SYNOD OF BISHOPS: September 25, 2006
Statement of Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand, Chief Deputy of the President of the Synod of Bishops
My absence from the September session of the Synod of Bishops has been erroneously interpreted by some as being an expression of disagreement with our Synod. All sorts of absurd explanations and premature conclusions have appeared on the internet. In fact, I suffered from a bad cold, complicated by bronchitis, which precluded making any long-distance trips, which can be attested to by my physician and others who were with me at the time.
The last session of the Synod of Bishops considered the latest version of the "Act on Canonical Communion" between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate. Dialog between representatives of both sides have been ongoing for several years, and the two Commissions have achieved many positive agreements on the main differences which have existed for almost 80 years.
One of the most material questions in this dialog is the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the ecumenical movement and its membership in the World Council of Churches. Our Russian Church Abroad in recent decades has held a very staunch, negative attitude towards ecumenism, having in 1983 anathematized the "branch theory," which does not recognize Orthodoxy as the One True Church of Christ. On their part, the Moscow Patriarchate has clearly defined its attitude towards the ecumenical movement, condemning the "branch theory" in its Council documents of 2000; and in the documents of the Church Commissions approved by both Holy Synods, they condemned all sorts of joint prayer with heretics, explaining its continued membership in the World Council of Churches together with the other Local Orthodox Churches as a means of witnessing Orthodoxy and defending the interests of the Church and of the Russian people. The Synod of Bishops' "Clarifications on the Negotiation Process and the 'Act on Canonical Communion'" defines the framework of this activity of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches, in which neither dogma nor canons of the Holy Church are violated:
"The Russian Orthodox Church strictly adheres to the teaching set forth in the Creed that the Church of Christ is one… As the Body of Christ is the sole vessel of salvation, as the pillar and foundation of truth, the Church never divided itself nor disappeared, but always, over the entire history of Christianity, taught the pure teaching of the Gospel in the abundance of the grace-filled gifts of the Holy Spirit."
Still, we see that participation in the World Council of Churches and various ecumenical measures is fraught with great spiritual danger for Orthodox Christians. In this matter, the IV All-Diaspora Council on May 11, 2006, called upon the Moscow Patriarchate to review its position on membership in the World Council of Churches:
"From discussions at the Council it is apparent that the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches evokes confusion among our clergy and flock. With heartfelt pain we ask the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to heed the plea of our flock to expediently remove this temptation."
The Moscow Patriarchate could take the example of the Georgian and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches, which withdrew from the World Council of Churches. In our opinion, the good example thus shown by the Russian Orthodox Church may be followed by the other Local Orthodox Churches. The Russian Orthodox Church, as we noted earlier, would best adhere to the course adopted at the Pan-Orthodox Conference held in Moscow in 1948.
In my letter to the Synod of Bishops, I wrote that many clergymen and laypersons who have a sympathetic attitude towards the normalization of relations between the divided parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, and who desire unity, are still troubled by the continuing participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the activities of the World Council of Churches. In addition, the press often reports on conferences and summits in which representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate participate, invoking suspicion among Orthodox believers as a result of questionable achievements in ecclesiastical diplomacy.
In this way, the continuing presence of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches evokes serious concern though to no lesser degree within our church society to this day. Our main challenge as archpastors is to nourish the flock entrusted to us and not allow schisms and discord in church life. Not all of the flock is prepared to join in the process of reconciliation and the reestablishment of communion with the Church in Russia. This attests to the fact that, in my opinion, a little more time and effort is needed to achieve mutual understanding and trust.
As all the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, I earnestly desire with my entire soul the reconciliation and spiritual unity of the separated parts of the Russian Orthodox Church. I believe that this moment will arrive, and soon, God willing, when it suits Him. I grieve for the part of the flock entrusted to my obedience which genuinely rejects today our entering into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. I do not desire the falling away of a single soul from the bosom of the Holy Church into graceless schismatic groups.
In my personal opinion, for the sake of the spiritual preservation of the flock, the process of the normalization of church relations requires more time, strengthened prayer and a closer and more reasoned study of the life of the Church in Russia, while clearing away false perceptions and prejudices on both sides of this important matter.
I wish to bring witness that I am fully devoted to our wise and spiritually discerning First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, and the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and call upon all loyal children to be dedicated and obedient to the hierarchy of our Church, and I also urge the prayerful podvig towards the God-pleasing resolution of the complex and painful process of the reestablishment of church unity.
+ Hilarion, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand
September 11/24, 2006