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On Ecumenism: A Statement from the Editors of the Herald, the Journal of the German Diocese of ROCOR

The following is an English translation of the statement issued on p. 18 of Number 1, 2010, of ‘Vestnik’/’Der Bote’/’The Herald’, the official journal of the German Diocese of ROCOR.

For the original, see:

‘There was a time when politically motivated ‘ecumenism’ was foisted on the Russian Church by the Soviet regime and consequently coloured by a game of illusions, forced into existence by insincerity. This was connected with the phenomenon of totalitarianism and after the fall of Communism it was called on to end. We are witnesses of this very process.

In the West such illusions often have their own roots and in ‘dialogues’ with Protestants and Roman Catholics again and again we see ‘disillusions’. The Roman Catholics have their own teaching on the Church, their own ecclesiology, in which the Pope of Rome plays the main role. The Protestants have various teachings on the Church. Roman Catholic ecclesiology and the very numerous and varied Protestant understandings of the Church are incompatible. But they are all even more incompatible with the Orthodox understanding of ‘the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’.

Given this background, theological dialogues do bring knowledge and understanding. What is destructive is when people draw false ecclesiastical and political conclusions in them and from them. Removing illusions is a vital matter of Divine truth and human honesty. Naturally, in human terms, we must respect one another in so doing. Socially, in a certain framework, co-operation is permissible and desirable. But a theological dialogue can and must deepen the understanding of differences, defining limits and not confusing understandings.

Orthodoxy is unique. The ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church has been elaborated by the catholicity of the heart and mind of the Fathers and Teachers of the Church, starting from the first centuries of Christianity. In more recent times the dogma of the unity of the Church has been formulated very precisely by theologians like A.S. Khomiakov, (‘The Church is One’), Hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky) (‘The Dogma on the Church’) and the venerable Justin (Popovich) (‘The Dogmatic Teachings of the Orthodox Church’).

In order to avoid any possible misunderstandings we feel obliged to comment on the recent utterances of Archbishop Hilarion, in an interview with the magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ No 51, 2009, in which he said: ‘The differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism do not have a fundamental character. We recognise the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. If a Roman Catholic priest joins the Orthodox Church, we receive him as a priest’. We are obliged to explain that the word ‘we’ cannot here mean the whole of the Russian Church. It relates personally to Archbishop Hilarion and those who think like him on this matter.

In the Russian Church we believe that the differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are very much fundamental. As well as this, even though in the nineteenth century (for example when Uniats returned en masse to the Orthodox Church) and at certain other points in history, the Church resorted to extreme forms of economy, receiving Roman Catholic priests without ordination for the benefit of Church and people, this was a matter of pastoral dispensation in special situations. However, this was never interpreted as recognition, for example, of Roman Catholics as an integral part of ‘the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. Such a general conclusion would be out of place and therefore in our diocese we do not have such a practice, just as we do not have them anywhere in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

However, none of what we have said above need hinder good relations, if our approach is respectful. Theological dialogue and social co-operation can only bear fruit if there is due realism on both sides.

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has lived for decades in heterodox surroundings. Keeping the precious truth of Orthodoxy, she has revealed it to others in the love of Christ, precisely because she has never undertaken to erode the limits to the understanding of the Church and of the celebration of the sacraments in the fullness of their interdependence and integrity. For the sake of the salvation of people through Christ, the Church unwaveringly resists the secular ‘spirit of the times’, the spirit which includes everything, confusing understandings and creating indifference. This is why we must welcome every step towards clarity’.


For a Russian translation of the contemporary Greek Orthodox view of the Church and the heterodox, written by Professor Dimitrios Tselengidis of the Theological Faculty of the University of Thessaloniki, see:

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