Magazine article The Christian Century

Russian Orthodox Uneasy with Protestant Trends

Magazine article The Christian Century

Russian Orthodox Uneasy with Protestant Trends

Article excerpt

In October, Lutheran Bishop Margot Kassman of Hanover, Germany, was elected as the first woman and, at 51, the youngest cleric to head the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an umbrella body of Protestant churches with 24 million members. She is known for her frank views and books about faith in daily life, including a book published in September recounting her diagnosis with breast cancer and subsequent divorce. The mother of four daughters was elected to chair the EKD Council for a six-year term.

In November, a cold wind from Moscow blew over the EKD decision.

Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion, who directs external relations for that church, said on November 11 that Kassmann's election as chairperson of EKD could terminate the half-century-old dialogue between the two churches.

The 50th anniversary of ecumenical discussions on November 30 "will become simultaneously the end of this dialogue because I don't see the possibility of it continuing now in those forms in which it existed," said Hilarion at a media conference reported by Ecumenical News International.

"And one of the reasons for this is that a woman has become the head of this church," said the archbishop. Hilarion said the Russian Orthodox Church does not recognize women's ordination or female bishops, although it continued dialogue "even though this wave of ordination of women existed in the Lutheran Church in recent years."

Hilarion said "there will be a certain reexamination" of inter-Christian relations in light of Kassmann's election and other unnamed "processes that are taking place, in particular in Protestant churches."

Moscow-based Sergei Chapnin, who is in charge of the official newspaper and magazine for the Russian Orthodox Church, told the CENTURY by e-mail: "I can only say that our dialogue with different Protestant denominations is a subject for growing disappointment for ... thousands of members of the Russian Orthodox Church."

Researcher Alexey D. Krindatch, who analyzes Eastern Orthodox trends, called Hilarion's threat to end relations with the German church "one more indication of the increasing conservative sentiments and forces within the Russian Orthodox Church." The growing conservative camp within the Moscow Patriarchate expresses "its desire to decrease ROC's ecumenical involvement in general," Krindatch said in an interview.

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The election of a woman to chair EKD's council, a "rather loose union of 22 independent regional church bodies," he said, "is simply a convenient pretext rather than a substantial reason to break ties with EKD. …

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