Truly a Great Meeting
M o s c o w -- Following a hiatus lasting nearly seven years, the “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics” (CIAC) consisting of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants reconvened in Moscow’s Orthodox Pilgrims’ Centre on 2 October. The sessions were entitled: “Christianity in the Contemporary World – National and Global”. Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), Director of External Church Relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) and Protestant representive on the three-man leadership team, enthused: “It was truly a great meeting.” He was surprised and pleased by the honesty and candidness expressed by the 25 church leaders from Armenia, Latvia, Belarus and Russia during the non-public, five-hour-long segment of the discussions.
The Baptist pastor reported after the sessions on the pain and offence Russians feel regarding the fact that their nation as a whole is blamed for the short-comings and crimes of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Josef Stalin was a Georgian with an Ossetian mother, his long-time secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria, was a Mingrelian from Abkhazia. Cheka-founder Felix Dzerzhinsky was a Pole from Belarus. Nikita Khrushchev, party head from 1953 to 1964, was from Ukraine. Only half of the Soviet Union’s citizens were ethnic Russians; Pastor Vlasenko noted that millions of Russians also suffered or died at the hands of the Soviet state.
Vlasenko appreciated the comment from the Armenian Orthodox representative who asked: “Do we ever say thank you for the good our peoples did for each other? The Soviet government rebuilt very many houses and factories following WW II.” Vlasenko added: “Many of us former Soviet citizens want to remain friends, but it is our governments who drive us apart. Governments tend to place all the blame on another nation; small nations claim to have been misused by larger ones.” He believes many Ukrainians have been unjust in only stressing negative aspects of the Russian nation.
It was agreed at the meeting on 2 October to form a secretariat responsible for planning and scheduling the CIAC’s future work. The secretariat will be located in offices of the Moscow Patriarchy. Probably most active within the secretariat will be Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin and Father Igor Vyzhanov from the Patriarchy’s Department of External Church Relations. Besides Vlasenko, the other two members of CIAC leadership are Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad and head of Orthodox external relations, and Pavel Pezzi, the Roman-Catholic Archbishop of Moscow Diocese – Russia’s leading Catholic.
At Moscow consultations with the Geneva-based “Conference of European Churches” (CEC) in February 2007, the decision had been made to resuscitate CIAC. The CIAC, created in 1993 to ease communication between churches in the countries of the former USSR, held major conferences in 1994, 1996 and 1999. It even organised a major youth conference in 2001. Yet its activity was suspended by the Orthodox in February 2002 after the Vatican surprisingly decided to upgrade its non-regional “apostolic administrations” within Russia to four regionally-organised “diocese”. The Orthodox view this as serious breach of Russian canonical law. Regarding the CIAC-breakthrough, Metropolitan Kirill stated at the closing press conference on 2 October: “I cannot claim that all matters of dispute have been resolved and that all has been absolutely normalised. But it is a fact that we are moving actively towards overcoming these difficulties.”
Pastor Vlasenko commented later: “I want to emphasize that these sessions are not a part of the Ecumenical movement. The CIAC is simply an important platform for interdenominational dialogue about our past and future.” Prominent dignitaries at this meeting included Edmund Ratz, Petersburg-based Archbishop of the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia”. Protestants were in the majority at the sessions on 2 October.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 06 October 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #08-43, 600 words.