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.

On September 16 and 17, the Moscow Patriarchate held a major conference in Moscow on the subject, “World Orthodoxy: Primacy and Conciliarity in the Light of Orthodox Dogmatic Teaching.”  The sponsors were the Moscow Patriarchate’s DECR, the Biblical – Theological Commission, and the Institute of Post-Graduate and Doctoral Studies – all headed by Metropolitan Hilarion.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/88041/  The position of the Moscow Patriarchate on this subject is already well-known.  In fact, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate issued a definitive and authoritative document on this subject in December 2013.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/51892/ (full text)  This position essentially rejects any claims by the Ecumenical Patriarchate for primacy in the Universal Church except for a primacy of honor.  It appears that the main purpose of the current conference is to gather scholarly papers and opinions in support of this position and to publish them.

The importance of this conference to the Moscow Patriarchate is demonstrated by the fact that Patriarch Kirill, who has made relatively few public appearances this year (apparently because of Covid), personally appeared at the conference and gave the opening address.  The official English translation of his address is found at https://mospat.ru/en/news/88039/.  A video of his presentation is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt5Hb0kyRnY .  The Patriarch states that there are “certain political forces” that are seeking “to reproduce the model of the Great Schism of 1054” and divide Orthodoxy by separating Greek from Slavic.  Generally, the various points made by Patriarch Kirill are not new, but the address should be read in its entirety.  However, the Patriarch does state that he hopes that the Bishops’ Council, which will be held later this year in Moscow, “will adopt a resolution with regard to the position of our Church concerning the actions of Constantinople.”

The names of many of the participants in the conference are set forth at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/88041/.   Of course, the vast majority are from the Moscow Patriarchate.  Metropolitan Hilarion presented a new volume which “is the most complete collection of documents on the history of the reunification of the Kiev Metropolis with the Russian Orthodox Church in 1686.” https://mospat.ru/ru/news/88048/  The listed persons from other Local Orthodox Churches (most of whom participated remotely) were:  Bishop Irinej of Bačka (Serbian Patriarchate); Archbishop Theodosios of Sebastia (Jerusalem Patriarchate); Metropolitan Andrea of Gori and Ateni (Georgian Patriarchate);  Protopresbyter George Zviadadze (Georgian Patriarchate);  Metropolitan Isaiah of Tamassos and Orinis (Church of Cyprus); and Metropolitan Nikiforos of Kykkos and Tylliria (Church of Cyprus).   It appears that Archbishop George of Košice-Michalovc (Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia) was present but did not speak.  The presentations of persons from other Local Orthodox Churches is summarized at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/88051/.   See also https://mospat.ru/ru/news/88052/ (full text of joint report by the two Metropolitans from Cyprus); https://mospat.ru/ru/news/88061/  (full text of the presentation by Bishop Irinej).

As far as I know, none of the presenters from other Local Orthodox Churches stated that their views were the official views of their respective Local Orthodox Church.  In fact, the primate of the Church of Cyprus has recognized the OCU.  It should also be noted that members of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from all of the Local Orthodox Churches, except for the absent Moscow and Bulgaria, appeared to have agreed in the Ravenna document that primacy at the universal level involved “a series of prerogatives “ – something more than simply honor.  http://www.christianunity.va/content/unitacristiani/en/dialoghi/sezione-orientale/chiese-ortodosse-di-tradizione-bizantina/commissione-mista-internazionale-per-il-dialogo-teologico-tra-la/documenti-di-dialogo/testo-in-inglese.html (full text in English including paragraphs 43 and 44)

The 52nd Eucharistic Congress, which began in Budapest on September 5, ended with a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Heros Square before a crowd of approximately 100,000.  The Congress included addresses by a number of Orthodox speakers.   On September 6, Metropolitan Hilarion (Moscow Patriarchate) gave a presentation on the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist.  https://mospat.ru/en/news/87972/  (full text in English).  The following opening sentence of his address received considerable attention from the Catholic media: “The Catholics and the Orthodox are not united in the Eucharist, but they are united in the conviction that in the Eucharistic bread and wine after their consecration we have not just symbolic presence of Christ, but his full and real presence.”  After the presentation, Metropolitan Hilarion was interviewed in English by the Catholic media network EWTN.  https://ondemand.ewtn.com/Home/Play/45 (10-minute video)  He referred to the “huge gap,” including in the Russian Federation, between those who are nominal Christians and those who are practicing Christians – the latter believing in the true presence.    He also remarked:  “I don’t think that we should make some aspirations related to the restoration of the full communion between the, for example the Catholics and the Orthodox….” (9:05)  However, overall it was a very positive interview.  Metropolitan Hilarion also met with the president of Hungary János Áder (a devote Catholic) and with Cardinal Péter Erdő of Budapest (with whom the Metropolitan has had a long friendship).  https://mospat.ru/en/news/87963/  The Metropolitan attended the opening Mass of the Congress on September 5.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew arrived in Budapest on September 10.  He met with the president of Hungary and laid the cornerstone for a church on land donated to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Hungarian government.  https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-met-hungarian-president/  On the afternoon of September 11, he was the guest of Cardinal Péter Erdő at a Mass in Kossuth Square next to the Hungarian Parliament building.  Before the Mass began, the Ecumenical Patriarch gave an address on the Eucharist.  The full text of the address in English can be read at https://fosfanariou.gr/index.php/2021/09/13/address-of-his-all-holiness-ecumenical-patriarch-bartholomew-to-the-52nd-international-eucharistic-congress-budapest-4-12-september-2021/  His address ended with an appeal for Christian unity.  He stated:  “The eucharistic realization of the Church in the common chalice and the shared Christian witness in the world is the vision and the dream of all of us who experience the continually existing division of Christianity as a fact, which, as Father Georges Florovsky aptly stated, ‘according to the plan of God should not have taken place.’”  He quotes Florovsky that “East and West organically belong together in the unity of Christendom.”  Unlike Metropolitan Hilarion, the Ecumenical Patriarch does has aspirations for a restoration of a shared Eucharist between Orthodox and Catholics at some time in the future.  Cardinal Erdő in his homily stated that the world has “a desperate need” for a unified testimony of Eastern and Western Christianity.   https://www.budapesttimes.hu/hungary/cardinal-erdo-calls-for-unified-testimony-of-eastern-western-christianity/  The entire Mass on September 11 and the beautiful candlelight procession through the streets of Budapest can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybiKar-POXY (beginning at 54:00) .

At the closing Mass with Pope Francis, the Ecumenical Patriarch was seated very prominently on the platform close to the altar.  He is very visible throughout the video of the Mass.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9pzJjr7uPA  The following link shows a number of photos of the encounters of the two church leaders at the Mass.  https://panorthodoxsynod.blogspot.com/2021/09/photos.html  The two also had a short private meeting after the Mass.  Later the same day, Pope Francis traveled to Bratislava.  At a meeting with representatives of other churches and religious organizations in Slovakia, he met with Metropolitan Rastislav, primate of the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia.  With this meeting, Pope Francis has now met 11 of the primates of the 14 Local Orthodox Church considered by all of the Local Orthodox Churches to be autocephalous.  Only three of the primates now remain:  Serbian Patriarch Porfirije (who met with Pope Francis three times before becoming patriarch), Metropolitan Sawa of Poland (who met with Pope John Paul II in 1999), and Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus (whom Pope Francis will meet later this year).  I have pasted below a photo of the Pope meeting Metropolitan Rastislav.

An important Joint Message for the Protection of Creation, dated September 1 and signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and Archbishop Justin of Canterbury was released on September 7.  The full text in English is found at https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2021/documents/20210901-messaggio-protezionedelcreato.html .

Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov, whose name has been mentioned as a future Patriarch of Moscow, has stated:  “I cannot be a patriarch according to the charter of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Only a person with a higher academic theological education can become a patriarch.  [see IV(17)(b) of the charter – “have a higher theological education”].  I have no such education.”  https://pln-pskov.ru/church/chpu/424954.html  In 2004 Tikhon graduated from the Sretensky Theological Seminary as an external student.  http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/60784.html  However, he was the rector of this very important seminary from 1999 to 2018.

The Holy See has named the Auxiliary Bishop of Grodno, Iosif Staneuski, as Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev.  https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2021/09/catholics-in-belarus-welcome-new-archbishop-amid-continued-repression/ (article by Jonathan Luxmoore).  The following article in a major anti-Lukashenko website reflects some reservations concerning the appointment.  https://belsat.eu/news/14-09-2021-talkovy-pastyr-ale-ih-kandydat-tsi-zdolee-novy-mitrapalit-skazats-ne-mozham-uladze/  Staneuski has now issued a short letter to the faithful.  https://catholic.by/3/news/belarus/13792-zvarot-pryznachanaga-artsybiskupa-mitrapalita-minska-magiljo-skaga-yuzafa-stane-skaga  It is too early to make any judgments concerning him.

The website of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate has posted an English-language article entitled: “Parishioners of a captured church in Vinnitsa region: the coming of Patriarch Bartholomew has aggravated the schism.”  https://mospat.ru/en/news/87985/  The article relates to a parish in the village of Krasnosilka (population 1,865) in the Vinnitsa Oblast of Ukraine and the activities of supporters of the OCU in taking over a parish.  Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil (UOC-MP) has stated that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is primarily response for the “seizure” of the village church.    Metropolitan Anthony states that this event proves the correctness of his earlier prediction that the visit of Bartholomew to Ukraine would cause new seizures.  https://spzh.news/en/news/82519-upravdelami-upc-za-novyje-bedy-verujushhih-otvetstvennosty-neset-glava-fanara  However, another article provides additional facts.  https://religionpravda.com.ua/?p=74625  There was a vote in the village in early 2019 to change the parish’s affiliation from the UOC-MP to the UOC.  This vote was challenged by the UOC-MP in the courts.  The court ruled in favor of the OCU, and the UOC-MP appealed.  On March 31 the Vinnytsia Court of Appeal denied the appeal of the UOC-MP and upheld the legality of the transfer.  The UOC-MP then appealed to Ukraine’s Supreme Court and asked for a new trial.  On July 5, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the OCU and denied the request for a new trial.  Believing the appeals through the Ukrainian legal system had been exhausted and having the necessary legal registration papers transferring the parish, the OCU parishioners took possession of the church and parish house.   After possession was taken, the head of the legal department of the UOC-MP stated that the Ukrainian judges were “biased” and that the UOC-MP community “has not exhausted the means of protection against raider seizures.”  https://spzh.news/en/news/82454-zajavlyaty-o-pobede-pcu-v-krasnoselke-prezhdevremenno–glava-jurotdela-upc  However, he did not specify what those means of protection are.  As far as I know, no other parishes have sought to transfer to the OCU since the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA