Russian Orthodoxy has its Own Counter-Ecumenism

The Patriarch has Kept His Word


Moscow’s CIAC plans rally for all Christian confessions


M o s c o w -- On 4 February 2010, a multi-confessional rally championing the values of the Christian family is scheduled to take place in Moscow. That was the primary result of a meeting of nearly 20 church leaders at headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchy (ROC) in Moscow on 15 October. The possibility of a much larger, three-confessional youth conference for Summer 2010 is also under discussion – such a conference last took place in 2001.


The event on 15 October was only the second meeting of  the “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics” (CIAC) since 2001. Created in 1993 to foster dialogue between the former Soviet Union’s three Christian confessions, it held major conferences in 1994, 1996 and 1999. Yet its activity was suspended by the Orthodox in February 2002 after the Vatican upgraded its non-regional “apostolic administrations” within Russia to four regionally-organised “diocese”. The Orthodox view this as serious breach of Russian canonical law.


The CIAC is now led by Ilarion, Archbishop of Volokolamsk and since early 2009 head of the ROC’s Department of External Church Relations, Pavel Pezzi, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Moscow Diocese, and Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Vlasenko serves in this capacity as the representative of all Russian Protestant churches. “The Patriarch has kept his word,” the Baptist concluded following the meeting on 15 October. At the CIAC’s last meeting on 2 October 2008, then-Metropolitan Kirill had assured that inter-Christian relations would move forward even if “I cannot claim that all matters of dispute have been resolved.” Kirill preceded Ilarion as head of the Orthodox external affairs department.


Questioned after the meeting, Vlasenko explained that in this initial phase of renewed relations, the biggest common denominators need to be addressed. An Orthodox release on the 15 October meeting therefore lists the struggle against drugs, alcoholism, pornography, a “cult of consumption and violence”, abortion and suicide as basic to all Christians. “We need to start with something on which we all agree,” the Baptist added. “Once we have a stronger, more trusting relationship in place, we can take on more complicated and controversial issues.” The possible youth conference next summer may highlight an issue such as finding a suitable marriage partner within Christian circles.


Despite heightened Protestant concerns regarding the possibility of new, restrictive state legislation, Vlasenko stressed the very hearty and cordial nature of the latest session. “The atmosphere was very open. A spirit of Christian love and acceptance prevailed.”


Other present developments

New legislation proposed by the Ministry of Justice on 12 October would require all foreigners active in mission to obtain a religious visa – a visa type often difficult to obtain in the past. Any missionary, including Russian citizens, desiring to preach in public places such as hospitals, orphanages and schools would need clearance from local government authorities. The Orthodox appear to agree in principle with the new legislation. Ilarion is quoted in their press release on the 15 October meeting as stating: “During the preparation of missionaries, it will be necessary to address the matter (of rude attacks on the Church). Mission dare not degenerate into proselytism.”


Yet the Orthodox theologian and priest Andrey Kurayev (Moscow) sees the new draft legislation as a bureaucratic nightmare and demands that missionary activity be precisely defined. “Is not every believer also a preacher?,” he stated. “The grandmother talking to her neighbours on a train could also be called a missionary and preacher. We cannot supply every parishioner with a certificate of clearance. The Apostles were also completely without documentation.”


The RUECB, Russia's largest, unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Moscow, 16 October 2009


A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Release #09-30, 616 words, 4.084 keystrokes and spaces.