the 700th anniversary of St Sergius of Radonezh earlier this month

In the Catholic Herald:

Until the dramatic downing of flight MH17, Ukraine had ceased to be regularly at the forefront of the news agenda, displaced by conflicts elsewhere and by more mundane events. The return of international attention to the strife-torn country reminds us that the situation there continues to be as alarmingly tense as ever.

In the midst of so much turmoil and confusion, Ukraine’s competing Orthodox churches and its much smaller Catholic and Protestant communities continue to play a role as both symbols and factors of differing political and cultural outlooks. Their own future, too, will depend to a greater or lesser extent on the outcome of the conflict. The Moscow patriarchate continues to position itself as a close ally of the Kremlin. The Orthodox Church – which venerates the Roman emperor Constantine, who established Christianity as the religion of his empire, as “equal to the Apostles” – has always been nostalgic for the Byzantine symbiosis of Church and polity. Nobody who knows history should be surprised at this latest example of the alliance between throne and altar, whether we judge it holy or the opposite.

Nevertheless, Moscow’s Patriarch Kyrill has tried to put some distance at least between his Church and the more extreme positions of Russian nationalists. We must hope that respect for peace, truth and justice underlie his caution. But we should also remember that he knows that many members of his flock are attached to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their homeland and that by no means all are nostalgic for Kremlin rule. He certainly fears that many might defect to the rival Kiev patriarchate. The latter group, although considered uncanonical and schismatic by most Orthodox churches worldwide, has made significant inroads into Moscow’s flock in recent years.

Any acceleration in this loss would significantly undermine Moscow’s ambition to be recognised as the de facto leader of worldwide Orthodoxy. Voices have recently been heard expressing the hope that the schism would soon be healed and most of Ukraine’s Orthodox reunited under a single jurisdiction. That seems overly optimistic for now, but Kyrill will be convinced that the division must at least not be exacerbated. Hence the dove-like noises he has been making, pleading for a peaceful solution at a time when the more hawkish voices are setting the agenda in Russian society as a whole. His statement on the downed plane neither points the finger nor attempts to deflect blame, confining itself to expressing sorrow and the hope for an impartial investigation.

But however moderate Kyrill tries to appear, not everybody is impressed. The Ukrainian government was alarmed by suggestions that he might turn up in Kiev this month to celebrate the anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus’ (which both Russians and Ukrainians claim as the founding of their church) and made it clear that he would be persona non grata. The recent death of the chief hierarch of the Moscow-based church, Metropolitan Volodymyr, adds to the uncertainty. The coming election of a successor by the Moscow synod will offer an indication of whether Moscow chooses a more moderate figure – someone like Volodymyr’s locum tenens Metropolitan Onufry, often judged more conciliatory – or turns to a more confrontational candidate.

Whatever the talk of reunifying Ukraine’s splintered Orthodox majority, the reality concerning relations between Catholics and Orthodox is not so edifying. In particular, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGGC), which follows the same Byzantine rite and customs as the Orthodox but is in union with Rome, is in the firing line. The Orthodox have long seen Greek Catholics, to whom they refer by the disparaging term of “uniates”, as a papal Trojan Horse, used by the Vatican to undermine Orthodoxy. Rhetoric about the evils of “uniatism” has traditionally been turned up when the Orthodox have felt insecure and threatened. Last month it reached a paroxysm that was all the more distressing in that it came from a churchman usually seen as being of a relatively irenical disposition.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the spokesman of the Moscow patriarchate for external affairs, is a respected theologian relatively favourable to ecumenical dialogue with western Christians. In April he claimed that “uniatism’ was and is a special project of the Catholic Church, aiming to convert the Orthodox to Catholicism”. He accused Greek Catholics, and thus implicitly the Catholic Church as a whole, of “oppressing the Orthodox clergy in all possible ways” and of launching a “crusade against Orthodoxy”.

The response from the Vatican was predictably muted: Roman ecumenists are patient men, loathe to endanger decades of painfully slow progress in reaction to what might be construed as an intemperate but uncharacteristic outburst. The head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, made a mild response, pleading for the Orthodox to see him and his church as brothers and not enemies. Without over-dramatising, it is worth asking why Hilarion, who must have known that his statement would endanger hard-won improvements in ecumenical relations, chose to make it anyway.

We cannot exclude from the equation the effects of passions and fears which violent conflicts have on the judgment even of Christians. But I wonder if there is not a more calculated side to Hilarion’s statement. Nothing unites a body divided so much as a common enemy. Might Hilarion not have hoped that by re-awakening long-held fears of Catholic expansion he might encourage his co-religionists to abandon internecine strife, in order to concentrate their fire on the ancestral foe?

Rest here. Interesting stuff.

 

Patriarch Kirill: Russia Poses No Military Threat

May God give that everyone realizes Russia poses no military threat and no other danger to people.

Orthodox Church News:

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said he urged global community not to perceive Russia as an aggressor.

“May God give that those, who do not understand Russia, understand it today. May God give that everyone realizes Russia poses no military threat and no other danger to people. We will find salvation in unity and love – we address this appeal of St. Sergius to the entire Russian world and beyond, to the entire human kind. And may God give that our homeland remains able to implement this legacy of the great Saint of the Russian land,” Patriarch Kirill said at a concert in Sergiyev Posad dedicated to the 700th birth anniversary of St. Sergius of Radonezh.

Historical Rus “is the most important thing we should keep and give to next generations,” the patriarch said. “And we should be like-minded in all this and guard our unity – spiritual unity and human one. Love is where dissidence ends,” he said.

“With God’s mercy we will overcome all internecine quarrelling and all disruption at the space of historical Rus,” Patriarch Kirill said. The patriarch said he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin, who attended the concert, for reflecting “the consensus, which exists in our society today.” “It is essential that the state leader is able to form common thoughts and ideas uniting people,” Patriarch Kirill said.

The Russian Patriarch offers condolences over Malaysian airliner’s crash in Ukraine here.

 

Russian Orthodox Church Statement on Church of England Decision to Allow Women to Serve as Bishops

The Orthodox Church News:

The Russian Orthodox Church has been alarmed and disappointed to learn about the decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate, since the centuries-old relationships between our two Churches had shown possibilities for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in Anglicanism. As far back as the 19th century, the Anglicans, members of the Eastern Church Association, sought “mutual recognition” of orders between the Orthodox and the Anglican Churches and believed that “both Churches preserved the apostolic continuity and true faith in the Saviour and should accept each other in the full communion of prayers and sacraments.”

The decision to ordain women, which the Church of England took in 1992, damaged the relationships between our Churches, and the introduction of female bishops has eliminated even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in the Anglican hierarchy.

Such practice contradicts the centuries-old church tradition going back to the early Christian community. In the Christian tradition, bishops have always been regarded as direct spiritual successors of the apostles, from whom they received special grace to guide the people of God and special responsibility to protect the purity of faith, to be symbols and guarantors of the unity of the Church. The consecration of women bishops runs counter to the mode of life of the Saviour Himself and the holy apostles, as well as to the practice of the Early Church.

In our opinion, it was not a theological necessity or issues of church practice that determined the decision of the General Synod of the Church of England, but an effort to comply with the secular idea of gender equality in all spheres of life and the increasing role of women in the British society. The secularization of Christianity will alienate many faithful who, living in the modern unstable world, try to find spiritual support in the unshakable gospel’s and apostolic traditions established by Eternal and Immutable God.

The Russian Orthodox Church regrets to state that the decision allowing the elevation of women to episcopal dignity impedes considerably the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, which has developed for many decades, and contributes for further deepening of divisions in the Christian world as a whole.

 

Russian Orthodox Church: Orthodox Patriarch Does Not Represent Us In Meeting Pope

The Religious Information Service of Ukraine is reporting:

The chief foreign spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed some misgivings that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will be meeting Pope Francis during the Pontiff’s visit to the Holy Land.

Metropolitan Hilarion said that because Patriarch Bartholomew had not consulted with other Orthodox leaders before scheduling his meeting with the Pope, he would be acting on his own behalf, not as a representative of the world’s Orthodox faithful. Although the Patriarch of Constantinople is traditionally recognized as the “first among equals” in the Orthodox hierarchy, the Russian Orthodox argues that he exercises that primacy only when other Orthodox patriarchs explicitly authorize him to do so. In the absence of such a mandate, Metropolitan Hilarion said, Patriarch Bartholomew will be representing only his own particular church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

 

Orthodox Churches Will Hold First Ecumenical Council In 1,200 Years

In Istanbul:

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 Patriarchs of the world’s 250  million Orthodox Christians ended a rare summit in Istanbul on  Sunday calling for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine and  denouncing violence driving Christians out of the Middle East.

Twelve heads of autonomous Orthodox churches, the  second-largest family of Christian churches, also agreed to hold  a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will  be the first in over 1,200 years.

The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council,  which the Orthodox have been preparing on and off since the  1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the  office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

As the prelates left a special service at Saint George’s  Cathedral, a woman in the crowd called out in Russian “Pray for  Ukraine!” Two archbishops responded: “You pray, too!”

In their communique, the patriarchs called for “peaceful negotiations and prayerful reconciliation in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine” and denounced what they said were “threats of violent occupation of sacred monasteries and churches” there.

The Russian Orthodox Church, with 165 million members by far  the largest in the Orthodox family, last month issued a  statement along with Moscow’s Foreign Ministry about what they  said were attacks on revered historic monasteries in Kiev and  Pochayiv in western Ukraine.

Russia has used the alleged threat to Russian-speakers in  Ukraine, including the faithful of the Moscow-backed church  there, to argue it has the right to intervene to protect them.

Closely aligned with President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine  policy, the Russian church has a partner Ukrainian Orthodox  Church mostly in the Russian-speaking east of the country that  is loyal to the Moscow patriarchate.

There are two rival Orthodox churches mostly in western  Ukraine, both meant to be Ukrainian national churches. Neither  is part of the global Orthodox communion and the patriarchs’  communique expressed the hope they would one day join it.

On the Middle East, the patriarchs denounced “the lack of  peace and stability, which is prompting Christians to abandon  the land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born.”

Rest here.

 

Russia Church Shooting

Christian Science Monitor:

On Sunday, a 24-year-old man attacked a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a city on the Sakhalin Island in the Pacific. A nun and a parishioner were killed and six others were wounded.

A man employed as a private security guard opened fire Sunday in a cathedral on Russia’s Sakhalin Island in the Pacific, killing a nun and a parishioner and wounding six others, investigators said.

Law enforcement officers detained the 24-year-old man at the scene and were trying to determine why he had attacked the Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the Federal Investigative Committee said in a statement. The man worked for a private security firm in the city and was armed with a rifle. His name was not released.

Concerns about security in Russia are especially high because of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but there was no apparent connection to the games. Sakhalin Island is about 7,500 kilometers (more than 4,500 miles) from Sochi.

The six parishioners who were wounded were hit in the legs and their lives were not in danger, state news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing the regional archbishop.

The gunman entered the cathedral shortly after a service had ended and began shooting at parishioners and religious icons on the wall, priest Viktor Gorbach said in a telephone interview with the LifeNews cable television channel.

He said not too many people were left in the cathedral and some managed to flee, but the nun and a male parishioner tried to stop the attacker and were killed. The priest said the man, who also destroyed a cross, expressed his hatred of the church.

In Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church honored the dead as heroes.

“Those who died today, they in any case died in the temple of God,” Patriarch Kirill said after a service in a Kremlin cathedral, the Interfax news agency reported. “They tried to prevent that person from defiling our sacred place. They died as heroes, as soldiers on the front line.”

Kirill said the attacker may be mentally ill or may have been influenced by those who speak ill of the church.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been criticized by those who oppose its resurgence and symbiosis with the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin.

Russian television showed footage of mourners laying flowers and lighting candles outside the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk cathedral.

 

Syrian Rebels Plan Destruction of Christianity

So says a Russian Orthodox prelate, Metropolitan Hilarion:

In an interview with the AsiaNews service, the top foreign-policy spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said he fears rebels in Syria “have set themselves the goal of the complete and total destruction of Christianity” in the country.

Metropolitan Hilarion said that the conflict in Syria is not really a civil war, but a conflict waged by “foreigners, fighting with foreign money.” He said that the Orthodox Church is worried primarily about the toll of the conflict on civilians.

In the AsiaNews interview the Russian prelate also commented on the status of Vatican-Russian Orthodox relations, the prospects for a meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch, theological dialogue among Orthodox leaders, and the relations between the Moscow patriarchate and the Russian government.

You can read that interview in full here.