Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk: "To contribute to the multiplication of good and God-commanded truth"
This oldest Synodal department is often referred to as the ecclesiastical Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, created shortly after the Great Patriotic War, was primarily called upon to establish contacts on the international level. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, spoke to the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate about the challenges of the times, which the DECR had to face thoughout its 75-year history, as well as about its work and prospects.
Save theological schools and monasteries
The Department for External Church Relations was established in 1946, when the Russian Orthodox Church was just beginning to rise fr om the ashes after the most severe persecutions of the 1930s and the hardest trials caused by the War. In the three decades that have passed since the October Revolution, virtually all communication channels developed in the pre-revolutionary period had been lost. Contact with the Russian church abroad was largely lost. Almost the entire system of external church relations had to be rebuilt.
This mission fell on the shoulders of the first Chairman of the Department - the ever-memorable Metropolitan Nikolay (Yarushevich) of Krutitsk and Kolomna. Together with a small group of employees, he worked for almost fifteen years to revive and deepen the traditional forms of interchurch relations. The first Chairman of the Department laid the foundation for a whole series of new directions in the field of external church activities, largely determining the main vector of its further development. Vladyka Nikolay devoted much time to forming contacts with public organizations, the state, the world of politics, science, and culture. Metropolitan Nikolay began his work on the external activities of the Church even before the creation of the DECR, in the fall of 1945, when he traveled to France to join Metropolitan Eulogius (Georgievsky) and his vicars, as well as Metropolitan Seraphim (Lukyanov), to the Russian Church. Later, Metropolitan Nikolay headed the delegations of the Moscow Patriarchate to England, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other European countries. He was also one of the initiators of the Meeting of the Heads and Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches in July 1948, timed to coincide with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the autocephaly of the Russian Church. Metropolitan Nikolay pursued preparations for the process of joining the World Council of Churches (WCC), which lasted more than ten years, crowned with the entry of the Russian Church in the organization on the grounds that he outlined: "We agree… only for the sake of our common Orthodox debt - to serve the reunification of all Christians in the bosom of Christ's Church, which is Holy Orthodoxy, which has preserved in fullness and integrity the faith once delivered to the saints ... And it is thanks to the WCC that the
voice of the Orthodox Catholic Church ... can be heard throughout the world."
The next DECR Chairman was Bishop of Podolsk, later Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad and Novgorod, in 1960. He immediately set about reorganizing the DECR and significantly expanding its structure. Ecumenical and peacemaking groups were created to deal with issues of scientific-theological and socio-political content, as well as a group for the study of Catholicism. In 1969, postgraduate studies at the Moscow Theological Academy were transferred to the authority of the Chairman of the Department .
Under Metropolitan Nikodim there took place a significant expansion of inter-Christian contacts which is evidenced by the entry of the Russian Church into the WCC in 1961, attendance of the Second Vatican Council in the years 1962-1965 by the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the start of bilateral theological dialogues of the Russian Church with the Evangelical Churches, Churches of the Anglican Confession and the Roman Catholic Church. The decision of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, adopted in 1971 on the initiative of Metropolitan Nikodim, on the abolition of anathemas on the old Russian rites and those who use them, which laid the foundation for overcoming the painful schism that had occurred in the 17th century, was of historical significance. Thanks to the personal efforts of Vladyka Nikodim, it was possible to preserve the presence of Russian monasticism on the Holy Mountain, which was threatened with complete disappearance due to the impossibility, for political reasons, for many years to replenish the Russian Athos brotherhood with immigrants fr om our Fatherland.
Metropolitan Nikodim did much to proclaim the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America in 1970 and to proclaim the autonomy of the Japanese Orthodox Church in the same year . Within the Soviet Union, however, he used international activities to prevent the closure and destruction of monasteries and churches. For instance, it was through attracting international attention and opening faculties for international students that Metropolitan Nikodim saved the Leningrad Theological School fr om closure. At the same time, seeking the appointment of young bishops to foreign dioceses, he created opportunities for their further transfer to the canonical territory of the Church, as a result of which the episcopate of the Russian Orthodox Church was significantly rejuvenated and expanded. Metropolitan Nikodim conducted all this varied activity in spite of the obstacles erected by the civil atheistic authorities.
The course for peacemaking and dialogue with state authorities
As early as March 1961, the Holy Synod decreed that the Сhairman of the DECR should be in the episcopal rank and be a permanent member of the Holy Synod. This testified to the great responsibility that the Russian Church assigned to the Сhairman of the DECR, and in his person to the entire Department.
In 1972, Metropolitan Nikodim was replaced as Chairman by Metropolitan Yuvenaly (Poyarkov) . The period of his leadership is characterized by the active peacemaking activities of the Russian Church, which was also important in the eyes of the state that was trying to make efforts in the 1970s to defuse international tension. During this period, the Russian Church was one of the main participants in peacemaking forums, and the high assessment of these meetings by Western partners significantly influenced the assessment by the Soviet leadership of all the external activities of the Church.
In 1982, Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeev) became the Chairman of the Department and held this position for almost nine years. The period of his chairmanship fell on the preparation of the Russian Orthodox Church for the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ and this very celebration also. In June 1988, under the leadership of Metropolitan Filaret the Department made a contribution of exceptional volume, complexity and importance to the general Church process associated with the celebration of the anniversary of this significant event for the Russian people and the entire Orthodox Church. The celebration acquired a wide public character and was a strong impetus to the restoration of the proper place of the Russian Orthodox Church in the life of the country, to the gradual revival of the age-old traditions of its ministry.
In 1990, the Department was headed by Archbishop Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who was soon elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. He is of the same age as the Department itself, and by the Providence of God was destined to link his life with this oldest Synodal institution.
Metropolitan Kirill’s participation in external church activities began under Metropolitan Nikodim, when he was included in the delegation of the Russian Church at the IV General Assembly of the WCC in Uppsala (Sweden) in 1968. For nearly twenty years he headed the Department. During this period, there were qualitative changes in its structure and activities. The dialogue with the state authorities reached a fundamentally new level, the optimization of church-state relations was achieved, cooperation with public, scientific, political and cultural organizations expanded and strengthened.
On the basis of trained personnel, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church formed new departments: of religious education and catechesis , of interaction with the armed forces and law enforcement agencies , of youth work , social service and others. On the basis of the library fund of the Department, the Synodal Library of the Russian Orthodox Church was created . The range of the Department's obligations was extremely wide, and therefore the formation of new synodal institutions, commissions and other church organizations, as well as the transfer of areas of responsibility to them for activities in these areas, allowed the Department to work in other areas of interaction with the outside world that had not yet been mastered.
In this regard, the DECR was restructured. There were secretariats for inter-Orthodox relations, for relations between the Church and society, for inter-Christian relations, sectors of foreign institutions, Orthodox pilgrimage, and later - a communication service and a publications sector. This led to a significant increase in the efficiency of the Department as a whole.
The time when Metropolitan Kirill headed the Department for External Church Relations became a period of new tribulations for the Russian Church. The great country collapsed, new states were formed on its territory. In the tragic days of the August 1991 crisis, the Church, gaining public authority, for the first time in many decades had to formulate its attitude to current political events, and to do this in conditions when the strongest pressure was exerted on it. Thanks to the well-coordinated work of the DECR and its Сhairman, it was possible to give a dignified and balanced answer, to raise their voice against bloodshed and fratricide.
Active action was required from the Russian Church in 1993, when confrontation between the Russian president and his political opponents led the country to the brink of civil war. The DECR, headed by Metropolitan Kirill, played a key role in the preparation and conduct of these complex negotiations.
The Ukrainian issue and other problems on the agenda
At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church faced serious problems in the religious sphere. The end of the 20th century was the time of the revival of the uniatism in Ukraine. With the support of local authorities, the Uniates seized churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, killed priests, subjected Orthodox believers to violence and launched a fierce campaign to discredit Orthodox Christians in the media.
For Metropolitan Kirill, as Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, the problem of union was one of the key issues in the 1990s and early 2000s. This topic was at the center of the agenda of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The result of the Department's efforts was the appeal of the entire Orthodox-Catholic dialogue to the topic of union, which eventually led to the official recognition by the Catholic side of the erroneousness of the method of Uniatism and proselytism in relations with the Orthodox Churches.
The collapse of the USSR, in addition to many grave socio-economic consequences, provoked a number of interethnic conflicts in Moldova, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Thanks to the initiative of the DECR Chairman, a meeting of heads and representatives of traditional Russian religious associations - the Russian Orthodox Church, communities of followers of Islam, Judaism and Buddhism - took place, at which a decision was made to create the Interreligious Council of Russia.
Metropolitan Kirill organized the process of drafting the most important document representing the Church's attitude to various social phenomena and problems - the "Basics of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church", adopted at the Jubilee Bishops' Council in 2000. And on May 17, 2007, an event of great importance took place - the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Church Abroad was signed, that is, the full unity of the Russian Church was restored, which was the result of long consultations and negotiations conducted with the active participation of the Department and its Chairman personally.
The historical and political upheavals of the early 1990s did not bypass the Church either. When in 1992 Filaret Denisenko, being at that time Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, threatened the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church with leaving the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill, as the head of the Department with his characteristic energy and initiative, sought to stop him, and almost succeeded ... However, after the Council, Filaret, contrary to his oath promise, refused to voluntarily leave the Kiev See and embarked on the path of schism. Since that time, the DECR Chairman had to put a lot of effort into opposing schism.
Not a single diocesan bishop of the Ukrainian Church followed Philaret into schism; all monasteries and the overwhelming majority of parishes survived. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church retained the support of the population of Ukraine and remained the largest religious organization of the country. Cases of repentance of the “clerics” of the schism, their return to the canonical Church, took place more than once.
The year 1992 was marked by a regrettable discord in relations with the Romanian Patriarchate, which accepted the schismatics of Moldova into its membership, creating for them the so-called "Bessarabian Metropolis".
A similar situation exists in Estonia. After the country gained independence in 1990, a small schismatic group arose, which in 1996 was accepted into its jurisdiction by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This caused a break in Eucharistic communion between the Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople. The Russian Orthodox Church never agreed with the predatory actions of the Phanar in Estonia, but later, for the sake of preserving the unity of world Orthodoxy, it entered into negotiations, restoring communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and, at least out of economia, agreeing to the coexistence of two jurisdictions in Estonia.
In the difficult years for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople systematically provided secret and sometimes open support for the church schism in Ukraine. In 1993-1995, it accepted the schismatic communities in the diaspora and their "hierarchy" into its jurisdiction. Attempts were made to create the so-called “Representations” of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
In words, the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the Kiev Metropolis as part of the Moscow Patriarchate, but in reality, bypassing our Church, the Phanar conducted secret separate negotiations with schismatics and the Ukrainian authorities to legalize the Ukrainian schism. One of the stages of this process was the arrival of Patriarch Bartholomew to Kiev in 2008 without an invitation from the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia or the canonical Metropolitan of Kiev. It was known that the purpose of the visit was to recognize the schismatic structure of Filaret Denisenko and grant it the status of autocephaly. The Phanar's attempts to enlist the support of other Primates of the Local Churches in this adventure failed, and the simultaneous arrival of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II in Kiev finally thwarted this plan. The invasion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople into Ukraine was then prevented.
The task is to tell the world about the external activities of the Russian Church
In 2009, the Providence of God called Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad to the patriarchal throne, and the author of this text headed the Department for External Church Relations. The first priority of the head of the Department was to continue the course that was laid by his predecessors as chairman. And for this it was important to maintain personnel continuity. The hired employees traditionally use the best practices of the older generation in their work, which allows us to preserve and increase in many respects the unique experience that was accumulated during the years when the Department was headed by the current Patriarch, as well as to pass it on to the new generation of diplomats for the benefit of the church.
At the same time, according to the demands of the age, new tasks are set for the Department. It is important to bring to a qualitatively new level the task of informing the world community about the external activities of the Russian Church. To this end, the Department’s website was first updated. Then a system of partnerships with foreign resources in different languages was created.
At the beginning of this year, with the financial participation of the Fund for Support of Christian Culture and Heritage, a new informational analytical portal of the Department was launched. On this website, online users can familiarize themselves with news, topical interviews, analytical materials from authoritative scholars and theologians, as well as with multimedia content. And it is not just the Russian speakers that have the access to it! Sections in nine more languages are regularly updated - Ukrainian, English, Greek, German, French, Italian, Serbian, Romanian and Arabic. Soon it is planned to expand the number of language versions to twelve.
All this is necessary in view of the global changes of modern life that have been facing our Church in recent years. The main challenge here is the invasion of Ukraine by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its dire consequences for the entire world Orthodoxy.
In the situation of refusal to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council (which was scheduled for June 2016) of the Bulgarian, Antiochian and Georgian Churches, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church also decided to not participate in it, since from the very beginning of the pre-Council process (which lasted for more than half a century) the Russian Church insisted that a Council could be pan-Orthodox only if all universally recognized Orthodox Churches took part in it, and that all decisions must be made by consensus. And «consensus» is not just the consent of those Local Churches that have gathered at the Council, but the agreement of all generally recognized Local Churches.
Two years after the Council of Crete, in which ten Local Churches took part, the Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to perform an unprecedented violation of the sacred canons and the historical obligations made by them three hundred years ago. An attempt was made to liquidate the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church existing in Ukraine, which unites millions of believers, more than twelve thousand parishes and more than two hundred and fifty monasteries, and to replace it with a new pseudo-church structure based on the Ukrainian schism, that is de facto controlled by Phanar. The invasion of the Patriarchate of Constantinople created a new threat to the unity of Orthodoxy both in Ukraine and throughout the world and provoked a wave of mass violence and seizure of churches in Ukraine.
This invasion was not a surprise for the Russian Church, since the DECR was aware of secret contacts and negotiations between the Phanar and schismatics that had been conducted over the previous years. For its part, the Department did everything it could to prevent this schism.
Unfortunately, efforts aimed at preventing the implementation of these treacherous plans (written appeals to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and repeated attempts to negotiate with its representatives) had not been successful. The meeting of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill with Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul in August 2018 was the last attempt to bring back the Primate of the Church of Constantinople on the canonical pathway. But the Phanar leadership neglected the unity and peace of the Church for the sake of momentary political gain.
At this difficult moment, our contacts with the Local Orthodox Churches were especially intensified. All Churches were informed in a timely manner and in detail through official correspondence, numerous meetings and telephone conversations with Primates, hierarchs and theologians about the real church situation in Ukraine, about the growing threat to Orthodox unity, and about the position of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a result, in 2018, the invasion of Ukraine by Constantinople did not receive preliminary support from any Local Church.
Constantinople also failed to gain widespread support after it tried to legitimize the Ukrainian schism and granted them the so-called "autocephaly". In the three Local Churches, wh ere the Primates yielded to colossal pressure from both the Phanar and the world political forces, they failed to achieve a procedurally correct conciliar decision of the hierarchy to recognize the pseudo-autocephaly of the Ukrainian schism.
Preserve the Church in those borders in which we received it from our ancestors
Constantinople's invasion of Ukraine brought special trials to the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. With the support of the then local authorities, a wave of seizures of its churches was launched, discriminatory laws were passed against, and strong political, administrative and informational pressure was put on it.
Under the leadership of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church passes through these trials with honor, maintaining unity within itself and unity with the Fullness of the Russian Orthodox Church. The announced wave of the so-called “transitions of communities” into schism, carried out through violence and massive falsifications, drowned out, not finding support among believers and faced with active informational, legal and human rights work.
The unity of our Church has been preserved, it has not diminished in its size. On the contrary, there took place a reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate with those of its parts that were cut off from the Mother Church in the difficult years of civil unrest in Russia. Following the restoration in 2007 of communion with the Russian Church Abroad, in 2019, the Archdiocese of the Western European parishes of the Russian tradition was reunited with the Mother Church.
The preservation of the Russian Orthodox Church within the geographical limits in which it had been formed over the centuries, the preservation and strengthening of the inner unity of our multinational and great Church - this is the main result of the experience that we have gone through. As for the situation outside the Russian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, the split in the Orthodox world, which became a consequence of the actions of the Patriarch of Constantinople, is deepening. The entire Russian Orthodox Church grieves over this and prays for the restoration of the unity of world Orthodoxy. Believers are not responsible for the actions of those who decided to associate themselves with the schism. This is their choice. We are called to preserve the Church within the historical boundaries in which we received it from our ancestors. And in this, the Department for External Church Relations will always be a reliable assistant to the Holy Patriarch and the Holy Synod.
In addition to strengthening the unity of Holy Orthodoxy, the task of the Department for External Church Relations is to fulfill the mission of witnessing Orthodoxy while building relationships with other Christian denominations, as well as to consolidate the efforts of Christians in the face of common challenges of the time. As His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has repeatedly noted, this area is traditionally one of the most important in the activities of the Department and has been developing successfully and dynamically in recent years.
Relations with the Roman Catholic Church today can be characterized as a “strategic alliance” in defense of Christian civilization.
Undoubtedly, the first ever meeting of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis in February 2016 in Havana became a landmark event. The declaration adopted as a result of it outlined the paradigm of joint work for several years ahead: protecting Christian morality, providing help to the persecuted brothers and sisters in different regions of the planet, affirming the Gospel’s truth and testifying about it in the face of aggressive secularism and liberalism, preserving peace on earth in the face of the threat of a new global war.
One of the results of the agreements reached in Cuba was an event of exceptional importance for our Church - the bringing of the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra of Lycia from Bari to Moscow and St. Petersburg in May - July 2017, wh ere more than two million believers from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and other countries had a chance to venerate them.
A lot has been done by our Churches in supporting the Christians of Syria and rendering assistance to the entire needy population of this country. The corresponding joint projects began to be implemented literally right after the historic meeting in Havana. Very soon, other Christian communities and even Muslim organizations joined them.
The relations of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Ancient Oriental Churches continue to develop actively. The unprecedented level of our interaction, which had been formed in recent years, was laid during the visits of their Primates to Russia and meetings with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.
It is important to note that many of the Ancient Oriental Churches are present in those regions that have experienced a wave of persecution of Christians. It is in Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church that they see their protection and support. Moreover, these Churches are very firm in their commitment to Christian morality. This is the basis of our interaction.
The project of the exchange of monastic delegations with the Coptic Church became unique. On the one hand, Egypt is the birthplace of Christian monasticism, the first Christian monasteries have survived there in their original form, the relics of the founders of monastic life are available for worship, pilgrimage routes are developing associated with the staying of the Holy Family on this land. On the other hand, the Copts have a great interest in the tradition of Russian monasteries, in which they see the embodiment of the true monastic spirit in the mainstream of its ancient traditions.
Our relations with the Armenian Apostolic Church are distinguished by a special historical closeness , which was once again proved by the peacekeeping and mediation efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church during the aggravation of the confrontation in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, as a result of which the Dadivank monastery and other shrines of Karabakh were taken under the protection of Russian peacekeepers. The DECR also took a large part in the formation of the Patriarchal Deanery of the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Republic of Armenia in 2016.
Valuable contacts remain with overseas Protestant and Anglican communities, in particular with the Church of England, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and with Christian humanitarian organizations. Cooperation with them takes place primarily on a practical level. For instance, we jointly help victims of emergencies - natural disasters and armed conflicts, for many years we have been implementing joint programs aimed at educating young people in the spirit of the Gospel values, at preventing socially dangerous diseases, protecting people's health, supporting the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
The Protestant world and the processes taking place in it are heterogeneous. There are deviations of some communities towards the liberalization of Church teaching in line with the demands of the secular world. Our Church broke off all relations with those organizations who made irreversible decisions in this area. In this sense, many believers are guided by the firm position of the Russian Orthodox Church, which rejects any compromise in the moral sphere and testifies to the inviolability of biblical moral foundations for Christians.
The promotion of the initiatives of the Russian Orthodox Church on a global scale is facilitated by its participation in inter-Christian organizations, among which the World Council of Churches is of particular importance. Our voice is in demand at these venues, people listen to it on issues that are important to us. In turn, it was the Moscow Patriarchate and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill personally, when he was Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, who ensured that all documents in the World Council of Churches are adopted by consensus, which allows Orthodox delegates to influence their content.
The priority is the protection of Christians, dialogue and good-neighbourliness
The active development of relations between the DECR and representatives of other religious traditions should be noted. The dialogue of the Russian Orthodox Church with international Muslim organizations, such as the World Islamic League, is also developing.
One of the striking examples of interfaith as well as interreligious cooperation was the activities of the Interreligious Working Group established in 2017 with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to provide humanitarian assistance to the population of Syria, whose members gathered under the auspices of the Council for Interaction with Religious Associations under the President of Russia. Its work involved not only the largest Christian, but also Muslim organizations of our country. The working group carried out the restoration of a five-story general education school for 1,200 students in the Barza region of Damascus, which was destroyed during the hostilities. Funds for the restoration of the school were collected by the religious communities of Russia. A significant part of those funds was the personal contribution of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia.
From 2017 to 2019, the Interfaith Working Group delivered over one hundred tons of humanitarian aid to Latakia, Homs, Aleppo, Damascus and the Bekaa Valley. All humanitarian actions were carried out jointly with the Christian and Muslim leaders of Syria.
The humanitarian aspect is becoming an important area of interaction between the Department for External Church Relations and various departments of the Russian Federation. Thanks to this interaction, a number of projects have been implemented to support the Orthodox Church of Antioch.
The DECR is trying to systematically draw the attention of the world community to the problem of persecution of Christians. In connection with a series of bloody conflicts, the Christian communities of the ancient Biblical lands in the East turned out to be defenseless under the onslaught of terrorism and extremism. Hiding behind Islamic slogans, the militants pursued the goal of destroying not only Christians as such, but also all traces of their two-thousand-year presence. The Department for External Church Relations has done serious work to ensure that the topic of protecting the rights of Christians is constantly mentioned and supported in public sphere.
In March 2015, 65 states of the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the first of its kind resolution in support of Christians in the Middle East, initiated by the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2015 - 2019 four international forums took place in Athens and Budapest dedicated to the persecution of Christians, as well as to religious and cultural pluralism and peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. The Russian Orthodox Church took an active part in those events.
Unfortunately, if we can say with regard to Syria that the outflow of Christians from there has stopped, then the situation of our brothers and sisters in many African countries in recent years has become truly tragic. It is Africa, the continent with the fastest growing Christian population in the world, that has become the region wh ere most Christians are killed for their faith.
The Russian Orthodox Church is making active efforts to protect Christians in Africa. As a rule, the facts of persecution go unpunished, are hushed up by the media and are almost unknown to the general public. In this regard, one of the primary forms of support for Christians in Africa is to convey information about their plight. The DECR monitors this situation and always reacts to the facts of the genocide of Christians.
Speaking of other tasks within the scope of the Department's activities, one cannot fail to mention the dialogue with the Old Ritualists. Overcoming the tragic division that occurred in the 17th century is the ultimate goal of this interaction, which does not yet have very clearly defined directions. The principles and forms of participation of Old Rite parishes in the general life within the Russian Church are being discussed within the framework of the Commission for the Affairs of Old Right Parishes. Under the auspices of the DECR, there operates the Patriarchal Center of Old Russian Culture, created on the basis of the Moscow Church of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos in Rubtsovo. Its aim is to consolidate the activities of those Old Rite parishes.
Another task facing the Department for External Church Relations is to support the dialogue between the Church and the State. This dialogue is an important part of our Church's witness to the outside world.
A special task of the Department is to take care of compatriots living abroad. This work is being carried out jointly with the Moscow Patriarchate office for institutions abroad, as well as with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Rossotrudnichestvo and the Russkiy Mir Foundation.
In the year of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Department, it should be noted that the DECR does not have any agenda of its own that would differ from the general Church agenda. We also do not define the policy of the Church in the sphere of external Church relations - it is determined by the hierarchy: the Bishops' Council and the Holy Synod headed by the Patriarch. Difficult, but inevitable decisions about the non-participation of our Church in the Cretan Council, about breaking off Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, about removing from the diptychs those Primates of Local Churches who recognized the Ukrainian schism were made exclusively by the Holy Synod. All other key decisions in the field of external Church relations are also made by the Synod with subsequent approval by the Council of Bishops. The task of the Department is to prepare these decisions, and then explain them to the whole world. And, of course, to do everything possible to ensure that the interests of the Russian Church are observed in all cases.
There is something that depends on the activities of the Department, and there is something that does not depend on it. The foreign policy situation does not depend on the DECR. This is a reality, and it is impossible to influence it. It is obvious that the situation around Russia cannot but affect the situation around the Russian Church. And although our Church is multinational, has dioceses and parishes in different states, ill-wishers sometimes identify it with the Russian state, declaring it almost a “fifth column” in other countries. And this is also a reality.
However, there is something that can be influenced. In the current circumstances, the protection of the purity of the Orthodox faith and the testimony of it in the face of other Christian communities, the upholding of the patristic understanding of the conciliarity of the Orthodox Church, intercession for persecuted Christians, dialogue with representatives of other traditions and religious confessions acquire special importance. There are many tasks for the Department.
It is important that the DECR, as a structural part of the Russian Orthodox Church, would continue to contribute to resolving numerous problems in society, to promote the end of armed conflicts, good-neighborly relations between peoples and, in general, the multiplication of good and God-commanded truth in human society.
" Tserkovny Vestnik " / DECR Communication Service