On 17 May 2023 in Moscow, a WCC delegation consisting of general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, director for International Affairs Mr Peter Prove, and programme executive for Ecumenical Relations and Faith and Order Dr Vasile-Octavian Mihoc met with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
A WCC leadership delegation that visited Ukraine the preceding week had received confirmation from both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) of their in-principle willingness to engage in dialogue processes convened by the WCC. “Consolidation and unity in Ukrainian society, including especially among the majority Christian Orthodox believers, is an obvious necessity in the current circumstances faced by the nation and people of Ukraine” observed Rev. Pillay. “We visited Moscow to discuss engagement also by the Russian Orthodox Church in dialogue on the war and its consequences, including with regard to the deep divisions in the Orthodox family in this context,” Pillay reported, “and I am grateful for HH Patriarch Kirill’s commitment to exploring this possibility.”
In the meeting with Patriarch Kirill, Rev. Pillay identified four important reasons for the WCC delegation’s visit: 1) the need to bring an end to the current war, 2) to work for the unity of the Orthodox family which is so seriously divided in this context, 3) to discuss the role of the churches in peacebuilding both internally among Christians and externally as we address the issues of war and violence, and 4) to propose an initial roundtable dialogue meeting to address these issues, with the participation of all parties concerned.
During the meeting, Patriarch Kirill reaffirmed the unique role of the WCC as a convenor and platform for dialogue among the churches on difficult and divisive issues. He shared his own memories, experiences and appreciation of the work of WCC in past years, especially its role in peacebuilding in the post-Cold War period. He emphasized his concern regarding attacks against Christians in many parts of the world, and expressed thanks for the WCC’s historic and continuing role in the promotion of religious freedom. He addressed the increasing disunity within the Orthodox family, especially in the Ukraine context, and stressed the need for believers to seek peace as the way forward.
While expressing concerns about the feasibility of a roundtable dialogue because of entrenched external influences, Patriarch Kirill expressed pleasure at the proposal and commended the WCC for working towards peace and unity. He expressed a willingness to participate in the roundtable dialogue but indicated the need first to consult internally within the ROC.
Reflecting on the meeting, Rev. Pillay recognized the significant challenges that efforts for dialogue must overcome. “It is clear that perspectives on the conflict, its causes, and the path towards a just peace remain highly polarized. However”, he concluded, “this only underlines the critical importance of efforts to create safe spaces for dialogue, and for the WCC this must start with attempts to bridge the intra-Orthodox divide which mirrors the current geopolitical confrontation.”
“This is the very essence of WCC’s purpose and calling” said Pillay, “to be an instrument of dialogue among the churches on the issues that divide us. We are committed to the Christian calling to be peacemakers, and faced with the situation in Ukraine and in the world today, the churches must struggle together to answer that calling.”