Source: Peter Anderson, Seattle USA
On December 29, 2022, the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate decided in Journal Entry 121 to set a “bishops’ conference” for July 19, 2023. https://mospat.ru/ru/news/89905/ It is important to note that this is not the “bishops’ council” that been repeatedly postponed because “the international situation continues to hinder the arrival in Moscow of many members of the Bishops’ Council.” A Bishops’ Council is a decision-making body while a Bishops’ Conference is not. Rather this Bishops’ Conference is to be “a fraternal discussion of current issues of church life” with an agenda to be prepared by Patriarch Kirill for presentation to the Conference for approval. The Conference consists “of all diocesan and vicar bishops of dioceses in Russia – on a mandatory basis, as well as bishops of dioceses in other countries – depending on the opportunity to arrive in Moscow.”
The Conference on July 19 was held at the famous Trinity-Sergius Lavra in conjunction with the observance on July 18 of the important feast day commemorating the discovery of the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh. On July 17 an all-night vigil was held by the assembled bishops at the Lavra, and the Divine Liturgy was celebrated on July 18 in front of the Dormition Cathedral of the Lavra. A video of the entire Liturgy can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9bx7uRnJjE&t=7951s . At the end of the Liturgy, Patriarch Kirill delivered a sermon. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043035.html (full text) The following are some excerpts from his sermon:
Unfortunately, in our time, due to human deceit, betrayal, the desire to please some political forces far removed from our country, Rus’ has again divided. We can only hope for what is preserved, although not clearly expressed and insufficiently, in my opinion, the strong unity of the Russian Orthodox Church. And today the same forces that sought to divide the country and our people are doing everything to tear the Orthodox Church in Ukraine [Православную Церковь на Украине] away from the Plenitude of the Russian Orthodox Church. They managed to do something in an insidious way, through the establishment of schisms, divisions; and how all this resembles the struggle of the atheistic authorities that came to rule the country in the post-revolutionary period! After all, even then the godless authorities saw danger in the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church and inspired all sorts of schisms and divisions…. But I want to emphasize once again: our battle, according to the apostle, is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spirits of wickedness in high places (see Eph. 6:12).
On the evening of July 18 at a dinner for the bishops, Patriarch Kirill continued the theme that Russia is engaged in a fateful metaphysical struggle against evil. The full text of this address can be found at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043452.html. The address included the following statement: And you and I must firmly follow what the Lord has intended us to do in order to keep our country, our people, and through this, perhaps, the whole world from the domination of the devil, from decay and destruction. I have never said these words, but now I will say: the time is very disturbing. Today, we must all recognize our calling and join the fight. Fight for the Motherland, for the Church.
The Bishops’ Conference began in the Great Assembly Hall of the Moscow Theological Academy at the Lavra on 11 a.m. on July 19 and concluded later in the same day. Many photos of the participants in the Conference can be seen at https://foto.patriarchia.ru/news/arkhiereyskoe-soveshchanie-russkoy-pravoslavnoy-tserkvi-2023-07-19/. The full text of the report by Patriarch Kirill may be accessed at https://mospat.ru/ru/news/90538/. With respect to statistics, the Patriarch stated that the Patriarchate has: 40,895 churches or other places where the Divine Liturgy is celebrated; 324 dioceses; 490 men’s monasteries and 508 women’s monasteries with a total of approximate of 16,000 monastics; 402 bishops of which 295 are presently heading dioceses; 36,516 presbyters; and 4,893 deacons. Based on the size of the numbers, these figures must include the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The blogger Andrei Kuraev counted, apparently from photos, 250 bishops who were physically present during the presentation by Patriarch Kirill. https://diak-kuraev.livejournal.com/ This smaller number indicates that the UOC bishops were generally not present at the Conference. Kuraev lists as present three hierarchs from Crimea, four from the DPR, and two from the LPR.
An important part of the Patriarch’s reports relates to Ukraine. Statements include the following: “It is clear that the Ukrainian authorities have begun to liquidate the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, paying no attention to the so-called European values, which include, among other things, freedom of religion and respect for human rights.” “The abbot of the Lavra , Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl, after a three-month stay under house arrest under far-fetched pretexts and relying on false accusations, was imprisoned in a pre-trial detention center. Vladyka, who is 62 years old, suffers from serious illnesses, including diabetes. His life is in danger.” “If it is possible to go to services in a temple where the clergy remain faithful to the canonical order of commemoration of the Primate of the Church, one should go to such a temple. If there is no such possibility at all, then until the Church has passed a conciliar judgment on the falling away of certain bishops and clergy into schism, the sacraments performed by those who have been the victim of blackmail or who have not had the courage or conscience to preserve this canonical order remain valid.” According to the Patriarch, the Phanar is a tool in the hands of skilled manipulators, and it has been such a tool for more than a year. The Patriarch also contends that the Greek Catholics (UGCC) are one of the ultimate beneficiaries of numerous lawless seizures in the past, have fully identified themselves with the nationalistic agenda fostered in Ukraine, and have become accomplices of the Ukrainian authorities in the implementation of their discriminatory policy towards the canonical Orthodox Church.
During the conference, Metropolitan Hilarion of Hungary and Budapest delivered a report prepared by the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission with the title, On the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the deeds of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the speeches of its representatives. http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043904.html Metropolitan Hilarion remains the chairman of this Commission although he was relieved of many other responsibilities when he was demoted to Budapest in June 2022. The full text of Metropolitan Hilarion’s detailed presentation can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043879.html The full text of the report itself can be accessed as a Word document at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043760.html. Metropolitan Hilarion explained that the report had been prepared and approved by the Commission on September 29, 2021, and then subject to further amendments suggested by Patriarch Kirill. The plan was to present this report at the future Bishops’ Council, which now continues to be postponed. Metropolitan Hilarion stated: “Since the activity of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, damaging Orthodox unity, continued and continues to this day, His Holiness the Patriarch instructed the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission to finalize the document for this Bishops’ Conference, taking into account the latest anti-canonical acts of Patriarch Bartholomew. Today we present to your attention an updated version of the document.”
At the end of the Conference, the bishops adopted a ten-point resolution. The full text of the resolution can be read at http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/6043699.html. Paragraphs 6 and 7 read as follows:
- Today, on Ukrainian soil, the state power has shown itself to be the direct heir of the Bolsheviks-theomachists and raises persecution against the Orthodox Church. Faithful church children are expelled from churches, hierarchs, clergymen and laity are subjected to unjust arrests and dishonorable trials, shrines are defiled and plundered. Particularly bitter is the news that attempts are being made to force the clergy and laity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to renounce God’s truth and push them into schism. The participants of the Bishops’ Conference call for intense prayer for Orthodox brothers and sisters in Ukraine, for those who, despite threats, slander and persecution, strive to preserve church unity, and especially for those who show a truly confessional feat, courageously raising their voices in defense of this unity .
- The Bishops’ Conference notes with regret that the leaders of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, blinded by the thirst to satisfy private interests and ambitions, have become one of the instruments of political forces hostile to Orthodoxy. Having considered the conclusion “On the distortion of the Orthodox teaching about the Church in the acts of the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the speeches of its representatives” presented by the Synodal Biblical and Theological Commission, the participants in the Bishops’ Conference express their agreement with the conclusions of this document and submit it for approval by the Holy Synod.
I am sure that all of this will be subject to much future debate and controversy.
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA