Metropolitan Kyril explains why the ROC stays in the WCC
- View SourceEuropaica 105 Wed, 27 Sep 2006 5:09 PM
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad: We should bear
true faith in all places and in all times so that at least some may
What were the reasons for the Russian Orthodox Church joining the
Council of Churches in 1961 despite the fact that the 1948
Heads and Representatives of Autocephalous Orthodox Churches had
resolution condemning ecumenism?
Actually, the decision to join the Council was far from being taken
sitting, and it was not easy to take.
We know that the Church is a divine-human organism with its earthly
not just living in society, among people of other faiths or non-
but also responsible before God and people for preaching the word of
for the moral state of the people. Our Church had minimal
preaching at the Soviet time. And we saw in our membership in the
chance to fortify our position within the country through coming out
the international arena. Besides, the 'political' and social work of
WCC in the 1960s and 70s included anti-war initiatives, criticism of
various forms of racism and fascism, struggle with poverty and with
proliferation. We had no objections against these programs. We did
do not consider them to be in contradiction to our Christian
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
since at that time the Council already built its work on the basis
Toronto Declaration, which did not only affirm the faith in the Holy
Trinity as basis for Christian cooperation, but also stated
clearly that the Council did not claim any power over member
any right to give instruction to churches or to speak on their
was stated quite definitely that the WCC was only a forum called to
churches in their relationships and did not have and could not have
ecclesiology of its own.
As you can see, contrary to the mythology created around the WCC's
claims to be a sort of 'Super-Church' the Council has always been
forum for Christians of various confessions.
Nevertheless, we were far from accepting everything in the Council's
and its theological work. We considered it necessary to bear witness
Orthodoxy in the Protestant milieu. The World Council of Churches
gathered strength and international authority, and we could not
considerable part of Christendom represented in it to have a
of Orthodoxy. Certainly, there were representatives of other Orthodox
Churches, including archpastors, pastors and theologians, who
from Russia after 1917, working in the WCC at that time. But they
and they often had to yield to pressure from other confessions. In
situation, we could not stand aside.
Your Eminence, the question arises immediately at this point about
Orthodox sharing communion with the Protestants and Catholics. There
lot of stories that this practice did exist in the WCC.
That is good that you have reminded me about it. With all
responsibility I state that representatives of the Russian Orthodox
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
by the WCC Faith and Order Commission as far back as 1952: 'The
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
loudly that they were not admitted to communion. This is a rule
never had any exceptions.
Your Eminence, what about 'the branch theory' then? Many Orthodox
abroad, and some in Russia as well, are convinced that the WCC
presupposes the acceptance of 'the theory of branches' and the
a certain inherent unity of all Christian Churches, which only needs
It is another popular myth about the WCC. I do not mean 'the branch
theory', which is really shared by most of Protestant communities,
allegation that this theory is shared by all the WCC members.
I would like to state absolutely clearly that for Orthodox
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
participants have supported the so-called 'branch theory' as it
contradicts Orthodox ecclesiology.
What can you say about the present state of the WCC. Many speak and
today about a crisis of the ecumenical movement. Perhaps the WCC
and there will be nothing to speak about?
Perhaps. The crisis in the ecumenical movement is linked first of
the crisis that has swept many Protestant communities which are
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
of same-sex marriages. Cooperation with communities having such
out of question, of course. Thus, we have had to break our long-
contacts with the Episcopal Church in the USA because it consecrated
open homosexual as bishop in 2003. Later last year, we broke
the Church of Sweden because of its decision to bless the so-called
Similar tendencies were felt in the World Council of Churches as
Orthodox Churches strongly protested against the influence of this
processes on the Council, but their resources were limited because
Orthodox are a minority in the Council.
Then in 1998 the inter-Orthodox meeting in Thessaloniki adopted, on
initiative of our Church, a statement expressing "concern of the
for some actions of the WCC ('certain tendencies in the life of some
Protestant member churches of the WCC, reflected in the WCC debate')
their feeling that the existing structure of the WCC makes the
Orthodox participation increasingly difficult and for some even
That same year, the Assembly in Harare set up a Special Commission
Participation of Orthodox Churches in the WCC, which included both
and Protestant participants.
I will say straight, we are satisfied with its seven year-long work.
the voting procedure was replaced by a consensus procedure - which
the possibility for the Orthodox to find themselves a minority in
major theological and ethical problems. Secondly, for those churches
are willing to work in the WCC but do not wish to be its members, a
category of 'churches in association' with the WCC was established.
Thirdly, a Standing Committee for Consensus and Cooperation was set
with the equal Orthodox and non-Orthodox membership (8 Orthodox and 8
non-Orthodox members). The task of the committee is to monitor the
agenda so that it may not include items for debate unacceptable for
Orthodox. In other words, if before the Orthodox had to make their
still remaining a minority without an influence on final decisions,
opinion is taken into account or at least registered. Therefore, it
longer possible to say that a majority has voted in favour of a
disputable decision of the WCC on behalf of all the members. If we
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
time that Orthodox members of the WCC did not share intercommunion
not engaged in building some 'syncretistic Church'.
It was certainly a victory, and not only within the WCC. It was
the whole Christendom that the Orthodox would not tolerate any
or decisions on issues contradicting their faith and their
was shown to the whole Christian world that the apostolic tradition
genuine Christian morality did not die, that there are Churches who
the commandments of Christ and urge people to come to their senses
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
Your Eminence, many are concerned about so-called 'common prayers'
with the non-Orthodox. Is it true that for many years the Orthodox
of the WCC participated in such prayers?
After many Protestants have embarked on the path of extreme
of their theology and morality thus moving far away from the norms
and life of the apostolic Church, representatives the Russian Church
stated that they will not take part in common prayers. Sometimes we
them in silence and that mostly lay people, not clergy. By the way,
Special Commission has stipulated an opportunity for holding so-
'confessional' prayers during WCC meetings. We often conducted
divine services during these meetings.
And what about the political aspect? It seems to be still essential
work of the WCC. Is it really the Church's affair to talk about
Why, of course! If an obvious evil or injustice is perpetrated in
parts of the world, should the churches keep silent?
For instance, the WCC from the very beginning spoke strongly against
NATO bombing, addressing demands to the UN Security Council and
appeals to the heads of states involved in the coercive actions. The
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
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
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,
to all countries and nations to stop the violence.
On June 24, 1999, the WCC and CEC issued a special statement
and CEC appreciate Serbian Orthodox Church appeal', giving a high
appreciation to the Serbian Orthodox Church's demand that the
government should resign 'for the sake of peace and people's
The statement pointed to the cooperation that has been maintained
the WCC, CEC and the Serbian Orthodox Church for many years and gave
appraisal to the efforts of His Holiness Patriarch Pavle to support
Orthodox population in Kosovo. The document gave the assurance that
and CEC would help and support the Serbian Orthodox Church just as
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
expressing support for the Serbian Orthodox Church.
On October 6, 2000, the CEC made a public appeal to pray for the
Yugoslavia. The appeal pointed to the special role played by the
Orthodox Church in the efforts to stop the violence and people's
On August 20, 2002, a statement of the WCC and CEC was published
concern for manifestations of violence against the Serbian Orthodox
in Kosovo and the destruction of Orthodox holy places there. How can
withdraw from participation in such initiatives?
These are examples concerning one of the most acute political
should be added that the WCC's stand on the globalization issues,
of many global economic and social processes and its attitude to
situations in various countries and regions are close to the
our Church. For instance, the views of the Russian Orthodox Church
WCC on the war in Iraq fully coincide.
Does it mean that the Russian Orthodox Church's participation in the
Now we intend to continue it and perhaps even to intensify it, since
World Council is a good platform both for preaching and asserting the
values and interests of the Orthodox throughout the world. It should
also remembered that consultative work is carried out between
Orthodox Churches within the WCC. In view of the fact that pan-
conferences are not held for well-known reasons and the pan-Orthodox
process has been impeded, the World Council often becomes the only
for meetings of Orthodox participants to discuss the burning
today between themselves. By withdrawal we will isolate ourselves
consultative process among Local Orthodox Churches. It should not be
out that it would be to some people's liking. It is a well-known
in Orthodoxy there are forces which take badly any success of the
Orthodox Church and are interested in its weakening. If Christendom
not hear the voice of the Russian Church it will have to listen to
voices. It may lead to a breach of balances in universal Orthodoxy,
have been maintained with great effort thanks precisely to the
the Russian Orthodox Church in the whole world. A withdrawal from
implies a weakening of the position of the Russian Church within the
Orthodox family as well as in the whole world including Russian
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
WCC and what the real role of the Russian Church has been in the
complex system of inter-Christian and interfaith relations or those
consciously seek to restrict its influence and to weaken its
However, if the WCC major members continue to deviate from the
of Christian theology and morality we will have to review the forms
very possibility of our further participation.
Do you think that dialogue with non-Orthodox people will really keep
on the moral position?
In some cases it will, in others it will make them think. We,
people, tend to overlook the fact that a great many people in the
world have just never heard anything about authentic Christian
consider it to be long antiquated.
We must bear witness to the true faith in all places and at all
that 'by all means some may be saved' (cf. Cor. 9:22). It is wrong
that since the time of persecution against the Church is over in
don't have to continue the international Christian dialogue. And
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.
very fact of dialogue, its themes, information about it in the mass
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
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
Christian values against secularism and relativism. At that
stated together with the Catholics that European countries today as
before need to have moral education strengthened since its absence or
underdevelopment tends to lead to destructive consequences, such as
of all kinds of extremism, birth rate decline, environment pollution,
violence. The principle of moral responsibility just as the
freedom should be consistently lived up in all spheres of human
politics, economy, education, science, culture, mass media. Since
organizations are not separated from society, the efforts of parish
monastic communities, church schools and universities, cultural and
centers for developing personal moral responsibility should be
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
make such statements together with the Catholics is not at all
the task; quite the contrary, the authorities in various countries
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?
who is against? Next time, we will hold a conference with those
who have remained faithful to the Christian way of life.
It is my conviction that we should maintain contacts with other
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
their most cruel and selfish designs?
Our Church has maintained dialogue with society within the World
People's Council. The 2004 Council adopted a Code of Moral
Rules in Economic Activity, which has been welcomed by many
officials. At the same time, there was strong criticism and derision
response to it. They said: All this is of interest only for the
church milieu. And then we asked Catholics, Protestants, Muslims,
Buddhists to comment on the document. They all supported it. This
the Council's document a special authority.
Last April, the 10th World Russian People's Council was held in
was attended by Orthodox Christians and representatives of other
confessions and faiths. Among the central events at this forum was
adoption of a Declaration on Human Rights and Dignity, which, while
opposing the secular system of rights, points out that 'there are
which are not below human rights. These are the values of faith,
things holy, the Fatherland. When these values and the
human rights come into conflict, society, state and law should
in a harmonious way'. I would describe this document as unique. It
reminder of the Christian origin of the notion of rights and
that people have before God and one another. But we are against
human rights as a religion with a new value system. Freedom of
should not be made dependent on other human rights, not less but
more important. I refer to the cases where, for instance, believers
western countries cannot, speaking in public, call homosexuality a
This summer a World Summit of Religious Leaders took place in
forum focused on morality. As His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of
All Russia said in his speech, there has been a tendency in the West
recent times 'to marginalize religion. People often think freedom is
all-permissiveness. But all religions have moral values which place
obligations on people and it is very important that these spiritual
moral values should be preserved in our time'.
Certainly, the message adopted by this important interfaith meeting
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
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