In recent weeks, the word has spread about a possible schism in the Russian Orthodox Church organized by Bishop Diomid of Chukotka. Some refer to the bishop as a bomb threatening the unity of the Church or a fighter for a purer faith. Others call him an Orthodox ayatollah and provocateur. In late June, the Bishops Council of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate suspended Diomid from his episcopate.
We asked Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church's representative branch in European international organizations to comment on the situation.
KP: Bishop, please explain why so much excitement is giving way right now due to the Chukotka letter published 1.5 years ago?
Bishop Hilarion of Vienna: There wasn't only one letter. There were several open letters and appeals signed by Bishop Diomid and his clergy, as well as interviews and videos containing his appeals. So we're talking about an enter series of public statements that are circulating on the Web and in other mass media. Bishop Diomid accuses the Russian Orthodox Church and all its higher clergy, including the Holy Patriarchy, of so-called "heretical ecumenism," as well as other "digressions from the pure Orthodox faith."
Q: Diomid backs his accusations with quotes from the holy fathers. I must admit I don't know much about theology, like many of our readers. But I think any position needs to be supported by quotes from the Bible, Gospel, apostles and other theological works taken from their context and time frame. Just like Soviet literary critics flogged each other with quotes from Lenin...
A: I already had the occasion to talk about the materials signed by the bishop that are spreading on the Web and in anti-Church press. Both on their own and all together, they are provocative, aim to split the Church and plant mistrust in the hierarchy. These materials have been built on lies and disinformation. They target people who know little about the Church.
Q: What is ecumenism? Please explain for our readers.
A: The so-called ecumenical movement — a movement bringing together Christians of various confessions — has existed around 100 years. The Orthodox churches have participated in the movement since the late 1940s. But they refute the opinion of those protestants who believe there is a hidden international church and all orders (Catholics, the Orthodox, Protestants) are branches. The Russian Orthodox Church rebukes this "branch theory" outright. We believe the Orthodox Church is the only true church.
However, our conviction in the truth of the Orthodox Church doesn't prevent the higher clergy from meeting with representatives from other Christian confessions. Of course, these meetings are held within the frameworks outlined by the Church canons. We aren't allowed to worship together. This is prohibited by the canons. But we're allowed to site together at a round table to discuss issues that worry us — for example, the demographic crisis.
Q: It would be strange and absurd if we only spoke with like-minded people — the Orthodox among themselves.
What would the Church's mission be if it didn't make contact with other confessions?
A: Sometimes they say: "The Orthodox faith needs no missionary work. The faith testifies to the truth by the fact it exists."
This phrase gives peace of mind. But I think if the apostles had been inspired by such an ideology and sat behind closed doors at the Holy Cenacle, testifying to Christ's existence by "the mere fact that he exists," and not speaking with believers of other faiths, then Christianity wouldn't have spread across the world.
We must testify to our beliefs everywhere we can, including with other Orthodox confessions.
Q: Return the lost sheep to the herd?
A: You could put it that way. But we don't only need a dialogue with other Orthodox confessions; rather with all other believers. And they tell us to close the church doors to other Orthodox confessions and faiths. They say don't let them in or you'll break the cannons by praying with heretics.
Let's remember the story of the baptizing of pagan Rus. Prince Vladimir sent his envoys to different countries so they would pick the true faith for the land.
Patriarch Constantinople who was wiser than other theologians of the day let the convoys into the temple even though they were pagans. The beauty of the service impressed them so strongly, they felt: "This is the truth. God is here." After returning to Kiev, the messengers told the prince that "God is at the temple and speaks to the people."
Let's ask ourselves. What if they hadn't let the envoys into the church as the Orthodox isolationists demand today? If the Patriarch had placed silently obeying the canons above missionary aims? The answer is simple. Rus wouldn't have become Christian.
Q: Maybe there just aren't any Catholics or Protestants in Chukotka...
Q: There are other places in Russia where only Orthodox live. Many of our bishops live in the West and they are always in close contact with representatives of other Christian confessions. We can't ignore them and isolate ourselves.
Many among our parish are in "mixed marriages." One of my parishioners in Vienna is married to an Englishman. She is Orthodox and he is a member of the Church of England. Their children are baptized and raised in the Orthodox manner. Some Sundays, the entire family comes to our church. The wife and children take communion and the husband prays. Other Sundays, they go to the English church located on the same street. The husband takes communion and the wife and children pray. What's so bad about that? But if you adhere to Bishop Diomid's ideology, then I should forbid them from doing this. He says it's an infringement of the canons and "praying with heretics." And generally speaking "marrying an Englishman is a sin and lechery."
An Orthodox believer can enter another church that has sanctuaries esteemed by all Christians. The believer can also enter the church during the service. Thousands of pilgrims from Russia, Greece and other Orthodox countries go to the Catholic church in Bari everyday and pray to Saint Nikolay.
But joint services don't take place. It's prohibited by the Church canons.
A: Joint service would create the illusion of unity between the Orthodox faith and Catholicism, or Orthodox faith and Protestantism. But this unity doesn't exist.
Q: And Bishop Diomid accuses the Patriarch of having served together with the Catholics at Notre Dame de Paris last autumn...
A: I took part in the Holy Patriarch's visit to France. There were other higher members of the clergy from our Church, including the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia that has always looked very negatively upon ecumenism. I'll tell you what really happened.
They brought out the all-Christian sanctuary — the Savior's crown of thorns. The Catholics prayed in front of it. Only afterwards did the Orthodox clergy make Te Deum. There was no joint service. There were two independent services — the Catholics praying in front of the all-Christian sanctuary and then the Te Deum made by the Orthodox clergy.