Visiting Moscow for twenty-four hours, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Jerry Pillay is due to meet the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, Kirill, on Wednesday May 17. This meeting follows the visit of a WCC leadership delegation to Ukraine earlier this week.
The WCC, which has been working for “Christian unity” since 1948, defines itself as a “community of 352 churches (mainly Orthodox, Chalcedonian and Eastern, but also Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist…) from more than 120 countries, representing more than 580 million Christians in the world”. The non-member Catholic Church is associated with the work of the WCC.
Two Rival Orthodox Churches
The WCC delegation, led by the Evangelical Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the Central Committee, met in Kyiv with senior officials from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, historically attached to the Patriarchate of Moscow, and from the Church Ukrainian Orthodox, autocephalous. Disputes between these two Churches have escalated since the start of the Russian invasion, although the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared independence from the Moscow Patriarchate in May 2022.
The WCC delegation also visited the Kiev Caves Lavra, a golden-domed monastery, a jewel of Orthodox Christianity affiliated with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, separated from the Moscow Patriarchate but whose monks are suspected of having remained faithful to Russia.
A first step towards dialogue?
The WCC recalled in a press release the importance of improving relations between the two churches in Ukraine: “Harmony between the religious communities of Ukraine is essential for the unity of the nation demanded by this crisis. The WCC looks forward to working with the churches and the government of Ukraine to encourage this unity and to reduce divisions and discord among the faithful. »
The first stage of this work could be a meeting in the fall between the two Churches in Ukraine but also with the Orthodox Church of Russia. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have already given their agreement in principle during the visit of the WCC delegation. It remains to convince Kirill. A mediation which can however arouse criticism while the Patriarchate of Moscow is displayed as a support of Vladimir Putin.
The South African pastor Jerry Pillay, secretary general of the WCC who took up his duties at the head of the body on January 1, 2023, had then defended with La Croix the “dialogue” about the attitude to adopt at the regard to the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow. “We need the Russian Orthodox Church (member of the WCC, editor’s note) to take part in these conversations with us, assured Jerry Pillay. Because, without it, no exchange is possible. It is for this reason that we are not currently considering its suspension. »