Head of World Council of Churches meets Russian Patriarch Kirill in Moscow

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(REUTERS / Sergei Gunyeev / Ria Novosti / Kremlin / Files)Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill arrive for the meeting with the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow on February 1, 2013. While troops loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin were taking control of Crimea, the head of the Russian Federation The Moscow Orthodox Church deduced that an “internal political crisis” in Ukraine threatened its territorial integrity. Photo taken February 1, 2013.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, met with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow to discuss churches and the challenges of peace.

Among the challenges faced, the United Nations reported on October 8 that there are currently 375,792 people internally displaced in Ukraine due to the war with pro-Russian separatists.

The WCC head also met with Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations department, the church’s world organization said in a statement on Oct. 10.

The WCC represents more than 560 million Christians worldwide and the Russian Orthodox Church has the highest membership among the members of the World Council of Orthodox Churches.

“It was encouraging to see that we will now both strengthen the role of the World Council of Churches as a peacemaker in the world for justice and peace,” Tveit said after meeting the Patriarch.

“I believe this is the time to meet and talk more, not less, together as churches. Churches should strengthen their relationships in times of conflict.”

Patriarch Kirill is said to have some influence as a potential peacemaker.

After weeks of defying international calls to release eight EU officials captured in May, pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine unexpectedly released them in June following a public appeal by the leader of the The Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, Reuters news agency reported on October 6.

Ukraine has no full WCC member churches, although there are some WCC member churches working in the country.

For Ukrainians affiliated with an organized religion, the most prevalent faith in the country is Orthodox Christianity.

THREE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES

Three large Ukrainian Orthodox Churches coexist, often in competition, in the country: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate which is distant from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

Statistics suggest that Ukraine is one of the most religious states in Europe and that in recent months its main churches have grown in importance, the director of the Independent Sociological Service of the Razumkov Center, Andriy said in June. Bychenko.

The Church is the only institution in the country with a positive image, said Bychenko. Almost two-thirds of Ukrainians trust him. The Razumkov Center study did not distinguish between denominations.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Kiev. Photographed October 2, 2014.

The Ukrainian and Muscovite Patriarchates have disseminated different accounts of the war in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Patriarchate has lambasted President Vladimir Putin for waging war on Ukraine, while the Moscow Patriarchate maintains close ties with the Russian president.

Patriarch Filaret, who heads the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, told the church’s website in early September that Putin “was trying to incite killings and bloodshed” and compared him to Cain, the son of Adam and Eve who killed his brother Abel in the Bible, Ecumenical News reported.

On October 12, the Russian Orthodox Church had made no mention on its website of the meeting with Tveit, who is a Norwegian Lutheran.

The WCC statement said Tveit expressed solidarity with the Russian Orthodox Church as she addresses the painful conflict in Ukraine.

He said Kirill shared his assessment of the situation and the suffering of those there.

DISCUSSION OF THE RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN CONFLICT

The two discussed the negative consequences of this conflict on East-West relations in Europe and on relations between churches and peoples in Europe and beyond.

Tveit said after his meeting in Moscow: “It was heartening that we will now both strengthen the role of the World Council of Churches as a peacemaker in the world for justice and peace.

“I believe this is the time to meet and talk more, not less, together as churches. Churches should strengthen their relationships in times of conflict.”

Tveit noted: “The Russian Orthodox Church is an important partner and member of the World Council of Churches. So I asked for a meeting with Patriarch Cyril of Moscow to discuss how we can contribute to peace in Europe.

“We also discussed the conflict in the Middle East and how we can support Christian churches in the region.”

The WCC has had sometimes difficult relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

At the WCC’s highest governing body meeting in Busan, South Korea, in November, Hilarion questioned the effectiveness of the World Council of Churches as an instrument of Christian unity.

The Russian clergyman is a former member of the main governing body of the World Council of Churches, its central committee, and has in the past taken some of the liberal positions of other WCC churches on social issues.

“As we continue to discuss our differences in the comfortable atmosphere of lectures and theological dialogues, the question resonates more and more resolutely: will Christian civilization survive at all? Hilarion said in Busan.

Tveit said the Moscow meeting “was a warm and open conversation and a great inspiration for the work of the WCC.”


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