11/30/2017, 09.48
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Moscow, nearly 500 Russian Orthodox bishops at extraordinary Synod

by Vladimir Rozanskij

200 Russian bishops; 100 from Ukraine; 20 from Belarus; bishops in service in 22 countries; dozens of retired bishops gather in Holy Savoir Cathedral. The 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate was celebrated at the very beginning of the revolutionary storm (1917). New martyrs, religious life, divorced remarrying. The greeting of Vladimir Putin.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The extraordinary Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church (Arkhiereiskij Sobor, "Episcopal Council") opened yesterday in Holy Savoir Cathedral on the 100th anniversary of the dramatic Moscow Council of 1917, in the days preceding the revolutionary storm, where the Patriarchate of Moscow was restored after 200 years of synodal rule. The Synod will close on Saturday, December.  Then, in the presence of guests and journalists, Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) will solemnly celebrate a liturgy on December 4, commemorating the enthronement of Patriarch Tikhon in 1917.

The Patriarchate of Moscow was established in 1589, introducing in the Orthodox ecclesiology the novelty of the "national patriarchy": in the ancient church there were only five "apostolic" patriarchs, Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch (the first two, , of imperial importance). Just over a century after its establishment, Tsar Peter the Great abolished the patriarchate in 1701, to replace it with a state administration to which the bishops themselves were subjected, the Holy Synod led by the imperial oberprokuror or procurator. The paradox is that at the time of its restoration, the highest Russian ecclesiastical office had to again suffer the persecution and conditioning of the Soviet State, which was officially atheist, controlling the Church with the "Religious Affairs Council". Only in 1990, with the election to the patriarchal throne of Aleksij II (Ridiger), did the Russian Church recover its autonomy.

The topics on the agenda of the ongoing Synod are not only celebratory, exalting the memory of the new martyrs of atheist persecution, starting with Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Indeed, the verification of the remains of holy imperial martyrs, kept in St. Petersburg, will be the first question posed to the bishops' judgment. Their recognition has never been officially established, and there are still many doubts: the Tsar’s family was shot in the basement of Ekaterinburg's "Ipatiev House", and the bodies were buried in a mass grave. The same patriarch Kirill warned against hasty conclusions urging a careful examination of all available evidence.

The Synod must also deliberate on the proclamation of a further group of new martyrs, to be added to over 2000 already canonized, and together with the inclusion in the calendar of Russian saints of some names whose devotion is practiced only in Ukraine. This will also help entrust the harmony and union of the two parties of the ancient Rus' of Kiev in conflict to the intercession of the saints. The new rules of monastic life, which have been a source of debate for several years, will also be examined, including the delicate issue of using the Internet in monasteries and in the cells of monks. Another issue concerns the celebration of marriage, which for the orthodox tradition can be carried out a second and also a third time, but often these are civil unions, even more than three, that are then regularized with undefined procedures.

The Russian bishops want to focus greater attention on culture, beginning with the teaching of the religion in schools and theology in universities. In addition to education, they also want to reflect on the variety of artistic and cultural expressions in Russian society, a particularly hot topic after this year's controversy around the movie "Matilda", even though the Synod does not intend to pronounce itself for or against individuals authors and works. The intention is to foster a more constructive dialogue between the Church and the world of culture in the current conditions of Russian society.

In addition to the almost 200 bishops in office in Russia, the 100 of Ukraine and 20 of Belarus, the Russian bishops gathered in the Synod are serving in 22 countries, and there are dozens of retired bishops also participating reaching a total of 500 bishops. Thanks to the decision for greater openness and transparency in ecclesiastical support of media and information the number of accredited journalists is also on the rise.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin greeted the participants in the Synod without visiting the cathedral as initially planned. Previously, the Tsar and the Soviet authorities sent their representatives to direct the work; today the president merely honours and hear the voices of the Church's hierarchs at a respectful distance.

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