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Churches attempt to set up peace discussions between Russia and Ukraine

26 May 2023


The Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Moscow’s state-run Tretyakov Gallery Arts Museum to hand over the country’s Trinity icon, by the medieval painter Andrei Rublyov, to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church said last week that the decision was made after “multiple requests by believers”

The Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Moscow’s state-run Tretyakov Gallery Arts Museum to hand over the country’s Trinity icon, by the medi...

THE World Council of Churches (WCC) has unveiled plans for a dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian Church leaders; and the Vatican has announced a “peace mission” to the warring sides.

The general secretary of the WCC, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said that speaking together offered hope.

“It’s not just a matter of spiritual and religious interpretations — there is a great sense of political interference, and the saddest thing is that Churches tend to be more attracted to issues of nationalism than to the Gospel message,” he said on Tuesday.

“But if we have one voice, as Churches, we might be able to speak in a unified voice to all the authorities that continue to perpetuate this unnecessary war.”

In an interview published on the WCC’s website after his visits to Kyiv and Moscow last week, Professor Pillay said that he hoped to establish the roundtable by October, if Ukrainian and Russian Churches made a “final commitment” and agreed to the terms.

“I’m aware that a few people on social media have expressed critical concerns and talked about the fact that we are taking photos with Patriarch Kirill, and about his own position on the war,” he said.

“But since the Russian Orthodox Church is a member of the WCC, we have a right and obligation to visit, listen to them and, of course, even challenge them on their particular position. We do not have the opportunity to sit back and be armchair critics — we have to get involved.”

The summons to dialogue by the WCC came during the week that the G7 countries, including the UK, announced further sanctions against Moscow at their meeting in Hiroshima. Meanwhile, on Tuesday Russia claimed it had repulsed a cross-border raid on its Belgorod region, in an apparent escalation of the 15-month war.

At the same time, the Vatican’s press office has confirmed that the Pope has asked Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, to lead a mission to “initiate paths of peace” in Ukraine.

Speaking last week at a Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that Europe was witnessing “the sad twilight of a shared dream of peace”; but he went on to say that the Holy See remained determined to “play its role” in peace-making.

Ukrainian sources have expressed doubts about current Vatican initiatives, however. And the Roman Catholic Information Agency in Poland, KAI, said on Monday that Cardinal Zuppi’s “extremely difficult” mission appeared to be conceived “against all hope”, and could be confined to negotiating the release of prisoners of war and the return of abducted Ukrainian children.

Professor Pillay said that he hoped that the WCC could provide the platform for a “pooling of efforts” at peace by all Churches, including Roman Catholics, according to their “respective traditions”.

He said his talks had not been easy. Patriarch Kirill had “expressed concerns” about any dialogue.

Professor Pillay said: “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.

“Our mandate is to fulfil the will of the Triune God to bring peace to the world.”

In its own communiqué after the talks last week, the Moscow Patriarchate reported that Professor Pillay had “expressed solidarity” with Patriarch Kirill “in that true believers should help advance the cause of peace”; and had “fully supported” the Patriarch’s complaints about the international community’s silence over “the oppression of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine”.

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