Russian church deals with criticism from within Orthodoxy


RIA Novosti, 22 April 2016


The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) called a number of provisions of one of the documents of the Pan-Orthodox Council, "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World," "completely unacceptable," and it introduced a number of changes into it, the website of the synod reports.


In particular, it considered a letter of Metropolitan of Lovech Gabriel regarding the aforementioned document, which was also signed by priests of the Lovech diocese, and a similar letter of Metropolitan of Plovdiv Nicholas with signatures of 240 priests.


According to a report of the synod of the BOC, in point 5 of the document "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World," where it says that "contemporary bilateral theological dialogues . . . have the goal of seeking the lost unity of Christians," it is necessary "to clarify that the Holy Orthodox Church, which is one and catholic, has never lost unity in the faith and communion in the Holy Spirit among Christians, and it will so continue to the end of the world."


Regarding point 6 and a number of other points of the document, the BOC synod pointed out that "besides the Holy Orthodox Church, there do not exist other churches, but only heresies and schisms, and to call the latter 'churches' is theologically, doctrinally, and canonically completely incorrect."


The hierarchs of the Bulgarian church also called attention to point 12, which says that "the goal of theological dialogues common for all is the final restoration of unity in the true faith and love." "This is completely incorrect and unacceptable, because it is necessary to clarify and emphasize that a return to the true faith applies to heretics and schismatics and not in any instance does it apply to the Orthodox Church," the synod's statement says.


It also notes that in 1998 the Bulgarian Orthodox Church withdrew from the World Council of Churches (WCC), expressing its disapproval of its activity, because it cannot be a member of an organization in which it is considered to be "one of many churches or some branch of the one church, which are aspiring to and fighting for unification through this World Council of Churches."


"The resolution adopted will be presented and defended as the unchanged position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church regarding the text of 'Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World' at the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church on the island of Crete in 2016," the website of the synod reports.


Earlier a number of hierarchs of the Greek, Georgian, and some other local churches expressed criticism of the aforementioned text and of the document "The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Modern World." In particular, the Bishops' Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) published a statement, which pointed to "serious shortcomings" in some documents of the Pan-Orthodox Council.


Thus, in the opinion of the ROCOR hierarchs, one of the drafts of documents speaks incorrectly about Christian unity as about something that has been "lost," while nowhere in the text is the division among Christians defined as the consequence of schisms and heresies, following the rules of the Holy Fathers and canons of the ecumenical councils. The ROCOR synod's statement notes that it is necessary in the council's document "to declare that the real absence of unity among Christians today is the loss of the heterodox's unity with the Orthodox Church, and the path to its healing, which can give humanity genuine unity, is repentance for schisms and heresies and return to the One Church, whose unity has never been lost."


In his turn, the head of the Department for External Church Relations (OVTsS) of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk Ilarion, declared that in improving drafts of the documents for the council the Russian church will take into account constructive criticism, which has come from various hierarchs and theologians. He said that the key point is "the question about the reception of decisions of the Pan-Orthodox Council." The head of OVTsS noted that the documents have been published, and they have met "certain criticism . . . from various parties and from various local churches, and it is impossible not to pay attention to this factor."


"Constructive criticism is important so that after the adoption of the decisions at the council, they will not evoke rejection on the part of our believers," the metropolitan noted. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 April 2016)



Interfax-Religiia, 16 April 2016


Members of the Holy Synod expressed support for the church course in the area of external relations.


"To recognize the historic character of the meeting of Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill and Roman Pope Francis in Havana and to note its importance in the business of uniting efforts in defense of Christians who are experiencing persecution in the Near East and in Africa and of the establishment of peace and justice in the land of Ukraine. To approve the joint declaration signed on the basis of results of the meeting," the synod's decision, which was published on the website of the Russian church, says.


The synod called bishops and clergy to explain to the clergy, monastics, and flock the significance of the joint declaration of the patriarch and pope, "the text of which does not touch upon theological, doctrinal, and ecclesiological matters but points to acute social, political, and moral problems of the present time."


"The joint declaration of Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis facilitated the achievement of a ceasefire on Syrian land and thereby it helped to save thousands of lives," the hierarchs noted.


They pointed to the importance of the call addressed to the international community that is sounded in the joint declaration of the patriarch and pontiff "for immediate actions for preventing further displacement of Christians from the Near East" and for the use of all possible efforts "to put an end to terrorism with the help of common, joint, coordinated actions."


They also recognized the timeliness of the concern expressed in the joint declaration for discrimination against Christians and the crisis of the family in a number of countries as well as of the call for respect for the inalienable right to life, including of infants who are in the mother's womb.


Along with this the session participants touched on topics of Ukraine, which also was reflected in the declaration of the patriarch and pope. Members of the synod emphasized that the Unia (Greek Catholicism) "remains an open wound in Orthodox-Catholic relations," and they declared the importance of the call for a truce between Orthodox and Greek Catholics which sounded from the lips of the patriarch and pope.


The synod hopes that the call of the heads of the Russian and Catholic churches "will be heard by all sides of the civil confrontation in Ukraine," and it calls the adherents of the church schism in Ukraine "to return to the saving bosom of the Orthodox Church."


In addition, the hierarchs also touched on the discussion regarding preparation for the Pan-Orthodox Council, which will be held in June on Crete.


"Members of the Synod unanimously noted the impermissibility of condemnation of the hierarchy because of the above mentioned external church events from a position that does not contain any theological argumentation and is, as a rule, only 'emotional assessment,'" the head of the synod's Department for Relations of Church and Society and News Media, Vladimir Legoida, told journalists at the conclusion of the synod, as quoted by his press service. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 April 2016)

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