The Archbishop of Canterbury has extended an invitation to the Russian Orthodox Church to send observers to next month’s Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. However, the Most Rev. Justin Welby told reporters that he was not sure who, if anyone, would be coming from Moscow to the every ten year gathering of Anglican bishops in Canterbury.
Ecumenical delegates have long been invited to participate in the gatherings of Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference. The heads of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate represented the church in 1998 and 2008. Metropolitan Vladimir Gundyayev (presently Patriarch Kirill) represented Patriarch Alexy II in 1998 and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev represented Kirill in 2008. Earlier this month Kirill sacked Hilarion as head of the DECR and demoted him to BIshop of Budapest, for allegedly not supporting with enough fervor the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The new head of the DECR is Metropolitan Anthony Sevryuk.
Archbishop Welby was asked by reporters attending a video press conference on 22 June 2022 about the forthcoming Lambeth Conference if Moscow would be sending a delegation, and if so, at what level.
Archbishop Welby said he did not know the answer “to that question”. Moscow “will be invited, but there are obvious issues around visas and travel that will make that a complicated process. We will be inviting a delegation and discussing with them the level at which that delegation is represented.”
He added he was also “inviting people from Ukraine”, the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, to the Lambeth Conference also.
Last week Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced the British government had imposed sanctions upon Kirill, which included a ban on travel to Britain. However, the Church of England continued to maintain relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, the Rt. Rev. Nick Baines, said in an explanatory paper to General Synod Resolution 2259, submitted for consideration to next month’s General Synod.
BIshop Baines wrote: “The relationship between the Anglican Chaplaincy in Moscow and the Russian Patriarchate remains good, with offers of help from the Patriarchate to the Chaplain should he need it. The Chaplaincy is not unaffected by sanctions on Russia. Diplomatic channels also remain open between the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and that of Patriarch Kirill. Episcopal channels remain open with the Russian Ambassador on a range of issues, such as the role of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabakh.”
Bishop Baines’ statement in the paper that “No decision has yet been made about inviting the Russian Orthodox Church to attend the Lambeth Conference or not. This decision resides with the Archbishop of Canterbury”, was superseded by Archbishop Welby’s comments on Wednesday.
Events surrounding the Church of England’s relationship to the Kyiv Patriarchate also appear to be shifting. Bishop Baines’ paper, released the same day as the archbishop’s press conference stated: “No steps have been taken to make any canonical judgement about the status of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Kyiv Patriarchate) as this is an intra orthodox question that remains unresolved, but consideration is being given to bringing it, even if only informally, into the Church’s ecumenical contacts.”
Kyiv’s invitation to Lambeth suggests the process of adding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to the Anglican world’s “ecumenical contacts” may be advancing.
Reporting on the GS paper 2259 in the secular press concluded Bishop Baines was urging Ukraine to trade the occupied Donbas regions in exchange for a ceasefire, a characterization he described as untrue. “Ukrainian integrity is unequivocal. Debate is not a statement of church’s mind,” Bishop Baines tweeted on 23 June 2022.
The Church of England Media Centre released a statement on twitter saying the church’s position had not changed. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine is without question. As the [GS 2259] paper says clearly, the long term goal should be that Ukraine controls all its territory.”