September 6, 2019

The Ecclesiastical Ebbs and Flows of the Moscow Patriarchate

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlassiou

Ecumenism is associated with relativism, that is, everything is relative and thus there is a confusion in the theological and ecclesiological issues.

Ecumenicalism, of course, differs from Ecumenism, which is distinguished for confusing true and false, true and sect.

I note, however, that anti-ecumenists in Greece strongly judge and criticize the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in particular Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, while pardoning the other Orthodox Churches, and in particular the Russian Orhodox Church.

I think this is neither fair nor objective.

That is why I will address the attitude of the Moscow Patriarchate from time to time, especially towards the Roman Catholics. Basically, I will present its transitions to ecclesiological issues, which are tailored to the external influences at the time.

I have to make clear from the outset that what follows is not about the Russian Orthodox people and the saints who lived and live in Russia, but about the leadership that has been influenced by other factors from time to time.

New views of the Russian Church on Roman Catholics and other Christian confessions appear from various statements made by representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, which reverse basic orthodox ecclesiological principles.

For example, the Moscow Patriarchate accepts Roman Catholics in Orthodoxy without baptism and without new ordination, because it accepts their Apostolic succession. They are also involved in co-prayers and intercommunion.

It is characteristic that, according to Fr. Peter Hirsch, the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Hilarion (Alfeyev), “openly declared that he does not believe there are fundamental differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.”

He states: “Virtually and in practice there is already a mutual recognition of our Mysteries. If a Roman Catholic priest converts to Orthodoxy (in Russia) we accept him as a priest and we do not re-ordinate him… so, that means we de facto recognize the Sacred Mysteries of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Russian theology has turned aside the Orthodox Tradition, as shown in the views expressed by Orthodox Russian theologians on the exceedance of the Patristic Tradition, which is the basis of the Post-Patristic theology on “the human face” with the misbelieving extensions overturning the basic decisions of the Ecumenical Councils on eucharistic ecclesiology, etc.

The “Joint Declaration” of the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow in Havana

Although in the end of January 2016 it was decided in Geneva by all Orthodox Churches and the Moscow Patriarchate to convene the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church in the Orthodox Academy of Crete in June of the same year, however after a few days, and in particular on February 12, 2016, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow met with Pope Francis in Havana, Cuba.

During this meeting Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow signed a “Joint Declaration” which abounds with ecumenistic views and is, actually, moving beyond the decisions taken by the Synod of the ten Orthodox Churches that took place in the Orthodox Academy of Crete, at Kolympari, Chania. While the “Holy and Great Synod” in Crete mentioned that “the Orthodox Church accepts the historic name of other heterodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her,” however, the “Joint Declaration” between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has gone even further.

Surprisingly, the several antipatriarchal circles in Greece, although they have been highly critical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for ecclesiological issues, not only they do not critisize this “Joint Declaration” between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis, but they also take a stand for the Moscow Patriarchate at the expense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. At the same time, they consider ecumenistic issues to be secondary, which is a tampering of the doctrine!

However, at the meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and Pope Francis “which is the first in history,” as it is written in the “Joint Statement,” all these things have been forgotten, and they talk about a Church, about “mutual relations among the Churches,” about “Brethren in the Christian faith”, about “key issues of our flock” etc.

The “Joint Declaration” in Havana, Cuba, refers to the common tradition of the first millennium. “We share the common tradition of the first millennium of Christianity”, “We want to unite our efforts to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the common inheritance of the Church of the first millennium,” as if this same inheritance still exists.

Admittedly, there was once a “common inheritance of the first millennium”, which today does not exist, because Old Rome was removed from the Church and added new sects. So, we cannnot say that we share the “common tradition of the first millennium,” but we did share it in the past.

The “Joint Declaration” mentions that “despite the common tradition of the first ten centuries, for almost a millennium Roman Catholic and Orthodox people have been deprived of the Eucharistic communion.” The deprivation of the “Eucharistic communion” stems from the fact that “the wounds of conflict between distant and recent past, and the differences between our understanding and interpretation of our faith in God, One God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, divide us.” But we must point out that it is not only the “wounds of conflict” for the Trinitarian doctrine that divide us, but also for other theological matters, which are sects, such as the actus purus, the primacy, the Papal infallibility, the unleavened bread in the Divine Liturgy, and other things, which, deliberately, are not mentioned in the “Joint Statement”.

Despite the “disagreements” between the two “Churches” and despite the common inheritance of the first millennium and the lack of unity, efforts are still being made to unite the “Churches”. The “Joint Declaration” speaks of the fact that “we must, with our determination, make every effort to tackle the dispute we have inherited from history.” That is, no significant theological differences seem to exist, but “disagreements”, for which we are not responsible, but history has given them to us abstractly!

The fact that some heterodox Christians shed their blood for Christ does not mean that the sects of their Confession can be pardoned. And this is because there are Christians in all Christian Confessions, who observe Christ’s commands, believe in God, without accepting the teaching of their Confession as it is being expressed through its “dogmatic” texts. As there are also Orthodox Christians who do not live according to the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.

It is therefore not possible to invoke the martyrdom of some Orthodox Christians for ecumenistic purposes and to correlate the martyrdom with the pardoning of the ecclesiological theological principles and by referring to the achievement of unity of the Christians. It is as if one might argue that because in the period of Persecution some idolaters believed in Christ and martyred, without first being baptized, since this act constitutes the “baptism of blood”, there is no need to be orthodox baptized, when they return to the Church.

This means that the “union of the Churches” is not valid, without invoking the Dogmatic facts and correcting the sects just because of the “martyrdom of blood,” and it is not possible to speak of the “union of the Churches” through the “ecumenism of the blood”, when, at the same time, we violate the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils.

The “Joint Declaration” between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope also dealt with the issue of Unia. Although there are unambiguous views of the Orthodox people regarding Unia, saying that we do not accept this way to “unite the Churches”, but this could be achieved by addressing the theological differences between the Orthodox and the Catholic, however, in the “Joint Statement” different views are being adopted.

Throughout the “Joint Declaration” there is one common finding. In its headline it says, “Joint Declaration signed by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus’.” However, in all its content it seems that the contracting parties are two “world” leaders, the Pope for the Roman Catholics and the Patriarch of Moscow for the Orthodox people, that is, the ecclesiastical Leaders of the “First Rome” and of the “Third Rome” are making the decisions; although I do not accept the terms “First”, “Second” and “Third Rome”.

The Patriarch of Moscow does not decide with the Pope on issues that concern the Patriarchate of Moscow, but they decide on issues that concern the entire Christian world; all the Orthodox Churches, in the East, the West, the North and the South, that is, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Latin America, in “other continents”, as well as the “faithful” of other religions too, and generally all mankind.

This shows that the Patriarch of Moscow, during his discussions with the Pope and by making this decision, really considers himself as the “Primate” of Orthodoxy, overriding in this way the Ecumenical Patriarch. This is also obvious both in inter-orthodox and inter-ecclesiastical issues, such as the issue of Ukraine. Which means that the Patriarch of Moscow discusses with the Pope about the Ukrainian issue, possibly in order to prejudice the decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

It is obvious that Patriarch Kirill of Moscow signed the “Joint Declaration” as a religious and political superpower, as a spokesman for other Orthodox Churches, but without receiving any authorization and by substituting for the Ecumenical Patriarch. It seems as if the so-called “Second Rome” (or New Rome) has been lost and now the “Third Rome” is talking with the “First Rome,” the two World Christian Leaders and two political Organizations.

From this brief and comprehensive analysis of the “Joint Declaration” between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow it seems that the positions of the “Joint Declaration” are a very bad form of the decisions taken by the “Holy and Great Synod”, where the Patriarch of Moscow did not attend, that took place in Kolympari, Chania, a few months after the “Joint Declaration” in Havana, Cuba, in June 2016.

And how could he attend, since a few months before (February 2016) he had already made his own desicions, and in particular along with the Pope, the other World Leader, representing all the Orthodox Churches without authorization whatsoever and substituting for the Ecumenical Patriarch? And how, after this summit with Pope Francis and their “Joint Declaration”, could he attend the Synod in Kolympari, Crete, and occupy the fifth place?

The Patriarch of Moscow moves freely as a Church and Political Leader and expresses his ecumenistic positions, reversing the decision of the “Conference of Heads and Representatives of Orthodox Autocephalous Churches” that took place in Moscow in 1948.

It seems that the Patriarchate of Moscow has occasionally made various decisions on ecclesiastical matters, according to the circumstances of each era. The problem, however, is that the anti-ecumenist theologians who criticize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Synod of Crete, not only pardon the worst views of the Patriarch of Moscow, but they also support him at the expense of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

This is a matter of interpretation on every side.