The family of Orthodox churches in Russia and Ukraine have agreed to a process of dialogue over their broken relations and Russia’s war in Ukraine, the World Council of Churches (WCC) says. Their announcement follows a visit to Moscow by a delegation that met His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“We visited Moscow to discuss engagement … by the Russian Orthodox Church in dialogue on the war and its consequences, including with regard to the deep divisions in the Orthodox family in this context,” reported Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, the WCC general secretary. “And I am grateful for HH Patriarch Kirill’s commitment to exploring this possibility,” he added.
The Moscow visit was preceded by a WCC delegation to Ukraine, which the WCC says received confirmation from both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) of their willingness to engage in dialogue with Moscow, mediated by the Council.
“Consolidation and unity in Ukrainian society, including especially among the majority Christian Orthodox believers, is an obvious necessity in the current circumstances faced by the nation and people of Ukraine” observed Rev. Pillay.
The Russian Orthodox Church has faced criticism for throwing its support behind the Kremlin’s war against its predominantly Orthodox neighbour.
“Far from wavering, that support has only grown more strident as the war progressed”, writer on church affairs Ksenia Luchenko explained for Washington-based think-tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The reason is not just that the church is used to giving its blessing to any actions taken by the country’s leadership. Quite simply, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the ROC, is betting on Putin’s tanks to preserve the institution of the church throughout the fallen empire”, she wrote.
After the meeting between the delegation led by Rev. Pillay and Patriarch Kirill, the World Council of Churches issued a statement explaining that their aim was to seek “an end to the current war”, “the unity of the Orthodox family”, “the role of the churches in peacebuilding” and to convene a roundtable meeting “with the participation of all parties concerned”.
However, the WCC says the Russian Orthodox side expressed concerns about such a meeting due to what it describes as “entrenched external influences”, but that Patriarch Kirill “commended the WCC for working towards peace and unity”.
The Council also states that Patriarch Kirill expressed “willingness to participate in the roundtable dialogue but indicated the need first to consult internally”.
Commenting on their discussions in Moscow, WCC General Secretary Rev. Pillay recognised the challenges: “It is clear that perspectives on the conflict, its causes, and the path towards a just peace remain highly polarized”.
“However”, he concluded, “this only underlines the critical importance of efforts to create safe spaces for dialogue, and for the WCC this must start with attempts to bridge the intra-Orthodox divide which mirrors the current geopolitical confrontation.”
At the end of last year, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church indefinitely postponed the next meeting of the Council of the Primates of its constituent bodies. “Quite simply, that meeting is now impossible: neither the Ukrainian nor European primates will attend”, explained Carnegie’s Ksenia Luchenko.
“Patriarch Kirill of Moscow identifies entirely with the Russian regime and Putin’s political elite. He cannot envisage a future for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) that does not reach the outer borders of the Soviet Union”, she added.
“He has been supporting the war, demonstratively appearing at Kremlin events, giving his blessing to murder, and justifying aggression. He isn’t thinking about the situation he is creating for all the other Orthodox constituent entities of the ROC that are outside of Russia’s jurisdiction,” she added.