(By Archbishop Hilarion)
The participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in dialogue with Roman Catholic Church has once again received a lot of publicity. Currently the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, is in Cyprus for the current session of the Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue group. In this interview with www.synod.com, the Archbishop gives a good insight into the often misunderstood process of ecumenical dialogue and exactly why the Russian Church remains committed to witnessing Orthodoxy to the Christian West. Ed.
Your Grace, you headed the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate at the last General Assembly of the WCC in Porto Alegre. What aims did the ROC/MP have in this meeting?
The goal in the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in inter-Christian dialog is to witness Orthodoxy before the non-orthodox world. This is stated in the “Basic Principles of the Attitude Toward the Non-Orthodox” adopted at the Council of Bishops of 2000:
” The Orthodox Church is the guardian of the Tradition and the grace-filled gifts of the Early Church . Her primary task, therefore, in her relations with non-Orthodox confessions is to bear continuous and persistent witness which will lead to the truth expressed in this Tradition becoming understandable and acceptable.”
The document cites the Third Pre-Council Pan-Orthodox Conference (1986):
“The Orthodox Church is of the profound conviction and ecclesiastical self-recognition that she is the bearer and witness of the faith and Tradition of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church , firmly believing that she occupies a central place in the task of drawing toward unity of Christians in the contemporary world… It is the mission and duty of the Orthodox Church to confess the fullness of truth held within Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, which impart to the Church her universal character… This responsibility of the Orthodox Church, likewise her ecumenical mission regarding the unity of the Church, were expressed by the Ecumenical Councils. They specifically emphasized the indissoluble bond of the correct faith with communion in the Mysteries. The Orthodox Church always strove to attract various Christian Churches and confessions to jointly seek lost Christian unity, so that all could unite in faith…”
The document of the Council of Bishops stresses that
“The goal of Orthodox witness is placed upon every member of the Church. Orthodox Christians must clearly see that the faith they preserve and confess has a catholic, universal character. The Church is not only called to teach its own children, but to bear witness of the truth to those who have left her.”
One must examine the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the IX Assembly of the World Council of Church in Porto Alegre within the context of these fundamental principles.
As we know, the World Council of Churches was formed in the Post-War years, when there was an effort towards consolidation on a political and inter-Christian level. The initiators of the establishment of the WCC were the Protestant churches of the North (that is, of Europe and North America ). Several Local Orthodox Churches joined the WCC, the Constantinople Patriarchate in particular. The Roman Catholic Church did not become a member of the WCC, but remained as member of the “Faith and Order” Commission, a part of the WCC.
The Russian Orthodox Church at first took a negative view of the work of the WCC and the so-called “ecumenical movement” as a whole. This was stated at the Inter-Orthodox Conference of 1948, when the Russian Church and a group of other Local Orthodox Churches decided not to participate in this movement. But the attitude of the Russian Church towards the WCC began to change during the second half of the 1950’s. This change was described by the Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, Metropolitan Nikolai (Yarushevich), spoken at the graduation ceremonies of the Moscow Theological Academy on May 13, 1958:
“When the possibility presented itself to participate in the ecumenical movement, our Church, together with other Churches which participated in the Moscow Church Conference of 1948, refused to send representatives to the Amsterdam Assembly… This refusal had very serious reasons… The ecumenical movement proved to be extremely self-contradictory. Its broad and varied activities, the search for the promised land of Christian unity, were joined by sharply outlined socio-political plans, which in the period of the Amsterdam Assembly clearly reigned over and above the goal of dogmatic unity… Thanks to the participation in the ecumenical movement of some Orthodox Churches and not others over the last 10 years, significant changes have occurred attesting to its evolution towards ecclesiology. In this regard, the great shifts are seen in the sphere of German Protestant theology, which discovered the mystical depths of Orthodoxy and is overcoming its traditional rationalism… Coming into contact with our church life, many activists of the ecumenical movement completely changed their understanding of Orthodoxy… Approving of the declaration of the Orthodox participants of the Evanston Assembly, we have agreed to meet the leaders of the World Council of Churches solely in the name of our general Orthodox duty—to serve towards the reunification of all Christians within the Church of Christ .”
In 1959 and 1960, talks were held between the DECR MP and the leadership of the WCC in the person of its General Secretary, A. Vissert Hooft. The result of these talks was that in 1961, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided to join the WCC.
Entering the WCC was an important strategic initiative by the Russian Orthodox Church during this period of sharply-escalating pressure on the Church by the state, headed by the virulent atheist Nikita Khrushchev. Metropolitan Nikolai (Yarushevich) and his successor as Chairman of the DECR, Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov), saw in the emergence of the Russian Church into the international arena an opportunity to protect her from internal oppression. Naturally, the trips abroad by the hierarchs were exploited by the government to spread information that “there is no persecution of religion in the USSR .” Still, for the Church itself, the international activity opened further possibilities of defending its position inside the country.
There are more than a few instances we know of when some monastery or church or religious school was threatened with closure, and the leadership of the Russian Church hurried to invite some high-level religious delegation from abroad to visit, after which the order to close was rescinded.
Also, the activities of the WCC abroad were used by Metropolitan Nikodim for infusing younger blood into the episcopacy. At first, he persuaded the state that for the proper presentation of the Church on the international stage, young, talented “cadres” were needed as bishops, and then these “cadres” would be sent abroad for a few years, but then they would return to their homeland and went on to occupy vacant cathedras. By this method, Metropolitan Nikodim was able to preserve the episcopate of the Church in an era when the authorities preferred to close vacant sees or keep very old bishops on them who were unable to resist the pressure of militant atheism. With the emergence of the Church into the international arena , there was a tactical victory for the government, but also a strategic victory for the Church, because its international activity was one of the most important factors in preventing her complete destruction, aimed for but not achieved by Khrushchev’s administration.
The World Council of Churches played no small role in protecting the Russian Church from persecution. This was how: a bishop from Russia would travel to a WCC event, and, at the direction of the state, would make the necessary statements on international matters. But in private conversations, with the General Secretary of the WCC, for example, the same bishop would say: “It would be good if you expressed concern over the rumors we hear about the closing of such-and-such monastery, or religious academy.” Of course, these rumors did not reach the General Secretary by themselves, they were relayed to him by these very same bishops who made the public pronouncements of the absence of persecution against the Church in the USSR . At the end of the trip, returning home, the representative of the Church would write a report to the Council [Soviet] of Religious Affairs, in which he wrote that the WCC heard a rumor that this or that monastery was about to be closed, and he is prepared to make some noise; it would be wise to delay the closing. And the monastery would remain open.
All this is difficult to understand for someone who lived under different circumstances, in the West, for example, under freedom and democracy. For us younger Russian bishops, too, this is difficult to understand, because we did not live in that epoch. But at stake was the survival of the Church during a time when the leader of the state openly declared that in 20 years, the “last priest” would be on exhibit in a museum. For the sake of preserving the Church, her leadership used all means at their disposal.
Of course, the participation of the Russian Church in inter-Christian activities cannot be reduced into simply an attempt at self-preservation from domestic persecution. If it were so, then after the persecutions ended we would have departed from the WCC, declaring: “We are grateful that you helped us, but we do not need you anymore.” In fact, the participation of the Church in inter-Christian dialog and the WCC was always motivated first of all on theological concepts—the ones already quoted from the “Basic Principles.” The participation of an Orthodox Christian in inter-Christian dialog is witness, mission, it is the fulfilment of the goal which, in the words of the “Basic Principles,” is a task of “primary importance for the Orthodox Church on all levels of her existence. Indifference towards this task or its rejection is a sin against the law of God on unity.” As St Basil the Great said, “those who earnestly and honestly labor for the Lord must strive for nothing else but to bring unity again to the Church, for divisions are so many.”
In the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, all the Local Orthodox Churches actively collaborated with the WCC. But in the 1990’s, a crisis occurred in the relationship between the Orthodox Churches and the WCC, caused first of all by the liberalization of doctrinal and ethical teaching. These took sharp turns at breakneck speed among the Protestant Churches of the North and could not but affect the agenda of the WCC, where the influence of these churches dominated. The almost universal introduction of women in the priesthood in the Protestant world significantly deepened the rift between the Orthodox and Protestants. The propaganda of so-called “language of inclusion” in referring to God repelled many traditional Christians. Causing particular indignation among the Orthodox, then and now, are the efforts of some Protestant churches to impose the discussion of sexual minorities on the WCC.
It is well known that among some Protestant churches, the traditional view of homosexuality as a sin—a view reflected in Tradition and in Holy Scripture—has in recent years been subjected to re-evaluation. In the Episcopal Church, USA , an openly-homosexual man was recently consecrated a bishop, and the Church of Sweden introduced the rite of blessing “same-sex marriages.” This led to the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church to cease all official contacts with the two churches. Such processes could not but influence the agenda and the very “ethos” of the World Council of Churches, which in the 1990’s began to be viewed by the Orthodox as alien to their self-conception.
All these processes contributed to the fact that not long before the Assembly of the WCC in Harare , the Georgian and Bulgarian Orthodox Church withdrew from membership. The Jerusalem Patriarchate, without leaving the Council, stopped sending delegates to its events, and did not send representatives to the Assembly in Harare . The Russian Orthodox Church sent a delegation of 3 persons (usually, delegations included some 20-30 persons), headed by a hieromonk. All this attests to the significant “cooling” in the relations between the Orthodox Churches and the Council.
Not long before the Assembly in Harare , an inter-Orthodox conference was held on the matter of the Orthodox Churches further participating in the WCC. The conference was held in Thessaloniki at the initiative of the Russian Orthodox Church, and by invitation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It was decided at the conference that it was necessary to create an equal, bi-lateral commission on dialog between the WCC and the Orthodox Churches . The author of this idea was the Chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill. At the Harare Assembly, such a Special Commission was in fact established.
Within the framework of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC , working between 1999 and 2002, a wide spectrum of questions troubling the Orthodox Church was raised. The Commission adopted a series of decisions which were accepted by the Orthodox with satisfaction. Firstly, the process of voting was replaced by consensus, which for all practical purposes eliminated the possibility of the Orthodox to remain in the minority in the resolution of various theological and moral questions. Secondly, for those churches prepared to participate in the work of the Council but not wishing to be members, a category called “churches in association” with the WCC was created. Thirdly, a Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration was formed, in which Orthodox and non-orthodox met on an equal status (8 Orthodox and 8 non-orthodox). Among the Committee’s tasks is overseeing the agenda of the WCC with the aim of disallowing questions whose discussion would be unacceptable for the Orthodox.
Finally, the Commission developed rules of organizing prayer at inter-Christian meetings. In accordance with these rules, prayer is conducted not according to the syncretic principle (an Orthodox sticheron, a Baptist sermon, a Lutheran hymn and so on), but in accordance with confession. For instance, on evening there is an Orthodox vesper service, the following morning, an Anglican matins, etc. This way, an Orthodox participant may simply not attend one prayer service or another. Eucharistic services within the framework of the WCC are not performed at all in order to exclude the possibility of so-called “inter-communion,” categorically unacceptable for Orthodox Christians.
All these decisions by the Special Commission significantly altered the “ethos” of the World Council of Churches, and the Orthodox Churches recognized that the leadership of the Council took their concerns very seriously. This was an important condition for the high level of representation at the Assembly in Porto Alegre .
Doesn’t membership in the World Council of Churches (WCC) obligate acceptance of its fundamental principles which contradict Orthodox ecclesiology?
Membership in the WCC does not require from any Church the recognition of all the other member churches of the WCC as churches in the literal sense of the word. This is stated in the foundational documents of the Council. If we call one Protestant community or another a “church,” which in our point of view has lost all the main traits of church-ness, then it is only because this community calls itself a church. Among the members of the WCC there are more than a few such groups, which in our view long ago lost the fundamental properties of church-ness or which never possessed them in the first place. We are speaking here of such properties as apostolic succession of the hierarchy, the mysteries, faith in the reality of the Eucharist, etc.
At the same time, the WCC is not simply a council of some charitable agencies or organizations with some church ties. This is a council of Christian communities which consider themselves churches and respect each other’s ecclesiological self-recognition. The respect Protestants hold for Orthodox ecclesiological principles is expressed in particular by the fact that the WCC does not accept church groups which, from the point of view of Orthodox, are schismatic (for example, the “Kiev Patriarchate”). The Orthodox Churches form a unified, almost autonomous group within the WCC, for whom 25% of the places in any leading organ of the Council are reserved. These 25% form a sort of “Orthodox lobby” which counteracts the non-orthodox majority. Included in the group of Orthodox member Churches in the WCC are the pre-Chalcedonian churches, which, though they are not in Eucharistic unity with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, share their theological, ecclesiological and moral positions.
Also, there are certain theological criteria in the WCC which are required for acceptance as Council member. A church group seeking membership in the WCC must confess faith in the Triune God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, confess Christ as God and Savior, share the theological tenets of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Organizations that do not meet these criteria cannot become members of the WCC. Despite all the differing positions, viewpoints, ecclesiological tenets, moral principles between Orthodox and Protestants, faith in the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as God and Savior remain as the platform which unites the member churches of the WCC.
What is the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC/MP) with the “branch theory?”
The attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards the “branch theory” is defined in no uncertain terms in the same document “Basic Principles of Towards the Non-Orthodox,” as follows: “The Orthodox Church cannot accept the thesis that despite historical divisions, the essential, profound unity of Christians allegedly remained inviolate and that the Church must be perceived as coinciding with the entire “Christian world,” that Christian unity exists above denominational barriers and that the fragmentation of the churches is simply a result of the imperfect level of human relations. This concept states that the Church remains one, but that this unity is insufficiently apparent externally. In this model of unity, the task of Christians is not seen as reestablishing lost unity, but expressing unity which exists and cannot be taken away. This model repeats the teaching borne of the Reformation of the “unseen church.” Just as unacceptable is the concept, connected with the above idea, of the so-called “branch theory,” which supports the normalcy and even providential nature of the existence of Christianity as separate “branches.” It would be difficult add to this definition.
I cite the “Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Towards the Non-Orthodox” not only because I headed the working group that prepared this document, or because I know it practically by heart, but first of all because this document reflects the official position of our Church, adopted by the Council of Bishops. This document is the result of many years of contacts between the Russian Orthodox Church and the non-orthodox world—contacts which began in the pre-Revolutionary epoch (let us remember the dialog with the Anglicans and the Old Catholics in the 19 th century).
Why has the General Assembly in Porto Alegre gone practically unnoticed by Orthodox society?
I wouldn’t say hat it went unnoticed. Some Orthodox and church – focused media outlets commented. One internet site posted a photo-gallery entitled “Hot sun, warm sea, the embrace of ecumenical friends.” There was no warm sea at Porto Alegre , of course: the city is two hundred kilometers from the sea. But the sun was indeed hot. There were long hours of meetings over the course of ten days, and tense discussions, and the exhausting flights of the delegates from Europe and Latin America and back. If anyone thinks that this is all entertainment and leisure, he is deeply mistaken. This is work — difficult work , draining and thankless . It is thankless because within the “ecumenical concordance” you are considered either a retrograde or conservative, and they quarrel with you and criticize you, while “at home,” you are accused of betraying Orthodoxy for the mere fact of participating in such an event.
The photo – gallery on that site was aimed at demonstrating a deliberately anti-Orthodox and frivolous spirit of the event. For instance, the camera photographed a normal discussion: people sitting on a chair and talking. The caption, however, reads: “Orthodox delegates during an ecumenical prayer.” Or a photograph depicting Brazilian dancing (during breaks in the meetings, in fact, local dance groups did perform). The caption reads: “Fire worship becomes a mandatory rite of ecumenism.”
It goes without saying that when the Russian Orthodox Church’s participation in inter-Christian dialog is portrayed by the press in this manner, there is a concrete aim in mind: to spur mistrust for the hierarchy, to coax schismatic feelings. Such propaganda, as a rule, comes from the various schismatic structures: for example, the Old Calendar Greeks, or the “alternative Orthodox structures” at home. In the past, such propaganda caused no small trouble in the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and I am truly happy that at the present time we have the opportunity to discuss this problem face to face, in open and good-willed dialog.
A small delegation of the ROC/MP was at the Harare Assembly. In Porto Alegre , a larger delegation attended. Does this mean that the ROC/MP intends to widen its ecumenical activities?
As I said, the delegation of the Russian Church at Harare consisted of 3 persons, and was headed by a hieromonk. The Porto Alegre Assembly included 21 delegates and was headed by a bishop (of course, the one who was the hieromonk in Harare ). By this the Russian Orthodox Church wished to stress first of all that it appreciated the efforts of the WCC in the period between the two Assemblies to overcome the crisis between the Orthodox Churches and the Council. It was deemed important that the WCC Assembly approve the work of the Special Commission, and our active participation was necessary to achieve this goal.
I must say that the other Orthodox Churches, including those who did not attend Harare , or had scant representation, sent full delegations to Porto Alegre . The delegation of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in Porto Alegre was headed by an archbishop and actively participated in the work of the Assembly. The Delegation of the Serbian Orthodox Church was also headed by a bishop. The Bulgarian Church sent two metropolitans as observers. There were no observers from the Georgian Church , but their absence, I was made to understand, was due to “technical” reasons.
The number of delegates of the Moscow Patriarchate was also tied to the number of other Orthodox delegates. Also, if one counts the number of believers in each Local Orthodox Curch, the number of our delegates was proportionally lower than it could have been. The Russian Orthodox Church, which unites, according to the official statistics of the WCC, 164 million believers, was represented by 21 delegates. The Constantinople Patriarchate, which is comprised of some 5 million members (that is, 30 times less), was represented by 16 delegates. The Greeks now dominate the “Orthodox lobby” in the WCC, which is closely bound to the fact that as we distanced ourselves from the Council in the 1990’s, we, the representatives of the Slavic Churches (in particular the Russians and the Serbs), in some respect lost the initiative which was left almost exclusively in the hands of the Greeks.
In particular , all the Orthodox in the leadership of the WCC are now ethnic Greeks : the Deputy Secretary General , Georges Lemopoulos (Constantinople Patriarchate), the President of the WCC, Archbishop Anastasios (Iannulatos) of Albania, Vice Moderator of the Central Committee, Metropolitan Gennadios (Lemouris) of Sassima (Constantinople Patriarchate), who is also Moderator of the “Faith and Order” Commission. This domination of Greeks in the WCC bodies is due to the fact that they see this organization as a platform for widening their sphere of influence, including within the Orthodox world. We know that the Constantinople Patriarchate does not only claim primacy among the Orthodox Churches, but the role of the “Ecumenical” Church, which can represent the other Orthodox Churches before the whole non-orthodox world, and most importantly, before the political establishment. Neither the numbers nor the real significance of this Patriarchate in any way correspond to this role, but the historical primacy and title “Ecumenical” in some way justify such claims (at least, in their own eyes). And so, the WCC is being used as a platform for widening the influence of the Constantinople Patriarchate (with whom other Greek Churches are allied for tactical purposes), to the detriment first of all of the Russian Church, which incomparably exceeds the Constantinople Patriarchate in numbers and in real importance.
Why does the ROC/MP continue to participate in the WCC?
The Moscow Patriarchate continues to participate in the WCC for a whole series of reasons. Some of them I mentioned in my previous explanation. In deciding the question of whether to remain in the WCC or withdraw, the Moscow Patriarchate is guided by the following tenets of the “Basic Principles of the Attitude Towards the Non-Orthodox,” namely: “In the matter of membership in various Christian organizations, the following criteria are to be met: the Russian Orthodox Church cannot participate in international (regional/national) Christian organizations in which a) the by-laws, rules or traditions require a rejection of the teaching or traditions of the Orthodox Church; b) the Orthodox Church does not have the opportunity to bring testament that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; c) the method of decision-making does not take into account the ecclesiological self-recognition of the Orthodox Church; d) the rules and procedures assume the force of “majority opinion.” The level and forms of participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in international Christian organizations must consider the internal dynamics, the agenda, priorities and character of these organizations as a whole. The scope and measure of the participatin of the Russian Orthodox Church in international Christian organizations is determined by the Hierarchy based on notions of benefit to the Church.”
At the present time, the WCC does not fall under any of the four categories listed as criteria which make the participation of our Church in an international Christian organization impossible. We recognize the fact that in the period between the Harare and Porto Alegre Assemblies, the WCC did everything possible to address the wishes and demands of the Orthodox Churches with full responsibility. In this situation, withdrawal from the WCC would have been unfounded.
This does not mean that the Russian Orthodox Church will always remain members of the WCC. This organization is evolving: today it suits us more, tomorrow it may suit us less. In that case, membership will once again be an acute problem, as it was in the mid-1990’s.
I would like to share one observation I made over my ten years of participation in the WCC and other inter-Christian dialogs. Today, the Christian world is more clearly divided into two groups. On one hand is the group of Churches which insist on the need to follow Church Tradition: this group includes, mainly, the Orthodox Churches , the pre-Chalcedonian Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. On the other end of the spectrum are those Protestant communities in which following Tradition was never the norm, in which there is a rapid liberalization of doctrine, of moral principles and church practice. The latter group includes in particular, the majority of Protestant communities of the North. The chasm between the “churches of Tradition” and the churches of a “liberal bent” is now so significant, and it is widening so quickly, that it is difficult for me to foresee how this “inter-Christian collegiality” can be preserved in the near future.
The fact that our church already broke dialog with the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Church of Sweden attests to the fact that the inter-Christian community, if you will, is “bursting at the seams.” It is difficult to doubt that other Northern Protestant Churches will follow the lead of the American Episcopals and Swedish Lutherans, and that soon the bonds will tear on a regular basis. In this case, one fine day, “the union of Protestants and Orthodox,” as the WCC is today, will simply not bear the weight of accumulated differences, and the “ecumenical ship” will sink.
There are now two obvious essentially-differing versions of Christianity—the traditional and the liberal. The abyss that now exists divides not so much the Orthodox and Catholics, or the Catholics and Protestants, as the “traditionalists” and “liberals” (with all the conventions of such labels). Of course, there are defenders of traditional values in the Protestant camp (especially in the Southern churches, that is, Africa, Asia, Latin America ). But a liberal attitude prevails among the Protestants.
In this situation, I suppose that a consolidation is needed in the efforts of those churches which consider themselves “Churches of Tradition,” that is, the Orthodox, Catholics and pre-Chalcedonians. I am not talking about the serious dogmatic and ecclesiological differences which exist between these Churches and which can be considered within the framework of bilateral dialog. I am talking about the need to reach an agreement between these Churches on some strategic alliance, pact, union for defending traditional Christianity as such—defense from all modern challenges, whether militant liberalism, militant atheism or militant Islam. I would like to underline that a strategic alliance is my own idea, not the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate.
We do not need union with the Catholics, we do not need “intercommunion,” we do not need compromise for a doubtful “rapprochement.” What we do need , in my opinion , is a strategic alliance , for the challenge is made to traditional Christianity as such. This is especially noticeable in Europe , where de-Christianization and liberalization are occurring as persistently as the gradual and unswerving Islamization. The liberal, weakened “Christianity” of the Protestant communities cannot resist the onslaught of Islam; only staunch, traditional Christianity can stand against it, ready to defend its moral positions. In this battle, the Orthodox and Catholics could, even in the face of all the differences accumulated over the centuries, form a united front.
The strategic alliance I propose must first of all defend traditional moral values such as the family, childbirth, spousal fidelity. These values are subjected to systematic mockery and derision in Europe by liberals and democrats of all types. Instead of spousal fidelity, “free love” is promoted, same-sex partnerships are equated with the union of marriage, childbirth is opposed by “planned families.” Unfortunately, we have serious differences in these matters with most Protestants, not to speak of fundamental theological and ecclesiological character.
I will use as an example a conversation with a Lutheran bishop, held within the framework of a theological dialog with one of the Northern Lutheran churches. We tried to prepare a joint document in the defense of traditional values. We began to talk about abortion. I asked: “Can we put in the joint document that abortion is a sin?” The Lutheran bishop responded: “Well, of course, we don’t promote abortion, we prefer contraception.” Question: “But abortion is in the opinion of your church, a sin, or is it not?” Reply: “Well, you see, there are various circumstances, for example, the life of a mother or child could be in danger.” “Well, if there is no threat to either the mother or the child, then is abortion a sin, or not?” And the Lutheran bishop could not concede that abortion is a sin.
What is there to talk about then? Abortion is not a sin, same-sex marriage is fine, contraception—wonderful. There it is, liberal Christianity in all its glory. Besides Orthodox Christians, only the Catholics preserve the traditional view of family values in Europe , and in regard, as in many others, they are our strategic partners.
Do representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate participate in joint prayers during their meetings with the non-orthodox?
The ordained Orthodox delegates of the Moscow Patriarchate at the Assembly in Porto Alegre did not participate in prayers performed by the non-orthodox. Laymen in the delegation attended prayers at their discretion, but in fact refrained from participating in them.
As far as “prayer with heretics” is concerned, there are ancient canons which no one ever repealed. But in interpreting these laws, I feel we should attentively study the context in which they were appeared. Who were these “heretics” referred to in these rules? Arians who rejected the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the “Pneumatomachs” who rejected the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, the “Eutichians,” who rejected the human nature of Christ, etc. Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants reject the Holy Trinity, do not reject the Divinity of Christ or His human nature. That is why we cannot equate them with the heretics referred to in the canons of the Ancient Church .
Even in that era, when the canons were written, they were not observed with rigor. It is known , for example , that Basil the Great , as archbishop of Caesaria in Cappodocia, had under him fifty chorepiscopi, most of whom were Arians. Almost none of the clergymen under him confessed the Divinity of the Holy Spirit (and he himself, in order not to disturb his flock, avoided openly speaking of the Divinity of the Holy Spirit). Basil knew the opinions of his clergymen, but continued to serve with them. And he did not demand of the former Arians who rejoined the Church that they confess the Divinity of the Holy Spirit: “It is enough for them to confess the Nicene faith, and the rest they will come to understand through a long period of communion with us.” So today, following the Nicene (more specifically, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan) Creed can be accepted as the criterion for joint prayer with representatives of one Christian community or another.
Also , when canon law speaks of the inadmissibility of prayer with heretics , it refers , in my opinion, to prayer of a liturgical character, not to “common” prayer. When you invite a non-orthodox Christian to your home, could you not together with him, read the Lord’s Prayer before the meal? Or at inter-Christian conferences—could we not, before a meeting begins, read “O Heavenly King?” Or, as an Orthodox Christian, when entering a non-orthodox temple, even during a service, could you not raise a prayer to God? One can pray in the forest, one can pray in a bus (filled, maybe, with atheists or those of other religions), but one cannot pray in a Christian church, even if it is not Orthodox? Honestly, I do not see the logic in that.
In your opinion, what forms of ecumenism are acceptable, and which are utterly unacceptable in church life?
Intercommunion is unacceptable, the performance of “ecumenical services” together with churches with which we do not have Eucharistic communion is unacceptable, the “branch theory” is unacceptable, unacceptable are any compromises in theological, ecclesiological or moral matters. Unacceptable is theological syncretism, when the foundations of the teaching of the Christian doctrine are diluted, when the fundamental postulates of the Orthodox faith are questioned.
Allowable, and necessary, are those forms of inter-Christian dialog which give the Orthodox Church the possibility of freely witnessing the truth in the face of the non-orthodox world. One shouldn ‘ t forget what the ” Basic Principles ” states : ” Witness cannot be a monologue, since it assumes the existence of listeners and therefore of communication. Dialog implies two sides, a mutual openness to communication, a willingness to understand, not only an “open mouth,” but also a “heart enlarged” (II Cor. 6:11).
What would you like to wish our readers?
An ” open mouth ” and a ” heart enlarged .” Only with the willingness to listen and understand is there any point in having dialog. I earnestly hope that the dialog between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is led in the spirit of openness and mutual trust. I pray that the believers of our Churches unite at one Chalice. The division that exists between us arose for political reasons, and I am profoundly convinced that these reasons have died out. There are no more reasons for division: all the excuses we hear now are, in my opinion, artificial and invented. Let us all work together so that in the words of St Basil the Great , “to bring once more into the unity of the Church… those who have divided amongst themselves.”