AT A time when the Salisbury poisonings have put Anglo-Russian relations under particular strain, a group of young Anglicans have been on an exchange trip to “seek unity” with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The visit, known as a “Summer Institute” in Russia, was led by the Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, the Revd Dr James Hawkey, with the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall, the Church of England’s lead bishop for Orthodox relations.
The Summer Institute is organised by Ss. Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute of Postgraduate Studies, in Russia, a theological school attached to the Patriarch of Moscow and part of the co-ordinating committee for co-operation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of England. It is hoped that a return trip for Russian ordinands will take place next year.
The purpose of the visit this month was to build “theological friendships” that could continue, whatever the state of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Dr Hawkey said.
“Our visit was primarily to introduce a new generation of Anglican ordinands, young clergy, and doctoral students to the richness of the Russian theological tradition, as well as building friendships and mutual learning.
“The church of the 21st century needs passionate, theologically literate, and culturally sensitive ecumenical theologians. There is a great need for young clergy to think ecumenically, and we’re not always very good at learning alongside Christian communities that may feel or look rather different from our own.”
He said that everybody on the visit had felt free to ask questions of their hosts, but that neither the issue of strained Anglo-Russian relations nor the rupture in the Russian Church’s own relations with the Orthodox church over Ukraine were discussed (News, 21 September).
“Christians are always called to be peace-builders and to seek unity in the body of Christ,” Dr Hawkey said. “Whatever else may be happening in the world, that is an absolute imperative for the churches.”
The Church in Russia expressed concerns over issues such as the future of Christians in the Middle East, responding to poverty, and being a Church for the 21st century, but the scars of recent persecutions for Christians in Russia were much more recent, he said.
“The Church in Russia underwent heinous persecution in the 20th century — the witness of the new martyrs and confessors is all around you in contemporary Russian churches. Christians in Russia today are naturally very conscious of the proximity of such persecution: many families know what it is to pay the ultimate price for Christ in their own history. . .
If this does become a regular exchange, then it can only be for the good and for the strengthening of Christian witness in a complicated world.”