Ecumenism a victim of war: academics denounce the position of the Patriarch of Moscow
Russia’s war against Ukraine leaves cities in ruins and threatens to destroy relations between the Orthodox Churches and between the Russian Orthodox Church and its ecumenical partners.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow supported President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, and for many Orthodox scholars this support is outrageous, but not surprising.
“It is impossible to remain silent and tolerate what the Russian Orthodox Church has unfortunately adopted as its official discourse and its official attitude” not only towards the war, but towards the vision of Putin on the region, said Pantelis Kalaitzidis, director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies in Greece and member of the steering committee for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue of the Austrian Pro Oriente Foundation.
Kalaitzidis was one of the main authors of a “Declaration on the teaching of the ‘Russian world’ (Russkii mir)”, a declaration signed by hundreds of Orthodox theologians and scholars condemning as “heresy” the vision of the patriarch Kirill on Russian power and influence. said, in religious but fundamentally anti-Christian language.
“It’s ethno-religious nationalism on steroids,” Brandon Gallaher, an Orthodox deacon who teaches theology at the University of Exeter in England, told Catholic News Service. Gallaher is a member of the Eastern Orthodox-Roman Catholic Pastoral Consultation in the UK.
For the past 20 years, according to the statement, Putin and Patriarch Cyril have promoted the idea of a ‘transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. – and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan – as well as ethnic Russians and Russian speakers around the world.
The teaching “affirms that this ‘Russian world’ has a common political center (Moscow), a common spiritual center (kyiv as the ‘mother of all Rus’), a common language (Russian), a common church ( the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarchate of Moscow), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in “symphony” with a common national president/leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as to uphold a spirituality , a common distinct morality and culture,” the statement read.
Patriarch Kirill’s insistence that the war in Ukraine is simply about Russia defending itself from the threat of the sinful “West” and its “gay pride parades” is his application of the vision of “Russian world”.
“We firmly reject all forms of government that deify the state – theocracy – and absorb the Church, depriving the Church of its freedom to stand prophetically against all injustice,” the statement reads. “We also rebuke all who affirm ‘Caesaropapism,’ replacing their ultimate obedience to the crucified and risen Lord with that of any ruler vested with decision-making powers and claiming to be God’s anointed, whether known as ‘Caesar’, ‘Emperor’, ‘Tsar’ or ‘President’.
While professing a faith and recognizing the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as “first among equals”, the Orthodox Church has traditionally been organized according to language, culture and national identity, a form of jurisdiction that ensured that the The Church and its leaders were part of and close to the people, Kalaitzidis said March 14.
But the Orthodox Council of Constantinople in 1872 condemned “ethno-phyletism,” the complete confusion of church and nation, as heresy, which he said is at the heart of the teaching. of the “Russian world” and the demands of the Russian Orthodox Church. be considered the most important of the Orthodox churches.
“Kirill’s position will cause more complications for inter-Orthodox and interfaith relations,” Tamara Grdzelidze, an Orthodox scholar and former Georgian ambassador to the Holy See, told CNS. “Churches, leaders and theologians are already revolting against the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Of course, when there are serious tensions between the Churches or within the Churches, it affects the results of the dialogues” in which the Catholic Church is engaged, said Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the unity of Christians.
Various Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic leaders around the world have publicly called on Patriarch Kirill to use his influence with Putin to stop the war.
It’s unclear whether Pope Francis or the pontifical council tried, though it was reportedly done privately in hopes of keeping some lines of communication open.
Responding to the appeal of the head of the World Council of Churches, Patriarch Kirill used the position of the “Russian world”, saying: “I am firmly convinced that its initiators (of the war) are not the peoples of Russia and of Ukraine, who came from the baptismal font in kyiv, are united by a common faith, common saints and prayers, and share a common historical destiny. The origins of the confrontation lie in the relations between the West and Russia .
Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, told CNS, “It’s a matter of tears when a church becomes complicit or apologist” for the kind of war Russia is waging against Ukraine. “It is a very unfortunate truth that should not be veiled by ecumenical hopes.”
Gallaher, who belongs to the Archdiocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Thyateira and Britain, said that with the war in Ukraine and the support of Russian Orthodoxy, “it is absolutely impossible, so to speak, to dance with the Russian Church”.
Many Orthodox, as well as Catholics, he said, hope the Vatican will “dramatically rethink its relationship with the Moscow Patriarchate.”
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