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 March 30, the Holy Council of Bishops of the Polish Orthodox Church held its spring session. The communique issued at the end of the meeting can be read at https://www.orthodox.pl/komunikat-kancelarii-sw-soboru-biskupow-12/. The communique includes the following paragraph:
Documents of the heads of individual local churches related to the situation of church life in Ukraine were read. The Holy Council of Bishops reaffirmed its current position on the above issue, expressing its concern over the prolonged crisis in the church in Ukraine, and decided to continue comprehensive international activities for the unity of Orthodoxy.
The paragraph raises the question as to what are the recent documents from primates relating to church life in Ukraine. One must be the February 24 letter from Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem in which he expressed the hope that it may be possible later this year for the primates “to gather for prayer and fellowship.” https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2021/02/24/open-letter-from-his-beatitude-patriarch-theophilos-iii/. In this letter, Patriarch Theophilos had referred to the one-year anniversary of the Amman meeting. Patriarch Theophilos had hosted the Amman meeting on February 26, 2020, to discuss Orthodox unity, especially with respect to Ukraine. This meeting, to which the Ecumenical Patriarchate objected, was attend by primates or representatives of six of the Local Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Church of Poland sent a delegation headed by Archbishop Abel of Lublin and Chełm. https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2020/02/26/maintain-the-unity-of-the-spirit-in-the-bond-of-peace-eph-43-the-amman-fraternal-familial-gathering-of-the-orthodox-primates-and-delegates-25-27-february-2020/ Poland has sided with Moscow on the Ukrainian dispute. See https://orthochristian.com/138424.html
With respect to the February 24 letter from Patriarch Theophilos to all of the primates, Metropolitan Hilarion subsequently stated that the Moscow Patriarchate “will accept this initiative.” https://mospat.ru/en/news/86772/ However, I have seen nothing about a letter from Patriarch Kirill to the other primates confirming this. The foregoing paragraph indicates that there might well be correspondence from various primates responding to the suggestion by Patriarch Theophilos for a meeting later this year and that this correspondence has not yet been made public. Although it is not certain, the decision of the Polish bishops “to continue comprehensive international activities for the unity of Orthodoxy” could well be an indication that the Polish Church endorses a future meeting of the primates as suggested by the recent letter from Patriarch Theophilos. The use of the verb “continue” could be a reference to a willingness by Poland to continue to participate in a Amman-type format.
In other news, the UOC-MP presented on April 1 to the Office of President Zelensky a petition with over one million signatures objecting to various “discriminatory” laws, especially the law relating to the name of the UOC-MP. https://mospat.ru/ru/news/86926/ An English translation of the petition is found at https://spzh.news/en/news/78582-obrashhenije-verujushhih-upc-k-prezidentu-po-povodu-gonenij-na-cerkovy-tekst. On March 31, the Russian Federation Council approved the law, previously passed by the Duma, which requires the recertification of clergy receiving religious education abroad and which has provisions limiting schisms. https://ria.ru/20210331/dukhovenstvo-1603635040.html Catholics have expressed some concern with respect to this legislation. https://www.ucanews.com/news/russian-bishops-official-worried-about-new-religion-regulations/91930# With respect to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, the Moscow Patriarchate to date has only imposed the restriction on the visitation of Russian pilgrims on the jurisdictions of two hierarchs: Archbishop Chrysostomos and Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia. https://credo.press/236392/
Serbia’s Minister of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue Gordana Čomić is proposing the adoption of a law recognizing same-sex unions in Serbia. https://www.rts.rs/page/stories/ci/story/1/politika/4310698/comic-o-nacrtu-zakona-o-istopolnim-zajednicama.html The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church on March 25 issued a statement finding the proposed bill “unacceptable” and suggesting that the personal and property problems faced by individuals in such relationships be resolved administratively rather than through marital and family legislation. https://www.spc.rs/eng/press_release_holy_synod_bishops_4 Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić, is the first openly gay person to hold that office and has a same-sex union with her female partner. It has been reported that Patriarch Porfirije has a good relationship with both President Vučić and Prime Minister Brnabić.
In an event that was big news in the media, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave a negative answer to the question of whether the Catholic Church has the power to bless the unions of persons of the same sex. The official English translation of the entire text of the decision can be read at https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20210222_responsum-dubium-unioni_en.html. Although the Orthodox Church does not bless same-sex marriages, the only prominent Orthodox hierarch who has publicly defended this specific Vatican’s document (as far as I can determine) is Metropolitan Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate. https://mospat.ru/ru/news/86921/ An English translation of Metropolitan Hilarion’s comments are found at https://www.pravmir.com/metropolitan-hilarion-the-church-does-not-bless-same-sex-unions-because-this-is-a-sinful-way-of-life/. The Metropolitan’s comments are very strong. For those seeking a blessing for a same-sex union, the Metropolitan states: “We tell them: if you want to be saved, then you must give up the sinful way of life.”
On March 25, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal of Ukraine met with Pope Francis. https://www.kmu.gov.ua/en/news/premyer-ministr-ukrayini-zustrivsya-z-jogo-svyatistyu-papoyu-rimskim-franciskom In the official communique from the Ukrainian government, it is stated: “In conclusion, the Prime Minister conveyed to His Holiness Pope Francis an invitation from the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to pay a visit to Ukraine on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Independence.” As you recalled, President Zelensky extended a similar invitation to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Bartholomew has accepted the invitation. The Vatican’s communique with respect to the Pope’s meeting with Shmyhal does not mention any invitation. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2021/03/25/210325e.html It is reported that the Vatican is considering the invitation. https://risu.ua/papa-francisk-rozglyadaye-pitannya-vizitu-v-ukrayinu—posol_n117335
Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun has given an extensive interview to Volodymyr Mamchyn , a PhD student at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Innsbruck, concerning the religious situation in Ukraine. The interview was posted at https://risu.ua/arhimandrit-kiril-govorun-cerkva-povinna-napovnyuvati-publichnij-prostir-ne-lishe-brizkami-svyatoyi-vodi-a-j-sensami_n117082 and subsequently at a number of other websites. At one time, Father Cyril was head of the DECR of the UOC-MP, but has been teaching for a number of years, mostly in the West. He is very sympathetic with the OCU. Father Cyril has a number of interesting insights. One is the need of the UOC-MP and the OCU to learn to live together in peace. He stated: “I want to return once again to the idea we expressed at the beginning: it is God’s providence that the Churches are not united, because we do not yet know how to accept each other and live together in peace. In order to exist in one Church, we need to learn more.” Earlier, Father Cyril had stated: “I would even say that it is such providence of God that puts us in such conditions that we are forced to put up with each other – and that’s good! He also stated: “The question of the affiliation of parishes must be resolved, this problem exists, but we should not forget, but rather prioritize missionary work.” In other words, the OCU and the UOC-MP should not emphasize seeking to increase their numbers by recruiting members from the other church’s flock, but should rather focus their efforts more by missionary activities directed at those who do not regularly go to church.
In my opinion, the need of the UOC-MP and the OCU to live together in peace makes a great deal of sense. Neither the OCU nor the UOC-MP will disappear in the foreseeable future. Like the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches, they should accept the reality of the other’s existence. Although the Catholic Church has not accepted the validity of the ordination of Anglican orders, that has not prevented relations between the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Likewise, the refusal of the UOC-MP to recognize the validity of OCU orders should not prevent a relationship marked by civility. With respect to the division between Local Orthodox Churches as to recognition of the OCU, some Local Orthodox Churches have recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America, but others have not. However, this lack of uniformity of recognition has not caused a split in the Orthodox world. The same should be true of the OCU.
The following are a few steps that could be taken to promote religious peace between the UOC-MP and the OCU: (1) the OCU would cease to portray the UOC-MP as an instrument of a hostile foreign power; (2) the OCU would cease to support efforts to change the name of the UOC-MP; (3) the OCU would not opposed visits to Ukraine by important hierarchs of the Moscow Patriarchate, such as Patriarch Kirill; (4) the OCU would insist that any transfer of parishes be accomplished solely through the government and the courts and that “self-help” measures would not be used; (5) the UOC-MP would cease its current vitriolic attacks against the OCU through homilies, the media, and the Internet; (6) the UOC-MP would agree to meet with representatives of the OCU at various times to discuss matters of mutual interest; (7) the UOC-MP would comply with competent court orders requiring a transfer of a parish; (8) the UOC-MP would not oppose visits to Ukraine by important hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, such as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. All of this could perhaps be negotiated as a “package deal” in which each side makes concessions. In thinking of this, I cannot help but remember the photo of Metropolitan Onufry and Metropolitan Epifany giving each other a Paschal greeting on May 9, 2019. See photo pasted below. Perhaps the spirit of Pascha 2021 could result in some healing between the OCU and the UOC-MP.
To those of you who are celebrating Easter this Sunday, I wish you a very blessed Resurrection of Our Lord!
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA