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Russian Church seeks support in Cyprus talks before WCC Assembly

20 May 2022

Moscow Patriarchate uses Consultation to find allies

Albin Hillert/WCC

The Revd Dr Michael Kinnamon (centre), Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (left), and Metropolitan Dr Geevarghese Mor Coorilos of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch walk towards the chapel of Agia Anna for morning prayer, at the Inter-Orthodox Pre-Assembly Consultation in Paralimni, on 11 May

The Revd Dr Michael Kinnamon (centre), Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (left), and Metropolitan Dr Geeva...

THE Russian Orthodox Church has welcomed the outcome of inter-Orthodox talks in preparation for World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly in Germany this summer. The WCC’s final report of the Pre-Assembly Consultation urges peace in Ukraine, but makes no mention of Russia’s invasion of the country.

“Members of the Russian Orthodox Church delegation spoke in detail about the background and causes of the armed confrontation in Ukraine, as well as about peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts undertaken by the Russian Church,” the Moscow Patriarchate said on Monday.

“The final documents of this Pre-Assembly noted the importance of praying for the early onset of peace in Ukraine, as well as the need to create foundations for the secure existence of Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the whole world.”

The statement was issued after the week-long meeting, hosted by the Church of Cyprus, summoned to “articulate Orthodox perspectives” before the WCC Assembly, which opens at Karlsruhe on 31 August with the theme “reconciliation and unity”.

A WCC statement said that the Pre-Assembly Consultation, attended by representatives of 20 Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, had emphasised the part played by Churches in “sustaining dialogue and working together for justice and peace” in the face of global challenges. It emphasised “reconciliation, unity, solidarity, hospitality, and peace”.

The final report says that Orthodox Churches were concerned about “the situation in Ukraine, Armenia, Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, the Middle East, and Africa”, as well as about clergy abductions and the “persecution and uprooting of Christians”.

“There was an expression of grave concern over the armed conflict in Ukraine that has already claimed many people’s lives. . . We call upon all parties involved in the conflicts to do everything for the urgent establishment of peace,” the report says.

“We also condemn systematic campaigns of disinformation that promote divisions and hatred. In this time of great hardships, we are called to lift up fervent prayers to Christ the Saviour so that hatred may not take hold of human souls and hearts.”

The Russian Orthodox Church has severed ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Orthodox Churches in Greece, Cyprus, and Alexandria over their recognition of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, and has threatened similar action against others accepting the autocephalous Church.

It is also in dispute with other Orthodox leaders over its creation, in December, of a Russian Orthodox Exarchate for African parishes traditionally administered by the Alexandrian Patriarchate (News, 14 January): a move condemned by Patriarch Theodorus II of Alexandria in a 9 May circular as an “illegal and vindictive invasion”.

In his speech in Cyprus, however, the Moscow Pariarchate’s chief delegate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), said that his Church hoped to set aside divisions over “church-canonical and political realities”, and concentrate on countering the “loss of moral authority by modern society, and the triumph of lies and injustice”.

He said that there was “no room for compromise and politeness” when “Western Christendom” was “sliding into the abyss of complete rejection of the gospel and Christ, following the path of moral relativism and degradation”, and when inhabitants of Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Africa faced “incalculable suffering”.

“The Russian Orthodox Church, throughout its vast canonical territory, prays daily for the speedy restoration of peace in Ukraine, realising this must be strong and durable, and therefore built on justice,” Metropolitan Hilarion said. “This is our common tragedy, and we must survive it together.”

Russian Orthodox leaders have ignored repeated pleas from Churches worldwide to condemn their country’s invasion of Ukraine and urge a ceasefire, prompting calls for the Russian Church to be suspended or expelled from the WCC (News, 29 April).

This was rejected in mid-April, however, by the WCC’s Orthodox acting general secretary, the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca, who told the Council’s online agency that a “radical decision” to exclude the Russian Church would impede reconciliation, and could be taken only “after serious discernment, hearings, visits, and dialogue with Churches concerned”.

Observers say that the Russian Church, whose 23-member team for the Karlsruhe plenary will include Metropolitan Hilarion and Metropolitan Leonid (Gorbachov), the new Russian Exarch for Africa, is working hard to gain support among the 200 Orthodox delegates, who will make up one quarter of the WCC Assembly’s participants from more than 120 countries.

The Moscow Patriarchate statement said that Metropolitan Hilarion had held separate talks in Cyprus with Orthodox leaders from Armenia, India, Iran, Jerusalem, Romania, and Zimbabwe, as well as with Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus, with whom the Russian Church has officially severed ties, and heads of the inter-Christian humanitarian ACT Alliance.

Calls for Patriarch Kirill of Russia to face European Union sanctions for statements that have justified the invasion of Ukraine have been opposed by the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, who told a radio interviewer last Friday that he feared it would “jeopardise religious freedom”.

In a message to Mr Orbán on Monday, Patriarch Kirill praised the Hungarian as “one of few European politicians who, in his activities, pays great attention to supporting Christian values, strengthening the institution of the traditional family and the norms of public morality”.

Read more on the story from Rowan Williams and Paul Oestreicher

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