The President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk, spoke with the editors of the official website of the DECR on the work of the committee of the Inter-Council Presence on matters pertaining to ecclesiastical schisms and overcoming them.
— A committee on schisms has been formed within the framework of the Inter-Council Presence, of which you are vice president. What are the challenges that face this committee? Have any results been achieved?
— First of all, the committee began by studying historical precedents of schisms and how they were resolved; on this basis, general criteria on schisms are being developed and systematized; finally, in accordance with these criteria, concrete proposals will be made on overcoming schisms and the process by which those who separated should return to the Church.
On March 25, 2010, Dormition Kiev Pechersk Lavra hosted the first meeting of the committee, chaired by His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and All Ukraine. Subcommittees are also holding meetings. The members of the committee are actively exchanging opinions via e-mail and work on the draft documents.
– What do you mean when you speak of general criteria on decisions on schisms?
— Ecclesiastical divisions have various natures, and not all of them can be characterized as schisms. For instance, history shows that more than once some part of a Local Church would not be in communion with another for an extended period of time for historical or political reasons. For example, the Ignatians and Photians of the Church of Constantinople in the 9th century: their opposition was in no small degree supported and exacerbated by political changes and government coups. At the beginning of the 10thcentury, Patriarch Nicholas did not recognize the fourth marriage of Emperor Leo VI, for which he was deposed and replaced by Patriarch Euphemius: in this instance, there was an ecclesiastical division for a time. In the 13th century, the supporters of Patriarch Arsenius created another division within the Church, having refused to recognize the ending of the Lascaris Dynasty and the establishment of the new Paleologos Dynasty.
Ecclesiastical divisions arose in the difficult circumstances of the persecutions of the Church in Soviet Russia: in the post-Revolutionary years, some hierarchs and their supporting clergymen and laity did not have communion with the Deputy of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergius.
In such instances it is inappropriate to seek to determine who was right and who was wrong. As a rule, such divisions fade into the past along with those political reasons that gave rise to them. The Church has canonized both Patriarch Ignatius and Patriarch Photius, and the Russian Church has glorified as New Martyrs and Confessors hierarchs and clergymen who belonged to various “factions.” This happened, for instance, with the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church in the Fatherland and those of her flock who were forced to flee Russia after the political upheavals of the early 20th century. At the end of the day, the unity of the confession of the faith, our common roots and unharmed apostolic Tradition, the common prayer of believers for unity have all led to the reestablishment of unity.
On the contrary, schism is first of all a hardening of the heart: it is when a person places his own interests and personal opinions higher than the unshakeable foundations upon which the Church stands as the repository of grace. In this case, it is characterized by the disregard of Apostolic Succession which from the days of the Pentecost lies at the root of the unity of the Church, serving as one of the historical guarantees of the authenticity of Church Tradition.
— How do you see the prospects of overcoming schism in Ukraine?
— The current situation in Ukraine provides fertile ground for overcoming schism: the broad scope of schisms in Ukraine was in many ways caused by political competition which we now see fading into the past. The popularity of schism lies in a willingness to act in the interests of some political circles; it is also a hostage to its temporary nature. It is not surprising that many believers in Ukraine, finding themselves in the confining framework of schismatic communities, strive to return to the fullness of communion with the Church.
Every human soul is valuable in and of itself—whether it is found within the fullness of Eucharistic communion with the Church or wanders “in a strange land.” And the Church, as a loving mother, is ever happy to receive her prodigal children with eternal love and humility. That is why I repeat that there must be nothing demeaning in the process of returning from schism. There is nothing demeaning about repentance: repentance is the acquisition by man of his true eternal dignity and essence. This must be kept in mind both by those who are returning to the Church, and by those who receive them. The latter must have special tact and no recriminations so that on the human level, the process of the return of the faithful from schism and their integration into the life of our Church would not humiliate them personally.
— As the President of the DECR, what can you tell us about the problem of countering schism across the entire Orthodox world?
— Of course, it is very important that the hierarchs of all the Local Churches, in their efforts to accommodate the healing of schisms, exhibit full solidarity, recognizing our common belonging to one Church. Schismatics must not bear a false impression that they can receive Eucharistic communion and ecclesiastical recognition by “climbing up some other way” (John 10:1), without repentance in the sin of schism, without appealing to the prayer of absolution for them by the Mother Church which they broke from. The fact that the ecclesiastical schisms I mentioned have no Eucharistic communion with a single Local Orthodox Church of the world is a direct testament of our unity of mind in the Holy Spirit: this is the voice of the conciliar wisdom of the Church.