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A response to metropolitan Hilarion interview to National Catholic Register

18.04.2014, 14:11
It always bears repeating that Metropolitan Hilarion is not speaking objectively, or in a spirit of dialogue.

It always bears repeating that Metropolitan Hilarion is not speaking objectively, or in a spirit of  dialogue. His job consists in: skillfully advancing the interests of the Patriarchal See of Moscow and the Churches over which it presides in the task of prevailing over those which it does not; presenting itself as the de facto leading See of Orthodoxy, in parity with the leading See of Catholicism, namely that of Rome. Thus he characterises Catholicism only as Roman-Latin and characterises Byzantine Christianity as distinctively and essentially Orthodox, rendering Greek-Catholics as unauthentic products of so-called Uniatism.

Unfortunately, his expressions of ecumenism towards the Catholic Church are  neither ecumenical in method or spirit, nor are they based in evidenceable fact. First, the term "Uniatism" is offensive to Eastern Catholics. It is an inaccurate description of their integrity, history and ecclesiological principle - union with the See of Rome in good conscience. This has no place in Christian ecumenism. Dialogue begins with respect that is mutual - respect for the Russian Orthodox Church presupposes Russian Orthodoxy's respect for others. Each Church has a right both to describe itself in its own terms and for its profession to be accepted in good faith, even if disagreed with. If this is not starting point, then other avenues of dialogue cannot proceed very far. 

At the 2013 Busan Assembly of the WCC, the Metropolitan arrived prior to and left after his own speech, causing offence among Protestants for allowing no space for exchange over the novel views he expressed, that the purpose of Orthodoxy's involvement in ecumenical bodies is to witness to Orthodoxy and thus to call those in error to "return" to it. As St Francis de Sales, the greatest pastor of reconciliation for those attracted to the Reform, observed of the work of certain aggressive anti-Protestant activists among his fellow Catholics, "The bee achieves more by its honey than by its sting." In this case, what Metropolitan Hilarion does not say, as he portrays Eastern Catholic Ukrainians as a problem erected by the Catholic Church, is that the rest of Orthodoxy accepts the fact of Eastern Catholics and respects the fact that dialogue with the Catholic Church is not confined only to Roman Catholics (as is acceptable to Moscow), but must embrace all. Indeed the International Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches fruitfully makes use of the participation of a Greek Catholic bishop and consultants from Eastern Catholic clergy and scholars.

Secondly, the policy and practice of proselytising among Orthodox, with a view to convert them either to Latin or to Eastern Catholicism, under the immediate jurisdiction of the Roman Curia -  has been repeatedly forbidden even if, admittedly, belatedly in some cases, and finally repudiated as a method of proposing ecclesial communion. (cf the Balamand Statement at the Seventh Plenary Session of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in 1993, which set this out as firmly belonging to a damaging and discarded past). The Metropolitan, in all truth, should refer to this being the real position.

Third, successive Popes have legislated for the Universal Catholic Church to protect, enhance and ensure the integrity, rights and prerogatives of Eastern Catholic Churches. This legislation recognized that they are not subject to the Latin Church but canonical self-ruling (sui iuris) Churches in their own right, under their own Heads and Synodal jurisdictions, in mutual communion with each other and the Latin Church, as well as with the Bishop of Rome as universal pastor. This is the true position that Metropolitan Hilarion ought in justice to acknowledge in making his argument.

Fourth, the Moscow Church has - if truth be told - not been above planning to make its own "Uniate" arrangements for embracing within its communion Western Christians of Latin Rite, largely from disaffected Anglican, Old Catholic and Roman Catholic backgrounds.

Fifth, historical fact demands acknowledgment that, for over a thousand years, there have been ample instances of Byzantine Christians being in communion with the See of Rome, sometimes fluidly at the same time as being in communion with those with whom Rome itself was not itself in communion. Examples of these Churches may be found in southern Italy through the Middle Ages and into the modern period, the former Bulgarian patriarchal Church of Ohrid, the patriarchate of Antioch in the 18th century, and across the lands of Middle Europe, among those dependent not on the Russian Church but on the Mother Church in Constantinople.

Sixth, the Union of certain Byzantine Churches, recognised as daughters of Constantinople (eg in modern day Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary and Romania etc) arose not - as alleged - as a result of Latin missionary proselytism but because the territories came under the permanent control of Catholic rulers. Note that in the same period, the Latin patriarch, the Pope, invited Orthodox bishops to ordain clergy and care for the Byzantine population of southern Italy, which is hardly evidence of a Romanisation or Latinisation or Uniatist policy.

Seventh, when the Union of Brest was concluded, there is no historical basis for asserting that the Kyivan Church of the Rus people somehow left the Russian Church. Kyiv was under Constantinople and not the newly-minted Moscow patriarchate. If anything, the Union was a recognition of loss of the bond of communion with Constantinople, not the lands to the East, which only received recognition - from Constantinople - of canonical autocephaly markedly later.

Eighth, historical evidence requires the ecumenist, such as Metropolitan Hilarion, to acknowledge that resentment of the existence of other churches, from which one's own is in breach (or vice versa), in terms of insisting on an ecumenism of return and submission, is hardly conducive to acceptance, compliance, or the supposedly desired unity. In England, for instance, the Church of England has long given up this attitude to the Methodists, Baptists and Reformed. Instead, the evidence is that the Greek Catholic Churches in Middle and Eastern Europe, far from being anomalous, have been highly populous, numbering many hundreds of thousands in modern day Belarus, Romania, across the old Habsburg empire and to this day in Ukraine, as well as in Russia proper - and that the Russian Church and Tsardom actively suppressed and persecuted them across history. This was perpetuated under the Soviet government, which confiscated property from the Greek Catholics and awarded it to the Orthodox, as well as suppressing their monasteries, dioceses and other organisations, while enforcing conversion from Catholic communion to membership of the Russian Orthodox Church on the clergy and faithful against their will under pain of prison or death. For there to be a healing of memories, this truth has to be accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate, if there is to be mutual forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation that can lead to union once more.

And, ninth, the unity that the Russian Orthodox Church desires with the Catholic Church would have to be with the Catholic Church as it is - not the picture that Moscow projects upon it: the Catholic Church is not "Roman" - the use of the Roman Rite is only part of the story, since there are Milanese, Syrian, Chaldean and other parts of the Catholic Church too. And this includes the Greek Catholic Churches which are integral to it.

Tenth, Metropolitan Hilarion speaks of the disadvantage to the Orthodox Church in western Ukraine at the hands of the activities of the Greek Catholic Church there. But prior to the Sovietisation of Ukraine and the post-World War II unification of the West with the starved, murdered, plundered and colonised East, there were NO Orthodox dioceses in Galicia. These were all foundations of Stalin, who instructed the Moscow Patriarchate to proselytize and later absorb all Greek-Catholics into its fold. Greek-Catholic hierarchs were condemned to the gulag by Soviet military tribunals on charges which, surprisingly, included "opposition to the Russian Orthodox Church." With the collapse of the Soviet Union, after 40 years of persecution and oppression, Greek-Catholics reclaimed a portion, but not all, of their own churches. At the present time, the Moscow patriarchate is free to organise and function in the west of Ukraine and has indeed retained not a few of the properties and other infrastructure it came by through expropriation at the hands of atheist enemies of the Cross of Christ. Its persistent resentment at the mere existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is inexplicable - this has taken nothing and no one that belongs to any one else; it has coerced no one against his or her conscience.

Eleventh, the true problem for the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is that it does not command the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, any more than its actions have won over the Ukrainian Catholics, whose collective memory is of Russian state oppression and foreign control in religion. For it is a minority Church. Most Ukrainian Orthodox, rather than being controlled by Russians in Moscow, choose to belong to a church with its own patriarch and synod in Kyiv - even at the price of being recognised by no one else. Leaving aside the question of personalities, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church mostly desired its own autocephaly after Ukraine's independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union - and liturgy in the Ukrainian language and Russian, not just Old Church Slavonic - and its Metropolitan was deposed, leading to the present split. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is attempting and hoping for the repair of this division and the highly charged personal animosity between Church leaders in Kyiv and Moscow. But for the Moscow patriarchate to recognise the autocephaly of a reunited Ukrainian Orthodox Church would be to lose almost half of its own adherents and resources.

Twelfth, by their fruits shall ye know them. When Russia annexed Crimea at the end of a gun barrel, Russian Orthodox clergy threatened Ukrainian Orthodox churches, their clergy, bishop and property; and three Ukrainian Catholic priests were arrested, with a lie from Russia that they were proselytising the Orthodox. In fact they were ministering to Catholics living or stationed there. Besides, by no means all Ukrainians profess the Christian faith after decades of state atheism and modern consumerist secularism, so there can be nothing amiss with any mission work among them, a duty laid on all followers of Christ. The truth is that the present crisis has drawn Ukrainian people of faith closely together - Ukrainian Catholics, Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox, Muslim Tatars, Jews and Protestants (like the acting President, for instance, a Baptist minister) - and, throughout, it has been the Churches together, the people, clergy, monks and bishops of all the Churches, Greek Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox belonging to the minority Moscow patriarchate included, who have been working and praying for peace to prevail. It is unworthy of the Metropolitan not to tell the whole of this truth and to cast his fellow Christians as though they were agents of discord or dissension, when they are demonstrably vocal ministers of reconciliation.

An interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Department of External Church Relations

Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman with Fr Athanasius McVay

Society of St John Chrysostom