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Summing up bishops' council

from Communications Service, Department of External Church Relations, Moscow patriarchate
17 August 2000

On 17 August, the day after the conclusion of the work of the jubilee bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church, a press conference for accredited reporters was held in the church of Christ the Savior. Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna, chairman of the synodal commission on canonization of saints, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, and Metropolitan Agafangel, chairman of the credentials commissions of the council described the work and actions of the bishops' council for representatives of the Russian and foreign media of communication.

Speaking before the beginning of the press conference with brief statements for the press, the eminent hierarchs noted the special significance for the church and society as a whole of the documents adopted by the council, and they testified to the spirit of fraternal unity with which the actions of the archpastors assembled in Moscow were blessed.

In particular, Metropolitan Yuvenaly described the years-long laborious work of the synodal commission on canonization of saints that he headed. Responding to one of the questions, Master Yuvenaly noted:  "The work of the commission was completely free of any kind of political pressure whatsoever from anybody's side. At the same time the commission did not consider it possible for itself to ignore the opinion of tens of thousands of citizens and organizations who supported in their appeals the idea of the glorification in the canon of saints the passion bearers, the last Russian emperor and his family."

In all as the result of the work of the commission, which received unanimous approval of the council, 1154 holy servants of God will be canonized, of whom 1090 are Russian new martyrs and confessors who perished in the twentieth century. In particular, 160 of the newly glorified saints were pious laity.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who headed the synodal working group for preparing the bases of the social concept of the Russian Orthodox church, described the work on this fundamental world view document in which is formulated the responses of the church to the challenges of the time at the turn of the centuries.  "The bases of the social concept of the church, unanimously approved by the participants of the council after an interesting six-hour discussion, testifies to the church's consciousness of its responsibility before the individual, family, and society at a qualitatively new level," Master Kirill said. "Now the success of the church's activity can be evaluated not only by the number of newly opened parishes and restored churches, but also by the realistic, active and effective contribution of the church to building life on the bases of Christian morality rooted in holy scripture and holy tradition."

The "Bases of the social concept of the church" were approved by the council and recommended to synodal institutions, dioceses, monasteries, parishes, and the clergy and laity as a guide in relations with governmental authority, various secular associations and organizations,and nonchurch media of communication. The provisions of this document will be applied in pastoral practice associated with new phenomena of the life of society.

In his capacity as chairman of the synodal commission for amending the statute on administration of the Russian Orthodox church Metropolitan Kirill described the essence of the separate changes in the document and the significance of the new version for the canonical life of the church at the present state, noting the positive influence on the entire course of the work made by the adoption in 1997 of the law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations."

Responding to questions from reporters about the situation in Ukraine, Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa and Ismailsk noted the significance of the Determination of the bishops' council just ended regarding the Ukrainian Orthodox church for overcoming the current crisis. In the opinion of Master Agafangel, the confirmation by the jubilee bishops' council of the status of independence and self-administration of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, which received broad rights of autonomy by the determination of the bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church of 1990, gives hope for healing the schisms and creates good premises for unification of all Orthodox in the bosom of a united church.

Responding to a question about the relations of the Russian church to heterodoxy, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad again affirmed its readiness, while remaining faithful to its on spiritual and canonical system, to continue, in keeping with the example of the apostles of Christ, its mission of testimony to the world of the truth of Orthodoxy.  "The actions of the just completed consecrated bishops' council were marked by this life-giving spiritual perspective," Master Kirill emphasized.  (tr. by PDS, posted 17 August 2000)

 by Andrew Jack
Financial Times (London), 17 August 2000

The venue may have been new, but there was a strong sense of the past at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow this week, as 146 bishops from the Russian Orthodox church met for a ground-breaking four-day council meeting.

The Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s after being blown up on the orders of Stalin in 1931, and has come to symbolise the resurgence of the Russian church. But the decisions of the council over the past four days opened say much about the delicate relationships between the Orthodox church, the state and Russian society.

The church's decisions are significant, if only because so many Russians (even non-religious or formerly atheist ones) claim at least nominal cultural adherence to Orthodoxy; and because Alexei II, the Patriarch or head of the church, has become such a high-profile public figure.

The bishops canonised Tsar Nikolai II and his family, along with 860 "new martyrs", mainly clergy who were persecuted in Soviet times. They also passed resolutions on relations with the state and other churches and adopted a social doctrine.

Most attention was focused on the canonisations. Sergei Hackel, a priest and religious affairs journalist, says they were "a welcome step in the right direction", giving recognition to people who could not even be mentioned in Soviet times. However, Mark Smirnov, a priest and analyst of the church, says the move was essentially conservative: "Canonisation does nothing for the development of Russian democracy or civil society. It is a step backwards into the past, which does not give any hope for the future."

Equally important, the Bishops' Council's statements on relations with other churches did little to shift a long-time hostility towards ecumenism. The council specifically criticised "the expansion of the Vatican" on to Orthodox territory and the "destructive" influence of missionaries.

That reflects the church's continuing opposition toa visit by Pope John Paul to Russia and its support for legal actions against a number of religious sects.

Georgy Edelstein, an Orthodox priest who has frequently fallen out with the hierarchy, says: "The church is opposed to any kind of competition. It is afraid of freedom."

Finally, the Orthodox bishops adopted a social doctrine, a century after the Roman Catholic church. It is hardline in its views, treating contraception, homosexuality, abortion, surrogate motherhood and euthanasia as sins and warning of the ethical risks of genetic engineering.

But it is significant because it represents an evolution from the Soviet era, during which the authorities castigated the church by stating, as Mr Hackel describes: "Your job is to worship. You are servants of the cult, and have no business talking about politics or social ethics".

Mr Hackel's views echo those of others who believe the significance of the Bishops' Council lies less in what was decided than in the method used to reach its conclusions. "Voting was unanimous, just like in the Supreme Soviet," says Father Edelstein.

A change in the church's statutes in 1988 called for a general council including clergy and lay believers to meet every five years. But none has taken place, and the bishops alone have decided all significant policy decisions.

"Since the Soviet period, it's still the same institution, with the same people in charge," says Philip Walters, an expert on Orthodoxy from the Keston Institute in Oxford. "They are not inclined to take on initiatives and are afraid of opening up the hierarchy to newcomers."

Copyright 2000 The Financial Times Limited  (posted 17 August 2000)


by Ksenia Luchenko

Sobornost, 17 August 2000

Interview with Archbishop Ionafan of Kherson and Taurida

--Was a decision made today regarding Ukraine?

--The council confirmed the status of broad autonomy for the Ukrainian Orthodox church with broader rights than usually are provided to an autonomous church. That is, Ukrainian bishops themselves elect their primate, establish new dioceses, and install their own bishops. And, of course, in accordance with canonical standards, the patriarch of Moscow blesses our actions along with the consecrated council. So everything happened in accordance with canonical standards. All decisions were made in the spirit of free discussion and brotherly accord and the unity of the church was observed and maintained. Beside this Ukraine was provided broad rights for the development of its internal life, for which we are very grateful to His Holiness.

--Was there much discussion concerning the new edition of the statute?

--There was discussion because there were new items of principle which could not be introduced into the statute during soviet times. I think that the new statute will open up completely new horizons for the spiritual life of the church and for its external and internal development.

--What specifically?

--I will cite just one point. For example, a bishop who was a member of the Russian Orthodox church but a citizen of another country was not able to be a participant in the bishops' council. Now we have happily "laid to rest" this point.

--To what extent is the new statute different from the previous one?

--In principle it cannot differ very much because the basis for the statute is the canonical standards of our ancient two-thousand-year-old Orthodox church. Some rules of the statute have been clarified. And the statute was cleansed of those tendencies which did not comport with the spirit of the Russian Orthodox church. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 August 2000)


Bishops' council of RPTs does not want to give autonomy to Ukrainian Orthodox

by Aleksei Makarkin
Segodnia, 17 August 2000

The last significant question discussed at the bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church was the Ukrainian question. Then what remains is to wait for the Sunday liturgy at which the patriarch officially will glorify the new saints canonized at the council. The significance of the Ukrainian topic is shown in the fact that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma sent a telegram to Patriarch Alexis II in which he touched on the question of the possiblity of granting the status of autonomy to the Ukrainian Orthodox church (UPTs) which is a part of the Moscow patriarchate.

At the present time the status of UPTs is unclear. In 1992 it was granted self-administration. UPTs has its own synod and it consecrates new bishops and glorifies new saints without special sanction from Moscow. In principle such rights usually are held by an autonomous church (for example, the Orthodox church of Finland which is part of the Constantinople patriarchate). However the word "autonomous" is not a part of the name of UPTs. It would seem that this is a small matter; call a cat a cat, that is, call an autonomous church autonomous.  But a substantial portion of the parishioners of UPTs (mainly in the eastern provinces and Odessa) consider that granting autonomy would be a step in the direction of strengthening the position of advocates of the complete independence of UPTs from the Moscow patriarchate. They even advocate rejection of the broad rights that were granted UPTs eight years ago.

On the other hand, some of the bishops and clergy of UPTs consider that autonomy allows their church to avoid the brand of being "pro-Moscow" and to resist more successfully the two "independent" Ukrainian churches. For this reason a number of bishops of UPTs led by Bishop Pavel of Vyshgorod addressed a suggestion to the council to discuss the question of granting autonomy to UPTs that was raised in Kuchma's letter. However the council refused to review the letter from the Ukrainian president with the canonically irreproachable formula:  "The secular power has not business interfering in church matters." But it is more likely that the members of the council simply did not want to offend their Ukrainian brethren with a vote against autonomy. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 August 2000)


by Maksim Shevchenko
Nezavisimaia gazeta, 17 August 2000

Last evening with general prayer the jubilee bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church concluded its work. But it is already quite clear that it has the possibility of entering the history of Russian Orthodoxy as the most transient, while at the same time one of the most epochal church forums. The attentive observer also could add to these epithets "most liberal."

Here is a brief list of the historically significant decisions and documents adopted in the period from 13 to 16 August in the church of Christ the Savior:

--canonization of the tsarist family and several hundred priests killed by the soviet regime, and at the same time against this background the practically unnoticed canonization of Archbishop Arseny Matsievich, who spoke out at the end of the eighteenth century against the closing of the monasteries and the secular state policy of Catherine the Great and the conciliar glorification of one of the founders of Russian Orthodox ecumenism, Archimandrite Makary Glukharev;

--adoption of a document under the title "Bases for the social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" which set forth "basic provisions of its teaching on questions of church-state relations and a number of substantial social problems." Behind these spare lines is concealed a rather wide-ranging work that encompasses just about every aspect of contemporary life, from international policy to sexual ethics, which cannot be summed up within the limits of a small article. Several autumn issues of "NG-religii" will be devoted to a detailed discussion of the "social concept" of RPTs;

--also unusually important for the internal and external policies of the church were the adoption by a majority (one against, Bishop Veniamin of Vladivostok and Maritime territory, and seven Ukrainians abstaining, 138 for) of the principles of relations of the clergy and laity of RPTs toward Christians of other confessions, Catholics, protestants, and eastern ancient Orthodox churches.

For the secular press all of the essentially ecclesiastical actions of the bishops' council came down to one thing, the most sensational one, the canonization of the last Russian emperor.  Perhaps this was a prudent course of that wing of the Russian Orthodox episcopacy to which the fundamentalist groupings in RPTs stubbornly apply the label "liberal" and which is associated with the name and ideas of the late Leningrad Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov. The fuss raised around the political aspects of elevating Nicholas II to the rank of a holy passion bearer played the role of a "smoke screen."

This "camouflage" prevented the radical nationalist Orthodox circles from assessing the true character of the council's decisions.  Their appearance at other times would have been accompanied by hysteria on the part of a certain portion of the clergy, monastics, ordinary believers, and such publications as "Russkii dom," "Rus Pravoslavnaia," "Radonezh" and the like.

Possibly we have witnessed a brilliant "public relations" campaign conducted by Patriarch Alexis II and several members of the synod like Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kalingrad, Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna, and Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk.  Only today, after we became acquainted with the council's texts, any publication of which in the media before the council was sternly vetoed by the patriarch (an exception was made for exclusive materials by the first person of RPTs in NG-religii of 9 August), did this secrecy become comprehensible. The members of the council did not engage in wide discussion of them on Wednesday, since they were accustomed not to discussion but to public obstructions and demonstrations with banners. The pitiful attempts of the "nationalist Orthodox public" to propose any "alternative" theses to the topics being discussed by the council did not withstand any criticism and they remained beyond the bounds of public interest.

As an example I would like to focus on the canonization of the enlightener of the Altai, Archimandrite Makary Glukharev.  Here is what the greatest Russian church historian, Archpriest Geogy Florovsky, wrote about him in his work "Ways of Russian Theology": ". . . He always treated other confessions with searching good will. In Ekaterinoslav he worshipped with Spiritual Christians (Molokans) and found that the light of God's illumination shown also in their warm faith. Quakers who traveled about Russia in 1819, Grealey and Allen, visited him in Ekaterinoslav with an introductory letter from Filaret and found much common spiritual kinship with him. As a result Makary dreamed of building in Moscow a church with three parts, for Orthodox, Catholics, and Lutherans. . . . In 1834 Makary presented to the synod, through Metropolitan Filaret, a "Memo on the Russian church's need of a translation of the whole Bible out of the original texts into contemporary Russian." Filaret hid this letter in order to shield 'the romantic missionary' from the wrath and retribution of the higher authorities who considered translation of the scriptures into the languages of half-wild and completely wild foreigners to be appropriate but by no means into Russian. . . . Makary's points were not heard and not understood."

In 1840 he began the translation of the books of Job and Isaiah.  "At that time Makary switched over from arguments and persuasion to threats and angry prophetic utterances. Earlier he had insisted on the value and usefulness of having the word of God in a living language and not just a dead one. 'The Russian people deserve to have a complete Russian Bible,' he said."

There is probably no need to continue. It is so obvious that the canonization of Archimandrite Makary is testimony that our bishops either do not know church history or they are ecumenical to a great extent. If Archimandrite Makary were alive today, he would not simply not be called a saint but he would be branded as a heretic and "neorenovationist."

That the "Basic principles of relations of the Russian Orthodox Church with Heterodoxy" proclaimed in the council's documents passed by an overwhelming majority of votes gives evidence that either a majority of the provincial bishops lack serious theological training, which would permit them to establish their position in debate, and they simply did not understand what was being talked about, or the overwhelming majority of bishops are inclined toward dialogue with non-Orthodox Christians. I recall that at a different time many members of the council have spoken out against ecumenical contacts.

Here is how the chairman of the theological commission of the Moscow patriarchate, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, commented on the position of the opponents of such a view of Christian unity to a reporter of the Internet journal "Sobornost": "The problem is that people do not take the trouble to study what ecumenism is, what its essence is, and wherein it is dangerous for Orthodoxy. They do not attempt to enrich their knowledge; their attitude is superficial."

Today, after the bishops of RPTs, "filled with the Holy Spirit," have finally defined the path of the development of the church in the twenty-first century, any countermeasures on the part of the nationalist Orthodox fundamentalists will be senseless.  They could easily be construed by the leadership of RPTs as having an anti-church nature.

Special discussion is deserved by the so-called "Social doctrine of RPTs."  We will quote just a few of its provisions:

"The church not only directs its children to obey the state authority, regardless of the convictions and religious profession of its bearers, but also to pray for it. . . . If authority forces Orthodox believers to apostasize from Christ and his church and to commit actions that are sinful and harmful to the soul, the church must refuse to obey the state. . ."

The document enumerates the kinds of activity in which priests and canonical church structures may not cooperate with the state, to wit:

"a) political contests, electoral campaigns, campaigns in support of one or another political party, public leader and political leader;

b) conduct of civil war or aggressive international war;

c) direct participation in investigative, intelligence, and any other activity that requires by state law the violation of the confidentiality of the confessional and notification of the church hierarchy."

But at the same time the "pastor, concerned for keeping secret the name of the penitent and other circumstances that might identify him, may warn people whose lives are in danger."

The church's attitude toward capital punishment is especially distinctive:  "The church has often taken upon itself the duty to plead before civil authority for those condemned to death, begging mercy and lessening of the punishment for them. Moreover Christian moral influence has created in the consciousness of people a negative attitude toward capital punishment. . . .Abolition of the death penalty gives greater possibility for pastoral work with one who has fallen and for his own repentance. Besides . . . punishment by death makes a judicial mistake irreparable." The church recognizes that "the question of the abolition or disuse of the death penalty is decided by society with regard to the state of crime and the law enforcement and judicial systems, and particularly the notions of the preservation of the lives of well-intentioned members of society."

And so, we repeat the thesis stated above:  the council was an unquestioned victory of the members of the synod, primarily His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who were able to defend the need for the Russian Orthodox church's dialogue with the contemporary world. (tr. by PDS, posted 17 August 2000)

Putin and Nicholas' canonization


by Sergei Bychkov, Aleksei Rukavishnikov
Moskovskii komsomolets, 16 August 2000

The canonization of the royal family, about which bolsheviks, monarchists, and democrats talked so much, has been accomplished. Debates on this topic were conducted more than ten years after the time of celebration of the millennium of the baptism of Rus. The parties "for" and "against" broke many lances.  However, so long as the old president was in power, in whose domain the Ipatiev house was torn down, the decision on canonization was constantly postponed. The surprisingly easy change of mind on the part of the bishops on this matter was foreordained. We have learned from confidential sources that Putin spoke out for canonization. He was moved to this mostly by the president's spiritual advisor Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov. At the time of his trip to Pskov region on 2 August, Vladimir Putin stayed at one of the celebrated Russian cloisters, the Pskov caves monastery. This visit was not covered in the press; the president did not wish to advertise his meeting with Archimandrite Ioann Krestiankin. The authority of the elder, who went through the stalinist camps, is indisputable for many clerics and laity of the Russian Orthodox church. This meeting was made known to listeners of radio "Radonezh" by the friend of the archimandrite, Tikhon. In his time Fr Tikhon, who is by no means an elder, was a recent student of VGIK, had been a resident of the Pskov caves lavra. Inasmuch as the spiritual advisor of the cloister was Archimandrite Ioann, he became the teacher of the young novice Shevkunov. The president visited Archimandrite Ioann primarily to pour out his heart and receive spiritual support.

Vladimir Putin is a mysterious figure for Orthodox. In fifteen years of work in the KGB of USSR he became accustomed to making resolute decisions, carefully concealing his true views and convictions. We have never heard and we probably will not hear an acknowledgement of the president about his relationship to faith and the church.

However the president has indirectly let it be understood that his attitude to the Orthodox church is different from that of the former generation of leaders of the country whom the church folk aptly dubbed "candlesticks." After Putin's victory in the presidential elections Fr Tikhon became yet more open. Vladimir Putin's ideological views remain sealed with seven seals for the majority of political analysts.

If one can trust Shevkunov that the president really is "a sincerely believing man," then we have something of a key. Both Shevkunov and the elder Ioann revere the tsar martyr Nicholas II. They consider the church policy course that the Moscow patriarchate followed when it entered into compromise with "the atheistic authority" to be proper. A positive evaluation of this course leads to a positive attitude toward many phenomena of soviet reality. However positive evaluations of the soviet authority are accompanied by an extremely cautious attitude toward "democracy." This word is used as a curse in the "Russkii dom" magazine and television program. On the editorial board along with Archimandrite Tikhon is another ideological  mentor of Putin, KGB general Nikolai Leonov, retired. One of the main ideologists of the 1991 putsch, he was our resident in Cuba and sent Che Guevara into South America; then he became the deputy of the commander of the first administration of KGB. At that time Putin was an ordinary employee of this administration. Leonov was dismissed from KGB after the putsch failed.

On Christmas night, 7 January 2000, the acting president attended divine worship "in his parish church" (as the media reported) of the Life-giving Trinity on Vorobiev hills. The next night he worshipped with Patriarch Alexis II in the church of Christ the Savior. The live broadcast let millions of voters become convinced that the acting president felt confident in church; he crossed himself and genuflected correctly. On the day of the inauguration, immediately after the official ceremony in the Grand Palace of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin went to Ascension cathedral (the domestic church of Russian tsars!). There the patriarch conducted a sendoff prayer service on the occasion of the assumption of the post of president. Several days later President Putin sent greeting to Elder Ioann on his ninetieth birthday, whose existence the previous president did not even suspect.

On Pascha night the president arrived at St. Isaac's cathedral in St. Petersburg (once the chief church of the Russian empire!) where he exchanged Easter kisses and Easter eggs with Metropolitan Vladimir Kotliarov. We recall the numerous private visits of Putin with the patriarch in the residences of the head of RPTs. Borin Yeltsin dropped in on the patriarch once a year in order to greet His Holiness on his name days. If one trusts the statements of Arcihmandrite Tikhon, Vladimir Putin regularly makes confession to him. And it is he who guides the president in his spiritual life.

The special closeness of the archimandrite to the first person of state has been a matter of gossip in church circles several months. They say that thanks to the archimandrite the famous banker Sergei Pugachev got "access to the body." Incidentally, it is thanks to his financial support that the television program "Russkii dom" and the magazine of the same name exist. He finances the publications of Presentation monastery. Of the 2.5 million books produced by the fifteen largest publishing houses, half belong to the Presentation monastery. Shevkunov is also the spiritual advisor of both the broadcast and magazine. At the end of last year on the television program "Kanon" he told the touching story which he had learned from the then prime minister Putin. The dacha of the future head of the Russian state caught fire outside St. Petersburg. The only thing that he found in the ashes was his Orthodox pectoral cross. That event supposedly served for the future president as a specific sign; only spiritual values are imperishable. The president's spiritual advisor was silent about how long ago he became acquainted with his "spiritual son."

Back in 1990, when the entire soviet society was seized with democratic euphoria, the novice Georgy Shevkunov published in "Literaturnaia Rossiia" an article, "The church and the state." He spoke out openly against democracy which, in his opinion, inevitably leads to the destruction of the bases of statehood. He worried about the fate of the church, which had always existed in Russia, even in the era of state atheism. Archimandrite Tikhon is one of the most consistent critics of the tobacco metropolitan, Kirill Gundiaev. Thanks to him, the actions of Metropolitan Gundiaev among governmental workers have fallen sharply. Tikhon's statements against freedom of speech constitute a tactful ideological mish-mash . He earnestly advocates the introduction of censorship. The appearance of the president's own spiritual advisor is fraught with unpleasant consequences for Patriarch Alexis II. Although Putin as "a sincerely believing Orthodox person" emphasizes his respect and loyalty for the patriarch, his heart, as Fr Tikhon maintains, is not with the primate of the church. Under a "churched" president who relies on the authority of elders, the role of the patriarch become ritualistic. The president is well versed in church matters. The main active persons of the Yeltsen epoch have left the political stage. Of course, the patriarch has been quick to distance himself from them, but Putin remembers everything.

Recently in the administration of FSB for St. Petersburg and Leningrad province a ceremony for transfer to the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox church of a collection of icons seized by the Petersburg Chekists from smugglers was held. Speaking at this ceremony the director of the administration, who is also a deputy director of FSB, declared that employees of the service would like to turn over the icons to the St. Theodore's royal cathedral in Tsarskoe Selo. This church was built by Tsar Nicholas II and in turning over the icons to this church the Chekists were making their small contribution to the action of glorification of the tsar in the canon of saints. The decision on the canonization of the last Russian sovereign had already been made. So in whose hands is the president's heart?  The Bible says "the heart of the king is in the hand of God." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000)

Allegation refuted by Constantinople


The Chief Secretariat of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
8 August 2000


Due to a recent false report published on the Internet stating that the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople allegedly pronounced on July 27, 2000 that the Ukraine is canonically under its jurisdiction; the Holy and Sacred Synod announces that this decision was never made and that this report is completely erroneous. Consequently, the relative publication Ukrainska Slovo (July 27,2000) and Kirill Frolov's article in Pravoslavia, July 27, are based on incorrect information.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate expresses both its sorrow and regret because of the circulation of this inaccurate news, which not only causes division but also conflict between Christians, and they misrepresent and distort the virtuous intentions of those who have sacrificed and labored for the restoration of the unity of Christians, by the removal of all causes that might hinder the attainment of the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ for those who believe in Him "to be one".

From the Office of the Chief Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod
Telephone: 90-212-525-5416  Fax: 90-212-534-9037

Fourth day of council; Ukrainian bishops surprise council


Sobornost, 16 August 2000, as of 5 p.m., Moscow time

(This report has a preliminary character).  On the basis of information which we have been able to get, the calm course of the council was interrupted today. The problem of Ukraine, which all the days of the council they have been trying to cover up, seems to have gotten out of control. We have already written that His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all-Ukraine held last night an unplanned meeting of the Ukrainian bishops. Yesterday the Ukrainians refused to comment about anything. Today we learned some details. It seems that last night the bishops' council received a telegram from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma which did not simply greet the council but made a specific request of it. This is an unprecedented even in the modern history of the church. In this telegram the head of the Ukrainian state asked the council to include in the name of the Ukrainian church a reference to its status:  "autonomous." Thus the complete name of the church would be UAPTs, Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox church, similar to that of the Japanese church.

At this time we do not have official information, although we have been told that practically all of the Ukrainian bishops, with two exception, supported Kuchma's request. However the patriarch has not been in a hurry to agree with them. It is quite possible that the request about the name is only one of several requests to the council.  The regulations of the council have been disrupted at midday and it is quite possible that the council will struggle on late into the night. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000, 10 a.m. EDT)

[Editor's note:  The Sobornost web page is providing regular updates on the course of the bishops' council.  It also has an interesting collection of pictures from the council.]

Pravoslavie v Ukraine, 16 August 2000

At the plenary session today the bishops' council plans to discuss and adopt amendments and supplements to the statute of the Russian Orthodox church.  The draft of the new edition of the statute was approved by the Holy Synod and will be presented for the council's review by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The currently active statute was adopted by the local council of 1988 and was in many ways linked to the social and juridical realities of the Soviet Union. Since that time radical changes have occurred in the lives of the nations that are spiritually nurtured by the Russian Orthodox church. The internal structure of the Moscow patriarchate has become quite different; in particular, self-governing church formations (Ukrainian Orthodox church) have emerged and new possibilities for reorganization of church administration at various levels have opened up. His Holiness Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and all-Rus spoke about the necessity of a review of the situation that has developed in Ukraine and the adoption of appropriate steps in his report.

The bishops' council of the Ukrainian Orthodox church that was held in the Holy Dormition Kiev caves lavra on 28 July 2000 appealed to the bishops' council of RPTs "to introduce for discussion at the jubilee bishops' council in Moscow the question of clarifying the canonical status of the Ukrainian Orthodox church which was defined for it by the holy hierarch Patriarch Tikhon at the historic local council of 1918." At the same time there was expressed assurance that "a thoughtful, measured approach to the resolution of this question and notification about it to all primates of local Orthodox churches and the plenitude of Orthodoxy will be a concrete, constructive step toward the resolution of the problem of schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy."  Official press releases of the council can be found at the official server of RPTs. News at the Internet-journal "Sobornost." (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000)


Pravoslavie v Ukraine, 15 August 2000

At the end of the first day the chairman of the credentials commission of the council, Metropolitan Agafangel of Odessa and Ismailsk, reported that 144 bishops out of 165 were participating in the work of the bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church, and 21 were absent. Among the absentees is one of the most influential bishops of the Russian church, Metropolitan Antony of Suroj. Metropolitans Antony of Chernigov, Nikodim of Kharkov, and Yuvenaly of Kursk are absent due to illness.  (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000)


from Communications Service of Department of External Church Relations, Moscow patriarchate

Moscow, Church of Christ the Savior, 13-16 August 2000

The consecrated jubilee bishops' council, after carefully engaging in brotherly discussion of the situation in Ukraine described by His Beatitude Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and all-Ukraine and members of the council who are bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox church resolved

1.  To confirm the status of the independence and autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox church which received the right of broad autonomy by the decision of the bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church in 1990.

2.  To express the hope for the most rapid healing of the schisms and for the unification of all Orthodox of Ukraine in the bosom of a united church.

3.  To consider cooperation in the achievement of general Orthodox accord on the matter of proclaiming and recognizing the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox church through brotherly mutual action and consultation with other local church to be necessary, which must occur in connection with genuine achievements in the matter of overcoming schism.

4.  To consider points 4, 8, and 9 of chapter 8 of the statute of the Russian Orthodox church, adopted at the current council, not applicable to the Ukrainian Orthodox church.  In matters covered in these points, to be guided by the standards in the patriarchal Tomos of 1990

5.  To testify that the Ukrainian Orthodox church has performed its ministry worthily in restoring churches and monasteries and regenerating church life in its diverse forms. To consider as important the complete maintenance for the Ukrainian Orthodox church of its property and financial independence, which serves as the material basis of its successful labors. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000)


from Communications Service, Department of External Church Relations, Moscow patriarchate
16 August 2000

On 16 August the work of the jubilee bishops' council of the Russian Orthodox church, which was conducted in the Hall of Church Councils of the church of Christ the Savior, was completed.

The council heard and subjected to detailed discussion a report by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, regarding the activity of the department in the period between councils. The full text of the report devoted to the state of the church diaspora and to inter-Orthodox, inter-Christian, and church-state and church-society relations, as well as several other questions, is available on the official Internet page of the Russian Orthodox church. The basic topics of the discussion were inter-Christian relations and the ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine.

Further Metropolitan Kirill presented the draft of a new edition of the statute of the Russian Orthodox church. After pertinent discussion and a detailed review of each section of the statute it was adopted with amendments by the bishops' council. The statute becomes effective with its adoption but it is subject to subsequent confirmation by a local council. The text of the document will be distributed in the near future.

Then the council discussed and adopted a letter to the God-fearing pastors, worthy monastics, and all faithful children of the Russian Orthodox church, as well as a determination regarding the Ukrainian Orthodox church, a determination on the situation of the Orthodox church in Estonia, and a determination on questions of internal life and external activity of the Russian Orthodox church. Participants of the council sent to Russian President V.V. Putin a letter in which was posed the problem of the return of church property. These documents also have been distributed.

The council completed its labors at 11:30 p.m. Moscow time. Speaking at the closing of the council, His Holiness Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all-Rus said, in particular:  "I thank all ruling and assistant bishops for their labors. The council summed up the church life of the three years since the last bishops' council. The atmosphere of the church of Christ the Savior, under whose vaults and within whose walls the discussions were conducted and decisions were made, made our work pleasant. I thank each one for the contribution to the general discussion as well as for the agreement and unanimity, because the striving for the good of the holy Orthodox church directed us. (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000)


by Sergei Chapnin
Sobornost, 16 August 2000

Interview with Metropolitan Mefody of Voronezh and Lipetsk

--What do you think, wasn't the most active discussion not today [Tuesday, 15 August] but yesterday concerning the canonization of the tsarist family?

--Yes, you are right. The most lively discussion was yesterday, but I would not call it in the true sense a discussion. Rather it was a general approval by the council, because the council expressed the desire of the majority of believing people who expected canonization. And when Metropolitan Yuvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna, chairman of the commission on canonization, said that this question was on the agenda and would be decided, then the hall responded with a general sigh of approval and everybody accepted this decision with applause.

--Was there really a physical sigh?

--Well, both physical and moral. There was applause, although His Holiness had said that we should honor such a decision with prayer rather than applause. We all stood and paid our respect to this decision. Incidentally, today also at the suggestion of His Holiness the patriarch the council raised its fervent prayer for the sailors who are in underwater captivity in the submarine.  Before the opening of one of the sessions the whole council stood and made unanimous prayer petitioning the Lord for liberation and help for those who would solve this problem and those sailors who had gotten into this difficult situation. One had to see that unanimity and concentration in prayer which was evident on the faces of the members of the council. Everybody understands the complexity and responsibility and they all prayed to the Lord with pure hearts and distress that this problem would be solved successfully.

--Incidentally, how unanimous was the voting yesterday evening on the matter of relations with the heterodox? Bishop Veniamin acknowledged yesterday that he had voted against the document that was prepared by the theological commission?

--Yes, if I am not mistaken there were seven abstentions and one negative vote. You know, this is a normal thing because there is legitimate skepticism about constantly unanimous votes. That reminds us of the earlier times when everything was adopted unanimously. It is very good that Bishop Veniamin and other members of the council had their own opinion and tried to express it. I consider that this is proper, but the council accepted this with understanding because everyone has a right to express his opinion.

--In your opinion, what was interesting in the discussion of Metropolitan Filaret's [of Minsk, exarch of Belarus] report?

--You know, the report of the chairman of the theological commission was a serious communication for the council. The point is that nowadays the problem of relations with the heterodox has still not been completely resolved. For long years everything followed a single course that had been adopted back in the sixties when our church joined the World Council of Churches. Since then our position was not reviewed in the course of decades. The time has come to make corrections which the members of the council expressed. There were many insistent speeches with a call to review our participation in WCC. In this regard, as Metropolitan Kirill reported, and His Holiness also spoke about this, an inter-Orthodox commission has been created which will review Orthodox participation in this international church movement. The second question which cannot be avoided in this discussion is the situation in Ukraine, especially the western regions of Ukraine, where the Catholic church and the Uniates are protecting their interests without brotherly accommodation  of the Orthodox. There was a serious and principled conversation on this topic. Metropolitan Filaret had to respond for a long time after giving his report to questions, principled and objective questions, questions which demand a precise and specific answer. Without question the work in this section was stressful.  (tr. by PDS, posted 16 August 2000)



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