In a recent interview with this newspaper, a senior Russian Orthodox official had some harsh words for the Oriental Catholic Churches – particularly Greek Catholics – which many found offensive.
Among the most cutting remarks of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, was his charge that “’Uniatism’ was and is a special project of the Roman Catholic Church, aimed to convert the Orthodox to Catholicism”.
He also claimed that, with the help of the secular authorities, “the ‘Uniates’ have acted for many centuries to the detriment of the Orthodox Church, capturing Orthodox churches and monasteries, converting ordinary people to Catholicism and oppressing the Orthodox clergy in all possible ways.”
The Orthodox prelate was especially hard on Greek Catholics, including those in Ukraine, accusing them of launching a “crusade against Orthodoxy.”
In response, an organisation seeking to promote greater appreciation of Eastern Christendom and foster Catholic-Orthodox unity has given a strong but carefully reasoned and researched rebuttal to Metropolitan Hilarion’s remarks.
Signed by Father Mark Woodruff, vice chairman of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, a group largely made up of Catholics of the Latin and Eastern Churches, he began by pointing out that Metropolitan Hilarion “is not speaking objectively, or in a spirit of dialogue.”
“His job consists in: skilfully advancing the interests of the Patriarchal See of Moscow and the Churches over which it presides in the task of prevailing over those which it does not; presenting itself as the de facto leading See of Orthodoxy, in parity with the leading See of Catholicism, namely that of Rome,” he said.
“Thus he characterises Catholicism only as Roman-Latin and characterized Byzantine Christianity as distinctively and essentially Orthodox, rendering Greek-Catholics as unauthentic products of so-called Uniatism.”
He added that “unfortunately his expressions of ecumenism towards the Catholic Church are neither ecumenical in method or spirit, nor are they based in evidenceable fact.”
Fr. Woodruff further explained that the term “Uniatism” is “offensive to Eastern Catholics” and an “inaccurate description of their integrity, history and ecclesiological principle – union with the See of Rome in good conscience.”
“This has no place in Christian ecumenism,” he wrote. “Dialogue begins with respect that is mutual – respect for the Russian Orthodox Church presupposes Russian Orthodoxy’s respect for others. Each Church has a right both to describe itself in its own terms and for its profession to be accepted in good faith, even if disagreed with. If this is not starting point, then other avenues of dialogue cannot proceed very far.”
He stressed that the practice of proselytising among Orthodox, with a view to convert them either to Latin or to Eastern Catholicism, under the immediate jurisdiction of the Roman Curia, “has been repeatedly forbidden even if, admittedly, belatedly in some cases, and finally repudiated as a method of proposing ecclesial communion.”
Fr. Woodruff covers much ground in his 12 point rebuttal, drawing heavily on historical research and the Orthodox’s past troubled relationship with Greek Catholics, especially in Ukraine.
He asserted that the “true problem” for the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is that it “does not command the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, any more than its actions have won over the Ukrainian Catholics, whose collective memory is of Russian state oppression and foreign control in religion.”
The society’s vice chairman ended by saying it is “unworthy of the Metropolitan not to tell the whole of this truth and to cast his fellow Christians as though they were agents of discord or dissension, when they are demonstrably vocal ministers of reconciliation.”
The response is worth reading in full here.