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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev: The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths - Pravmir

Our attention has recently been recalled to the following interview granted by Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, to Kommersant newspaper in December 2013:

Metropolitan Hilarion: The Russian Orthodox Church and Contemporary Events: Dispelling the Myths - Pravmir

In it he repeats his familiar untruths about the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its history, identity and current situation and integrity, without once acknowledging the injustice, contrary to universal principles of human rights and freedom, perpetrated upon the Byzantine Churches in union with Rome (with their roots in the one united Church of Europe comprising both Latins and Byzantines prior to the point of the Great Schism) by Russian state policy under both the Tsardom and the Soviet Union, including the persecution of the Greek Catholics of modern day Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and the legal suppression of the Ukrainian Church, its forced annexation to the Russian Orthodox Church and the confiscation of all its churches and property after the Second World War with the complicity of the Moscow Patriarchate. There has been no repentance for this great wrong, while Metropolitan complains at losing property that was simply repossessed by its rightful owners having been stolen for decades. There is urgent need for reconciliation and the Ukrainian Catholic Church has repeatedly extended the offer of dialogue to resolve troubled relations both at the local and the interchurch levels. Indeed there are good relations among many Catholics and Orthodox in Ukraine on a personal level. Reconciliation overall, however, requires truth. Instead, it is sadly the policy of the Moscow Patriarchate to persist in alleging what is not true in the hope, presumably, that it may prevail and recover its control of properties and Church affairs in Ukraine.

The principle falsehoods are, first,  that the Ukrainian Catholic Church is a subset of the Latin Roman Catholic Church, a project of the Vatican to annexe the Orthodox church by covert means; secondly, that the Western Ukraine, which lay outside the Soviet Union until after the Second World War and is where the Greek Catholic Church (Greek because of the Byzantine rite it follows) remained strongest, is affected by fascist agitators among the Catholic clergy sympathetic to the region's supposed Nazi legacy. It is scarcely credible that such calumnies issue from a Christian bishop, charged with building up the unity of the Church in the charity, peace and truth of Christ.

Below, we reproduce the relevant observations of Metropolitan Hilarion, followed by our comment in April in rebuttal of the offensive remarks he made in an interview with Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Reporter also in April. Finally, we conclude with some interesting reflections from an earlier time in history.

It is all such a great shame, because much of what the Metropolitan says is good and constructive about the possibilities for great cooperation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, specifically the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. This is highly desirable, and we all pray for it to flourish. We understand how zealous and effective a servant and advocate of the Russian Church and its patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion is, but we cannot understand why he must attack his fellow Christians without just cause - or true grievance.

Question: Have relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Rome changed since Francis I ascended to the Papal throne?
Metropolitan Hilarion: They changed a great deal for the better after the ascension of Pope Benedict XVI to the throne. He was able to remove the tension that had existed under the previous pontificate. He related with great sensitivity to the problems of Orthodox-Catholic relations; under him, our relations took on a positive and progressive character. And I think that, if he had not gone into retirement, then perhaps the Patriarch would have met with him. But now, of course, we are not talking about missed opportunities, but rather about the possibility of a meeting of the Patriarch with Pope Francis. We see that Pope Francis regards the Orthodox Church very kindly, which became evident while he was still a cardinal.

Question: What problems impede a meeting of the Pope with the Patriarch?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The main problem that remains in our bilateral relations is the situation in Western Ukraine, relations between the Orthodox and Greek Catholics. These relations soured at the end of the 1980s, when Greek Catholics seized Orthodox churches. I do not want to get into the history now: views of history always differ between conflicting parties. But the conflict has not been overcome: in Western Ukraine there are many places where the Orthodox, as before, have been deprived of their churches, as we regularly remind our partners in the Roman Catholic Church. True, in recent times we have had some good news from Western Ukraine. Hope has appeared that the Diocese of Lviv of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will receive land and a building for the creation of a religious centre. This is something that we had been unable to accomplish for many years. If this event takes place, it will undoubtedly have an effect on the speed of preparations for the meeting.

Question: If I have understood you correctly, you are not preparing this meeting as a ceremonial event, but are approaching this meeting by your consultations and resolution of these problems?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Absolutely correct.

Source, with acknwwledgment: http://www.pravmir.com/the-russian-orthodox-church-and-contemporary-events-dispelling-the-myths/#ixzz31QdAuW79

Our comment from April: Metropolitan Hilarion speaks of the disadvantage to the Orthodox Church in western Ukraine at the hands of the activities of the Greek Catholic Church there. But prior to the Sovietisation of Ukraine and the post-World War II unification of the West with the starved, murdered, plundered and colonised East, there were NO Orthodox dioceses in Galicia. These were all foundations of Stalin, who instructed the Moscow Patriarchate to proselytize and later absorb all Greek-Catholics into its fold. Greek-Catholic hierarchs were condemned to the gulag by Soviet military tribunals on charges which, surprisingly, included "opposition to the Russian Orthodox Church." With the collapse of the Soviet Union, after 40 years of persecution and oppression, Greek-Catholics reclaimed a portion, but not all, of their own churches. At the present time, the Moscow patriarchate is free to organise and function in the west of Ukraine and has indeed retained not a few of the properties and other infrastructure it came by through expropriation at the hands of atheist enemies of the Cross of Christ. Its persistent resentment at the mere existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is inexplicable - this has taken nothing and no one that belongs to any one else; it has coerced no one against his or her conscience.

Furthermore, it has emerged that, in the light of Metropolitan Hilarion's April interview to National Catholic Reporter and his repetition of the claim that Greek Catholics expropriated Orthodox Churches, he and the then Metropolitan and now Patriarch Kirill were asked in Rome to substantiate it back in the mid 1990s. Metropolitan Kirill, contrary to the assertions made to this day by the Moscow Patriarchate, was directly reminded that a large number of churches, that had once been Greek Catholic, were confiscated and then given to the Russian Orthodox Church had not been "seized" by the Catholics but remained Orthodox (either in the use of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church or the Kyiv Patriarchate). He was requested not to blame the loss of these churches to the Moscow Patriarchate on Greek Catholics. There was no response, but the narrative of blaming the Ukrainian Greek Catholics continued.

It was a period when Cardinal Cassidy, at the time President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was playing an heroic but largely hidden role in defending the newly liberated Ukrainian Catholic Church from steady and repeated attack from the Moscow patriarchate, itself resurgent and in search of its restored role in public life and church affairs following the collapse of Communism. It is well known that there was a meeting involving delegations from the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Churches and the Pontifical Council, to resolve tensions. These tensions were charged with the familiar and sustained accusation of violent seizure of Orthodox churches by Ukrainian Catholics, which was firmly rejected by the Cardinal. The Council had made every effort to verify the truth of the allegations, but had never been able to do so. At the meeting, the Moscow Patriarchate delegation, which included the then Archimandrite Hilarion Alfeyev, was asked either to present concrete facts and exampled that could be verified, to desist from spreading false accusations against Ukrainian Greek Catholics any further. No evidence of violence or "seizure" was presented, but the accusations continue to be made, as do the religiously partisan attacks on Greek Catholics, simply for the reason that they are Byzantine Christians of the same tradition as the Orthodox but yet are for reasons of both history and principle in union with the See of Peter - as were once all Byzantines and all Latins.

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