AN INTERVIEW WITH METROPOLITAN OF SMOLENSK AND KALININGRAD KIRILL, ...

CHAIRMAN OF THE EXTERNAL CHURCH RELATIONS DEPARTMENT (ECRD) OF THE MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE

 

What are the main tasks the senior officials of the Russian Orthodox Church assign to the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate?

ECRD is a synodical body that was set up in accordance with the Ordinance on the Management of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) of April 4, 1946, at the proposal of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy I by virtue of a ruling of the Holy Synod. This decision was vital for successful activities of ROC in the post-war period when the Church was given a definite opportunity to revive its service in a secular state and at the international level. External relations of the Church both in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate and beyond its boundaries fall under the terms of reference of the Department.

In the course of the past years, the Department structure has been repeatedly modified, which was due to the search for the most optimal forms of activity in each specific period. Currently, on the basis of the tasks set before it by the Episcopal Council, the Holy Synod and His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, the Department comprises several divisions, each being in charge of particular fields of activity.

In this way, the bulk of the activities of the Secretariat for Inter-Orthodox and Foreign Institutions is aimed at maintaining mutual ties with the sister Orthodox churches. Today, the concern for all-Orthodox unity is substantiated by the need for the revelation of the intransient values of Orthodoxy to the modern secular world. The same Secretariat maintains permanent contacts of the supreme church authority with the dioceses, representation offices, convents, monasteries, and parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in foreign countries. The amount of such work has been increasing in recent times due to the constant growth of the number of Russian Orthodox parishioners living outside their Motherland.

The Secretariat for Inter-Christian Relations maintains contacts of the Russian Orthodox Church with non-Orthodox Christians and their associations as well as with inter-confessional organizations.

We maintain and foster our ties with the Old Eastern (non-Chalcedonian) Churches that preserved the apostolic succession and remained in their traditions and church establishment close to Orthodoxy. They are in the focus of a special brotherly attention of ROC. Thus, the bilateral relations of our Church with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Church (Egypt), and the Ethiopian Church are filled with fruitful cooperation. Regular meetings of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II with His Holiness Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II are only one of the confirmations thereof.

Despite the considerable difficulties that emerged over the past decade, we continue our dialog with the Roman Catholic Church being aware of the fact that we deal with a major Christian confession. Our communication with the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the United States and other churches of the Anglican Communion, and the Old Catholic churches is marked by a constructive and favorable spirit. In the very same spirit our Church carries on its dialog with the Lutherans in Germany and Finland. We are convinced that the struggle against proselytism and the development of social service can be the most successful only in cooperation with the Christians of the other confessions.

The Church-State and Church-society relations that are maintained through the Secretariat for Mutual Church-Society Relations is the third principal aspect of the Department’s efforts. In the last decade when the church life in Russia and other CIS member countries is being actively revived, a significant part of our endeavors aims to fulfill the church mission within our society. In spite of many years of persecutions, the majority of the Russian citizens continue to be baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and are linked to it by spiritual and cultural roots. Accordingly, we, the clergymen, are called upon “to give an answer to every man… …with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). The Church representatives are ever more actively involved in the dialog with authorities in order to resolve numerous problems facing society. ROC energetically cooperates with a broad spectrum of State institutions and civil society structures in the area of legislation improvement, cultural heritage and public morality preservation, as well as in the educational and humanitarian fields.

Thanks to the active work of the Department staff, teachers of theologian educational institutions, schools, and experts from different scientific branches, draft Fundamentals of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church were drawn up. This document that reflects the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate on matters relating to the Church-State relationship as well as on a number of socially meaningful problems of today was adopted by the Episcopal Council in August 2000. The draft social concept reflects, among other things, the Church’s approaches to the ethnos, secular law, property, war and peace, family and public morals, environmental protection, bio-ethical problems, international relations, globalization, and secularism matters. Active work is under way that aims the propagation of the above document.

Besides, the Department engages in a dialog with the traditional non-Christian religious communities both in Russia and abroad. Peacekeeping activities that have recently acquired paramount importance due to bloody conflicts in CIS space constitute the top priority of this relationship. In partnership with State, social and religious organizations, the Department is involved in active and consistent work directed toward the prevention of similar tragic developments. Thus, in early November last year, an Inter-Religious Peacemaking Forum has been held in Moscow at the initiative of the Russian Orthodox Church; at the Forum representatives of the traditional religions discussed ways of addressing many vital problems the citizens of Russia and other CIS nations are confronted with.

Cooperation with secular media, both Russian and foreign, is an important line of the Department’s activity. Owing to the work of our Communications Service, the most important events in church life and the documents of the Supreme Church Hierarchy are made available to practically all major media within the shortest time. The service not only distributes official information through the Internet but it also actively works with journalists.

Over the last decade, the number of our countrymen who wanted to visit the Holy Land and bow to its holy places has increased many times. The Pilgrim Service that directly reports to ECRD does its best to make sure that such travels bring each Orthodox Christian the greatest possible benefit.

 

Which are the most important challenges facing ROC and ECRD in the international arena in the new century?

In the course of world history, the relations among countries and peoples were built on most varied principles inherent to this or that type of consciousness, this or that epoch. In the present new century, qualitatively new issues are emerging whose resolution calls for an in-depth insight into the ongoing international processes. There are numerous instances of how these processes violate the moral principles of justice and mutual respect.

We consider the settlement of problems engendered by the ever accelerating rate of political, economic, information and cultural globalization as today’s most critical task. In the past century, we have witnessed the development of a ramified system of international law. Today, however, numerous decisions affecting the life of all mankind and each individual are sometimes adopted at the level of international structures, which often is done without taking account of national traditions and customs. The traditional methods of society organization and power exercise are undergoing changes. Here we should also consider the fact that the positive globalization results are accessible only to those few countries that have identical economic and political systems rooted in Western culture. Therefore, consistent efforts should be made so that the rest of the countries stay not aloof from the world processes and have the real full-blooded opportunities for enjoying all civilization accomplishments.

Globalization will become a positive process only provided it enables every people with its original and unique traditions to live and develop in an unfettered manner. The domination of one single culture, ideology, value system, and political doctrine will turn out to be suppression that is always followed by a protest.

The concern for the multitude of countrymen living beyond their Motherland is an important aspect of the Church’s international activities. There are Moscow Patriarchate parishes in all continents. In the last ten years, the number of Russian people residing outside Russia has risen considerably. This trend is likely to continue in the new century. The Church undertakes immense efforts to give its spiritual backing and pastoral care to the Russians who strive to preserve their faith and cultural traditions. At their initiative, parishes in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, Norway, South African Republic, and other countries have been opened in the past few years. We intend to expand the presence of our Church in foreign countries in the future so that no one of the Russian Orthodox men and women be left without pastoral care.

 

Within the Church, a discussion on the ecumenism issue is going on. Which of the viewpoints does prevail?

The basis of the relationship of the Church with the non-Orthodox world is formed by the realization of the fact that unity is a direct commandment of Our Lord to all those who believe in Him. The ROC has been actively engaged in the movement for the reunification of the Christians in the 19th and especially in the early 20th century. The Local Council held in 1917-1918 set up within its framework a special Department for the Unification of Churches, primarily with a view of uniting the Anglicans and Old Catholics with the Orthodox Church, the ultimate objective being the unity of all Christians based on the faith and the Tradition of the only One Old Church. As is known, the real work of the Department could not be brought to fruition as a result of the tragic post-revolutionary developments. Incidentally, separate fruitful contacts with Western Christians were established by our pastors and theologians that were forced to emigrate.

Over the last fifty years, the ECRD of the Moscow Patriarchate maintains contacts of ROC with non-Orthodox churches and associations. It should be emphasized that, as far as religious doctrine issues are concerned, we have never compromised in the course of these contacts. Of late, however, some clerics and laymen have leveled criticism at the participation of the Russian Church in the Christian unity movement and, first and foremost, in the World Council of Churches (WCC), which is the principal organizational embodiment of this movement. I take the view that the domination of extreme protestant liberalism in the WCC underlies such opinions. There is also a danger of syncretism, or erosion of the doctrine of the exclusivity of Divine Revelation and the salvation in the Jesus Christ Church. All those equivocal trends are studied by us and influence our position. In my opinion, the inadequate awareness of the Church goers of the essence and results of the relevant trends are one more reason for criticizing inter-Christian contacts. At the moment, our Department is stepping up its information work in order for every cleric and layman to know about what is going on in the sphere of relations with non-Orthodoxy.

During the above-mentioned Jubilee Episcopal Council, this topic was discussed exhaustively and from all angles. The major document entitled “On the Main Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to Non-Orthodoxy” was adopted. This document clearly outlines for the first time ever the principles, by which our Church is guided in its inter-Christian communication. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II says, “It is impossible to exist in the modern world in complete isolation: it is necessary to establish a wide-ranging Christian cooperation in the theologian, educational, social, cultural, peacemaking, diaconic, and other fields of church life. It does not suffice to just state that the Orthodox Church is the receptacle of Revelation fullness. We have to manifest it by our own deeds setting an example of how the apostolic faith kept by the Orthodox Church transforms the minds and hearts of people and improves the surrounding world. If we do really and not falsely grieve over our separated brothers, then we have a moral duty to meet with them and seek mutual understanding.

Communication service
of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate
Adress: 22, Danilovsky val, Danilov monastery DECR, 113191 Moscow, Russia

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