Orthodox suspend Lutheran links over gay blessings
The Russian Orthodox Church has suspended its contacts with the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden after a vote by the Swedish denomination to introduce a service of blessing for same-sex civil partnerships, write Jonathan Luxmoore and Lars Grip for Ecumenical News International.
The assembly of the Church of Sweden, which accounts for about 7 million of Sweden's 9 million people, voted on 27 October 2005 to establish a blessing in churches for same-sex couples who have signed a civil partnership agreement, although the ceremony is not called marriage.
"It is with great disappointment and sorrow that we learned that the Lutheran church of Sweden not only failed to oppose the so-called same-sex marriages, but also issued a decree to establish an official blessing rite for those marriages," the Russian church's Holy Synod said in a statement issued at the end of December 2005.
Metropolitan Kirill, the Russian church official for external church relations, told the Russian television station NTV that the synod had agreed the "suspension of bilateral relations with the Church of Sweden".
In its statement, the Russian synod said, "Approving the shameful practice of same-sex marriages is a serious blow to the entire system of European spiritual and moral values influenced by Christianity. Such novelties undermine the moral foundations of European civilisation and cause irreparable damage to its spiritual influence worldwide."
Johan Dalman, the Swedish church's ecumenical officer, told Ecumenical News International that the Church of Sweden had not yet received formal notification of the decision by the Russian church.
"Maybe they are not correctly informed about the act we established," Dalman noted. "We do not talk about marriage, but of an act of blessing." The Swedish church also wanted more information about Metropolitan Kirill's remarks about the "suspension of bilateral relations".
The Church of Sweden regularly meets representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church as part of an international network called ëTheobalt' where national churches around the Baltic Sea discuss issues such as environment, and human trafficking.
"We really hope that this important cooperation is not threatened," Dalman said.
He said the Church of Sweden would initiate a dialogue with the Russian church about the issue. "I am afraid we will not come to an agreement ... but it's better if our differences are based on knowledge," Dalman noted.
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