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Metropolitan Kyril explains why the ROC stays in the WCC

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  • Reader Timothy Tadros
    Europaica 105 Wed, 27 Sep 2006 5:09 PM Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad: We should bear witness to true faith in all places and in all times so
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      Europaica 105 Wed, 27 Sep 2006 5:09 PM

      Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad: We should bear
      witness to
      true faith in all places and in all times so that at least some may
      be saved

      What were the reasons for the Russian Orthodox Church joining the
      World
      Council of Churches in 1961 despite the fact that the 1948
      Conference of
      Heads and Representatives of Autocephalous Orthodox Churches had
      adopted a
      resolution condemning ecumenism?

      Actually, the decision to join the Council was far from being taken
      in one
      sitting, and it was not easy to take.

      We know that the Church is a divine-human organism with its earthly
      part
      not just living in society, among people of other faiths or non-
      believers,
      but also responsible before God and people for preaching the word of
      God,
      for the moral state of the people. Our Church had minimal
      opportunities for
      preaching at the Soviet time. And we saw in our membership in the
      WCC a
      chance to fortify our position within the country through coming out
      into
      the international arena. Besides, the 'political' and social work of
      the
      WCC in the 1960s and 70s included anti-war initiatives, criticism of
      various forms of racism and fascism, struggle with poverty and with
      nuclear
      proliferation. We had no objections against these programs. We did
      not and
      do not consider them to be in contradiction to our Christian
      conscience. On
      the contrary, in joining WCC programs in these areas, we followed the
      Lord's commandment: 'Blessed are the peacemakers' (Mt. 5:9).

      Theologically, the membership in the WCC in the 60s was also more
      justified
      since at that time the Council already built its work on the basis
      of the
      Toronto Declaration, which did not only affirm the faith in the Holy
      Trinity as basis for Christian cooperation, but also stated
      definitely and
      clearly that the Council did not claim any power over member
      churches, nor
      any right to give instruction to churches or to speak on their
      behalf. It
      was stated quite definitely that the WCC was only a forum called to
      serve
      churches in their relationships and did not have and could not have
      an
      ecclesiology of its own.

      As you can see, contrary to the mythology created around the WCC's
      alleged
      claims to be a sort of 'Super-Church' the Council has always been
      only a
      forum for Christians of various confessions.

      Nevertheless, we were far from accepting everything in the Council's
      basis
      and its theological work. We considered it necessary to bear witness
      to
      Orthodoxy in the Protestant milieu. The World Council of Churches
      also
      gathered strength and international authority, and we could not
      allow the
      considerable part of Christendom represented in it to have a
      distorted view
      of Orthodoxy. Certainly, there were representatives of other Orthodox
      Churches, including archpastors, pastors and theologians, who
      emigrated
      from Russia after 1917, working in the WCC at that time. But they
      were few
      and they often had to yield to pressure from other confessions. In
      this
      situation, we could not stand aside.

      Your Eminence, the question arises immediately at this point about
      the
      Orthodox sharing communion with the Protestants and Catholics. There
      are a
      lot of stories that this practice did exist in the WCC.

      That is good that you have reminded me about it. With all
      seriousness and
      responsibility I state that representatives of the Russian Orthodox
      Church
      have never come to communion with the non-Orthodox and have never let
      believers from other Christian communities to come to the Chalice.

      I will quote a document devoted especially to 'intercommunion' and
      drafted
      by the WCC Faith and Order Commission as far back as 1952: 'The
      possibility
      for interconfessional communion between churches which require
      uninterrupted apostolic succession in consecration of bishops and
      non-episcopal churches is excluded, and this affirmation is final'.

      I can give you another example. The WCC assigns one day during its
      assemblies for the Orthodox liturgy. And some Protestants always
      complain
      loudly that they were not admitted to communion. This is a rule
      which has
      never had any exceptions.

      Your Eminence, what about 'the branch theory' then? Many Orthodox
      people
      abroad, and some in Russia as well, are convinced that the WCC
      membership
      presupposes the acceptance of 'the theory of branches' and the
      existence of
      a certain inherent unity of all Christian Churches, which only needs
      to be
      'made visible'?

      It is another popular myth about the WCC. I do not mean 'the branch
      theory', which is really shared by most of Protestant communities,
      but the
      allegation that this theory is shared by all the WCC members.

      I would like to state absolutely clearly that for Orthodox
      Christians there
      can be no doubt that the Orthodox Church is the One Holy Catholic and
      Apostolic Church. Throughout the history of the WCC, none of its
      Orthodox
      participants have supported the so-called 'branch theory' as it
      totally
      contradicts Orthodox ecclesiology.

      What can you say about the present state of the WCC. Many speak and
      write
      today about a crisis of the ecumenical movement. Perhaps the WCC
      will die
      and there will be nothing to speak about?

      Perhaps. The crisis in the ecumenical movement is linked first of
      all with
      the crisis that has swept many Protestant communities which are
      rapidly
      heading towards extreme liberalism and radical modernization of their
      religious life, rejecting the basic norms of doctrine and Christian
      morality. I mean first of all the ordination of homosexuals
      and 'blessing'
      of same-sex marriages. Cooperation with communities having such
      practice is
      out of question, of course. Thus, we have had to break our long-
      standing
      contacts with the Episcopal Church in the USA because it consecrated
      an
      open homosexual as bishop in 2003. Later last year, we broke
      relations with
      the Church of Sweden because of its decision to bless the so-called
      same-sex unions.

      Similar tendencies were felt in the World Council of Churches as
      well.
      Orthodox Churches strongly protested against the influence of this
      processes on the Council, but their resources were limited because
      the
      Orthodox are a minority in the Council.

      Then in 1998 the inter-Orthodox meeting in Thessaloniki adopted, on
      the
      initiative of our Church, a statement expressing "concern of the
      Orthodox
      for some actions of the WCC ('certain tendencies in the life of some
      Protestant member churches of the WCC, reflected in the WCC debate')
      and
      their feeling that the existing structure of the WCC makes the
      meaningful
      Orthodox participation increasingly difficult and for some even
      impossible".

      That same year, the Assembly in Harare set up a Special Commission
      for the
      Participation of Orthodox Churches in the WCC, which included both
      Orthodox
      and Protestant participants.

      I will say straight, we are satisfied with its seven year-long work.
      First,
      the voting procedure was replaced by a consensus procedure - which
      excluded
      the possibility for the Orthodox to find themselves a minority in
      settling
      major theological and ethical problems. Secondly, for those churches
      which
      are willing to work in the WCC but do not wish to be its members, a
      special
      category of 'churches in association' with the WCC was established.
      Thirdly, a Standing Committee for Consensus and Cooperation was set
      up,
      with the equal Orthodox and non-Orthodox membership (8 Orthodox and 8
      non-Orthodox members). The task of the committee is to monitor the
      WCC
      agenda so that it may not include items for debate unacceptable for
      the
      Orthodox. In other words, if before the Orthodox had to make their
      case,
      still remaining a minority without an influence on final decisions,
      now any
      opinion is taken into account or at least registered. Therefore, it
      is no
      longer possible to say that a majority has voted in favour of a
      particular
      disputable decision of the WCC on behalf of all the members. If we
      had a
      similar procedure earlier there would have been, I am sure, much less
      mythology around the WCC and I would not have had to repeat for the
      nth
      time that Orthodox members of the WCC did not share intercommunion
      and were
      not engaged in building some 'syncretistic Church'.

      It was certainly a victory, and not only within the WCC. It was
      declared to
      the whole Christendom that the Orthodox would not tolerate any
      discussions
      or decisions on issues contradicting their faith and their
      conscience. It
      was shown to the whole Christian world that the apostolic tradition
      and
      genuine Christian morality did not die, that there are Churches who
      live up
      the commandments of Christ and urge people to come to their senses
      and give
      a rebuff to immorality leading to eternal perdition.

      And already the Assembly at Porto Alegre this year did not even raise
      issues concerning the rights of sexual minorities or women's
      ordination.

      Your Eminence, many are concerned about so-called 'common prayers'
      together
      with the non-Orthodox. Is it true that for many years the Orthodox
      members
      of the WCC participated in such prayers?

      After many Protestants have embarked on the path of extreme
      liberalization
      of their theology and morality thus moving far away from the norms
      of faith
      and life of the apostolic Church, representatives the Russian Church
      have
      stated that they will not take part in common prayers. Sometimes we
      attend
      them in silence and that mostly lay people, not clergy. By the way,
      the
      Special Commission has stipulated an opportunity for holding so-
      called
      'confessional' prayers during WCC meetings. We often conducted
      Orthodox
      divine services during these meetings.

      And what about the political aspect? It seems to be still essential
      in the
      work of the WCC. Is it really the Church's affair to talk about
      politics?

      Why, of course! If an obvious evil or injustice is perpetrated in
      various
      parts of the world, should the churches keep silent?

      For instance, the WCC from the very beginning spoke strongly against
      the
      NATO bombing, addressing demands to the UN Security Council and
      making
      appeals to the heads of states involved in the coercive actions. The
      WCC
      repeatedly sent special delegations to various countries in former
      Yugoslavia. They met with both state officials and religious leaders,
      especially with His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and hierarchs of the
      Serbian
      Orthodox Church.

      The WCC adopted a great number of statements condemning the violence
      against the local population and expressing support for the Serbian
      Orthodox Church. Let us mention the most vivid of them.

      Thus, in March 1999, the WCC, the Conference of European Churches
      (CEC) and
      the Lutheran World Federation published a demand that the bombing of
      Yugoslavia should be stopped. The document expressed support for the
      statement made by His Holiness Patriarch Pavle on March 25, 1999,
      appealing
      to all countries and nations to stop the violence.

      On June 24, 1999, the WCC and CEC issued a special statement
      titled 'WCC
      and CEC appreciate Serbian Orthodox Church appeal', giving a high
      appreciation to the Serbian Orthodox Church's demand that the
      Yugoslavian
      government should resign 'for the sake of peace and people's
      salvation'.
      The statement pointed to the cooperation that has been maintained
      between
      the WCC, CEC and the Serbian Orthodox Church for many years and gave
      a high
      appraisal to the efforts of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle to support
      the
      Orthodox population in Kosovo. The document gave the assurance that
      the WCC
      and CEC would help and support the Serbian Orthodox Church just as
      other
      Churches as long as the arduous situation lasted.

      On December 10, 1999, the WCC and CEC released a protest against the
      destruction of Orthodox churches and holy places in Metohija and
      Kosovo,
      expressing support for the Serbian Orthodox Church.

      On October 6, 2000, the CEC made a public appeal to pray for the
      peoples of
      Yugoslavia. The appeal pointed to the special role played by the
      Serbian
      Orthodox Church in the efforts to stop the violence and people's
      suffering.

      On August 20, 2002, a statement of the WCC and CEC was published
      expressing
      concern for manifestations of violence against the Serbian Orthodox
      Church
      in Kosovo and the destruction of Orthodox holy places there. How can
      we
      withdraw from participation in such initiatives?

      These are examples concerning one of the most acute political
      problems. It
      should be added that the WCC's stand on the globalization issues,
      its view
      of many global economic and social processes and its attitude to
      conflict
      situations in various countries and regions are close to the
      position of
      our Church. For instance, the views of the Russian Orthodox Church
      and the
      WCC on the war in Iraq fully coincide.

      Does it mean that the Russian Orthodox Church's participation in the
      WCC
      will continue?

      Now we intend to continue it and perhaps even to intensify it, since
      the
      World Council is a good platform both for preaching and asserting the
      values and interests of the Orthodox throughout the world. It should
      be
      also remembered that consultative work is carried out between
      national
      Orthodox Churches within the WCC. In view of the fact that pan-
      Orthodox
      conferences are not held for well-known reasons and the pan-Orthodox
      process has been impeded, the World Council often becomes the only
      platform
      for meetings of Orthodox participants to discuss the burning
      problems of
      today between themselves. By withdrawal we will isolate ourselves
      from this
      consultative process among Local Orthodox Churches. It should not be
      ruled
      out that it would be to some people's liking. It is a well-known
      fact that
      in Orthodoxy there are forces which take badly any success of the
      Russian
      Orthodox Church and are interested in its weakening. If Christendom
      does
      not hear the voice of the Russian Church it will have to listen to
      other
      voices. It may lead to a breach of balances in universal Orthodoxy,
      which
      have been maintained with great effort thanks precisely to the
      authority of
      the Russian Orthodox Church in the whole world. A withdrawal from
      the WCC
      implies a weakening of the position of the Russian Church within the
      Orthodox family as well as in the whole world including Russian
      society,
      which is very much concerned for inter-confessional and interfaith
      relations. The demand that the Russian Orthodox Church should isolate
      itself can come either from those who do not know what is going on
      in the
      WCC and what the real role of the Russian Church has been in the
      entire
      complex system of inter-Christian and interfaith relations or those
      who
      consciously seek to restrict its influence and to weaken its
      authority.

      However, if the WCC major members continue to deviate from the
      foundations
      of Christian theology and morality we will have to review the forms
      and the
      very possibility of our further participation.

      Do you think that dialogue with non-Orthodox people will really keep
      them
      on the moral position?

      In some cases it will, in others it will make them think. We,
      Orthodox
      people, tend to overlook the fact that a great many people in the
      modern
      world have just never heard anything about authentic Christian
      morality or
      consider it to be long antiquated.

      We must bear witness to the true faith in all places and at all
      times so
      that 'by all means some may be saved' (cf. Cor. 9:22). It is wrong
      to think
      that since the time of persecution against the Church is over in
      Russia we
      don't have to continue the international Christian dialogue. And
      should we
      let today's western 'post-Christian' world go wherever it wants?

      It seems to me that it is necessary to participate in dialogue with
      everyone who can make an influence on society for the better.
      Sometimes the
      very fact of dialogue, its themes, information about it in the mass
      media,
      is already a sobering and instructing influence on many people.

      Last May a very interesting conference took place in Vienna between
      representatives of our Church and Roman Catholics on the theme "To
      Give
      Europe a Soul'. It was about the need to return to the continent the
      Christian soul it has lost or has almost lost. To this end we should
      defend
      Christian values against secularism and relativism. At that
      conference we
      stated together with the Catholics that European countries today as
      never
      before need to have moral education strengthened since its absence or
      underdevelopment tends to lead to destructive consequences, such as
      growth
      of all kinds of extremism, birth rate decline, environment pollution,
      violence. The principle of moral responsibility just as the
      principle of
      freedom should be consistently lived up in all spheres of human
      life -
      politics, economy, education, science, culture, mass media. Since
      religious
      organizations are not separated from society, the efforts of parish
      and
      monastic communities, church schools and universities, cultural and
      social
      centers for developing personal moral responsibility should be
      positively
      recognized by society and state.

      It is a very correct attitude. We should not keep silent and watch
      indifferently people coming down, but we should insist that Christian
      morality should be taught to people and taught openly. And the fact
      that we
      make such statements together with the Catholics is not at all
      injurious to
      the task; quite the contrary, the authorities in various countries
      will
      find it difficult to dismiss a common opinion of the Orthodox and the
      Catholics. The conference in Vienna deserves to be given the highest
      assessment in both Orthodox and Catholic countries. The Protestants
      however, who are members of the Ecumenical Council in Austria, were
      exasperated: Why do you hold such important conference without us?
      Well,
      who is against? Next time, we will hold a conference with those
      Protestants
      who have remained faithful to the Christian way of life.

      It is my conviction that we should maintain contacts with other
      traditional
      religions as well, especially today when the most violent military
      conflicts have often a religious taint. How can we refuse to meet
      representatives of Islam, Judaism or Buddhism if such meetings and
      dialogues help to stoop war or expose those who use religion as a
      cover for
      their most cruel and selfish designs?

      Our Church has maintained dialogue with society within the World
      Russian
      People's Council. The 2004 Council adopted a Code of Moral
      Principles and
      Rules in Economic Activity, which has been welcomed by many
      businessmen and
      officials. At the same time, there was strong criticism and derision
      in
      response to it. They said: All this is of interest only for the
      internal
      church milieu. And then we asked Catholics, Protestants, Muslims,
      Jews and
      Buddhists to comment on the document. They all supported it. This
      has given
      the Council's document a special authority.

      Last April, the 10th World Russian People's Council was held in
      Moscow. It
      was attended by Orthodox Christians and representatives of other
      confessions and faiths. Among the central events at this forum was
      the
      adoption of a Declaration on Human Rights and Dignity, which, while
      not
      opposing the secular system of rights, points out that 'there are
      values
      which are not below human rights. These are the values of faith,
      morality,
      things holy, the Fatherland. When these values and the
      implementation of
      human rights come into conflict, society, state and law should
      combine both
      in a harmonious way'. I would describe this document as unique. It
      is a
      reminder of the Christian origin of the notion of rights and
      obligations
      that people have before God and one another. But we are against
      idolizing
      human rights as a religion with a new value system. Freedom of
      religion
      should not be made dependent on other human rights, not less but
      also not
      more important. I refer to the cases where, for instance, believers
      in some
      western countries cannot, speaking in public, call homosexuality a
      sin.

      This summer a World Summit of Religious Leaders took place in
      Moscow. This
      forum focused on morality. As His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of
      Moscow and
      All Russia said in his speech, there has been a tendency in the West
      in
      recent times 'to marginalize religion. People often think freedom is
      all-permissiveness. But all religions have moral values which place
      certain
      obligations on people and it is very important that these spiritual
      and
      moral values should be preserved in our time'.

      Certainly, the message adopted by this important interfaith meeting
      is not
      an obliging document. Nevertheless, the Summit and its final document
      reminded the whole world that 'the human being is the Lord's unique
      creation whose existence reaches eternity. The human being should not
      become either a commodity or an object of political manipulation or
      a part
      of the machine of production and consumption'. It is for the task of
      asserting these truths in Russia and in the world and opposing the
      destructive spirit of this age that we need inter-Christian and
      interfaith
      dialogue.
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