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Calls continue for Russian Church’s exclusion from ecumenical links

12 August 2022

Ivars Kupcis/WCC

The WCC delegation visited the Banchen monastery in the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine, which is providing shelter and support

The WCC delegation visited the Banchen monastery in the Chernivtsi region of Ukraine, which is providing shelter and support

THE Ukrainian government has again urged the World Council of Churches (WCC) to suspend Russian Orthodox membership until invading forces withdraw. A WCC delegation made a five-day visit to the country last week to discuss co-operation.

“I am glad the voice of Ukrainian clergy will be heard during the WCC’s upcoming assembly in Germany,” the Ukrainian Culture and Information Minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, said in a social-media post.

“But Russia uses culture to broadcast propaganda by its criminal regime. So I consider it expedient to exclude, or at least suspend, membership of Russian Federation representatives in the widest possible range of cultural programmes and international associations. This is to block channels of disinformation, and to signal powerfully that the entire civilised world demands that Russia stop this terrible unprovoked war.”

The minister made the appeal during talks in Kyiv with a WCC delegation, headed by the Orthodox acting secretary-general, the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca. The group also met leaders of Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Organisations.

Mr Tkachenko said that he was grateful to the WCC for its support, and hoped that Ukrainian voices at its 11th plenary assembly in Karlsruhe (News, 24 June), beginning on 31 August, would “create even greater solidarity”.

He said, however, that the current “fight against Ukrainian identity” affected all religious communities, and that his ministry had urged 150 other international organisations to suspend Russian participation while the war continued.

In a statement, Professor Sauca said that the WCC’s central committee had debated suspension calls in July (News, 29 July), and concluded unanimously that the Council should keep “its identity as an open platform where churches can meet and challenge one another”.

The delegation had, nevertheless, asked President Zelensky’s office, Professor Sauca said, to help Ukrainian church representatives to attend the plenary, where they would be able to “address the global WCC fellowship, sharing and praying together for an end of the war”.

During their meeting, Professor Sauca told Mr Tkachenko: “The World Council of Churches was founded to foster dialogue between Churches not in agreement between themselves. We came here to show our solidarity with people in Ukraine, and to make sure the voice of Ukraine is present at the upcoming WCC Assembly.”

The exchanges took place amid fierce fighting in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine; Russian bombers and missiles hit Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Vinnytsia, Nikopol, and Dnipropetrovsk, and Ukrainian forces pressed on with a counter-offensive around the occupied city of Kherson.

Media speculation is mounting about an imminent visit to Ukraine by Pope Francis, who met Metropolitan Antoni (Sevryuk), the Russian Church’s new external-relations director, in the Vatican last Friday for what the Moscow Patriarchate said were talks “on Orthodox-Catholic relations in the context of political changes in the world”.

Metropolitan Antoni, who is also the Russian Orthodox Exarch for Western Europe, was reported to have discussed the Pope’s expected meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow during a Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan from 13 to 15 September.

In an interview on Italian TV on Tuesday, however, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican, Andrii Yurash, said that he counted on Pope Francis’s visiting Kyiv before the interreligious Congress. He added that he had offered the Pope “security guarantees at every level” during a meeting last weekend.

“It’s very important that the Holy Father comes to our country before travelling to Kazakhstan, in order to present to world religious leaders his own testimony about our dramatic situation,” Mr Yurash told the RAI channel.

During its visit, the WCC delegation travelled to the Monastery of the Holy Ascension at Banchen, near the western city of Chernivtsi, which is part of Ukraine’s Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church. Since February, it has sheltered 13,000 refugees, and operates a 100-bed hospital and an orphanage for more than 400 children.

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