A few days’ ago, I wrote about the Council on Crete that has been boycotted by the Russian Church. Of course it is possible to become mystical and misty-eyed about all this or to see it as a political scheme to grab power from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. My instinct is that this is a power grab, but it is worth checking what has happened since the boycott.
On the one hand, the Patriach of Moscow has sent the council a very encouraging letter, albeit adopting a slightly Papal tone, but on the other, there have been radio and tv discussions that have left little doubt that Moscow regards the council as misjudged and feels that only it has a monopoly of truth. Disturbing indeed.
Newspapers have made a great point of charting the history of the planning from 1961 and that current relations between the participating and non-participating Churches remain intact. But there are criticisms that the full range of 120 different topics initially to be discussed at the council had recently been truncated by Constantinople, that decisions about financing and organisation were imposed on “lesser churches” by Bartholemew’s team in January 2016. Meanwhile, there are apparently draft documents in Moscow on all the 120 topics, drawn up since a conference on Rhodes in 2009 and Fr Nikolai Balashov, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, is on record complaining that
“The truth is that only the Russian Church did her “homework”and the process stalled. That same year a delegation of the Church of Constantinople led by the remarkable hierarch, Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon, came to Moscow and suggested to His Holiness Patriarch Pimen to change the order of preparation. The Russian Church was distressed and disappointed, but agreed to hold the Council on a thin agenda and presented a shortened list of topics. The answer was “too many”, and there were ten topics left on the agenda. Yet, some topics, which the Moscow Patriarchate considered important, were later removed, and only six remained on the agenda. The rules of preparation were changed several times, but we, though reluctantly, always gave our consent for the sake of the Council. No one can accuse the Russian Church in the lack of good will.”
I think that, at a time when there are so many other problems between Russia and the rest of the world, this is precisely what the Moscow Patriachate can be accused of – a lack of goodwill. The time to raise these issues, if they were genuine and if Moscow intended any positive outcome, was in January, or February. I think it is impossible not to draw the conclusion that Kirill has played this for power and maximum publicity. And the interviews and press briefings suggest he is playing to a home audience.
But we can expect little more from a man who floats around the city in a motorcade to rival that of the President. I have found myself waiting his passing on a few occasions, adding to the traffic chaos. I suppose we can only thank God that he is not posting photos of himself bare-chested on horseback.
Meanwhile, Hilarion has given an interview suggesting that a “proper council” can be convened fairly soon. “I believe we all should learn a lesson from what has happened so that in the future it would be possible to convene such a Holy and Great Council in which all the Local Churches without exception will participate and which will become what it should be – a witness to our unity.”
Here is the letter:
Your Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew,
Your Holinesses and Beatitudes,
The Most Reverend Fellow-Archpastors,
The Honorable Representatives of Local Orthodox Churches:
I cordially greet you on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church and on behalf of the Orthodox faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova and other countries, who comprise the vast flock of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Brothers, we all are the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27). We have received the priceless gift of unity from the Lord and our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself. To preserve this gift is one of our principal tasks; it is a direct commandment of our Saviour’ (Jn. 17:21).
Let us not be confused by the fact that the opinions of Sister-Churches about the convocation of the Holy and Great Council have been divided. According to St. Paul, there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Cor. 11:19). In the days of preparations for the Council, such differences have become fully revealed, but we must not allow them to weaken the God-commanded unity, to grow into an inter-church conflict, to bring division and trouble into our ranks. We remain one Orthodox family and together we all bear responsibility for the fate of Holy Orthodoxy.
It is my profound conviction that the Churches, both those who have decided to go to Crete and those who have refrained from it, made their decisions in good conscience, and for this reason we must respect the position of each of them.
The Russian Orthodox Church has always proceeded from the conviction that the voice of any Local Church, be it large or small, old or new, should not be neglected. The absence of the Church of Antioch’s consent to convene the Council means that we have not reached pan-Orthodox consensus. We cannot ignore the voices of the Georgian, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches either, who have spoken for a postponement of the Council to a later date.
I trust that if there is a good will, the meeting in Crete can become an important step towards overcoming the present differences. It can make its own contribution to the preparation of that Holy and Great Council which will unite all the Local Autocephalous Churches without exception and become a visible reflection of the unity of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, for which our predecessors, who blissfully passed away, prayed and which they expected.
We assure you that our prayers will be with you in the days of the work ahead of you.
With great love in Christ,
PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA