venerdì 3 dicembre 2021

Orthodox tensions in W. Europe, Pope in Cyprus & other news

(Peter Anderson)
There are three parts of the Moscow Patriarchate operating parishes in Western Europe:  (1) the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), which joined the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007; (2) the Archdiocese of the Orthodox Churches of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe, which joined the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019; and (3) the Patriarchal Exarchate in Western Europe, which was formed in 2008.  From the canonical viewpoint, three separate church organizations covering the same area is not ideal.  However, both the ROCOR and the Archdiocese have great desires to keep their separate churches intact.  From the time that the Archdiocese joined the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019 until recently, there have been few publicly visible signs of tensions between the three parts.  However, tensions became very apparent last month.

During the period November 23-26, 2021, ROCOR held an academic conference in Belgrade dedicated to the 100th anniversary of its founding.  The founding had occurred in 1921 at the First All-Diaspora Council of the ROCOR in Sremski Karlovtsy (Serbia).  At the closing of the second day of the conference, ROCOR Metropolitan Mark (Arndt) of Berlin and German, one of the most important and influential bishops of ROCOR, made an address in which he attacked the Archdiocese in very harsh words.   He stated that a few weeks earlier, he had prohibited his priests from concelebrating with priests of the Archdiocese.  (link); (link) (video of Metropolitan Mark’s address plus a Facebook link).  He also said that the Archdiocese is “completely frivolous, violating the canons at every step.”  The Credo website furthermore reports that in September, ROCOR Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe had told his priests to refrain from communicating with the Archdiocese.  With respect to the Patriarchal Exarchate, Metropolitan Mark stated that there is a “striking difference” between its parishes in Germany and the parishes of the ROCOR.  He predicted that the merger of the German parishes into one diocese may only take place in 50 or 100 years.

On December 2, Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR, told RIA Novosti that he hopes that the difficulties of communication between the ROCOR and the Archdiocese will be solved. (link) On the same day, Metropolitan Anthony of Korsun and Western Europe, head of the Patriarchal Exarchate, stated that the remarks of Metropolitan Mark should not be construed as a break between the ROCOR and the Archdiocese.  (link)   In my opinion, these tensions are not surprising as the ROCOR is very conservative while the Archdiocese is at the other end of the spectrum.  The Patriarchal Exarchate is probably somewhere in between.

Pope Francis arrived in Cyprus on December 2 and will remain there until the morning of December 4 when he departs for Greece.  This morning, December 3, Pope Francis arrived at the building of the Holy Archdiocese of Cyprus in Nicosia at 8:30 a.m.  There he was greeted by Archbishop Chrysostomos, the primate of the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, and met various members of the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus in a large reception room.   This meeting lasted approximately ten minutes and was followed by a private 20-minute meeting between the Pope and the Archbishop in the latter’s offices. Photos can be seen at (link) 

At 9:00 a.m. the public and more formal part of the visit began in the Orthodox Cathedral.  A video of the entire public part of the visit can be seen at (link).  The members of the Holy Synod who were present were seated in a row facing the chairs of the Archbishop and the Pope.  In addition to the Archbishop, I saw 10 members of the Holy Synod in the video.  The total Holy Synod consists of 16 members plus the Archbishop. (link)  An article posted today in Cyprus states that three of the members of the Holy Synod were absent:  Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, and Bishop Nikolaos of Amathus. (link).  You may recall that when Pope Benedict visited Cyprus in 2010, five of the more conservative bishops refused to meet a Catholic pope. (link) Two of those bishops in 2010 were Metropolitan Athanasios and Bishop Nikolaos.

The full text of the address by Archbishop Chyrosotomos can be read at (link).  Most of the Archbishop’s address is an attack on Turkey.  The Archbishop also stated:  “In this holy and just struggle of ours, Your Holiness, which our suffering people carry out under the guidance of their political and ecclesiastical leadership, we want to have Your own active support.”   The full text of the official English translation of the Pope’s address can be read at (link).   The Pope’s address related largely to the role of Saint Barnabas.

The 75th birthday of Patriarch Kirill was November 20.  Because of the pandemic, the festive celebration of his birthday has been postponed to May 2022 as has the Bishops’ Council of the Moscow Patriarchate. (link) (interview of Vladimir Legoyda)   Because of the postponement, there may have been some uncertainty as to when to send letters of congratulations.  It appears that four primates sent letters of congratulations on November 20:  Patriarch Porfirije (Serbia); Patriarch Neofit (Bulgaria); Metropolitan Sawa (Poland); and Metropolitan Rastislav (Czech Lands and Slovakia).  Since that time, the website of the DECR has posted over the course of a week or so letters of congratulations from Patriarch John (Antioch), Patriarch Theophilos (Jerusalem), Daniel (Romania), Ilia (Georgia), and Pope Francis.  President Putin presented Patriarch Kirill with the highest state award of the Russian Federation, the Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. (link) A jubilee edition of the book, Patriarch Kirill – A Biography, written by Metropolitan Hilarion, has also been released.  This edition is an enlargement of the book published in 2019. (link)

On November 20 a long interview of Patriarch Kirill was posted. (link) Not surprisingly, he addressed the Ukrainian situation.  With respect to letters from Orthodox American families seeking to immigrate to Russia, the Patriarch agreed with these letters that Russia is “the leader of the free world.”  He stated:

We are free from the most powerful external influences, we are developing along our own path, and I hope to God this path is successful.  Russia can serve as an example for others.  Although we have many problems, these problems can be solved.  We currently don’t have any pressing issues around which societal interests would clash and deep, irreconcilable contradictions unfolded.  I think this is the grace of God.  And the existing difference of opinion is a normal difference of opinion that does not destroy the foundations of human life, the statehood, the spiritual life - it creates the fertile ground for a creative clash of opinions which may result in new ideas and new projects, aimed at the further development of our Fatherland.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, who visited the Russian Federation earlier this month, has now completed a visit to Serbia.  On November 22, he had separate meetings with the Serbian president, prime minister, and foreign minister.  President Vučić stated that relations between Serbia and the Holy See are based on true mutual respect and trust, and he expressed his gratitude that the Holy See has not recognized the independence of Kosovo. (link)  On November 21, Archbishop Gallagher ordained Fabijan Svalina as coadjutor bishop of Srem (Vojvodina Province).   The entire beautiful Mass can be watched at (link).  Two Serbian Orthodox bishops and a number of Orthodox clerics were present in the first row throughout the long service.  However, what impressed me the most is the kindness and hospitality extended to Archbishop Gallagher by Patriarch Porfirije.  On the evening of November 21, the Patriarch hosted the Archbishop for a private dinner and a tour of new St. Sava Cathedral. (link) On November 23, the Patriarch added a further personal touch by hosting the Archbishop at the historic Kovilj Monastery in Fruška Gora (78 km northwest of Belgrade).  This monastery was the home of Porfirije from 1990 to his election as Metropolitan of Zagreb in 2014.  The formal meeting between the Patriarch and the Archbishop was held here.  Before the meeting, the Patriarch gave a tour of the monastery to the Archbishop, and the two attended the office being chanted by the monks. (link) After the meeting, the two made statements to the media. The complete statements can be read at (link) (official English translation).  Among his beautiful remarks, the Patriarch stated: That is what we talked about and what we agreed and understood: to do good for an individual and one man and for the good of the entire human race, the entire planet, we must cooperate, work together with each other, above all we Christians. 

In my opinion, relations between the Serbian Patriarchate and the Vatican, and the Catholic Church in general, have greatly improved recently and are the best that I have ever seen them.  There are, of course,  great wounds from the past that must be healed.  Catholic Archbishop Stanislav Hocevar of Belgrade stated this week:  “We must never forget the past behind us, but now we are cooperating more and more and looking for more dialogue with the majority Serbian Orthodox Church.  This enables a comprehensive dialogue, and the dialogue opens new possibilities for us.”  Part of the credit for the improvement goes to Pope Francis.  When hierarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church have met him, I believe that they have liked him as a person.  Also, the hierarchs are probably pleased that to date the Pope has not approved the canonization of Cardinal Stepinac.

On November 16, Archbishop Elpidophoros (Ecumenical Patriarchate) spoke to the Fall Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore and was very well received.  It was the first time that an Orthodox bishop has addressed a meeting of the American Catholic bishops.  The full text of the Archbishop’s address is found at (link).  I was pleased to see the following comment by the Archbishop:  As Orthodox Christians, we are also very interested in the work and the process of the next Catholic Synod of Bishops, which is scheduled for October 2023 and which will deal with “For a Synodal Church Community: Communion, Participation and Missions.” During this two-year period, I believe that there is room for your ecumenical partners to provide input into the preparation process. 

Lastly, Father Jivko Panev, who directs the outstanding Orthodox website, has been promoted to the rank of knight of the National Order of Merit by a decree of the President of the Republic of France. (link)  Congratulations, Father Jivko!

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA