Metropolitan Hilarion

Bitter news with roots 1,000 years old: Russian Orthodox Church cuts Istanbul ties

Bitter news with roots 1,000 years old: Russian Orthodox Church cuts Istanbul ties

Anyone who has studied the history of Orthodox Christianity knows the details of this story, as well as the arguments about its significance.

As the first Christian millennium was drawing to a close, something big happened among the East Slavic and Finnic tribes of Europe. As always, the change involved economics, culture, military might and, last but not least, religion.

Here is a typical short take on this complicated subject:

The chronicles report that the Great Prince of Kiev sent embassies around the world to find the faith that best suited his nation and people. Travelling from nation to nation they visited Muslims and Jews at worship observing their forms of worship and pondering the way of life that each religion taught. The emissaries judged neither of these worthy religions suitable for Russ. Finally, they visited the city of Constantinople and attended Divine Liturgy in the great cathedral of Hagia Sophia. … They breathlessly reported back to Kiev that in Hagia Sophia they were unable to tell if they were on earth or in heaven.

Thus, Prince Vladimir was baptized In 988 and commanded his whole nation to follow his conversion to Orthodoxy.

Just in case you missed it, one of the key words in this account is “Kiev.”

In the past week or so, I have received all kinds of contacts asking for my take on mainstream news coverage of the split that has taken place between the giant Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch based — with a tiny, persecuted flock — in Istanbul.

To be blunt, this topic is so complex that most of the Orthodox folks that I know think it would be next to impossible for journalists to handle it in a few inches of type or sound bites. Many of the Orthodox are reading the transcripts of statements by Orthodox leaders and that’s that.

However, I would like to note a few key issues that news consumers should watch for, when reading about this important story.

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Biased journalism for the sake of truth -- TASS on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Biased journalism for the sake of truth -- TASS on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Slowly [under Stalin] we had come to believe . . . that there are two kinds of truth. If there is a truth of a higher order than objective truth, if the criterion of truth is political expediency, then even a lie can be 'true' ...
-- Bếkế ếs Szabadsaq (3 October 1956), quoted in translation by Michael Polanyi, 'Beyond Nihilism', Encounter (March 1960), p. 42

So wrote the Hungarian poet Miklós Gimes in describing intellectual life behind the Iron Curtain. Though people and ideologies have changed since he penned these words in 1956, the contest between truth and political expediency has not -- though the field of battle has expanded westwards. The “Fake News” controversies animating the US and Europe present the same questions as did the truths of Soviet agitprop. Does anyone remember Dan Rather and the fake but accurate stories about President George W. Bush?

The Russian media scene presents a sobering picture for those who hold to theories of the inevitable progress of mankind. (Should we now say peoplekind?) Though the collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a decade of a press freedoms in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, with Vladimir Putin the situation has tightened. The state does not pervade all aspects of intellectual life. But where its interests are concerned -- dissent is not tolerated.

The change in Russian reporting has been most notable in TASS. Officially known as the Russian News Agency TASS (Информационное агентство России ТАСС), TASS is the fourth largest news agency in the world, after Reuters, the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse. TASS is owned by the Russian Federal government and has 70 bureaus in Russia and 68 bureaus overseas, and its journalists publish 350 to 600 stories everyday.

The initials TASS come from its name in Soviet times, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (Телеграфное агентство Советского Союза). In 1992 President Yeltsin changed its name to the Information Telegraph Agency of Russia -- TASS (ITAR-TASS), but President Vladimir Putin dropped the “Telegraph” in the title, changing it to IAR-TASS, or more commonly TASS.

Gimes, who would be hanged in 1958 by the Communist regime for his part in the Budapest uprising, likely would recognize the games played in an article published last week on the split between the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate).

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Should women serve as clergy, especially among Protestants? Why, or why not?

Should women serve as clergy, especially among Protestants? Why, or why not?

THE RELIGION GUY (instead of answering a question posted by a reader) raises this topic that he discussed with a house guest who advocated an all-male clergy on biblical grounds, while The Guy (full disclosure) favored having pastors of either gender.

Most Christians have belonged to church bodies that limit clergy leadership to men. A watershed occurred in 1975 when Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan wrote to inform Pope Paul VI about a growing consensus within the international Anglican Communion in favor of allowing women priests.

In response, Paul stated that the Catholic Church believes this change is “not admissible” due to: (1) Jesus Christ’s choosing of only male apostles. (2) “The constant practice of the church” from the apostles onward to follow Jesus’s example. (3) The consistent belief of Catholicism’s “living teaching authority” that  male priesthood fits “God’s plan for his Church.”

The following year, a 5,500-word explanation from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, approved by Paul VI, called this tenet “immutable” and “normative." It argued that even Jesus’s mother Mary did not hold “apostolic ministry” despite her “incomparable role,” and that the women who worked closely with the Apostle Paul weren’t ordained either.

A separate section said the priest celebrating Mass takes “the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image,” having a “natural resemblance” that’s difficult to see with a woman. However, this was not considered a “demonstrative argument” that defines Catholic theology.

Pope John Paul II issued a 1994 apostolic letter to all bishops that summarized those prior documents and reaffirmed “the constant and universal Tradition of the Church." Furthermore, John Paul declared that “all doubt” should be removed on such a “matter of great importance” and that “this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Orthodox Christianity holds to the same unbroken tradition.

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Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

First things first: Click play on the above YouTube. Now begin reading.

As you would expect, I have received quite a bit of email during the past 24 hours linked to my GetReligion post -- "What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq" -- about the mainstream media coverage of the stunning announcement of a Feb. 12 meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church of All Russia.

As you would expect, much of the press coverage has stressed what this all means, from a Roman Catholic and Western perspective.

This is understandable, since there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and Francis is the brightest star in the religion-news firmament at the moment. People who know their history, however, know that this meeting is also rooted in the life and work of Saint Pope John Paul II, who grew up in a Polish Catholic culture that shares so much with the churches of the East, spiritually and culturally.

I updated my piece yesterday to point readers toward a fine Crux think piece by the omnipresent (yes, I'll keep using that word) John L. Allen, Jr. Let me do that once again. Read it all, please. Near the end, there is this interesting comment concerning Pope Francis:

... His foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.

This morning, my email contained another essay by a Catholic scribe that I stress is essential reading for those starting a research folder to prepare to cover the meeting in Havana. This is from Inside the Vatican and it is another eLetter from commentator Robert Moynihan.

This piece is simply packed with amazing details about events -- some completely overlooked by the mainstream media -- that have almost certainly, one after another, contributed to the logic of the Cuba meeting between Francis and Kirill.

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What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

It is certainly the most important story of the day for the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yes, even bigger than the announcement -- with the lengthy fast (no meat, no dairy) of Great Lent approaching -- that Ben & Jerry's is poised to begin selling vegan ice cream.

I am referring to the announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Any meeting between the pope and the patriarch of all Russia would be historic, simply because the shepherds of Rome and Moscow have never met before. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

The big question, of course, is: Why are they meeting? What finally pushed the button to ease the tensions enough between these two churches for their leaders to meet?

In terms of the early news coverage, the answer depends on whether you are one of the few news consumers who will have a chance to read the Reuters report, being circulated by Religion News Service, or one of the many who see the Associated Press story that is, I believe, deeply flawed. Alas, the majority of news consumers will probably see a shortened version of the AP report and will be totally in the dark about the primary purpose of this historic meeting.

So here is the top of the Reuters report:

MOSCOW -- The patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church will take part in an historic first meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff on Feb. 12 because of the need for a joint response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine. But he said these differences were being put aside so that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could come together over persecution of Christians.

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