Russian Orthodox and world churches' chief discuss knotty issues

By Ecumenical News International
July 1, 2010

It is difficult for the World Council of Churches to put forward a view on the issue of same-sex marriage and female clergy, the head of the Christian grouping has told journalists in Moscow after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.

Speaking at a media conference on 30 June, the WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox leader responsible for ecumenical dialogue, dealt with challenges facing the world's largest ecumenical organisation and inter-Christian dialogue in general.

In response to a question from a Russian journalist about same-sex marriage and female clergy, Tveit said that the WCC cannot express a position until there is a consensus and that opinions within the organisation vary.

"The WCC has 350 churches," he said. "We work on … establishing consensus. That means that the council doesn't have an opinion on issues that have not been discussed or have not been discussed to the level of consensus. The World Council of Churches does not have a position on either of the questions you raised."

Tveit noted that different churches had different positions on such issues. He said the WCC had a role in fostering conversations, and in opening space for discussing issues where churches have different viewpoints. "I don't foresee that the World Council of Churches will have one point of view on either of these issues in the near future," he stated.

Tveit was on the final day of his first official visit to Russia, which began on 27 June. He had attended the opening of the WCC's Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration, hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church and which continues to the end of the week.

The committee discusses the participation of Orthodox churches in the work of the WCC, which represents some 560 million Christians. Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, has made contacts with Orthodox churches a priority since he assumed his position in January.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest member of the WCC, whose 349 churches are principally Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant.

Metropolitan Hilarion noted that as well as Tveit meeting Patriarch Kirill, he had also met Russian political leaders.

Hilarion followed Kirill in 2009 as chairperson of the external church relations section of the Moscow Patriarchate. Since then Hilarion has spoken of a crisis in relations between Orthodox churches and many Protestant member churches of the WCC over what he terms increasingly liberal views by Protestants on issues such as homosexuality and the ordination of women.

At the same time Hilarion said that the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC had made it possible to share Orthodox theology with Protestants.

Tveit referred to the impression made on him visiting Butovo, a Stalinist killing field on the edge of Moscow that is now a shrine to the "new martyrs" of the 20th century who died there.

He said the "warm hospitality" shown to his delegation and the committee by the Russian Orthodox Church was an expression of its "commitment to the future of the world council".

Still, he said Patriarch Kirill and Hilarion had expressed concern about the ecumenical movement in their discussions with him. "I have been listening carefully to what you have been saying and also reflected together with you on how we as the World Council of Churches can respond to these challenges," the WCC leader stated.

At his meeting with Tveit on 28 June, Patriarch Kirill spoke of the WCC's potential in defending Christianity in the world and in dialogue with other civilisations.

"We live in a world in which relations between different civilisations are becoming more and more significant," said Kirill quoted on his official website, "In these conditions it is important for all Christians to ensure the preservation of Christian civilisation and cooperate in building good relations with communities of other civilisations.

"The WCC can help in achieving these two goals by defending the Christian system of values and developing the dialogue of Christians with other religions and with non-religious world views."

At the 30 June news conference, Tveit praised the Russian Orthodox Church for fostering interfaith dialogue in Russia and thanked the Moscow Patriarchate for organising meetings for him with government officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Denisov and with Konstantin Kosachev, chairperson of the Committee on International Affairs of the State Duma, Russia's lower legislative chamber.

"We particularly discussed how churches can contribute to peace and reconciliation … through dialogue," said Tveit. He described the Middle East as a focus of discussion since Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had been visiting Israel and the West Bank.

They had agreed, said the WCC leader, that both political forces and religious groups must do everything possible to stop the conflict there. "Russia can contribute quite a lot because you have good relationships with both parts of this conflict." On the other hand, the role of churches in that region was recognised as important because of the religious dimensions to the conflict.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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