domenica 22 maggio 2022

Russian Church and State cooperation in Africa & other news

(Peter Anderson)
Metropolitan Leonid of Klin, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarch for Africa, has made his first trip to Africa, and Uganda has been his destination. (link) It has been a very short trip to Africa, May 19-21.  Uganda has had a strong Orthodox presence for decades.  However, the Moscow Patriarchate has had only limited success in causing native clergy in Uganda to transfer from the Patriarchate of Alexandria to the Moscow Patriarchate.  The Alexandrian Patriarchate has three dioceses in Uganda, and all three are now headed by native African bishops. According to the website of the Orthodox Church of Uganda (which may not be completely up to date), the Patriarchate has in Uganda 76 priests and 5 deacons. (link) The website also states that in Uganda “[t]here are over 100 communities, 41 brick and mortar churches, 17 medical clinics and one Holy Cross Orthodox Hospital.”  The last numbers given by the Moscow Patriarchate is that 10 priests from Uganda have transferred to the Moscow Patriarchate, although the Telegram site of Metropolitan Leonid states that he signed six more antimensions on May 20.

It appears that the high point of the visit was the Metropolitan’s meeting on May 19 with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who has held that office since 1996.  The Metropolitan’s Telegram channel reports: “President Museveni called on the Russian clergy to pay attention not only to the spread of their religion, but also to the development of education and healthcare for the sake of socio-economic transformations in the life of the people.”  Maybe this “photo opportunity” with the President will help the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts in Uganda.  The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Uganda, Vladlen S. Semivolos, was also present at the meeting with the President.  In addition, the channel covered the very warm visit of the Metropolitan to the Russian Embassy and his meeting with the Ambassador.

The OrthoChristian website in Moscow has posted a report relating to the unsuccessful attempt of the Russian Embassy in Uganda to obtain a meeting between the Metropolitan and the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda. (link) The report includes photos of the letter from the Embassy and the response by the Council.  It shows that the Embassy was actively involved in setting up meetings for the Metropolitan.  With respect to the Metropolitan’s visit to Uganda, a press conference with the Metropolitan has been announced for May 23 in Moscow. (link) The conference also includes the Chargé d'Affaires from the Embassy in Uganda (who apparently travelled all the way from Africa for this conference) and the Director of the Africa Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

On May 19, there was another meeting of the “Working Group on Cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia” in Moscow.  (link)  From the photos, one can see the large number of people on each side of the table.  The Church side was headed by Metropolitan Hilarion, and the Ministry side was headed by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation E.S. Ivanov. 

In regularly monitoring the Internet reports on the recent activities of the Moscow Patriarchate relating to native clergy in Africa, I have been impressed with how frequently the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate report on contacts and meetings at the Russian Embassies in the various African countries.  In a sense this is natural and certainly not improper.  On the other hand, I am left with a sense that there is close cooperation and assistance by the Embassies with respect to the efforts now being made by the Moscow Patriarchate in Africa.  According the various media reports, the Russian Federation is seeking to increase its presence in Africa.  Having an active Russian church in Africa may contribute to this.

On a different subject, the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches met in Rethymno on the island of Crete from May 16 to 20.  The communique issues at the close of the meeting contains the following good news:  “The  Committee completed the revision of the draft text entitled, “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Today” to be presented to a Plenary Session of the Joint International Commission, expected to take place in 2023.” (link) The Coordinating Committee has the responsibility for preparing a document for consideration by the full Commission at a plenary meeting.  Normally, this means that both the Catholic and Orthodox sides of the Coordinating Committee need to agree on the document for it to be submitted to the full Commission.  Presumably, there was such an agreement in this case.  Because the last plenary of the full Commission was hosted by the Catholic side, it is to be expected that any plenary in 2023 will be hosted by the Orthodox side.

At the last plenary held in Chieti, Italy in September 2016, a document was approved by the Commission on “Synodality and Primacy in the First Millennium.”  The present document covers the Second Millennium and Today.  The Coordinating Committee held meetings on the latter document at the Bose Monastery in Italy in November 2018 and November 2019, but then the pandemic required the cessation of meetings until the meeting this May.  The topic of primacy has been a difficult one because Constantinople and Moscow have conflicting views on this topic.  Constantinople maintains that a form of primacy of authority exists at the universal level of the Church, while Moscow contends that only Christ is the primate of the universal Church.  For Moscow, primacy at the universal level is only a matter of honor and not authority.  The practical application of this dispute is whether the position of the Ecumenical Patriarch with respect to the other Local Orthodox Churches is one of simply honor or whether the Ecumenical Patriarch has certain authority with respect to the other Local Orthodox Churches.  As to be expected, Moscow contends that Constantinople has no authority over it or over the other Local Orthodox Churches.  On the other hand, Constantinople contends that it does have some authority, although it adds that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not have the broad authority possessed by the pope.

The link above includes three photos of the meeting at Rethymno.  I have attempted to identify the people in the photos.  As best as I can determine, the Orthodox side includes: Archbishop Job of Telmessos (Ecumenical Patriarchate -  co-chairman); Metropolitan Maximos of Selyviar (Ecumenical Patriarchate – co-secretary); Metropolitan Vasilios of Konstantia-Famagusta (Church of Cyprus); Archimandrite Amphilochios (Miltos) (Church of Greece); Professor Patriciu Vlaicu (Romanian Patriarchate);  Professor Nathan Hoppe (Church of Albania); Professor Theodoros Giagkou (Jerusalem Patriarchate).  The Catholic side includes: Cardinal Kurt Koch (co-chairman); Msgr. Andrea Palmieri (co-secretary); Bishop Brian Farrell; Archbishop Roland Minnerath; Bishop Dimitri Salachas; Msgr. Ivan Dacko  Msgr. Paul McPartlan; Professor Theresia Hainthaler.  Also in the photos is the host of the meeting (but not a member of the Committee), Metropolitan Prodromos of Rethymnon.   These are not all of the members of the Coordinating Committee.  Metropolitan Hilarion (Moscow Patriarchate) is a regular members of the Coordinating Committee, but has not attended meetings after the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided on September 14, 2018, not to participate in theological dialogues in which the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople are co-chairs.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA