The following English translation was made from the abridged text of Metropolitan Filaret's report to the bishops' council as it appeared in the Zavtra edition of 23 May 1997.

Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk

Zavtra, 23 May 1997

[titles of the divisions of the report were added by Zavtra]

On 17 July 1997 (sic), pursuant to the determination of the bishops' council, the Holy Synod created a special working group for the study of "The Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church (RPTs) regarding Inter-Christian Cooperation in Pursuit of Unity." The results of its theological investigations have become the topic of discussion at sessions of the Holy Synod and in many respects have influenced the development of the official position of the Russian church.

Participation in the World Council of Churches Comports with the Interests of the RPTs

As early as the nineteenth century our church was conducting serious conversations and theological dialogues with Anglicans, Old Catholics, and with Eastern Orthodox churches (non-Chaldedonian) on unity with the ultimate goal of restoring fellowship. All inter-Christian relations always were conducted in the spirit of fraternal love, but always on the foundation of fidelity and internal integrity of our testimony regarding the faith, life, and traditions of the Ancient Church. Archprist George Florovsky called these conversations "Orthodox ecumenism." Evidence of this spirit of "Orthodox ecumenism" appears in the response of the Most Holy Governing Synod of our church to the inquiry of Patriarch Joachim III (1902-1903) of Constantinople with regard to churchs and confessions of other denominations. The All-Russian Council of 1917-1918, in one of its last sessions, established a special department on unification of churches and adopted the decision: "Considering the unity of Christian churches to be especially desirable in the present time of intense struggle with unbelief, crude materialism, and moral excess, the Holy Council of the Russian Orthodox church gives its blessing to the labors and efforts of persons who are working to find ways to achieve unity with the aforementioned compatible churches" (the council had in view the Anglicans and Old Catholics). In 1920 appeared the remarkable circular letter of the patriarchate of Constantinople to all Christian churches with the suggestion and foundation of the necessity of the creation of a commonwealth for mutual aid, cooperation, and achievement of unity. Thus according to the succestion of Orthodox churches the original ecumenical movement was transformed into the "League of Churches." Thus also arose the World Council, whose intiatiors and founders with the Orthodox churches. The victory of the Soviet Union and its western allies in World War II established the bases for the creation of the Organization of United Nations and for the development and organizational structure of the ecumenical movement, whose historical instrument was the World Council of Churches (1948). This process took palce without the participation of our church. That participation was prevented not by ecclesiastical but by political factors. Just as soon as near the end of the war the iron curtain, that had separated us from the rest of the Christian world, began to open a crack and mutual contacts began, our church consciously and sincerely tried to return to the ecumenical movement in which it has participation and had a prominent theological role at the beginning of the twentieth century. The document of Archpriest G. Razumovsky, the declarations of the venerable Most Holy Patriarch Alexis I Simansky and Metropolitan Nikolai Yarushevich give evidence of understanding the necessity and desirability of the participation of the Russian church in the ecumenical movement and later also the joining of the WCC (1946-1947). But this was not destined to be achieved. The "cold war" with the West erupted and the Soviet government diverted the direction of our "church politics" into opposition to WCC and the ecumenical movement. The isolation was ended by the participation of the Russian Orthodox church in the General Assembly of WCC in 19161 in New Delhi. Joining the World Council of Church marked our return to our former attitude toward the ecumenical movement. Following our example, the Orthodox churches of "socialist countries" renewed their membership. Thus began for us a new period of cooperation with all Orthodox churches who were members of WCC in the common task of striving and searching for paths to the restoration of the unity of separated Christian in the spirit and by the example of the Ancient Church, of which the Orthodox church is the historical and consecrated continuation. The studies of history and archival sources that we have conducted give us the right to assert that joining the WCC and other international Christian organization who a positive effect for our church and comported with the basic interests of the church and the believing public. We can affirm that the decision of our church in 1948 to reject the invitation to the assembly in Amsterdam and the decision of 1961 to join WCC, despite the unfavorable political contexts in which they were made, were correct decision, dictated by circumstances of the times and by concern, primarily, for the welfare of our church, and in both cases these decision were beneficial and necessary for our church.

However current developments of the internal development and external evolution of WCC give us caution and concern and raise questions about the value of our relations with the ecumenical movement and WCC. The leadership of WCC understands this caution and is seeking a way out of the crisis situation that is developing. In this regard the council has issued an appeal to all member churches, and even more widely to all participants in the ecumenical movement, including the Roman Catholic and other churches outside WCC, including some that are critical of ecumenism, suggesting that they join a discussion of "The General Concept and Vision of WCC." For more than two years now intensive work on new structures and new methods for achieving the original goals and significance of WCC.All Orthodox churches are participating in this work. The opinions and recommendations of Orthodox on these problems have been discussed at two pan-Orthodox consultations, in Shambezi (Geneva) in 1995 and in Beirut in 1996. The experience of such cooperation of Orthodox churches as members of WCC undoubtedly continues to have a positive result for the Orthodox testimony to the faith and tradition of the Ancient United Church and comports with the fundamental interests of Orthodox church and their peoples who have suffered much, as they have frequently declared in their pan-Orthodox conferences. There were several such pan-Orthodox conferences (most recently, Shambezi, 1995 and Beirut, 1996). At these conferences there always was discussed the positive and negative aspects of Orthodox participation in WCC and they always concluded with decisions about the need to strengthen Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement. We must keep this in mind now as we discuss the question of reviewing and reconceptualizing our relations to WCC. Questions about withdrawal from WCC or changing to observer status, which have been raised in the course of our discussion in sessions of the plenum of the theological commission, are questions which require pan-Orthodox discussion and pan-Orthodox resolution. The decision of a single church will be viewed by the plenitude of Orthodoxy as violation of pan-Orthodox unity.

Joint Prayer with Other Demonimations is not Reprehensible

The prohibition of common prayer with heretics under threat of communication or defrocking is contained in the 45th Apostolic Canon: "A bishop, presbyter, or deacon who prays with heretics is to be excommunicated. If he permits them to serve in the church, he is to be unfrocked." The 46th canon says: "We command that a bishop or presbyter who receives baptism or communion from heretics be unfrocked. For what agreement has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer to do with an unbeliever?" The fathers of the Laodacean council in their sixth rule command: "Do not permit heretics who are involved in heresy to enter the house of God." The authoritative Orthodox canonist Bishop Nikodim Milash in his interpretation of the 45th apostolic canon, regarding the concept of "heretic," appeals to the first rule of Basil the Great. According to Basis the Great heretics are those who have diverged from Orthodox teachings in the basic dogmas and whom he prescribes baptism for admission to the church. If one follows this interpretation of the rule of Basil the Great, then it seems that heretics with whom common prayer is prohibited are those whom we admit to the church through baptism. In other words, in accordance with contemporary practice, these are Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Molokans, and adherents of modern sects, whom it is fashionable to call totalitarian. I note here that it is not the practice of our church nor of the official ecumenical movement to engage in prayer with these sects. As regards prayer fellowship with Catholics, Old Catholics, Protestants, non-Chalcedonians, and Old Believers, in keeping with the spirit of the canons, prayer fellowship with them is reprehensible to the extent that it engenders and nurtures religious indifference, or, perhaps, draws the faithful into deception.

Emotional Reactions Overcome

Allow me, esteemed brothers and archpastors, to go on to another important topic, which for several years has been on the agenda of the theological commission. On authorization of the bishops' council of the RPTs of 1994 the synodal theological commission conducted studies of the "Second Joint Declaration" of the joint commission on dialogy between the Orthodox church and Eastern Orthodox churches (Shambezi, Switzerland 23-29 Sept 1990). The text of the document testified to the remarkable accomplishment in resolving Christological problems. At the same time, the declaration should not be viewed as a final document, sufficient for restoring complete fellowship between the two families of churches of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which was noted in the decision of the law bishops's council. After profound analysis of the document by members of the synodal theological commission, the initial, frequently emotional, reactions were replaced by responsible approaches, that took into account only those formulations that appeared in the document itself as well as the positions of theological who have studied this document and the reaction of other local Orthodox churches to it. In view of the fact that representatives of all Orthodox churches are members of the joint commission on dialogue with eastern Orthodox churches, study of questions connected with the dialogue merits attention at a pan-Orthodox level. No less important for us is a discussion of the issue and course of the dialogue with the eastern Orthodox churches among the clergy in general, theologians, and laity of the Russian Orthodox church. As president of the theological commision, I would like to use the present moment to express my gratitude to the department of external church relations of the Moscow patriachate and its president, Metropolitan Kirill, for constant cooperation in all matters pertaining to practical work.

(translated by PDS)