"Heretic and traitor": Fundamentalists term Orthodox Patriarch Kirill who met with Pope Francis in Cuba
by Sergei Chapnin

The meeting took place 10 thousand kilometers distance from Moscow, perhaps to avoid the objections of the traditionalists. Kirill accused of being "nikodimico", too ecumenical. An "appeal to the Orthodox youth" claims that orthodoxy is being "sold out”  to the Pope of Rome. Others say that Pope Francis is about to "convert" to Russian Orthodoxy. Urgent need for information and education.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The meeting between Moscow Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis was a real surprise for the entire Russian Church. The telecast of this meeting was highly effective, and the place where the event took place - 10 thousand kilometers from Moscow - ruled out any random witnesses.

Who compelled the powerful Patriarch Kirill to flee for 10 thousand kilometers? In seven years of patriarchy, he has been able to conduct an administrative reform in the Church, concentrating the greatest of powers in his own hands.  He has also eliminated any possibility of serious opposition. He has no obvious enemies in the episcopate; those few who remain among the clergy are mostly marginal figures, while the laity can be simply ignored.

So, why did Patriarch Kirill flee to Cuba? The official version is that he went to Cuba to avoid the shadow of those problems in Catholic-Orthodox relations that exist in Europe and which have not yet been resolved.

However, speaking of fleeing to Cuba, a more straightforward interpretation cannot be ruled out: if the meeting had been held at a closer quarter, then those marginal elements and the entire Council of Bishops would have attended it with one question on their minds: Are the bishops betraying the Holy orthodoxy.

The flight to Cuba reveals that the Patriarch Kirill knows this only too well: there can be no dialogue with those who struggle for the purity of Orthodoxy and  it is almost impossible to convince them otherwise. The meeting was prepared in secret because Patriarch Kirill did not want to have any dialogue with them.

I would assume that from a technical-organizational point of view (the conduct of the meeting) it was a good solution, but not at the strategic level. Dialogue is needed even with these fundamentalists dialogue. It has now become blatantly obvious that the same fundamentalists, the biggest detractors of this meeting, have seen weakness in the Patriarch's position and, perhaps, have decided that he is afraid of an open confrontation with them.

Traditionalists and "nikodimists"

How exactly is the Patriarch's position vulnerable? The main issue is that he represents a relatively young line - "nikodimist" - in the Moscow Patriarchate's policy. This position is so called from the name of Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov), ​​who died suddenly during his 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. Strictly speaking, there is still far to go from this position to a union with the Catholics – which Nikodim’s supporters are usually blamed of. But the same refuse to directly call Catholics "heretics" is in itself, already a great scandal for the orthodox.

Patriarch Kirill is to opposed by the fundamentalist groups, who call their "patristic" position. They are based on the Byzantine canons and citations of nineteenth century Russian theologians. Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) offered a curious selection of these quotes in his Sunday homily of 21 February. On the one hand, he suggests a balance between positive and negative comments about Catholics.

Speaking of the condemnation of Catholics, he used very strong quotes. Here are some of the more characteristic. It is important to note that the first two are figures that the Church venerates as saints.

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (180-1867): "Popery, that is what heresy is called, declared by the West, from whicht he various Protestant teachings are derived, like the branches from the tree". It is important to note that at this point Bishop Tikhon ends the quote, but it is followed by even harsher assessments: "The papacy assigns Pope the qualities of Christ and rejects Christ. Some Western writers, almost explicitly, have pronounced this refusal, saying that the renunciation of Christ is much less a sin than the renunciation of the Pope. The Pope is the idol of the papists; He is their god. "

The holy hieromartyr Hilarion (Troitsky, 1886-1929): "Catholics are not a Church and as a result not even Christian, because there is no Christianity without the Church."

Archimandrite Ioan (Krestiankin, 1910-2006): "By deepening our reading of history and observing the proceedings of the new saviors of Russia, we note that the Roman Catholic Church appeared whenever beginning of dark times with the sole purpose to subdue the Rus 'to the domination of Rome. "

In defense of dialogue with Catholics, Bishop Tikhon also made some other quotations. St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894): "Our Holy Church is indulgent towards Catholics and recognizes not only the Catholic baptism and other sacraments, but also the priesthood which is very significant. However, bear in mind that you can not go over to the Catholics, because they have some parts of the order of ecclesiastical confession that have been damaged and changed through the deviation of their forefathers".

St. Philaret of Moscow (1782-1867): "All persons baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity are Christians, beyond the confession of belonging. The true Faith is one, Orthodox; but all Christian denominations - thanks to the Almighty's patience - continue to exist. The Gospel is one for all, although not all understand it and interpret it the same way. Do not face reproach for their blunders to those who have fallen away from the Universal Church, it is by birth that they are educated in a different confession. Simple souls believe in simplicity of doctrine that is taught to them without suffering the torment of religious debates, which are beyond their capabilities. Their spiritual leaders are responsible for them before God. There are devote people in the Orthodox Church, as in the Roman Catholic. True religious tolerance can not become so immovable as to divide the Christians, but pray 'for the union of all'. "

"Confusion" and education

In other words, the Orthodox representations of the Catholic Church of Rome, even by educated bishops is in fact limited to the XIX - early XX century. In order for the Russian Church to develop cooperation with Catholics in the spirit of the declaration adopted in Havana, there is a need for a great educational project to teach about the Roman Catholic Church today. There are few in Russia who know about this.

Interestingly, Bishop Tikhon dramatizes the situation. This is what he had to say regarding the orthodox relationship with the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch: "For a good number of Orthodox this event has given rise to serious confusion, let us call things by their name. We, priests, know from confessions, from the questions asked of us and letters posted on the  provoslavie.rus website".

It must be said that the words "a good number of orthodox" express a personal opinion of Bishop Tikhon, if not a manipulation. There are no reliable estimates on the number of Orthodox fundamentalists; there have never been any sociological surveys and this group does not have and has not had its own religious and social organizations. I think we can talk about two, three bishops, two dozen priests and about one hundred lay people.

Last week I did a survey among my acquaintances and contacts in social networks and the vast majority of them said that, in their environment and in their parish communities, there are virtually no lay people and priests with anti-ecumenical positions. Apparently, there are groups who are under the influence of some "starec", including for example Hieromonk Raphael (Berestov). These groups conduct information campaigns in parishes and online (in particular, they make numerous posts with identical content on popular Orthodox internet sites) to give the impression of widespread protests.

One of the main centers of this media campaign is the website 'Moscow, the third Rome' (http://3rm.info). It has gathered all of the material of the opposition to the ecumenical line of the patriarch. Among other things, on the site you can download a leaflet entitled "Appeal to the Orthodox youth", which contains the entire "inventory" of the sins of priests and bishops, and which states: "You've covered your enslavement to the Vatican with concern for Christians who die in the Middle East. " However, until the evening of February 28 this leaflet was downloaded only around 1,975 times: very little for a large-scale campaign within the Russian Church.

Anti-ecumenical wave

So far, only a few cases are known in which a cleric has publicly stated that he has stopped commemorating the Patriarch during the liturgy. The first of these was in Belarus, where the abbot Ambrose, dean of the male monastery of St. Zosimus-Savva wrote a report to his bishop on February 13 (the day after the meeting in Havana). In it, he declares his cessation of the commemoration of the name of the patriarch Kirill during liturgical services.

The second case occurred on 19 February in Moldova: 12 priests and two monasteries have written a letter to the Metropolitan of Chisinau and All Moldova in which they declared the end of the commemoration of the name of their bishop, as the Russian Orthodox Church had fallen into the heresy of ecumenism. They demand the cancellation of a number of decisions of the Council of Bishops, related to approval of ecumenical documents for the next Pan-Orthodox Synod as well as the joint statement of the Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis.

Apparently, the anti-ecumenical wave in the Russian Church has already reached its peak and from now on will begin to decline. The idea to use the meeting with the Pope as a pretext to create opposition to Patriarch Kirill has clearly failed. However, the discussion on ecumenism is far from over.

A number of bishops, also in the Greek and Georgian Church, have harshly criticized the draft documents for the pan-Orthodox Synod. The ecumenical cooperation principles do not hold up from the traditional Orthodox point of view of ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church). This means that the conflict between ecumenical and anti-ecumenical within the Orthodox Church will not disappear. It will continue, at times it will rage,at others it will fade.

Finally, just to mention the more radical interpretation of the meeting in Havana. Wishing to anticipate the tough questions of his parishioners, in his homily of February 14, the leader of one of Moscow's churches said: "There are rumors, that the Pope of Rome wants to repent and return to the bosom of the Orthodox Church." This is prime evidence of the general disorientation and total lack of understanding of what is happening. Unfortunately, official comments before the meeting, by the Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfefev) arrived very late. The situation would have been much calmer, if the clergy in Russia had at least been a little 'more prepared for this meeting.