"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 29 August 2014


Friday, 4 April 2014

The Pan-Orthodox Council, Ukraine Crisis and Christian Unity | Interview with Metropolitan Hilarion | NCRegister.com
Scroll down for the NCR interview. 

It always bears repeating that Metropolitan Hilarion is not speaking objectively, or in a spirit of  dialogue. His job consists in: skillfully advancing the interests of the Patriarchal See of Moscow and the Churches over which it presides in the task of prevailing over those which it does not; presenting itself as the de facto leading See of Orthodoxy, in parity with the leading See of Catholicism, namely that of Rome. Thus he characterises Catholicism only as Roman-Latin and characterises Byzantine Christianity as distinctively and essentially Orthodox, rendering Greek-Catholics as unauthentic products of so-called Uniatism.

Unfortunately, his expressions of ecumenism towards the Catholic Church are  neither ecumenical in method or spirit, nor are they based in evidenceable fact. First, the term "Uniatism" is offensive to Eastern Catholics. It is an inaccurate description of their integrity, history and ecclesiological principle - union with the See of Rome in good conscience. This has no place in Christian ecumenism. Dialogue begins with respect that is mutual - respect for the Russian Orthodox Church presupposes Russian Orthodoxy's respect for others. Each Church has a right both to describe itself in its own terms and for its profession to be accepted in good faith, even if disagreed with. If this is not starting point, then other avenues of dialogue cannot proceed very far. 

At the 2013 Busan Assembly of the WCC, the Metropolitan arrived prior to and left after his own speech, causing offence among Protestants for allowing no space for exchange over the novel views he expressed, that the purpose of Orthodoxy's involvement in ecumenical bodies is to witness to Orthodoxy and thus to call those in error to "return" to it. As St Francis de Sales, the greatest pastor of reconciliation for those attracted to the Reform, observed of the work of certain aggressive anti-Protestant activists among his fellow Catholics, "The bee achieves more by its honey than by its sting." In this case, what Metropolitan Hilarion does not say, as he portrays Eastern Catholic Ukrainians as a problem erected by the Catholic Church, is that the rest of Orthodoxy accepts the fact of Eastern Catholics and respects the fact that dialogue with the Catholic Church is not confined only to Roman Catholics (as is acceptable to Moscow), but must embrace all. Indeed the International Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches fruitfully makes use of the participation of a Greek Catholic bishop and consultants from Eastern Catholic clergy and scholars.

Secondly, the policy and practice of proselytising among Orthodox, with a view to convert them either to Latin or to Eastern Catholicism, under the immediate jurisdiction of the Roman Curia -  has been repeatedly forbidden even if, admittedly, belatedly in some cases, and finally repudiated as a method of proposing ecclesial communion. (cf the Balamand Statement at the Seventh Plenary Session of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in 1993, which set this out as firmly belonging to a damaging and discarded past). The Metropolitan, in all truth, should refer to this being the real position.

Third, successive Popes have legislated for the Universal Catholic Church to protect, enhance and ensure the integrity, rights and prerogatives of Eastern Catholic Churches. This legislation recognized that they are not subject to the Latin Church but canonical self-ruling (sui iuris) Churches in their own right, under their own Heads and Synodal jurisdictions, in mutual communion with each other and the Latin Church, as well as with the Bishop of Rome as universal pastor. This is the true position that Metropolitan Hilarion ought in justice to acknowledge in making his argument.

Fourth, the Moscow Church has - if truth be told - not been above planning to make its own "Uniate" arrangements for embracing within its communion Western Christians of Latin Rite, largely from disaffected Anglican, Old Catholic and Roman Catholic backgrounds.

Fifth, historical fact demands acknowledgment that, for over a thousand years, there have been ample instances of Byzantine Christians being in communion with the See of Rome, sometimes fluidly at the same time as being in communion with those with whom Rome itself was not itself in communion. Examples of these Churches may be found in southern Italy through the Middle Ages and into the modern period, the former Bulgarian patriarchal Church of Ohrid, the patriarchate of Antioch in the 18th century, and across the lands of Middle Europe, among those dependent not on the Russian Church but on the Mother Church in Constantinople.

Sixth, the Union of certain Byzantine Churches, recognised as daughters of Constantinople (eg in modern day Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary and Romania etc) arose not - as alleged - as a result of Latin missionary proselytism but because the territories came under the permanent control of Catholic rulers. Note that in the same period, the Latin patriarch, the Pope, invited Orthodox bishops to ordain clergy and care for the Byzantine population of southern Italy, which is hardly evidence of a Romanisation or Latinisation or Uniatist policy.

Seventh, when the Union of Brest was concluded, there is no historical basis for asserting that the Kyivan Church of the Rus people somehow left the Russian Church. Kyiv was under Constantinople and not the newly-minted Moscow patriarchate. If anything, the Union was a recognition of loss of the bond of communion with Constantinople, not the lands to the East, which only received recognition - from Constantinople - of canonical autocephaly markedly later.

Eighth, historical evidence requires the ecumenist, such as Metropolitan Hilarion, to acknowledge that resentment of the existence of other churches, from which one's own is in breach (or vice versa), in terms of insisting on an ecumenism of return and submission, is hardly conducive to acceptance, compliance, or the supposedly desired unity. In England, for instance, the Church of England has long given up this attitude to the Methodists, Baptists and Reformed. Instead, the evidence is that the Greek Catholic Churches in Middle and Eastern Europe, far from being anomalous, have been highly populous, numbering many hundreds of thousands in modern day Belarus, Romania, across the old Habsburg empire and to this day in Ukraine, as well as in Russia proper - and that the Russian Church and Tsardom actively suppressed and persecuted them across history. This was perpetuated under the Soviet government, which confiscated property from the Greek Catholics and awarded it to the Orthodox, as well as suppressing their monasteries, dioceses and other organisations, while enforcing conversion from Catholic communion to membership of the Russian Orthodox Church on the clergy and faithful against their will under pain of prison or death. For there to be a healing of memories, this truth has to be accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate, if there is to be mutual forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation that can lead to union once more.

And, ninth, the unity that the Russian Orthodox Church desires with the Catholic Church would have to be with the Catholic Church as it is - not the picture that Moscow projects upon it: the Catholic Church is not "Roman" - the use of the Roman Rite is only part of the story, since there are Milanese, Syrian, Chaldean and other parts of the Catholic Church too. And this includes the Greek Catholic Churches which are integral to it.

Tenth, Metropolitan Hilarion speaks of the disadvantage to the Orthodox Church in western Ukraine at the hands of the activities of the Greek Catholic Church there. But prior to the Sovietisation of Ukraine and the post-World War II unification of the West with the starved, murdered, plundered and colonised East, there were NO Orthodox dioceses in Galicia. These were all foundations of Stalin, who instructed the Moscow Patriarchate to proselytize and later absorb all Greek-Catholics into its fold. Greek-Catholic hierarchs were condemned to the gulag by Soviet military tribunals on charges which, surprisingly, included "opposition to the Russian Orthodox Church." With the collapse of the Soviet Union, after 40 years of persecution and oppression, Greek-Catholics reclaimed a portion, but not all, of their own churches. At the present time, the Moscow patriarchate is free to organise and function in the west of Ukraine and has indeed retained not a few of the properties and other infrastructure it came by through expropriation at the hands of atheist enemies of the Cross of Christ. Its persistent resentment at the mere existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is inexplicable - this has taken nothing and no one that belongs to any one else; it has coerced no one against his or her conscience.

Eleventh, the true problem for the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is that it does not command the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, any more than its actions have won over the Ukrainian Catholics, whose collective memory is of Russian state oppression and foreign control in religion. For it is a minority Church. Most Ukrainian Orthodox, rather than being controlled by Russians in Moscow, choose to belong to a church with its own patriarch and synod in Kyiv - even at the price of being recognised by no one else. Leaving aside the question of personalities, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church mostly desired its own autocephaly after Ukraine's independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union - and liturgy in the Ukrainian language and Russian, not just Old Church Slavonic - and its Metropolitan was deposed, leading to the present split. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is attempting and hoping for the repair of this division and the highly charged personal animosity between Church leaders in Kyiv and Moscow. But for the Moscow patriarchate to recognise the autocephaly of a reunited Ukrainian Orthodox Church would be to lose almost half of its own adherents and resources.

Twelfth, by their fruits shall ye know them. When Russia annexed Crimea at the end of a gun barrel, Russian Orthodox clergy threatened Ukrainian Orthodox churches, their clergy, bishop and property; and three Ukrainian Catholic priests were arrested, with a lie from Russia that they were proselytising the Orthodox. In fact they were ministering to Catholics living or stationed there. Besides, by no means all Ukrainians profess the Christian faith after decades of state atheism and modern consumerist secularism, so there can be nothing amiss with any mission work among them, a duty laid on all followers of Christ. The truth is that the present crisis has drawn Ukrainian people of faith closely together - Ukrainian Catholics, Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox, Muslim Tatars, Jews and Protestants (like the acting President, for instance, a Baptist minister) - and, throughout, it has been the Churches together, the people, clergy, monks and bishops of all the Churches, Greek Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox belonging to the minority Moscow patriarchate included, who have been working and praying for peace to prevail. It is unworthy of the Metropolitan not to tell the whole of this truth and to cast his fellow Christians as though they were agents of discord or dissension, when they are demonstrably vocal ministers of reconciliation. (Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman with Fr Athanasius McVay)

An interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Department of External Church Relations.

Edward Pentin, 3 April 2014

Where does the Russian Orthodox Church stand on the crisis in Ukraine? And why is a Pan-Orthodox Council planned for 2016? To find out answers to these and other questions, the Register interviewed Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow. A noted theologian, Church historian and composer, Metropolitan Hilarion also shared in this April 2 email interview his thoughts on the current status of Catholic-Orthodox relations.

How important for the Orthodox Church is the Pan-Orthodox Council planned for 2016? Is it to be seen as something similar to Vatican II in the history of the Catholic Church?

The Pan-Orthodox Council is important in that, after the era of ecumenical councils, it will be the first council representing all the Orthodox Churches recognized today. For the last 12 centuries, there were councils of various levels attended by representatives of various Churches, but this one will be the first Pan-Orthodox Council to be convened in this period.

This council is a fruit of long work carried out by local Orthodox Churches for over 50 years. It is hardly appropriate to compare it with Vatican II, because their agendas are utterly different. Besides, we do not expect it to introduce any reforms making a substantial impact on the life of Orthodoxy.

Patriarch Kirill said that the Pan-Orthodox Council should deal with such issues as the expulsion of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa, the cult of consumerism, the destruction of the moral foundations and the family, cloning and surrogate motherhood. How important are these issues for you, and would you also like other themes, such as unity with the Catholic Church, included in the council’s agenda? 

These statements by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill reflect the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, whereby the Pan-Orthodox Council’s agenda needs to be supplemented with themes topical for today’s society and requiring a response from the world Orthodoxy. Besides, there is a list of 10 themes on which documents have been drafted by the local Orthodox Churches during the many years of preparatory pre-council work. All Orthodox Churches have already reached unanimity on eight of them, and, after some improvement, these documents will be submitted to the council. Among them is also the theme of the Orthodox Church’s attitude to the continuation of dialogue with other Christian confessions, including Catholicism.

Could you further explain why this council is needed, and why now?

The development of conciliar mechanisms on the pan-Orthodox level is desired by all Orthodox Churches. This desire motivated the Churches from the very beginning to participate together in preparations for the council, which began in 1961, at the Pan-Orthodox Conference on Rhodes Island. Now, as this preparatory work is approaching completion, the council is planned to convene in 2016, if some unforeseen circumstances do not prevent it.

Russia’s policy in Ukraine has provoked serious protests in the West. What is the position of the Orthodox Church? Do you view the West’s policy over this issue as wrong? 

The Russian Orthodox Church embraces Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and people of many other nationalities. The spiritual unity of our nations has stood the test of time for centuries. The present political crisis in Ukraine can hardly change anything, in this respect. The position of the Russian Orthodox Church cannot be conditioned by a particular policy: Indeed, the faithful of our Church are adherents of various political views; they are citizens of many states.

The closer we are to God, the closer we are to one another. The faith in Christ and love of Christ unite, not divide, people. We have never divided our flock on national grounds.

What is a tragedy for Ukraine is the blood of many people spilt in February in Kiev. Both divine and human justice demands that this disaster should be put under immediate and comprehensive investigation. However, European politicians have no unity of opinion on this issue, just as on many other issues concerning the further destiny of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. In this situation, the role of the Church is not to pronounce big words, but to pray and be compassionate.

Some maintain that the Orthodox Church and the Russian state are too close to each other. How true is that, and in what measure do these relations affect the life of the Church and its wholeness (or the opposite), especially in such matters as Ukraine’s sovereignty? 

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state maintain mutually respectful relations, based on the principles of cooperation and non-interference in each other’s affairs. But similar relations are maintained by our Church with many other states as well, in whose territory she carries out her mission. The Church is the body of Christ that lives according to God-established laws and follows the spiritual and moral values manifested in Divine Revelation. Her ministry is focused on the care for her flock, protection and promotion of traditional moral principles in private and social life and on religious education.

The Russian Orthodox Church and the state do not interfere in each other’s affairs. It does not mean, however, that the Church can be indifferent to the development of the situation in Ukraine. Kiev is the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy and its original center, since it is the place from which Eastern Christianity began spreading. … The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, while being fully independent administratively, is an integral part of the local Russian Orthodox Church. That is why the pain of the Ukrainian faithful is our own pain. We are deeply disturbed by the manifestations of aggression towards our Ukrainian brothers and sisters perpetrated by extremists. In these days, we lift up prayers that the civic confrontation in Ukraine may be stopped as soon as possible, so that the Ukrainian people may return to peaceful life.

You have done much with regard to the development of Orthodox-Catholic relations. What are your hopes for the future? Could a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch take place under the present Pope Francis, or was it more probable under Pope Benedict? 

True, I had to be engaged a great deal in the dialogue with the Catholic Church both in the years when I headed the Secretariat for Inter-Christian Relations in the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations and when I, in my capacity as bishop of Vienna and Austria, served in a Catholic country, maintaining relations with representatives of the Catholic Church in Austria and Hungary. Now, as head of the Department for External Church Relations, I come to Rome each year, where I met first with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and, now, have met twice with Pope Francis. I also regularly meet with leaders of various units of the Roman Curia.

Today, we, as the Orthodox and Catholics, encounter similar problems in the world, and our positions on many issues coincide, to a considerable extent.

The Orthodox-Catholic dialogue has been carried out on various levels: pan-Orthodox in the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches and in the bilateral format as the Moscow Patriarchate conducts dialogue with Catholic bishops’ conferences in some countries. Theological dialogue has been held for 33 years now, and its achievements are obvious, as is obvious the existence of certain differences in our doctrines.

However, the most important, though not the only, issue dividing the Catholics and the Orthodox concerns the problem of primacy in the universal Church. The difference in its understanding, once, was one of the reasons that led to a division between the Western and Eastern Churches.

In the East, the pope of Rome was recognized as the successor of St. Peter, and the See of Rome occupied the first place among patriarchal thrones, in accordance with ecumenical councils’ actions. However, at the same time, the Eastern Church saw the bishop of Rome as “the first among equals” (primus inter pares) and never ascribed to him special powers, as compared to those of primates of other Churches.

Along with theological differences proper, there is the so-called “non-theological factor of the division.” These are the historical memory of the past controversies and conflicts and a great deal of mutual prejudices, and, unfortunately, some problems which have arisen in the modern period of history.

Still, the Orthodox and the Catholics can work together on many issues. There is a mutual understanding between the Russian Church and the Roman Catholic Church in social and economic ethics, traditional morality and other problems of today’s society. Our position on the family, motherhood, the population crisis, bioethical issues, on problems of euthanasia and many other issues basically coincide.

This agreement makes it possible for our Churches to bear, already now, our common witness to Christ in the face of the secular world. We have a very positive experience of organizing Orthodox-Catholic events, both in the area of the protection of moral values and the area of cultural cooperation.

Today, there is a real interest that both sides show in the fruitful development of bilateral dialogue between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. As for a meeting of the primates of our Churches, it is quite possible, but it needs to be carefully prepared. We did not exclude that we could arrange it under Pope Benedict, but we had no time to do it. I do not see why it could not be arranged under Pope Francis.

Already, last autumn, it seemed to me that the sides were ready to begin preparing it. But the events in Ukraine have thrown us much back, first of all, because of the actions of the Greek Catholics, who are seen by the Roman Catholic Church as a “bridge” between East and West, whereas we see them as a serious obstacle to dialogue between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

It is no secret that the “Uniatism” was and is a special project of the Roman Catholic Church, aimed to convert the Orthodox to Catholicism. With the help of the secular authorities, the “Uniates” have acted for many centuries to the detriment of the Orthodox Church, capturing Orthodox churches and monasteries, converting ordinary people to Catholicism and oppressing the Orthodox clergy in all possible ways. This was the case in the Polish Lithuanian Principality after the 1596 Union of Brest, and this was the case at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s in western Ukraine.

In the present civic confrontation, the Greek Catholics have taken one side, entering into active cooperation with the Orthodox schismatic groups. The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, together with the head of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate, paced the U.S. State Department offices, calling the American authorities to interfere in the situation and to put Ukraine in order. The Greek Catholics have in fact launched a crusade against Orthodoxy.

In the Vatican, we are told that they cannot influence the actions of the Greek Catholics because of their autonomy. But to distance itself from these actions is something the Vatican is reluctant to do. In these circumstances, it became more difficult to speak of a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow in the near future. We need to wait until newly inflicted wounds are healed. Nevertheless, we do not lose hope that the relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics will be normalized.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-pan-orthodox-council-ukraine-crisis-and-christian-unity/#ixzz2yu19NFAo

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is one of the Orthodox theologians I most enjoy reading.   Moreover, I would share his anxiety that the Orthodox - Catholic theological discussions may come to a premature agreement if I thought this was about to happen.   I agree with him and his patriarch that we should put more emphasis on growing in knowledge and trust of each other by collaboration in the New Evangelisation.  By finding joint solutions and working together to reverse the trend towards secularism, we may grow in a friendship between us which large numbers of Catholics and Orthodox have never experienced.   The kiss of peace precedes the common proclamation of the Creed because, in Christianity, the basis of common understanding is love, first God's love for us, and then our our love which is a sharing in his as a eucharistic people.   Metropolitan Hilarion says somewhere that, about a thousand years ago, both sides decided they could do without the other.   We will truly understand each other only when we realise we need each other.   

However, why do his statements on Catholic-Orthodox relations show no influence whatsoever of his fellow Orthodox theologians in the Orthodox-Catholic discussions?   Why does he speak as though they have never taken place?   Is it because the theologians are often Greek, and we have become embroiled in a Byzantine power game?

Having said that, I don't understand him when he as an historian, fails to  distinguish between history and propaganda - I would have thought his Oxford education would have taught him the distinction.   David Bentley Hart seems to have benefited more.  

I realise that, in the bitter conflict, some Catholics may well try to proselytise, just as Orthodox have done.   Nevertheless, he accuses Catholics of doing what he must know Orthodox have also been doing, often using an atheistic regime to support their efforts.   He also fails to recognise that, in the Ukraine, many of the peace efforts have been done by people right across the ecclesiastical divide.   He says that Orthodox in Western Ukraine are having a hard time; but he does not acknowledge that Latin Catholics and Greek Catholics have had a hard time in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; nor does he acknowledge that these are isolated incidents on both sides, in a country where, on the whole, away from the fighting,  relations between ordinary Orthodox and Catholics have been  good, some would say, far too close. In other words, he does not know the difference between news and propaganda.   Why cannot he sift and interpret modern data in the excellent way he interprets data in the life of St Symeon the New Theologian, for example.   He has opened himself wide to receive the rebuff of Father Mark Woodruff

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