sabato 27 maggio 2023

Will the Moscow Patriarchate participate in the WCC roundtable & other news

(Peter Anderson)
The website of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has posted additional information concerning the meeting between the WCC’s general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay and Patriarch Kirill, held in Moscow on May 17.  First, there is a May 18 news release from the WCC describing the meeting. (link) Second, there is an interview of Dr. Pillay conducted by the WCC director of communications.  A video of the entire interview in English can be watched at (link) A slightly shorted and edited transcript of the interview can be read at (link).  The Moscow Patriarchate has now posted an official English translation of its Russian-language report relating to the meeting. (link) It has also posted a 21-minute video of the first part of the meeting – primarily the opening remarks of Patriarch Kirill. (link) (including the voice of the English translator)  At the end of the video, there is less than one minute of the beginning of the general secretary’s introductory remarks.  In the video, one can also see Archpriest Mikhail Gundyaev, who is the Moscow Patriarchate’s long-time representative to the WCC and to international organizations in Geneva and who is also the rector of the Patriarchate’s parish in Geneva.  He is the nephew of Patriarch Kirill.

According to Dr. Pillay, his meeting with the Patriarch lasted for two and one-half hours of which the last hour was during dinner.  Pillay described the meeting as “tough, very engaging, and very challenging but in a very cordial spirit.”   A major purpose of the General Secretary’s trip to Moscow was to discuss the roundtable proposed by the WCC.  The Secretary General in his interview described the idea of the roundtable as follows:  “The idea of the roundtable is to get the Ukrainian churches [the UOC and the OCU] to a discussion on the first day, and on the second day to have discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church, and on the third day to bring them all together to be able to discuss the issues of the war and to work together to restore the unity of the Orthodox family.”  The interview also describes the WCC’s future plans with respect to the roundtable as follows:  “We have spoken to them about engaging in dialogue, and I will now, as general secretary, be in touch with these respective churches to seek a final commitment toward the process of dialogue.  Once we get that, then we will set up a dialogue—a roundtable.  We are working on a concept paper that will integrate the different views that we have encountered in different visits.  We will put that together and see if there’s an agreement on where it will take place, who will be part of it, and the actual agenda in terms of the discussion.  We will process this.  We are hoping to have the roundtable possibly in October this year—but it will take place as soon as possible.  We have put together these measures.  We are hoping, in a short space of time, that there will be consensus among us concerning the roundtable, and from that, we will start the initial process of dialogue.  We understand it’s not going to be one event.  It’s going to be a continued discussion.”

The prior week Dr. Pillay and a WCC delegation had met in Kyiv with the primate of the OCU and with representatives of the UOC headed by Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and discussed with the two churches the subject of the proposed roundtable.  The WCC news release described the reaction of the two churches as follows: “A WCC leadership delegation that visited Ukraine the preceding week had received confirmation from both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) of their in-principle willingness to engage in dialogue processes convened by the WCC.”  In the interview, Dr. Pillay stated:  “We met with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  We put forth the idea of a roundtable and they were showing very keen interest in taking part.”  As far as I can determine, neither the UOC nor the OCU has made any public statements relating to the roundtable.

With respect the reaction of the Moscow Patriarchate to the proposed roundtable, the posted report by the Moscow Patriarchate refers to the roundtable in only one sentence:  “He [Patriarch Kirill] also emphasized that the Russian Orthodox Church values the desire of the World Council of Churches to enable the cause of peace and proposed discussing the idea put forward by the WWC general secretary Dr Jerry Pillay of organizing a round table to be attended by representatives of the Churches from both Russia and Ukraine.”  The WCC news report states:  “While expressing concerns about the feasibility of a roundtable dialogue because of entrenched external influences, Patriarch Kirill expressed pleasure at the proposal and commended the WCC for working towards peace and unity.  He expressed a willingness to participate in the roundtable dialogue but indicated the need first to consult internally within the ROC.”  With respect to internal consultations, it should be noted that the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met the day prior to the meeting with Dr. Pillay.  At the time of the meeting of the Holy Synod, the intention of Dr. Pillay to raise the subject of the roundtable was well known.  Presumably, the subject of the roundtable was discussed at this Synod meeting, although it is not reflected in the minutes.  Also, a “conference” (not a “council”) of the bishops located in the Russian Federation is scheduled for July 19, 2023. (link) It is possible that the idea of a roundtable could be discussed at this conference. 

With respect to participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the roundtable, the remarks by Dr. Pillay in the interview appear to be somewhat more guarded than the news release.  He stated: “The response, as I said, from the Ukraine churches is very good so we put the same to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch—while affirming the potential of the WCC and acknowledging its role as bridge builder—did express concerns about the possibility of a roundtable, and his focus was specifically on the issue of other external influences—and particularly he mentioned the issue of the USA.  He said unless we resolve those kinds of issues and influences, it would be difficult to come to a roundtable.  But, as I put it to the Patriarch, the task of the WCC is not to get involved in politics even though this is necessary for peaceful solutions to real problems.  We do not have a political agenda, and we believe that the Bible calls us to peace.  Our mandate is to fulfill the will of the Triune God to bring peace to the world.  Jesus Christ is the prince of peace, and he calls us to work for peace and live in peace with each other, so we have to put the scriptures in front of us to be able to put politics aside, to put nationalism aside.  These, important as they are, are not our starting points.  How do we actually understand what the scripture calls us to do?  Let us start thinking spiritually.  Let us start thinking religiously.  Let us open the scriptures and ask what God is calling us to do, before we get influenced by these other forces.  We serve a just God who calls all believers to work for just peace.  WCC wants and calls for a just peace!  In the end, the discussion came to the stage where the Patriarch was able to say that the Russian Orthodox Church will have some internal dialogue while we as the WCC will continue to work on the concept paper of bringing the roundtable together.  That’s a positive indication in terms of the way forward.  I expect and hope that all these things will come together in the end to achieve the purposes we are trying to actually bring together.”  

If the Moscow Patriarchate follows its own self-interests, it would probably decline to attend the roundtable and hope that a WCC roundtable between the UOC and the OCU would not occur.  It is not in the interests of Moscow that relations between the UOC and the OCU improve because improved relations is the first and indispensable step toward creating an united autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow.  In fact the Moscow Patriarchate has sought to avoid discussions of improved relations between the UOC and the OCU.  For example, at the meeting of certain primates at Amman in February 2020, Patriarch Kirill specified six issues that should be the subject of inter-Orthodox discussions.   (link) All of these issues relate to questioning the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch with respect to his actions regarding Ukraine.  Not a word was said about finding ways to improve relations between the UOC and the OCU.  Still it can be hoped that the Moscow Patriarchate will find peace between churches, as expressed by Dr. Pillay, a higher goal than pursuing its own self-interests and will therefore agree to participate in the WCC roundtable.  Also the third day of the proposed WCC roundtable will  involve the higher goal of exploring how the three churches can contribute to a peaceful and just resolution of the Ukraine war.

In other news, it appears that the fears that the UOC will be immediately evicted from the Lower Lavra have dissipated in view of repeated government assurances that violence will not be used and that the dispute involving the lease will instead be resolved by the courts.  A degree of normalcy has returned.  For example, on May 24, thirty fourth-year students at the Theological Seminary located in the Lower Lavra took their bachelor’s examinations. (link) With respect to the court litigation, the next hearing on the lawsuit brought by the Lavra Reserve against the UOC is scheduled for June 5.  The next hearing on the lawsuit brought by the UOC against the Lavra Reserve is scheduled for June 7.  On May 29, a court will consider the request of the SBU to extend the house arrest of Metropolitan Pavlo, the vicar of the Lavra monastery.  Whatever the decisions will be in these cases, they will almost certainly be appealed by the losing party.

A Council of Bishops of the OCU was held in the Tabernacle Church of the Upper Lavra on May 24. (link) At the Council, Metropolitan Epifany, primate of the OCU, gave a report the activities of the OCU during the last 12 months. (link) According to the report the OCU now has the following:  approximately 5,300 clerics, 8,500 communities, 45 dioceses, 61 bishops, 80 men’s and women’s monasteries, 9 institutions of higher religious education, and 1,200 students.  Although these figures have grown in recent years, they are still less than the comparable figures for the UOC.  For latest report by the UOC on its numbers, see (link) (Section VIII, Statistics).  The OCU Council of Bishops also decided to adopt the New Julian Calendar for immovable feast days beginning September 1, 2023.  The days on the New Julian Calendar coincide with the Gregorian Calendar but differ beginning in the 28th century.  The New Julian Calendar has been adopted by a majority of the Local Orthodox Churches (namely Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, and Czech Lands and Slovakia) for immovable feast days, such as Christmas.  Like all of the Local Orthodox Churches (except for the autonomous Church of Finland), the OCU will continue to use the Julian Calendar for the calculation of Pascha (using the Paschalion) and for the feast days and periods dependent on the Pascha date.  A OCU parish can opt to retain the Julian Calendar for immovable feast days by a two-thirds vote of its parishioners.  The decision by the Council of Bishops will be submitted for approval to the next Local Council.  Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko has stated that proposals to amend the observance days by the state will be submitted to the Ukrainian parliament in the near future. (link) 

The world famous icon of the Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev has been subject to a confusing series of recent events.  The most recent is that on May 27, Patriarch Kirill signed a decree removing Archpriest Leonid Kalinin from his position as chairman of the Expert Council on Church Art, Architecture and Restoration, removing him from his position as rector of St. Clement parish in Moscow, and banning him from serving. (link) The reason given for this action was obstruction of the bringing of the icon of the Holy Trinity to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for a prayer worship on the feast of Pentecost (June 4).  The news agency RIA Novosti has reported that Ministry of Culture now says that the icon will be placed in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for two weeks being June 4, experts will then carry out its planned restoration and conservation, and the icon would then be moved to its historic location at the Holy Trinity – St. Sergius Lavra. (link) On May 15, President Putin made a decision to return the icon to the Church where it will be exhibited for public worship for a year and will then be transfer to its historic place at the Lavra. (link) For many years, the icon has been located in a special chapel which is part of the Tretyakov Gallery and has been under the care of experts.  In response to the announced departure of the icon from the Gallery, experts at the Gallery and elsewhere stated that because of the “fragile condition” of the icon, the icon “must not leave” the Galley for its announced public exhibition.  Archpriest Leonid supported the conclusion of the experts that the icon should not be brought to the Cathedral on June 4 and that a miraculous copy should be used instead.   Archpriest Leonid subsequently recanted this position and stated that management decisions are not  to be discussed but are to be carried out by the professional community “with dignity.” (link) Apparently, this was not enough to save him from discipline.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA