In a previous article (The Wanderer 2/26/15) attention was focused on the ecclesiological views of the Metropolitan Hilarion (Aleyev) of Volokolamsk, one of the most important Russian Orthodox bishops as Chairman of the Department for External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate. In an important speech delivered at the Universities of Winchester and Cambridge in England (February 5 and 6, 2015), Hilarion made clear that the Russian Orthodox Church rejected any claim by the Patriarch of Constantinople to any supremacy over other Orthodox Churches – a claim he repudiated as a form of intolerable "papism" foreign to Eastern Orthodoxy. The Patriarch was no "Pope of the East".
His speech, as noted previously, revealed the rather fractious divisions and quarrels within Pan-Orthodoxy, but there are other aspects of his important address that merit attention. His comments on the "Great Schism" between Rome and Constantinople are interesting since he expresses agreement with modern scholars that the 1054 Schism arose:
"for reasons not essentially dogmatic, but of an ecclesiastical-administrative nature... In time, serious theological differences were added to the ecclesiastical-administrative differences".
Lamenting the setbacks in ecumenical efforts between the Orthodox Churches and Protestants (especially Anglicans), Metropolitan Hilarion is constrained to wonder "Is there a future for ecumenism?" He answers:
"I would prefer to leave the question open since the goal of restoring unity among divided Christians is not a goal that can be abandoned... From my point of view, the most promising dialogue today is between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. Like the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church has never thought of herself as separate from Tradition; she aims to teach and live in accordance with the Tradition that has been handed down to us through the ages. The significant improvement in relations between our Churches seen in recent years is tied to a greater realization that we are united by a common heritage, thanks to which both Orthodox and Catholics can and must bear witness together to the world to the never changing values of the Gospel of Christ."
He has sober words for those Christians who though engaged in ecumenical efforts have proceeded to abandon the "fundamental norms of Christian morality" and accomodated themselves to anti-Christian social and intellectual currents with the result that a "secular consciousness has begun to dominate on all levels of Western society."
If some Catholics in our own nation remain obtuse at the real dangers facing the Church from an increasingly hostile government, Metropolitan Hilarion does not hesitate to remind audiences of the:
"spiritual crisis in contemporary civilization" with "the concepts of good and evil becoming ever vaguer in societies which until recently viewed themselves as Christian."
He notes that secularism in Europe already:
"bears a militant character [aimed] at the destruction of the traditional understanding of marriage and the family... the equating homosexual unions with traditional marriage... and [the success of] aggressive propaganda to grant same-sex couples the right to adopt and bring up children."
However, it is Anglicanism's grave departures from biblical morality on sex and acceptance of women priests and women bishops that warranted special criticism by the Russian Orthodox bishop. Such decisions, he charged, damaged ecumenical relations, and, in fact, the century-old discussions between Orthodox and Anglicans regarding possible Orthodox acceptance of the apostolic succession of the Anglican hierarchy, he declared – "closed". [For Catholics, that issue had been settled by Pope Leo XIII's "Apostolicae Curae"(1896), which infallibly declared Anglican orders "absolutely null and utterly void".]
Though it now appears clear that formal theological dialogue with Anglicans has no future, interaction to solve social and humanitrian problems of a suffering humanity (expecially persecuted Christians) remains to be appreciated and fostered. As in other addresses, Metropolitan Hilarion, moreover, called for a "strategic alliance" beween Orthodox and Catholics to defend Christians world-wide from discrimination, oppression, persecution, and violence, and:
"joint action in the defense of the Christian identity of Europe and the Christian tradition of European culture."
It is striking (after the experience of 70 years of Soviet Communist terror), to note a Russian churchman's denouncing the profound anti-Christian nature of contemporary secularism and urging action to preserve the Christian identity of Western peoples. This raises the question of why there is an alarming lack of urgency by Catholic clergy and laity everywhere in the West to counteract the weakening or outright loss of Catholic identity among millions of baptized Catholics who are found sanctioning contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization, homosexuality, same-sex unions, euthanasia, and other moral evils.
In view of such painful statistics, it is not surprising that fidelity in proclaiming authentic biblical teaching and any sense of militancy in defending the Catholic faith are lacking in all too many quarters of the "American Church" where secularization is far advanced and prominently noted by mainstream Media.
It is surely a matter for reflection that in all major political reporting regarding religious and cultural forces strongly opposing the Obama's transformational attacks on traditional Christian morality, the Catholic Church is hardly mentioned.