What's up between the Estonian and Russian Orthodox?

It is never a good start to a dialogue meeting when one of the parties walks out. Even worse when the walk out is because of a disagreement between participants on the same side of the table.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev–yes, our own friend from just a fortnight ago–has withdrawn his Russian delegation from the resumed Catholic-Orthodox dialogue because (get this) the Estonian Orthodox were invited to the party too.

There wasn’t much the Vatican delegation could do. The Catholic News Service says a Catholic participant told them that “the Catholic position was that it was an internal Orthodox matter”.

Pope Benedict has made it clear what outcome he desires any way:

I ask you to join me in praying that this important meeting will help the journey toward full communion between Catholics and Orthodox and that we could soon share the same chalice of the Lord.

Perhaps we ought to extend our prayers for full communion between the Orthodox and the Orthodox. [Yes, I just know that some of you are going to jump up and say that all the Orthodox ARE in full communion with all the other Orthodox, but, really, are these the sort of shinanigans you would expect from those who are in full communion with each other? It is more what one would expect at a Lambeth Conference…]

I am reminded of a comment Bishop Hilarion (pictured with a nice hat) made while he was here in Australia. He was asked why there has not been a Pan-Orthodox meeting/synod/council. His answer was that there were two reasons: first, the lack of anyone in a position of authority to call such a council, and secondly, the debate that would ensue about the ordering of seating for the various patriarchs according to hierarchy of honour.

Didn’t Jesus have some advice on that?

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5 Responses to What's up between the Estonian and Russian Orthodox?

  1. analiise says:

    There is full communion.
    Estonia was a tiny tip of a big iceberg set afloat at the meetings last spring, and Bishop Hilarion’s statements refer to trying to change 2,000 years of Orthodox Ecclesiology by a vote of hands.
    If you really want to know what’s behind it and not just throw stones, read what happened and why such a holy, respectable man would do something the rest of the world is calling petty and typically Orthodox.

  2. Tony Bartel says:



    “Full communion is the normal relationship among autocephalous and autonomous churches of the Orthodox Church. Clergy may concelebrate and the faithful of those churches may worship and receive the sacraments at each other’s parish and monastic communities.

    A break in communion is known as schism, and may be brief or prolonged. Usually the term schism is not used except when the break has no definite end in sight. A suspension of concelebration is not the same as a break in communion—faithful and clergy may still receive the sacraments together at each other’s altars, but clergy may not celebrate divine services together. When a suspension in concelebration has occurred, the phrase full communion is not typically used to describe those churches’ relation with each other.”

    In other words, the question here is what we mean by full communion, and there is always the possibility that in the East it means something different from the way that it is used in the West.

    Like all families, the Orthodox have tiffs from time to time. Sometimes these tiffs become more public than they should. Usually they are the result of certain historical and political forces that do not impinge on the faith per se. Therefore, in time, these problems work themselves out.

    Thank goodness that the Church is holy in her head, even if she is regrettably fallen in her members.

    For a slightly different perspective see:


    “It’s tempting when we see scandal and sin in Church life to attribute these things to the Church Herself. But there is no time or place in
    the history of the Church where the Church can be shown to have sinned, or to have failed to save Her members. Emperors, hierarchs,
    priests, deacons, monastics, laypeople all sin, all fail. But the Church does not, becuase She is not a human institution, She is a sacrament, or rather, *the* sacrament. Protestant missionaries could feed all the poor in the world today, but they will be hungry tomorrow. Only the Church feeds people with the Bread that came down from Heaven, and the Living Water that springs up unto life everlasting. So long as the Church accomplishes these things, we shouldn’t presume to say that She has failed. So long as She continues to offer the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world upon Her altars, She continues to be triumphant, accomplishing in Her Divine Head the re-creation and renewal of the universe and the redemption of the fallen human race. So long as there are saints, the Church has not failed.”

  3. Schütz says:

    I’m sorry, Analiise, but the reference you provided is to something that happened at the last meeting (I know about that), but doesn’t explain the Estonian crime. Any more details?

  4. analiise says:

    I left a comment on Orthodixie, but it has not been posted yet. I was hoping Father would look it over correct any error or misunderstandings; I am far from an expert and have only been following it the last year or so, but I think this is how it played out.

    Contrary to wringing our hands at yet another embarrassing display of clashes of ego, personalities, and public power grabbing, and whining about why can’t we all get along, I think the reason the Orthodox Church still is able to proclaim the Gospel in all it’s fullness and power , instead of some watered down social reform policy emptied of anything power to heal and change lives, is that we have not bowed to the world’s ways of conducting business or done things simply because it seemed right and expedient to many, but I think The Church is doing what she has been doing for 2,000 years, and what has worked for 2,000 years.

    I am nothing close to an expert in all the nuances of Orthodoxy, but I know a bit of the basics.
    Forgive and correct me in any error, that goes to anyone who may be better informed on this.

    I did not want to take the press reports at face value; I have been praying long and diligently for unity, and wanted to know why things went so wrong so fast.
    The incident was not just another chapter in a personal feud…serious ecclesiastical matters were in dispute:
    Here’s why Estonia is at the center, yet they are actually a footnote (no offense to the Estonians, I am sure it is important to them).

    FIRST, THE ESTONIAN ISSUE: the MP graciously allowed those Estonians who wanted, to transfer to the EP omophorion.
    Yet, the vast majority remained with the MP (three quarters, or so), and now EP wants to grant autonomy over that territory (as complicated as that sounds I have made it simplistic and left out a long complicated history).

    Act two: Last May, at the meeting with Cardinal Kasper and Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Patriarchate of Constantinople), and representatives of the autocephalous churches for expediency and hoped for success at the October, 2007 meeting between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics, at Cardinal Kasper’s strong suggestion, and against protests of the Russians, a vote was taken, approved by majority, not consensus, gave clarity to the definition of the Orthodox Church; similar to Rome it was all those in Communions with the See of Constantinople. This, of course, runs roughshod over 2,000 years of Orthodox Ecclesiology, but is allowed to stand, along with The Russian protest; Cardinal Kasper promised to revisit the issue and address Russian protests at Revenna.
    Acquiescing, even for expediency’s to define something that has never been defined before, specifics relating to The Orthodox Church’s Hierarchy and Structure; It was done in a couple of hours, with no prior discussion and by means, of all things a democratic vote (I don’t think Roman Cardinals have privilege to vote on anything so foundational). THIS IS NOT ORTHODOX.

    AND THIS WEEK: Ravenna: When they came together at a discussion on Authority, and the ESTONIANS, whose Autocephaly was still very much under discussion; were allowed to have representation at the table with all other Autocephalous Churches, WITHOUT CONSIDERING, UNDERSTANDING, CONSULTING, OR EVEN WARNING, THE RUSSIAN DELEGATION.

    It could be compared to the Orthodox hosting a meeting and giving the SSPX Bishops a seat…they claim to be Roman Catholic, their status is in limbo but no one says they are not Roman Catholic, and their Mass is valid (Eucharistic sharing is almost the litmus test for whether a church is Orthodox), but it would be a major breech of manners, to say nothing of an insensitive lack of understanding. STILL, AFTER ALL THIS TIME

    That document that was voted on and passed, but protested by the MP, and promised b Cardinal Kasper to be reexamined and discussed; surely he understood the issue of Authority in the Orthodox Church, with the place and purpose of the primacy or supremacy of the See of Constantinople anything but settled, the EP’s ESTONIAN DELEGATION seemed to mean Rome was going to have it’s Eastern Pope one way or another, and, again, ignorant that when Orthodox say consensus, THEY MEAN CONSENSUS(not majority rule). Russia’s protest was not like lodging and objection in a western court, where it is taken note of and then things move on-IN THE EAST, THINGS STOP, AND NOTHING ELSE MOVES UNTIL THERE IS CONSENSUS-THIS IS DRIVING KASPER CRAZY.
    SO to this very irregular, unprecedented change in Orthodox Ecclesiology, the MP reacted correctly.

    Is this not how true collegiality works; it should take steps to be discrete, but if that doesn’t always work, error should not be overlooked because there were others watching. The Orthodox has not kept the True and Full faith by maintaining politeness, and practicing hypocrisy so as not to mar her public face.
    Contending for the Faith at times gets messy, public, uncomfortable, and sometimes deadly.

    I can imagine the scene when Saint Peter is confronted for his hypocrisy, and it must have made many people squirm;
    But how much should that bee a concern if you are defending the integrity of the Gospel, and the Church that is entrusted with it?

    You may disagree, that this is not about the Gospel, and should have been handled differently.
    But how? It seemed that with the current definition accepted, the Orthodox Church and Rome could have been on the verge of another Florence;
    But I digress, that’s my take on the ESTONIAN CONNECTION.

  5. Schütz says:

    Thank you, Annaliise, for that run down. I can see why there might be bad feelings between the Moscow and Estonian patriachates. However, I am a little befuddled at the blame being laid at Cardinal Kasper’s feet. Did Rome extend the Orthodox invitation list? That certainly isn’t the way that things are done here in Melbourne. If we are going to have a dialogue with another party, we leave the decision as to who shall be on the other party’s table up to them.

    Also, I know about last year’s faux pas re the Constantinopolitan Patriarch, but again, I find it hard to understand why the blame is being put at Kasper’s feet, when in fact there could not have been any issue if there were not dissension on the matter between the Orthodox themselves. Surely there were some Orthodox delegates–even a majority?–there present who were happy to talk about communion with the See of Constantinople in the same terms as we talk about communion with the See of Rome. Clearly there were others who were not. No, it should not have been put to a vote (a very silly way of proceeding in dialogue matters I agree), but it can hardly be said that the Roman delegation were attempting to force a foreign ecclesiology upon the Orthodox delegation.

    Anyway, all this has helped considerably for me to understand. Especially your comparison to the situation of what would happen if SSPX bishops were invited to a dialogue “with Roman Catholics” as well as bishops in full communion with Rome. You are quite right. Our delegation would not even turn up to such a meeting! But then again, what sort of dialogue would it be if the Orthodox rather than the Catholics were allowed to say who were and were not “Catholic”? Or are you saying here that this instance regarding Estonia is us trying to force the rest of the Orthdodox to accept Estonia as Orthodox?

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