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.

The altar of the Orthodox Church

Today, October 15, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate held a short meeting by remote communications.  The journal of the meeting reflects only two items.  The first item is as follows:

On December 29, 2020, the Holy Synod decided to hold a Council of Bishops from November 15 to 18, 2021 (Journal No. 103).


Due to the difficult epidemic situation, postpone the holding of the Bishops’ Council to May 2022, setting the dates of its meetings on May 26-29, 2022.

Thus, the question of whether the Bishops’ Council will adopt a harsh resolution against the Ecumenical Patriarchate in connection with the dispute in Ukraine and in connection with the powers claimed by the Ecumenical Patriarch in the universal Church will postponed for more than six months.  As mentioned in my last report, Patriarch Kirill will be celebrating his 75th birthday on November 20.  A festive celebration is being held on this occasion, and the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches with whom the Moscow Patriarchate is presently in communion have been invited to attend or to send delegations.  If the Bishops’ Council was held immediately before the birthday celebration and if the Council condemned Constantinople in its meeting, attendance at the birthday celebration could be argued by some as implicit support by those Local Churches for that condemnation.  The postponement of the Council avoids that sensitive situation.  This is not to say that the reason for the postponement was to avoid this, but the postponement does have this beneficial effect.

The second journal item is that the Moscow Patriarchate has established a diocese in the Republic Armenia and that Archbishop Leonid of Klin has been made bishop of that new diocese.  At the same time, Archbishop Leonid retains his position as one of the deputy chairmen of the DECR.  As you may recall, the Holy Synod at it September meeting assigned to Archbishop Leonid the responsibility of studying the requests of certain African priests to be received under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and to make a proposal to the Holy Synod concerning these African priests.  The fact that Archbishop Leonid has now been given the additional responsibility of the diocese in Armenia may be an indication that he will not be working full time on the African project.

The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch met in Balamand (Lebanon), October 5-8, 2021.  At the end of the meeting, a statement was issued.  The statement included the following:

The Synod Fathers considered the challenges facing Orthodoxy in the contemporary world, and stressed the importance of preserving the unity of Orthodoxy, respecting the canonical tradition of the Church, and avoiding anything that would exacerbate existing disputes, potentially transforming these disputes into larger and more consequential divisions in the one body of Christ.  In this regard, they called for the opening of a comprehensive dialogue concerning all the accumulated controversial issues in order to find solutions that would allow the restoration of ecclesiastical communion within the one Orthodox family.

In addition to calling for a “comprehensive dialogue,” this statement urges “avoiding anything that would exacerbate existing disputes.”  One wonders whether the Antiochian Synod had any specific future actions in mind when referring to exacerbating disputes.  It could include Moscow assuming jurisdiction over African priests or the November meeting of the Bishops’ Council in Moscow adopting new harsh resolutions against Constantinople.   If so, the Patriarchate of Antioch, as well as others, may be pleased with the actions taken in Moscow today.

On October 13, Patriarch Kirill hosted a trilateral meeting with the religious leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan “to discuss ways to resolve the consequences of the long-term conflict in the South Caucasus.”  Those in attendance included the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Patriarch Catholicos Karekin II and the Chairman of the Caucasus Muslims’ Board, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazadeh.  The following is the statement issued by Patriarch Kirill at the end of the meeting:  The next day, October 14, a trilateral meeting was held by the foreign ministers of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in Minsk.

A commentary posted today by Novaya Gazeta (the newspaper’s editor-in-chief has just won the Nobel Peace Prize) speculates that the establishment of a diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate in Armenia may be a response to certain critical remarks made by Karekin after the trilateral meeting.  However, it appears that Karekin agreed to the establishment of the diocese in his meeting with Kirill.

It has been reported that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be in Greece, November 20-29, in connection with the 30th anniversary of his accession to the Patriarchal Thone.  He will be in Athens until November 24, followed by visits to Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos.  Although Pope Francis has canceled his visit to Glasgow and postponed his visit to Malta, it now appear that he will still be traveling to Greece.  On October 14, a Vatican delegation arrived on the island of Lesvos to prepare for a visit by Pope Francis in late November.  As you recall, the Pope together with the Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop Hieronymos (primate of the Church of Greece) met with refugees on Lesvos in April 2016.  The visit this year will also relate to refugees.   As it appears that both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis will be in Greece in late November, one wonders if the two good friends will meet in Greece in November.

On October 17, a conference dedicated to Bartholomew’s 30th anniversary will be held at the Stavropegial Monastery of the Holy Trinity Tzagarolon in Crete.  A patriarchal institute in honor of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be established there.

Pope Francis has sent a letter to the Catholic faithful in Russia congratulating them on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of three apostolic administrations (located in Moscow, Novosibirsk, and Karaganda) for the Latin-rite in Russia.  He also added that “in your space of the Eastern Christian tradition, it is important to continue to walk along with all Christian brothers and sisters….”

For those of you who were following religious events in the Soviet Union in 1991, you may recall that the establishment of these administrations on April 13, 1991 resulted in a very negative reaction from the Moscow Patriarchate.  I personally was affected by this negative reaction.  If you will forgive a personal digression, I will end this report with a story which illustrates this and provides some insight into the ecumenical spirit of Patriarch Alexy II.

In connection with the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus in 1988, a “Sister Churches Program” was established between the Christian churches of Seattle and the Christian churches in Leningrad.  In September 1989, Metropolitan Alexy of Leningrad and Novgorod and a church delegation including the heads of the only Baptist, Armenian Apostolic, and Catholic churches in Leningrad came to Seattle as guests of the Program.  Metropolitan Alexy and the 11-person delegation spent 12 days in Seattle, and the Metropolitan became a very enthusiastic supporter of the Program.  At that time, he was the chairman of the Presidium of the Conference of European Churches, and his ecumenical spirit was very evident to us in Seattle.   In July 1990 the Goodwill Games (an athletic competition primarily between the US and the USSR) was held in Seattle.  In connection with the Games, the Program brought the Choir of Leningrad Orthodox Theological Schools (composed of 12 men from the seminary and academy and 12 women from the school for choir conductors) for a series of concerts in Seattle.  It was probably the first church choir to come to the United States from the Soviet Union since Bolshevik Revolution.  Metropolitan Alexy had planned to accompany the choir, but his election as Patriarch in June made this impossible.  The high point of the Choir’s Seattle visit was singing at the “Ecumenical Prayer for Good Will” at St. James Catholic Cathedral in Seattle with the 50-member choir of St. James.  Both were outstanding choirs, and the Cathedral was filled to capacity.  The Leningrad choir members stayed at the homes of the Catholic choir members, and many friendships were made.

The experience was so successful that Patriarch Alexy approved plans for the two choirs to tour in the Soviet Union together and to give joint concerts in Leningrad, Tallinn, Novgorod, Smolensk, and Moscow during the period June 22 – July 9, 1991.  The joint choir would sing at two of the Patriarch’s liturgies in Moscow.   These joint concerts, blessed by the Patriarch, would be an example of the friendship that should exist between Orthodox and Catholics in Russia, and this was presumably the message that Patriarch Alexy desired to convey.  However, this dream came to a sudden end when 14 days after the Vatican announced the establishment of the three apostolic administrations, the Catholic St. James Choir was notified by a fax from Leningrad that the joint tour was cancelled.   Although financial reasons were given for the cancellation, subsequent information made it apparent that the Holy Synod had vetoed the joint tour.  Due to a number of other factors, Orthodox – Catholic relations deteriorated in the Russian Federation during the subsequent years, and an improvement did not really occur until 2005.  However, I firmly believe that Patriarch Alexy had initially hoped for a very positive relationship with the Catholic Church in Russia, and the planned joint concert tour was to be a visible demonstration of this.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA