Home/Rod Dreher/Moscow’s Disappointing Line in Rome

Moscow’s Disappointing Line in Rome

Metropolitan Hilarion (left) of the Moscow Patriarchate, with London Archbishop Vincent Nichols [Catholic Church of England/Flickr]

I find this bit from John L. Allen’s Synod reporting very discouraging:

On a different front, Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church used his speech in the synod today to take a shot at the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, basically telling them to stop complaining about Russian foreign policy and the support for Russian incursions in Ukraine voiced by Russian Orthodox leaders.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was sufficiently outraged that be grabbed Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Catholic Church, who was also in the synod hall, and immediately taped a segment for his radio show in New York to object to Hilarion’s rhetoric.

You should read Hilarion’s entire speech. It is not primarily about “Uniatism.” Here’s an excerpt that shows what the greater part of the speech concerns:

The topic of the family is one of the most acute and vital today. It is an indicator of the moral state of the society in which we live.

We have anxiously watched as abuse of the notions of freedom and tolerance has been used in recent years to dismantle the basic values rooted in religious traditions. There is an increasingly aggressive propagation of the idea of moral relativism applied also to the institution of the family held sacred by all of humanity.

In quite a number of countries in Europe and America, despite numerous protests, same-sex unions are approved and recognized on the level of the state. In some places, the right of same-sex partners to adopt children has already been fixed legally and implemented, including through the use of “surrogate motherhood” technology.

At the same time, traditional families built on the notion of marriage as union of man and woman become weaker and weaker. Instead of concern for their consolidation, there is the propaganda of so-called “free relations”. The notions of fidelity, mutual respect and responsibility of spouses are replaced by the imposition of hedonism and calls to live for one’s own self.

Children are no longer seen as the desirable fruit of spouses’ mutual love. The right of abortion, restricted by almost nothing, has become widespread, and has led to the legalization of the destruction of millions of lives. Among the serious problems is the existence of orphans whose parents are still alive, and abandoned and lonely disabled children.

The ideas of moral relativism have also affected many Christians who in words confess the Church’s teaching on the family but in deed refuse to follow it.

Asserting the sanctity of marriage based on the words of the Saviour Himself (see Mt. 19:6, Mk. 10:9), the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church traditionally place personal responsibility above egotistical interests. To cultivate in a Christian this responsibility before the family, society and the surrounding world is the most important tasks for Churches today. The protection of human dignity and affirmation of the lofty value of love realized in the family is an integral component of the Gospel message that we are called to bring to people.

In November 2013, the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Pontifical Council for the Family led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia held in Rome a conference on ‘Orthodox and Catholics Protecting the Family Together’. In the final statement, we underlined “our conviction that we bear a common responsibility for making marriage and family life the way to sanctity for Christian families”.

The time has come for Christians to join efforts and come out as a united front for the noble goal of protecting the family when confronted by the challenges of the secular world for the sake of preserving the future of civilization. It is the field in which our alliance may become really needed.

We should together defend our positions both in dialogue with the legislative and executive authorities in particular countries and on the platforms of international organizations, such as the UN and the Council of Europe. We already have a certain experience of such cooperation; it is enough to recall the well-known case of Lautsi versus Italy.

It is essential not to confine ourselves to noble appeals, but to press in every possible way for the legal protection of the family. It is necessary to restore in our society the awareness that freedom is unthinkable without responsibility for one’s actions.

The Orthodox Church consistently proclaims the ideal of the one and only marital union concluded once and for all. At the same time, conceding the weakness of human nature, in exceptional cases the Orthodox Church allows for a new church marriage in the instance of the breakup of the first marriage. In this our Church follows the principle of oikonomia, guided as she is by the love of the sinner who is not to be deprived of the means of salvation. In today’s world, in which the strict observance of the church ordinances becomes increasingly rare, the practice of oikonomia, which has existed in Orthodoxy throughout the centuries, may become a valuable experience in settling the pastoral problems of the family.

The Orthodox Church has accumulated a rich experience of pastoral care for the family. She has always preserved the institution of married clergy. As a rule, the families of priests are large and their children are brought up in the spirit of Christian devotion and faithfulness to church teaching. A priest with his own experience of family relations and parenting can better understand family problems and give his spiritual children the necessary pastoral aid. I believe it would be useful to notice this experience, which is also present in the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

Excellent, all of it, and important. But then Hilarion goes on to make a most undiplomatic protest against the involvement of Catholic churches in Ukraine’s civil war. To be clear, I do not begrudge Moscow its position here, or Moscow advocating for what it believes is true. But boy, do I regret that the Metropolitan said what he said in this forum. What an unnecessary and harmful provocation to say these things at a Roman Catholic Synod on the Family, when there is such a crying need for the Churches of the East and the West to speak with one voice to defend the traditional family, and traditional marriage. Why bring bitter ecclesial geopolitics into this forum? What unites the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches on matters of sexuality and the family, and in our mutual concern for the religious liberties of Christians, is far greater, and a far more pressing problem, than the fighting in Ukraine.

The Kremlin doesn’t see it that way, I guess, but I wish the Moscow Patriarchate did. What Met. Hilarion said about the church disputes is important, but this wasn’t the time or the place to have said it. This diplomatic row will be the thing that is most remembered from Hilarion’s address, and not the terrific things that formed the bulk of his speech. A botched opportunity, I think, and to me, unexpected, given that Hilarion has for years made great speeches about the need for collaboration among small-o orthodox believers and traditionalists in the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox camps.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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