Translated from Russian by Anglican Ink
[November 21, 2017] The Patriarchal and Synodal residence in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow hosted a meeting of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia with the head of the Anglican community Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Wellby.
Among those accompanying the Archbishop of Canterbury were the Bishop of Ebbsfleet Jonathan Goodall, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe Robert Innes, adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury for ecumenical relations the Rev. William Adam, the rector of the Anglican parish of St. Andrew in Moscow the Rev. Malcolm Rogers, Canon David Porter adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury for External Affairs, and press officer Aisla Anderson-Cole.
On the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, the meeting was attended by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh, Archimandrite Filaret (Bulekov), Deputy Chairman of the DECR, and Hieromonk Stephen (Igumnov), DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations.
The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church noted that he was pleased to continue his informative conversation with Archbishop Justy Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, started in London in 2016 during his visit to Great Britain.
Having stated that contacts between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Anglican community exist since the XVI century, His Holiness noted: “Already in those far centuries, long before Christians entered into intensive dialogue and cooperation, Russians and Englishmen belonging to different faiths had the opportunity to meet and understand each other.”
During the conversation, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia mentioned that the Coordination Committee on Cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of England has been successfully working for the last twenty years. “I would also like to note with satisfaction that with the participation of the Russian Embassy in the UK and the British Embassy in Moscow, various kinds of events take place, including symposia related to the future of Christianity in Europe. I consider such events particularly useful in our turbulent times,” said His Holiness.
One of the areas in which cooperation is successfully developing is student exchange. “Some of our students continue their education in the UK,” His Holiness said. – And in Russia, on the basis of the Church-wide post-graduate and doctoral studies, we organized the Summer Institute for the staff of the Church of England. This project opens the opportunity for the clergy of the Anglican Church to get acquainted with the life of the Russian Orthodox Church, with our worship, with our spirituality and social activities. “
In continuation of the dialogue, His Holiness the Patriarch touched upon the theme of crisis phenomena in modern society. “Mankind has now entered, I’m not afraid to say, in a very difficult global crisis,” he stressed.
“It’s not just about the economic difficulties that have engulfed the entire world,” the number of wars has also multiplied. After the end of the Cold War, we all dreamed that the time for peace and cooperation will come, but the number of local conflicts is increasing and assuming very formidable proportions, great powers are being drawn into these conflict situations. At the same time, environmental problems are complicated. Social inequality is growing on a global scale. Politicians, economists, and cultural anthropologists are trying to find the answers to why all this is happening today. But I think we Christians should have their own answer: all the bad life of people comes from human sin. If the global crisis grows, if evil takes on a global dimension, it becomes very radical, then something happens in the souls of people, and this is accompanied by a person’s departure from God. We experienced the corresponding sentiments in the Soviet Union, and we understood how the atheisation of society had a negative impact on all life. But the weakness of that atheism was that it was the result of planting ideology. Ideologies do not live long. The ideology has left – atheisation is over. ” At the same time, the atheism of society had a negative impact on all life. But the weakness of that atheism was that it was the result of a planted ideology. Ideologies do not live long. The ideology has left – atheisation is over. At the same time, the atheism of society had a negative impact on all life. But the weakness of that atheism was that it was the result of planting ideology. Ideologies do not live long. The ideology has left – atheisation is over. “
What can be seen now in the world, especially in West, is more terrible than what happened to religion in the Soviet Union, stated the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“There is an expulsion of God from human life, ignoring the Divine moral law. And especially devastating is the fact that ignoring the Divine moral law is clothed in the form of state law. This is a very dangerous trend. If people force the state law to try to commit a sin or to associate themselves with sin, then we will enter into some kind of apocalyptic reality,” he said.
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill raised the question: are Christian communities able to stop this process today, are they capable of prophetic ministry?
“Once, during the Soviet era, in a dialogue with our Western partners, we were put in an uncomfortable position by one question: you can criticize the government, but can you criticize its policy? It was difficult for us to answer this question, because we lived in totalitarian conditions,” recalled the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“But now we ask Western Christians who do not live in a totalitarian society: you can criticize your government, but can you criticize the media, the powerful of this world? Together we must reflect on these topics. Therefore, in the current difficulties, primarily for Western Christians at this time, we in the Russian Church are not ready to give up our historical contacts with Western Christians. We strive in open honest conversation with each other to discussour positions and, to the extent possible, to achieve a common understanding, including those events that are happening in the world today.”
Expressing deep concern about the situation of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia recalled that the Russian Church was one of the first to speak to the whole world about the oppression of Christians in the Middle East region, especially in connection with the seizure of Syrian territories by terrorist groups.
“We witnessed the destruction of temples by terrorists, the desecration of monasteries, how believers in Christ are expelled from the ‘Valley of Christians’ in Syria,” he said. “Well aware of the situation in this region, we realized that the very existence of the Christian communities hang in the balance. That is why we welcome the real victory over terrorist groups in Syria, achieved, among other things, with the participation of the Russian Federation.”
In 2016, the topic of the situation of Christians in the Middle East was at the heart of the conversation between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis in Havana.
“I thank God for the fact that it was at that meeting that the definition of the situation as a genocide of a Christian minority sounded,” said His Holiness. “This word was avoided in the political establishment, but then it became widely used, including at the level of the US Congress. I believe that this was an important contribution of the bilateral meeting in terms of changing the attitude of the world community to the issue of Christian minorities. But the problem of preserving the Christian presence in the Middle East has not been exhausted, and pricks upon the conscience, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church said. The number of Christians in various countries of the region has sharply decreased. For example, in Iraq there are now about 150,000 Christians, whereas before the beginning of the dramatic events in this country lived a half million Christians. A similar situation is being seen on Syrian soil.
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill shared with his companions the pain in connection with what is happening in the religious life of Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, there are forces that are trying to translate a deep civil conflict into the religious sphere,” said His Holiness.
“I testify with full responsibility for the gross violations of human rights and religious freedom in Ukraine today: there are seizures of the churches of the canonical Orthodox Church, and absolutely unrestrained propaganda is being conducted against it. It seems that the Ukrainian authorities want to divide their people even on the religious principle. It is difficult to understand what they are guided by, but perhaps the most terrible thing you can imagine for Ukraine in the state in which it is today is a deep religious conflict.”
His Holiness Patriarch Kirill further stated that radical nationalist deputies had also proposed to adopt several laws in the Verkhovna Rada [Ukranian parliament] that would legalize discrimationat against the Ukrainain Orthodx Chruch and the seizure of its 12,000 parishes, churches home to the the vast majority of Orthodox people in Ukraine. He further stated that one of the proposed bills before parliament would give the state control over the church’s appointment process, something that not even the Soviet Union sought to do, he said.
“I thank the many people who responded to my call to oppose these laws. Special thanks go to His Holiness Pope Francis and to the Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches, Pastor Olav Tveit, and to fellow Primate of the local Orthodox Churches. Together, these bills were stopped, but we do not have guarantees that they will not be refloated on the agenda of future parliamentary sessions.”
His Holiness then handed over to the head of the Anglican Communion a document describing the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine today.
During the meeting, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church mentioned the visit of Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury to St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Moscow.
His Holiness the Patriarch said the return of the church [from state hands] had not been easy:
“In 1994 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, visiting Russia, raised the question of returning this church to the Anglican Communion with President Boris Yeltsin. Then, for various reasons, including internal divisions wihtin the Moscow Anglican community, this request was not implemented. I also received requests, including from the Anglican community. And in the summer of 2016 I asked the Government to transfer the complex of the buildings of St. Andrew’s Church for the free use of the Anglican community for 49 years. I welcome the changes that are taking place today in the life of this community, including the emergence of a new rector. I hope that it will develop, and the churchwill be restored.”
His Holiness also mentioned that the Russian Church had appealed to the Moscow city authorities to include the Anglican Church of St. Andrew in the general program of the restoration of monuments in Moscow. The Department for External Church Relations and its chairman Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolam actively participate in the implementation of this program. “Although, as you know, now is a difficult economic situation all over the world, and in Russia too, but we will try to help the Anglican community in addressing these issues,” said Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia told his guests.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Wellby said: “It is a great honor and joy for me to be here in Russia, as part of my first visit to this country, and I would like to warmly thank you for your warm welcome.”
He also shared his memories of the visit of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to Great Britain, which included the consecration of the Assumption Cathedral after its reconstruction, his meeting of Queen Elizabeth II, and with Archbishop Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace
“You raised both specific issues and topics of global significance, and quite rightly noted that many of these issues are related to anthropology, to the nature of the human being,” said the head to the head of the Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby agreed withthe opinion of Holiness Patriarch Kirill that the hegemony of atheism and secularism hinders the free expression of religious, and especially Christian, views.
Among the important issues discussed with the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the head of the Anglican Communion were the challenge of extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in these regions, and the the refugee problem. According to various estimates, in the world there are up to 65 million in the world.
“The issue of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a global crisis,” Archbishop Justin Welby said. He told His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. “You also noted the pressure on the freedom of expression that Christians face in the Western states. I would like to place special emphasis on the fraternal ties of our Churches, because through dialogue we are able to strengthen each other. And having come here to Russia, taking into account the history that this country experienced after 1917, I admire the example of courage and faithfulness demonstrated by the Russian Orthodox Church. This courage is an example for many countries, many Churches around the world who have experienced or are going through difficult times.”
Following the meeting of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welbya joint declaration was adopted regarding the support of Christians in the Middle East.
The delegations exchanged gifts memorializing their meeting.