The Russian Orthodox Church's Council of Bishops has decided that the church should continue for the time being to remain a member of the World Council of Churches, despite heavy pressure from an isolationist faction that wanted the church to shift to observer status in the Geneva based ecumenical organization. At its February 18-23 meeting in Moscow, the bishops' council agreed that a final decision on membership in the WCC and other international church organizations should await the outcome of discussions with other Orthodox churches on contacts with non-Orthodox bodies.
"The word `ecumenism' has become today a sort of swear word in our Christian community," said Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, chairman of the church's Theological Commission who nevertheless presented a lengthy defense of the church's ecumenical contacts in his report to the bishops' council. Referring to the discussion on whether to leave the WCC, he said: "We cannot take such revolutionary decisions which differ from the position of other Orthodox churches with whom we are in communion and bound by obligations."
The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the WCC's 330 member churches. Any decision by the church to downgrade its WCC membership would have come as a severe blow to the organization, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. The Russian church's Council of Bishops convenes at least every two years and stands above the patriarch and the Holy Synod in the church hierarchy.
The outcome of the debate is seen by observers in Moscow as a victory for the church's leader, Patriarch Alexsy II, and his centrist-minded Holy Synod over those who wanted an immediate end to the church's full membership in the WCC. Nevertheless, the council strongly criticized some aspects of the ecumenical movement, suggesting that there is "confusion" among Orthodox believers because of "ecumenical liturgies" and "new trends in the theology and practice of Western Protestantism" such as the ordination of female clergy, the use of "inclusive language" for biblical translations, and the "reconsideration of New Testament moral norms regulating relations between sexes."
In an earlier interview with Ecumenical News International, Metropolitan Vladimir (Kotlyarov) of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, a leading figure in the Russian Orthodox Church, expressed concern for the future of his church's links with the ecumenical movement and with Western churches. Metropolitan Vladimir, who took up his post as leader of the church in St. …