Issues the council will discuss include youth in Russia, the Church in Ukraine, and how the Church and the State can respect one another and cooperate to build a better future
The 2017 annual meeting of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church has commenced, and it's currently the most important event in the Church.
Below is an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion, Chairmen of External Relations, essentially the Church's foreign minister. A full transcript of the interview is provided at the bottom of the article. [Skip to the transcript here]
If the trend continues, His Eminence may become the next Patriarch, just as the current Patriarch was the previous Chairman prior to his enthronement.
The decision is ultimately up to the Synod of Bishops, but either way, Metropolitan Hilarion has one of the sharpest minds in the Church, and as one of its most important leaders, his words carry heavy weight.
Decisions made at this council will potentially affect the Church for centuries to come.
The vast majority of the over 400 bishops are present along with countless other clergy. This is an incredibly important event; everyone interested in Russia should pay attention.
The Church is the oldest, and after the state, the most powerful institution in Russia. As a result, its decisions, and direction will have major ramifications for Russia, the near abroad, as well as the world, considering the Russian Church has territories in around 60 countries.
The most pressing issues the council will discuss include youth in Russia, and the Church in Ukraine. Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev, the second highest ranking bishop in the Moscow Patriarchate, (after the Patriarch himself), and the leader of the Ukrainian Church will give his report on the situation in Ukraine.
This comes after the council has granted his Church more independence.
Though they will work hard to address the Ukrainian issue, and attempt to explore solutions to the schism there, the issues are deep-rooted and heavily political, and as a result, only God knows what will truly happen.
As to politics, Metropolitan Hilarion spoke how the Church and the State can respect one another, and cooperate to build a better future. He identified two key aspects of the special relationship between the Russian Church and State. Pay close attention, he is incredibly intelligent and he chooses every word with absolute precision. Two principles of the Church-state relationships are as follows:
1: Noninterference in each other's internal affairs.
2: Collaboration in fields where it is desirable and helpful to all.
Please take note the Church has no intention of controlling the state. They both have separate missions, but they can cooperate in a friendly, symbiotic way at times.
For more on this relationship, see this article. It's important to debunk this common misconception, that when we speak against the separation of Church and State, describe it as an anti-Russian ideology, or speak about the Church and State working together, we are not talking about the forceful control of one institution over the other.
We are speaking about peaceful, and above all, mutual and voluntary collaboration for the greater good of the entire people.
This comes as it's announced Putin departed the Kremlin to meet with the bishops at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
This meeting is not a sign that either body is controlling the other, but like two independently heads on the body of the same eagle, they are both trying to lead the country to soar to greater heights.
Their decisions will affect everyone both in the Motherland, and in the Russian Diaspora, therefore everyone, religious or not, should pay close attention.
The Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church has opened in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate External Church Relations Department has talked to us about the issues on the agenda in an interview with our channel.
Reporter: “Your Grace, hello.”
Metropolitan Hilarion: “Hello, Ekaterina.”
Reporter: “What topics are worth discussing this year in your opinion?”
“The list is quite extensive. In his report, which hasn't been completed yet, His Holiness the Patriarch pays special attention to the youth.
He has said that the youth is our future. He has called on every bishop to put more focus on working with the youth, giving positive examples of working with the youth in various eparchies. He has pointed out the drawbacks of such work. He has also stressed that we must do our best for the youth not to be deprived of the positive moral influence that the Church can exercise on them. It's not about recruiting the youth in the Church, it's not about forcing everyone to the church service, but about the youth being often deceived today. The ideals promoted by mass culture contribute neither to the moral nor to the physical health.
It's only one of the topics on the agenda, as many others are covered in His Holiness the Patriarch's report and the discussions following it. They include the educational activity of the Church. His Holiness the Patriarch has highlighted the publishing of new textbooks for faith schools, stressing that they are being created for the first time since the Revolution. So, we're actually taking a leap of 100 years. His Holiness the Patriarch has pointed out the importance of introducing theology into the secular education, mentioning that much is being done in the eparchies to interact with secular higher education.
Of course, the report hasn't been completed yet. Today, the Bishops' Council work is only beginning. Many other issues will be covered, including the international ones. Today, His Beatitude the Metropolitan of Kiev is expected to present his report on the situation in Ukraine. Decisions will be taken to overcome the Church dissent in Ukraine. I believe that if the Bishops' Council manages to contribute to this good cause, many believers in Ukraine will rejoice at the overcoming of differences, which have endured for a quarter of a century.
But we should refrain from undue optimism as we must understand that this is a difficult problem which requires a canonical solution, and we'll probably need to create a mechanism to solve this problem to decide on the further development.”
Reporter: “Your Grace, journalists simply couldn't neglect the fact that it's the first time that Mr. Putin has arrived in the Christ the Savior Cathedral instead of hosting the Bishops' Council in the Kremlin. How important is it? And how can the Church and the State cooperate in the fields of common concern like the youth, young families, and the demographic crisis as recently mentioned by the President?”
Metropolitan Hilarion: “The relations between the Church and the State in Russia are special. They rest on two principles. First, it's the non-interference in the internal affairs of each other. Second, it's the collaboration of the Church and the State in the fields where such collaboration is desirable, helpful and timely. These two principles determine the interaction between the Church and the State. The fact that the President will arrive in the Christ the Savior Cathedral to meet with the episcopacy of the Russian Orthodox Church is indeed an unprecedented event. But it follows many years of fruitful cooperation between the Church and the State in Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church is known to be not only the Russian church, it's multi-national. It's the dominant church in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia. This Church has its canonical jurisdiction in the Baltic states, in Kazakhstan, in other Central Asian states. This Church also has more than 900 parishes in non-CIS countries. In fact, it's a worldwide Church embracing more than 60 countries. Of course, it will be interesting for the Russian Church episcopacy, especially for the bishops who came from abroad, to listen to the Russian President, I believe, and to see how the Church and the State interact in Russia in practice as well as the results of this interaction.”
Reporter: “Your Grace, I know that during the photoing ceremony which took place in the Christ the Savior Cathedral there hardly were enough places for everyone who is attending the Bishops' Council. But some refused to come to Moscow for reasons other than health.”
Metropolitan Hilarion: “There are a few of them. The overwhelming majority of the episcopacy is in this hall today. It makes almost 400 bishops, and even more, if we count those who are retired. And the vast majority is present here today. Obviously, some people can't attend such a large-scale meeting for health reasons, others can't arrive for other reasons. It's fair to say that we not only secured a quorum, but the meeting is really illustrative of our episcopacy.
I must say that the current number of bishops is indeed a record one. Never before, either before the Revolution or, all the more so, under persecution, has the Russian Church had so many bishops. This quantitative increase in the episcopacy corresponds to the qualitative improvement of the Church that we have witnessed over the past 30 years. The revival of the Church dates back to 1988 when we celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia.
Next year this event will turn 30. In his report, His Holiness the Patriarch has given impressive statistics about the rise of the Church, and the increasing number of parishes. According to him, they grow by more than 1,300 a year, which is, of course, a very high speed. I think it's even a speed unprecedented in the history of Christianity.”
Reporter: “Thank you very much, Your Grace.”