Department for external church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (DECR)

Background

The Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations is a major Synodal institution of the Russian Orthodox Church.

DECR was founded by the Holy Synod on 4 April 1946, when the development of the Church’s external activities made it urgent to establish a special church body for sustaining this essential aspect of church life.

In the period from 1946 to 1960, DECR was headed by Metropolitan Nikolay (Yarushevich) of Krutitsy and Kolomna. That period determined in many ways the nature of external relations to be maintained by the Russian Orthodox Church today as traditional forms of inter-church relations were deepened and a whole range of new areas of the Church’s activity in this field was initiated. It was in that period that the peacemaking activity of the Church and her first contacts with public organizations helped her to begin gradually coming out of isolation and building first bridges for relations with the state and the worlds of politics, science and culture.

In the period from 1960 to 1972, DECR was directed by Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad and Novgorod. He combined a richness of ideas so needed by the Church with persistence in their implementation. He had to overcome tremendous difficulties caused by civil authorities, doing it with his characteristic adherence to principles. The external, especially international, work of the Church during the time of persecution was critical for preventing its extension and for making it impossible or difficult for the authorities to close and demolish monasteries and churches. He managed to get young bishops appointed to various sees abroad and transfer them consequently to the Church’s own canonical territory, thus considerably replenishing and rejuvenating her episcopate.

In the period from 1972 to 1981, DECR was presided over by Metropolitan Juvenaly (Poyarkov) of Krutitsy and Kolomna, who directed its work with profound commitment, knowledge of the problems involved and diligence.

In the period from 1981 to 1989, DECR was directed by Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Byelorussia. He had the honour of leading the department during a long period of the Church’s preparations for the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia and during the celebrations proper. DECR under him made an exceptionally complex and important contribution to the church-wide process towards the great millennium celebrations in June 1988 as they awakened the historical memory of many people who lived in the Soviet Union and became a national event and a strong impetus for restoring the Russian Orthodox Church to her appropriate place in the life of the people and for reviving age-long traditions of her service and witness to the people of God.

In the period from 1989 to 2009, DECR was led by Archbishop (Metropolitan since 1991) Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, now Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Under him, the DECR structure and work underwent qualitative changes. Dialogue with the state reached a fundamentally new level resulting in optimal church-state relations and helped to extend and consolidate contacts and cooperation with political, public, scientific, cultural and other similar organizations.

The department organized a process of elaborating the Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church, a document presenting the Church’s attitude to various social developments and problems. The Concept was adopted by the Jubilee Bishops’ Council in 2000.

In 1997, DECR was re-organized to include secretariats for inter-Orthodox relations, church-state relations and inter-Christian relations, as well as offices for institutions abroad, Orthodox pilgrimage, and later a communication service and a publications section. As a result, it led to a more efficient work of the department as a whole.

On 17 May 2007, after long consultations and negotiations held with an active participation of DECR, the Act of Canonical Communion was signed to restore full unity between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Outside Russia.

Motivated by pastoral concern for Orthodox compatriots, who found themselves outside their homeland due to migration, DECR considerably increased the number to the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and institutions abroad to amount in 2008 to 316 parishes and 16 monasteries in 51 countries. In addition, there are 19 monasteries and nearly 300 parishes belonging to the Russian Church Outside Russia.

After the death of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, the Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Kirill Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal See on 6 December 2008 and the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church elected him Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia on 27 January 2009. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill was enthroned at the Church of Christ the Saviour on 1 February 2009.

On 31 March 2009, the Holy Synod appointed Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria (now Archbishop of Volokolamsk, Vicar of the Moscow Diocese) as chairman of the department for external church relations.

At the same time, some DECR functions were transferred to the newly-established department for church-state relations, which is to maintain relations with legislative bodies, political parties, trade unions, creative profession associations and other institutes of the civil society in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. The representative offices, church representations, monasteries and patriarchal parishes, which earlier were in the DECR jurisdiction, are now placed under the direct authority of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. An appropriate secretariat has been set up to help the Patriarch direct Russian Orthodox institutions abroad. The post-graduate course of the Moscow Theological Academy, which was attached to DECR, is now transformed into a church-wide graduate school and doctoral candidacy.

On 31 March 2009, the Holy Synod appointed Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria (now Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Vicar of the Moscow Diocese) as chairman of the department for external church relations.

At the same time, some DECR functions were transferred to the newly-established department for church-state relations, which is to maintain relations with legislative bodies, political parties, trade unions, creative profession associations and other institutes of the civil society in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. The representative offices, church representations, monasteries and patriarchal parishes, which earlier were in the DECR jurisdiction, are now placed under the direct authority of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. An appropriate secretariat has been set up to help the Patriarch direct Russian Orthodox institutions abroad. The post-graduate course of the Moscow Theological Academy, which was attached to DECR, is now transformed into a church-wide graduate school and doctoral candidacy.