Peter Anderson reports from the Orthodox world.

Longstanding reporter of the news from the Eastern Church, Peter Anderson shares our dream of a unified Christianity. His love for Orthodoxy has driven him to this personal mission to share the news of East with the world through his email list. The Urbi et Orbi Foundation is proud to share his efforts and his insights with you.

Recent events make it increasing clear that the strategy of the Moscow Patriarchate is to avoid discussion of a compromise solution between the UOC-MP and the OCU, but rather to focus discussions on the powers claimed by Constantinople with respect to the other Local Orthodox Churches.  The UOC-MP is also adopting this strategy.  On May 12, the Holy Synod of the UOC-MP held its first meeting of the year.    At this meeting, the Holy Synod decided:

The Holy Synod considered violations by the Patriarchate of Constantinople of the principle of the synodality of the Church through unilateral interference in Ukrainian church affairs, as well as misinterpretation by the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople of certain canons of the IV Ecumenical Council.

Given that this year marks 1970 years since the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem and the 1570th anniversary of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which marked the beginning of the Council’s decisions on important issues in church life and which adopted a number of important doctrinal and canonical decisions, the Synod instructed the Kyiv Theological Academy [the most important theological school of the UOC-MP] to hold events dedicated to the theological and canonical understanding of the principle of the synodality of the Church and the issue of primacy among the Local Orthodox Churches.  Particular attention will be paid to the theological, canonical and historical interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council.  Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches will be involved in these events.

Sometime earlier, Bishop Silvestre of Belogorodka, rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy, gave an interview which was posted by the Serbian Orthodox Church on May 10.  When asked about a “compromise solution” relating to a united Ukrainian Church, he replied that this was not being considered, and he immediately changed the subject to the “global goals” of Constantinople.  Now, Bishop Victor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka, the representative of the UOC-MP to European international organizations, has stated that he considers it very important that the UOC-MP Synod made a decision to focus on the theological, canonical and historical interpretation of Canon 28 in the context of the church-wide teaching on synodality and understanding of primacy in the Orthodox Church.  He expresses the hope that the work done at the Kyiv Theological Academy with respect to the actions of Constantinople will be “a useful basis for the future Amman-2.”–ijerarkh-upc

For me, it is understandable that the Moscow Patriarchate wishes to avoid any discussion of a compromise solution leading to a united Ukrainian Church as such a solution would probably involve a departure of the Ukrainian Church from the Moscow Patriarchate.  However, such a compromise may be the only practical way of resolving the Ukrainian dispute in the foreseeable future.  It may well be possible to negotiate a resolution between the UOC-MP and OCU which is favorable to the UOC-MP.  Rather than risking the possibility of a departure of the Ukrainian Church, the Moscow Patriarchate seeks to focus attention on the global issues relating to the powers of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  However, under the rule requiring a complete consensus of all of the Local Orthodox Churches for a pan-Orthodox decision, there is almost no possibility in the foreseeable future that Moscow and Constantinople will come to an agreement on the powers of Constantinople.  The best that Moscow can hope for is to obtain clear decisions by as many Local Orthodox Churches as possible that Moscow’s view of the powers of Constantinople is the correct one and that the view of Constantinople is not correct.  However, such a result will leave Orthodoxy even more sharply divided than it is now.

From May 13 to 16, the Ökumenischen Kirchentag (ÖKT) or Ecumenical Church Congress is being held in Frankfurt am Main.   It appears that the Greek Orthodox Church in Germany will have some limited involvement.  See  With respect to reception of communion at Catholic Masses at the Congress, the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Germany, Bishop Georg Bätzing, has stated:

The offered celebration is not about intercommunion in the sense of a general reciprocal invitation to participate in the Eucharist and Lord’s Supper, but about the question of how we deal with the personal decisions of conscience of individual Catholic or Protestant Christians.  For me, I respect such a decision and give communion when someone comes along who believes what we Catholics believe and wants to receive the body of the Lord in faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ.  Interestingly, he says nothing about Orthodox receiving Catholic communion.  Presumably, he knows that Orthodox Church would be opposed to it.  Still, the position taken by Bishop Bätzing in allowing non-Catholics to receive communion in Germany under certain circumstances is different from the position of the Orthodox Church which allows only Orthodox to receive Orthodox communion.  Indeed, the Vatican warned last year that the German Catholic Church in providing the Eucharist to non-Catholic spouses may “open new rifts in the ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches.”

There is one aspect of the position taken by Bishop Bätzing and others that seems to be completely ignored, and that is sacramental confession.  Orthodox practice with respect to the requirement of confession before communion varies.  Some Orthodox require a layperson to confess before every reception of the Eucharist, while others allow reception if the person has confessed in the not-too- distant past.  With respect to the Catholic Church, Canon 916 of the Code of Canon Law provides:  “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to …receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.”  I have found no provision allowing an exception to Canon 916.  The approach taken by Bishop Bätzing allows Protestants who believe in the real presence to receive communion even though they never have gone to sacramental confession in their lifetime or may not even believe in the sacrament of confession.  During the years of severe persecution in the USSR, the Moscow Patriarchate for a period of time allowed Catholics to receive communion in the Orthodox Church, but provision was also made for the Catholics to confess to an Orthodox priest.

Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem has given an interview to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, with respect to Holy Fire.    In the interview, he stated:

The true goal of the ecumenical journey is the restoration of the common Chalice to all those who are the followers of Christ.  Our foil, sacramental unity in faith and love must always be our goal.  In more recent times this goal has faded into the background, but we must retrieve it and place it back at the forefront of our efforts.  Only in this way will we have a chance of fulfilling the words that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed to his Father when he said, may they become completely one (John 17:23).

It is interesting to compare the above statement by Patriarch Theophilos with a recent article posted by the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate.  The article has the title:  “Metropolitan Hilarion: we are conducting a dialogue with representatives of other confessions to explain our position to them.”  Nothing is said in the article about sacramental unity.  Personally, I do not attributed the two different approaches to differing views of the respective persons, but rather to the reality that stressing a goal of restoring a common Chalice would well cause harsh criticism from the conservative wing of the Moscow Patriarchate.

In other news, the Italian website Settimana News has posted an article entitled, “Those uncomfortable voices for the East.”  It discusses how Lithuanian Cardinal Tamkevičius (who spent many years in a Soviet gulag and exile in Siberia), Archbishop Gądecki (chairman of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference), and the Hungarian Catholic Bishops have used words on the dangers of liberal Western culture very similar to the words used by the Moscow Patriarchate.  A bioethics forum is being held in Pyatigorsk, Russia, May 12-14.  It is organized by the Department for Church Relations with Society and the Media of the Moscow Patriarch and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.  At the forum, a draft document has been presented entitled,  “The attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to in vitro fertilization.”  The document was prepared by Moscow Patriarchate’s Inter-Council Presence for presentation at the Bishops’ Council to be held in November.  The document seems to allow IVF under certain circumstances.  According to an article by RIA-Novosti, the document was sharply attacked at the forum by certain representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate who believe that the document goes too far in allowing certain types of IVF.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA