Church

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.

 

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Church

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.

 

Church

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.

 

Church

Russian Orthodox Tell Archbishop of Canterbury: Ordain Women Bishops and Forget About Unity

Damian Thompson blogs:

There’s a quaint Anglican concept of the universal Church known as the “branch theory”. This claims that there are three main branches to apostolic Christianity: Roman, Orthodox and Anglican. It’s much favoured by Church of England clerics who aren’t very keen on “Romans”, as they call Catholics, and convey their anti-Papist sentiment in pro-Orthodox code, forever banging on about the riches of Byzantine spirituality, the mystical power of icons, etc. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, is an example of this breed.

What these pro-Orthodox Anglicans don’t stress is that ordaining women priests was just as great an obstacle to unity with Constantinople and Moscow and it was to unity with Rome. And women bishops? Metropolitan Hilarion, head of ecumenical relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, delivered a pretty blunt message to the new Archbishop of Canterbury last weekend (H/T Gillibrand):

The introduction of the institution of female bishops will lead to the elimination of even a theoretical possibility of the Moscow patriarchate recognising the church hierarchy of the Anglican church, the communications service of the Department of External Church Relations reported on Saturday.

Even a theoretical possibility, note. This is exactly the same message coming from Rome (please don’t kid yourself that a change of Pope will make any difference). Of course, Hilarion’s warning won’t stop the C of E eventually ordaining women bishops, but let’s be clear about the consequences: the Orthodox Churches, following the lead of Moscow, will finally conclude that the Church of England is a protestant denomination with High liturgical trappings but outside the apostolic succession. Cue creaking of timber as the branch theory falls apart.

 

Church

Anglican-Orthodox Relations Near Death

Moscow warns:

Women bishops, gay marriage, and other innovations of doctrine and discipline will end meaningful Anglican-Orthodox relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) has warned.

At a 26 Nov 2012 meeting in Moscow, Ambassador Tim Barrow and second secretary James Ford met with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the official press statement “Metropolitan Hilarion greeted the Ambassador and shared his reminiscences of his student years in Oxford and his impressions of the recent visit to London where he attended celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Sourozh diocese.”

They also discussed the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the role the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic Churches had played in reconciling the “peoples of Russia and Poland” and the state of “Orthodox-Anglican relations at present” – which the Moscow Patriarchate said were at a nadir.

On 13 Nov, Hilarion wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate, Bishop Justin Welby, offering his greetings upon the Bishop of Durham’s appointment as 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.  However, Hilarion said meaningful Orthodox-Anglican ecumenical dialogue had all but died, and it was the Anglicans who have killed it.

In a carefully worded letter, Hilarion stated Moscow expected Bishop Welby to discipline the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Welby had been “entrusted with the spiritual guidance of the entire Anglican Communion, a unique union of like-minded people, which, however diverse the forms of its existence in the world may be, needs one ‘steward of God’ the guardian of the faith and witness to the Truth.”

“Regrettably, the late 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium have brought tangible difficulties in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion,” Hilarion said.

“The introduction female priesthood and now episcopate, the blessing of same-sex ‘unions’ and ‘marriages’, the ordination of homosexuals as pastors and bishops – all these innovations are seen by the Orthodox as deviations from the tradition of the Early Church, which increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole,” he wrote.