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Moscow Patriarchate tolls death-knell for Ecumenism

Speaking at the World Christian Forum in Nairobi, the Deputy Head of the External Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, has spoken out in favour of altogether abandoning the word 'ecumenism' in inter-Christian relations. He has said that the term is so vague that it can mean 'any form of universalism' and as such is rightly criticised by most Orthodox. Quite simply, the word leads to confusion in inter-Christian relations.

Again and again in recent months, in conformity with its declaration in its Social Concept of 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia has specifically rejected the ecumenical excesses of a few of its members which occurred under Soviet pressure between the 1960s and the 1990s. It has thus returned to its position of before 1917, that of the 1940s and 1950s and so to the constant position of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), with which the Moscow Patriarchate entered into eucharistic communion in May this year.

From Fr Vsevolod's words, as well as other recent official statements and actions, it is clear that the whole of the Russian Orthodox Church now fundamentally agrees on the issue of inter-Christian relations. Thus, any idea of syncretism or dogmatic compromise has definitively been rejected. On the other hand, the importance of good neighbourly relations with others has, as ever, been maintained. Only recently, thanks to these good relations, Roman Catholics gave the Russian Church a city-centre church in Naples exclusively for the use of its faithful, the aggressively proselytising Polish Roman Catholic Archbishop in Moscow was replaced by a normal Italian Roman Catholic and in Paris in October His Holiness Patriarch Alexis was able to preach the Orthodox Gospel in the Notre Dame Cathedral.

It must be said that this also mirrors our own ROCOR practice locally in Felixstowe. Here good relations and missionary witness from the start, without the least compromise, mean that we have the exclusive use of a Church of England building made suitable for Orthodox worship. We have also been able to preach the Gospel freely in the Orthodox manner, including informing local ecumenists that until the filioque heresy is renounced, the Church cannot enter into any sort of agreement with Non-Orthodox.

Despite some extremist pressures in the last century from some individuals, mainly Greek Old Calendarists and their neophytes, this middle way has always been the official practice of ROCOR. For example, when the ever-memorable Metropolitan Vitaly was consecrated bishop in London nearly sixty years ago, it was in the presence of the fully-vested Anglican Bishop of Southwark, as photographs testify. Similarly, the fact that in the 1960s ROCOR clergy were present as observers at the Second Vatican Council, mirrors this same desire for good relations and mutual understanding. As Fr Vsevolod remarked: 'Our theological differences are too great, but we can work together to find solutions to many general problems ... in order to change society on the basis of Gospel values'.

Once again we find the Moscow Patriarchate repeating the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, keeping to the royal path, avoiding extremes and the intolerance of the left-hand, modernist side and the sectarianism of the right-hand, pharisaical side. All this is yet another clear sign of the fruit of unity between both parts of the Russian Church. On this day when we commemorate St Procula Claudia, who was not frightened to tell the truth to her husband who asked 'What is Truth' (1), when he was looking Him in the face, this is also the vindication of the valiant and authoritative stand of ROCOR in the past, when its firmness was much criticised by the spiritually weak, who swam with the politically correct tide. May other Local Orthodox Churches come to follow the united stand of the Russian Orthodox Church in this matter.

Fr Andrew

27 October/ 9 November
St Procula Claudia, Wife of Pontius Pilate


1. In Latin Pilate's question would have been: 'Quid est Veritas?' This is the Latin anagram of the answer: Est vir qui adest': 'It is the man who is present'.

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