04/28/2016, 19.36
RUSSIA – VATICAN
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Orthodox Church: Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) wants to lead the Russian anti-ecumenical movement

by Marta Allevato

Sergei Chapnin, former editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, holds this view. In a recent public statement, the bishop and rector of the Sretensky Theological Seminary said that most Orthodox do not view sympathetically dialogue with Catholics, and that most do not see "any real future in the idea of Church ecumenism."

Moscow (AsiaNews) – After the historic meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Moscow Patriarch Kirill, “an anti-ecumenical movement is developing” within the Russian Orthodox Church, with Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov, pictured), rector of the prestigious theological seminary at Moscow’s Sretensky monastery, as its main proponent,” this according to Sergei Chapnin, head of the Dari almanac and former editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate,

Speaking to AsiaNews, Chapnin noted that the Orthodox bishop – widely seen as President Vladimir Putin’s spiritual adviser – made remarks to this effect to sociology students at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.

Among Russian Orthodox, “I do not think that today we can justifiably speak of the dominance of ecumenism,” Tikhon is cited as saying by Russian news agency Ria Novosti. For most Orthodox, their Church’s support for ecumenism and Christian unity, is seen unsympathetically. Most do not see “any real future in the idea of Church ecumenism”.

According to the bishop, there are understandable reasons for this feeling. “Ecumenism is closely associated with the ecclesiastical bureaucracy, with Patriarchate officials, and this does not add sympathy.  People do not like bureaucrats. It does not matter if they wear the habit or secular clothes."

The theology of ecumenism, Tikhon added, was "invented and lacks natural reasons", whilst the anti-ecumenical theology "is based on the patristic tradition".

“Patristics is the term used to describe the position of fundamentalist groups within the Orthodox Church who oppose the ‘Nikodimist’ line, to which Patriarch Kirill is associated. The latter refers to a relatively new position, and is "named after Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov), who ​​died suddenly during an audience with Pope John Paul I in 1978.”

“Its distinguishing feature is a lack of fear of the West and, in particular, of the Vatican, and its refusal to see unorthodox Christians as an enemy," Chapnin explained in an article for AsiaNews.

In his address to Russian students, Bishop Tikhon directly attacked Nikodim’s ecumenical policy during the persecutions of the Khrushchev period. In his view, this was just an ad hoc manoeuvre taken in a "cold and pragmatic way" by the ecclesiastical hierarchy of those years "to try to save the structures of the Church on the territory of the USSR under international coverage."

This is not the first time that Tikhon expresses in public his opposition to ecumenism and dialogue with Catholics. He did the same right after Francis and Kirill embraced, in a homily on 21 February, in which he cited the saint hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky, 1886-1929), for whom “Catholics are not even a Church; consequently, they are not even Christians, because there is no Christianity without a Church.”

More than a month ago, a message was posted online from “some Russian Orthodox citizens to State Institutions and the Church hierarchy to restore law and order”. The plea said that one of the most serious threats against the security of the [Russian] Federation is the joint declaration made by the Moscow patriarch and the pope during their meeting in Havana.

According to its signatories, the declaration "does not respect true Orthodox teachings and is a defence of the heresy of ecumenism, designed to legitimise the ecumenical movement" at the pan-Orthodox Synod to be held in June in Crete.

The attack was openly directed at Kirill, guilty of having signed the declaration with the head of the Vatican on behalf of the entire Orthodox Church without being duly delegated. By signing, the patriarch acknowledged “canonical equality” with the pontiff, betraying the Patristic definition of Popism as heretical.

On 15 April, the Communication Service of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate issued two press releases in response to those who view the Cuba meeting as a betrayal of the Orthodox faith, and the upcoming pan-Orthodox synod as the anti-Christ.

The Patriarchate urged people to avoid “succumbing to the temptations of the evil one who wants to sow discord in the Church and tries to use every opportunity to create doubts in people’s hearts.”

"The Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch stand firmly and unshakeably on guard for the Orthodox faith; they feel responsible for the fate of human civilisation; and they defend their position vis-à-vis every difficulty."

The Patriarchate noted that rejecting dialogue with non-Orthodox "would be a crime before God, who commanded his apostles to go and teach all nations."

"If the apostles had remained close-minded, and avoided any contact with other religions, the Gospel would never have gone beyond the borders of the Upper Room," the statement said.

Finally, the two spiritual leaders in Havana did not take part in any prayer or joint liturgy. In their talks, they did not address theological or canonical issues since the meeting was not intended to overcome these differences, nor was any agreement on this reached.

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