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The Russian Church Inside Russia leaves the Conference of European Churches

Representatives of fourteen of the Local Orthodox Churches met and concelebrated at the weekend in Istanbul to discuss mutual concerns. After the Sunday liturgy they released a thirteen-point message. Although this message contains much that is worthy, there is nothing in it that has not been said generations, if not centuries, before.

Notably, it gives an assessment of Western secularism and the place of the Orthodox Churches in the lives of different nations. At least, after the politically-manipulated, nationalist attacks against the multinational Russian Church from a number of neighbouring countries with nominal Orthodox majorities over the last year, the message did condemn nationalist, ‘ethnophyletist’ (= racist) and ideological tensions. These have been created by secular nationalist movements, encouraged and funded by the EU and the USA, operating against the Russian Church. The message also quite rightly added that only when such narrow nationalism is overcome will the Orthodox Faith be heard by the contemporary world.

With all this we would heartily agree, as also with that part of the message which condemns attempts by secularised states, especially in the Western world, to destroy the vestiges of Christian culture in those countries. This is all the more important as this same tendency is spreading to Orthodox countries, especially those which are members of the EU or are recent recipients of large amounts of American dollars.

Sadly, there was much vague ‘diplomacy’ and bureaucratese in the message, which even expressed certain secular currents concerning social inequality, ecological concerns and ecumenism. Although these are problems, such secular issues were never discussed at Oecumenical or Local Councils. And, frankly, much in the message does not reflect the real and practical problems in ordinary Orthodox parishes and the Orthodox world in general. Indeed, the message often sounds like wishful thinking, paying mere lip service to ideals, but not at all to reality.

Thus, in Cyprus on 11 October, the day before the above vague joint statement (vague, because anything clearer could not have been agreed on by all), the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest Church in Europe apart from the worldwide Roman Catholic, announced that it was suspending its membership of the Conferences of European Churches. It pointed out that the Conference’s leadership was using double standards against the Russian Church. This came about as a result of the Conference accepting the membership of the uncanonical ‘Autonomous Estonian Orthodox Church’. This is a collection of small, modernist parishes in Estonia, recently set up by the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the canonical territory of the Russian Church with the political backing and meddling of the Estonian government. And yet atv the same time the Conference turned down the membership of the far larger and canonical Estonian Orthodox Church.

This contradicted the Constitution and rules of the Conference. Moreover, both last November and since then, the Conference had already promised to examine the proposed membership of this Church and accept it as a member. However, since then the Chairman of the Conference, Jean-Arnaud de Clermont, stated that he could not accept the Estonian Church as a member because of opposition from the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

According to Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, leader of the Russian delegation, the question was discussed on Friday 10 October, but voting on it was put off until Saturday, when most delegates had left. And when it did come to voting on Saturday, delegates from all the Greek Churches demonstratively filed out of the hall and sat down in the foyer to drink coffee. Fr Vsevolod commented that it was obvious to everyone that this was a deliberate attempt to avoid having a quorum and so make voting impossible, since Constantinople knew that the vote would go against it. It is clear, said Fr Vsevolod, that the Conference would not do anything to upset the US-funded and EU-backed Patriarchate of Constantinople. It would rather accept a tiny uncanonical entity with a history of some ten years as a member and turn down as a member a canonical entity which is ten times bigger and has a history going back to the fourteenth century.

Fr Vsevolod added that for him, as also for many other members of the Central Committee, the actions of the Greek Churches are shameful. At last he has admitted what the rest of the Russian Church has always known, that the Russian Church can live and prosper perfectly well without taking part in the Conference of European Churches. As Fr Vsevolod concluded, it is time for the Conference to realise that it cannot continue life exclusively as the voice of the West (= the EU and the USA) and as a structure which gives way to blackmail.

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