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What did the delegation of the Church of Russia do in Karlsruhe?

The Church of Russia informs in a communiqué about its “achievements” at the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches which concluded on Thursday.

Reading the communiqué published on the website of the Department for External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, one gets the impression that the Russian delegation participated actively in the actions of the World Council of Churches, had multiple meetings and interactions with representatives of other churches and denominations, and presented its stances.

In short, the communiqué of the Russian Church gives the impression of “normality”. was in Karlsruhe (the only Greek media) from the first day of the Assembly and attended all the plenary sessions, trying to convey in the best possible way what was taking place.

The “normality” outlined by the Russian Church in its communiqué is not justified by the ambiance that prevailed in Karlsruhe during the 11th Assembly.

The atmosphere was far from positive towards the Russian Church. From the very first day, with the speech of the President of Germany, a resounding “slap in the face” was given both to the leadership of the Church and to the delegation in Karlsruhe.

“The heads of the Russian Orthodox Church are currently leading their members and their entire church down a dangerous and indeed blasphemous path that goes against all that they believe. They are justifying a war of aggression against Ukraine – against their own and our own brothers and sisters in the faith.

We have to speak out, also here in this room, in this Assembly. Here, today, we cannot remain silent. We must call it by its name. We must denounce it. There are representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church here today. The fact that they are here is not something we should take for granted. I expect this Assembly not to spare them the truth about this brutal war and the criticism of the role of their church.

Yes, time and again Christians are called to be bridge-builders. But building bridges requires a willingness on both sides of the river”, said Frank Steinmeier.

The truth is that there was strong pressure on the leadership of the World Council of Churches for the Russians not to participate in the Assembly. And not just political pressure, as one might argue.

WCC Secretary-General Ian Sauka referred in every instance to those voices within the Council calling for the expulsion of the Church of Russia’s delegation from the Assembly.

“Although many are asking us to expel the delegation of the Church of Russia, we have decided that the World Council of Churches is a free space for dialogue, and we must find a way to agree, not disagree,” Sauka had said.

The Orthodox Churches account for 25% of the World Council of Churches. The remaining 75% are Protestants, Lutherans, Evangelicals and others.

The members of the Russian delegation were isolated from everyone. They attended the meetings, but did not participate. The overwhelming majority of the WCC allowed their presence at the Assembly, but ignored them completely. The first signs had already been given by the pre-assembly held in Paralimni, Cyprus, with the atmosphere even then being extremely negative for the Russian Church.

An indication of the “participation” and “impact” of the stances and attitude of the Russian Church delegation was the text adopted by the WCC on the war in Ukraine.

To the text presented, there was a reaction from the Russian Church, with Archimandrite Philaret Bulekov taking the floor and speaking in broken English, expressing the delegation’s objections, while insulting the Assembly by describing the text as equivalent to the Starbucks and McDonalds announcements.

And that was all. The Assembly listened to Arch. Philaret and passed without any reaction to the next speaker. The result was that the original text was adopted/approved with almost no change.

Even in the meeting that took place between the representatives of the Orthodox (only) Churches, the members of the Russian delegation were allowed to take the floor and express their views. No one spoke, although the delegations of the Orthodox Churches unanimously stressed that it is important that they are all together in one room and that a dialogue is possible.

The truth is – and the delegation of the Russian Church knows this – that the only support they had in the Assembly was from the Orthodox.

The delegations of the Orthodox Churches were the ones who, with their support, actually enabled the Russians to remain in the Assembly when everyone else wanted the Russian Church out.

And they were those who approached them and tried to talk to them in order to take a step towards restoring unity, at least within the framework of the World Council of Churches.

However, this does not in any way correspond to the image of the “actions” of the Russian Church in Karlsruhe as an actively participating delegation, with its channels of communication open and accepted by all, as described in the communiqué issued by the Department for External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow.