Comments from Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk on the pre-conciliar deliberations at Chambesy, Switzerland, which was to address, in part, “problems in the Orthodox diaspora.” In this interview with the Russian news service Interfax, before leaving for the meeting, the archbishop talks about the “many faces” of the Orthodox ‘diaspora’ and the agenda setting process for a Great Council. The Chambesy meeting, scheduled for June 6-13, is the fourth Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference with the most recent one taking place in 1986, according to the news service.
Interfax: The forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference in Chambesy will deal with the Orthodox diaspora. What is today’s Orthodox diaspora in your view? Can we speak about even the smallest degree of its integrity or does it represent scattered local communities of the faithful of Local Churches whose ethnic and national ‘dividing walls’ reach as high as heaven?
Archbishop Hilarion: The life and order of an Orthodox community that exists outside its Local Orthodox Church is often a direct reflection of the picture of church life as it has developed historically within this particular Church. Along with parishes of various ethnic traditions – Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, etc. – in the diaspora there are also multinational parishes, which seek to meet the needs of their parishioners whom the fate has willed to come under their responsibility. The Orthodox Diaspora therefore has many faces just as the Orthodox world itself is diverse.
But to say that Orthodox communities are utterly split would be to show real ignorance about the very life of the diaspora. It is characteristic of an Orthodox person to seek communication with a like-minded Orthodox person, and people would sometimes overcome great distances, language barriers and other obstacles to meet a particular Orthodox priest or attend a divine service. In this way the gradual consolidation of Orthodox diasporas takes place, which we think can lead in the future to the emergence of new Local Orthodox Churches.
Interfax: Will you name please the most obvious ‘painful spots’ of today’s inter-Orthodox dialogue and, of course, possible ways of healing them?
Archbishop Hilarion: The way of healing ‘painful spots’ is indicated in the question itself: it is dialogue, common discussion on arising problems, liturgical communion and fellowship in other church activities, introduction to the customs of every national tradition, free exchange of opinions and joint decision-making in the spirit of Christ, the Gospel and the Holy Tradition of the Church.
Today one cannot say that any particular problem presents a serious threat to the unity of Orthodoxy. What is on the agenda is the fostering of unity through common decisions on the dialogue with Catholicism and Protestantism, on developing possible unification in applying sacred canons in the modern world, on the regulation of church life in the Orthodox diaspora, on the understanding of the church institutions of autocephaly and autonomy and so forth.
Interfax: What are the specific intra-confessional tasks of inter-Orthodox dialogue, distinct from those of inter-Christian dialogue? How the Orthodox unity is important in itself, outside the fraternal relations with the Catholics, Protestants and other Christians?
Archbishop Hilarion: The most important task of pan-Orthodox dialogue has always lied in fostering the unity of the Church with preserving its Holy Tradition. To this end it is necessary to consolidate the theological self-awareness of the Orthodox Church, to exchange experience in catechism and education, to provide pastoral care and to ensure the Church’s participation in social work in today’s situation and many other things. The unity of Orthodoxy is also necessary for elaborating a common response to the challenges presented by the rapidly changing world. Among the forms of real expression of pan-Orthodox cooperation are preparations for the Holy and Great Council of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is to consider some pressing issues requiring a pan-Orthodox decision. The work of Councils should demonstrate the effectiveness of Orthodox ecclesiological tradition in the modern historical situation.