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Dispute Continues Over Two Conceptions of the Church

The Facts

According to reports today, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna (Moscow Patriarchate), head of the Russian Orthodox representation to the EU, has accused the Patriarchate of Constantinople of destroying the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue and attempting to institute an Eastern Papacy.

‘As Co-President of the Mixed Commission for the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue, Metropolitan John of Pergamos bears the responsibility for breaking off the Dialogue’, stated the Bishop on 22 October. ‘On the basis of his comments and the concluding document, which was drawn up without the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate (MP), the impression could even be formed that the Patriarchate of Constantinople consciously elbowed the MP out of the Dialogue, so that it could take decisions which would have been impossible, had the MP been participating’, he said.

Earlier, MP representatives had walked out of the session of the Tenth Mixed Orthodox Roman-Catholic Theological Commission in Ravenna in Italy, as a sign of protest against the participation of representatives of the so-called ‘Estonian Apostolic Church’, set up in 1996 by Constantinople on the canonical territory of the Russian Church. A document summarizing the work of the Commission was signed in the absence of the MP delegation.

Bishop Hilarion commented that the absence from the Dialogue of, ‘the largest Orthodox Church, whose membership surpasses the membership of all the other Local Orthodox Churches put together, casts doubt on the legitimacy of the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue’. Reacting to this, Metropolitan John of Pergamus stated that the hard-line position of Bishop Hilarion must be seen as ‘an expression of authoritarianism, aimed at showing the influence of the MP’.

‘Constantinople wishes to foist on us a model of an ecclesiastical structure which has never existed in the Orthodox Church and which is closer to the centralized Roman Catholic model. According to this model, the role of an ‘Eastern Pope’ would be played by the Patriarch of Constantinople’, replied Bishop Hilarion. ‘To what extent other Local Churches could agree to the new model, foisted on us by the Church of Constantinople through the Dialogue, will be seen at the next round of the Dialogue which begins in 2009’. ‘However’, he added, ‘it is already clear that the absence of the MP considerably facilitates the work of drawing up such a model’.


We stress that the above is a factual report to inform readers of the situation.

For ourselves, we would like to raise some as yet unanswered questions. Firstly, that probably the vast majority of practising Orthodox in all the Local Churches would rejoice at the permanent breaking off of such a ‘Dialogue’, because they never wished for it anyway, never having been consulted about it by their bishops. The fact is that, on the ground in Western Europe, where we live, generally Roman Catholics do not attend Orthodox churches and Orthodox do not attend Roman Catholic churches. Our question therefore is this. Does the above fact not suggest that the concept of ‘Dialogue’ is irrelevant to the faithful, that the two faiths concerned are so different, in spirit and in reality, that the whole concept of dialogue is artificial and has its roots in politics, not in the lives of the faithful?

Secondly, if there is to be a Dialogue, why do they not choose Orthodox figures, who would truly represent the grassroots faithful, rather than academics, to take part in it? Academics are all very well, but they often have little concept of Orthodox spiritual or practical realities. Why, for example are no educated monks from Mt Athos (Patriarchate of Constantinople) or educated monks from the Optina Hermitage in Russia, or educated parish clergy and laity allowed to take part in this Dialogue? It has staggered on for decades and its reports lie in dust on shelves, ignored by all. Why not take this opportunity to introduce some reality and life into this Dialogue, if Dialogue there must be?

Thirdly, it is also curious that the words on an ‘Eastern Pope’ of the youthful Bishop Hilarion are simply a repetition of the words of the great Serbian theologian, Blessed Justin (Popovich), in the 1970s. Why was this theologian, neither Greek nor Russian, not listened to in the first place? Then none of this would be necessary.

A fourth question arises, again to which we have no answer. Both Metropolitan John (formerly a Professor in Glasgow) and the Oxford-educated Bishop Hilarion, a disciple of the retired Oxford Professor, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), both know each other from the Greek Convent at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, founded by Archimandrite Sophrony, who left the Patriarchate of Moscow for the Patriarchate of Constantinople as long ago as 1963. Why is that the two representatives could not have met there and perhaps privately, in their common language of English, sorted out differences before a public meeting in Ravenna?

Finally, we would ask the following, much larger, question. If Roman Catholics wish to join the Orthodox Church and live an Orthodox life, they are welcome to do so. In the Church of Greece, this would mean being received by baptism, but the Russian Church has a more generous practice and receives Roman Catholics by confession. In any case, there is no need for a ‘Dialogue’ for this. Roman Catholic clergy already know that they have to renounce the filioque, before any serious Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches can take place. This would cost them very little, since Roman Catholic laity have never heard of the filioque. And by renouncing the filioque, Roman Catholics would only be returning to the beliefs of Pope John VIII of Rome (+ 882), who forbade any additions to the Creed, defended St Methodius, Apostle of the Slavs and – sadly - was also the first Pope to be assassinated.

Many questions, but no answers.

Priest Andrew Phillips

10/23 October
Feast of the Optina Elders

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