When Hilarion Walked Out

Bishop Hilarion

In an earlier post, Orthodox blogger Timothy Flanders had pointed to the Ravenna document, drawn up in 2007 at another meeting between Catholic and (some) Orthodox representatives.

Unfortunately, Bishop Hilarion, the representative of the Moscow patriarchate, walked out when he saw that a delegation from the Estonian Orthodox Church was there. Apparently the Russian Orthodox Church refused to recognize the Estonian’s autocephaly, which had been sponsored by the Church of Constantinople.

As a result, the accords reached during the meeting were less valuable and even criticized by the Russian Orthodox as not having enough of a plurality of Orthodox Churches represented [in part caused by their walk-out].

I seem to hear two different stories of Orthodoxy: some Orthodox highlight its strong harmony and pervasive unity, while others point out the many divisions–whether territorial, jurisdictional, theological, etc.–that exist between the various Churches. A is out of communion with B but in communion with C. But C is in communion with both, but not in communion with D, and so on.

What do you make of Bishop Hilarion’s walk-out at the mere presence of a delegation from a fellow Orthodox Church? Was he justified in taking such an action or is it simple pride at work?

33 thoughts on “When Hilarion Walked Out”

  1. They are not out of communion, they are having a territorial dispute.

    Sort of like how RC bishops fight over the governance of many American cities (a Maronite bishop in St. Louis oversees Maronites in Seattle, for example) because of the plurality of rites (Maronite, Coptic, Chaldean, Ukrainian, etc).

    We all have to deal with territorial disputes.

    To understand why there is a dispute between Moscow and Constantinople over Estonia, you would have to read about the “Rum Millet”, the Turkokratia, the Phanariot captivity under the Turks, ethnophiletism, 19th century nationalism in Eastern Europe, Russia under Peter the Great, and know a little bit about what the Communists did to Estonia.

    Disputes over stuff that happens in the real world are supposed to happen, especially to churches with an incarnational history. 😉

    1. Nicholas,

      Do I also need to understand 19th century German idealism? That was the response from Perry in a previous post to another issue.

      I didn’t mean to imply that they were out of communion with each other, though that has happened between many Orthodox Churches.

      I have come to expect some kind of tu quoque response from Orthodox on this type of thing. But while similarities may exist with the overlapping jurisdictions of the Eastern Catholic Churches, these problems seem much more serious and endemic to Orthodoxy. Would Christ have been pleased if one Apostle walked out on others since an elder he didn’t like was invited to the meeting? Seems just full of pride and not humility.

      1. If dissidents did not walk out of the church of Constantinople when Nestorius preached his new doctrines, we would be Nestorians right now.

        I don’t think that you are able to judge Met. Hilarion’s actions, especially if you have not familiarized yourself with the historical situation which prompted his actions. No one is demanding that you comment on such matters, after all, and no one would think less of you if you did not.

        Jurisdictional division is indeed a large issue right now in Orthodoxy, larger than the same type of divisions in Rome, because of 400 years of persecution and oppression by Turks and communists. The Soviet Union fell only 20 some years ago, the Ottoman Empire less than 100. By our standards of how fast things go in the Church, the progress made toward unity in the past 100 years is actually quite rapid.

        1. Sure, Nicholas, but this is (“just”) a Catholic-Orthodox commission gathering; couldn’t they tolerate each other for the broader purpose of the meeting?

          I realize there’s issues going on, bad blood, anger etc., but to be blunt, so what? There’s cause for resentment on all sides, both within Orthodoxy (as we see here) and between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy. So what? Get over it. Forgive, repent, that’s the only way. Tallying up who did what to whom will never end. Why not come with humility and love and conquer the pride? I say this to the Hilarion action, but it could be applied to all.

          1. Nicholas, I was referring to the list of background topics you made in one of the previous comments, which included “things done” to the Estonians. The situation that occurred indicates resentment, pride, or bad blood. Otherwise they would have been working out their legitimate disagreement in such a way that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.

        2. I have a comment on what you said:
          “Jurisdictional division is indeed a large issue right now in Orthodoxy, larger than the same type of divisions in Rome, because of 400 years of persecution and oppression by Turks and communists.”

          What does 400 years of persecution have to do with “jurisdictional division”? If Patriarch X says territory Y is now independent, then what does this have to do with persecution?

          It seems as if jurisdictions like Constantinople willingly got smaller by giving away its territory to new independent bishoprics.

          1. “What does 400 years of persecution have to do with ‘jurisdictional division’? If Patriarch X says territory Y is now independent, then what does this have to do with persecution?”

            Because the Turks appointed the Constantinopolitan church’s phanariot representatives the “ethnarchs” of Orthodox Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire (Millet System). Greek bishops were exported everywhere and there was a sort of “phanariot captivity” of churches. Constantinople also had the original right to evangelize the eastern barbarians (slavs and the like; barbarian meaning non greek or latin speaking peoples outside of the empire).

            However, during the Turkokratia, Constantinople lost much of its influence and Moscow became a dominant party. It controlled Estonia periodically.

            So it is a matter of dispute over who ought to control Estonia, what the role of the “Hellenes” ought to be now that the ethnarchy has been abandoned, and the Russian Empire collapsed.

            Finally, to quote Fr. Ambrose:

            “Devin’s blog article is based on the misconception that the Estonian Orthodox is autocephalous. It is not. It is autonomous under Constantinople.

            Now the rules of engagement at the Catholic-Orthodox International Theological Dialogue state that the Orthodox shall send two representatives from each autocephalous Church. The Roman Catholic Church shall send a matching number.

            So, no matter what disputes Moscow has with Constantinople over the Estonian Church, Estonia has no right to participate.”

            I hope I have cleared up some misunderstandings.

        3. “They are not out of communion, they are having a territorial dispute.”
          “If dissidents did not walk out of the church of Constantinople when Nestorius preached his new doctrines…”
          So which is it: a territorial dispute or new heresy needing to be shunned? If it is merely a territorial dispute, and the Churches are in communion, why walk out? And if it was comparable to the Nestorius situation, then they should not be in communion as you say they are.
          IF it is merely a territorial dispute, then they should be able to put that dispute on hold in a meeting with Catholics about unity. The pettiness is amazing.

          1. “If it is merely a territorial dispute, and the Churches are in communion, why walk out?”

            See description above of the reason why Hilarion walked out.

            “And if it was comparable to the Nestorius situation, then they should not be in communion as you say they are.”

            Bringing up Nestorius was a general apologia in favor of walking out.

            “IF it is merely a territorial dispute, then they should be able to put that dispute on hold in a meeting with Catholics about unity.”

            If the Patriarch of one of the Eastern Catholic churches had shown up to the meeting claiming to represent Rome, would he have been ushered in happily by the Latin representative?

            Like I said, Estonia violated the *basic agreement for the meeting in the first place*. Any party saying “the basic agreements for the meeting are not being met, therefore until they are, I am not going to be part of the meeting” is totally reasonable, and there is no reason to project bizarre passions onto what Met. Hilarion did.

            You guys brought up this topic as a sort of jab, let’s be honest. So you can at least step back and disengage polemic-mode for a second to objectively evaluate the situation in light of what has been filled in for you.

          2. Nicholas,

            It’s a jab, in the sense that I learned about this situation and it seemed to support a more general trend in Orthodoxy. The more info is helpful, and for that I thank you.

            I don’t doubt that Met. Hilarion believed he had good reason to walk out, but it still seems petty to me. I know you want to defend Orthodoxy, but can’t you also see how his actions look petty?

          3. Thanks for that admission that it looks petty Nicholas. Btw, no one here wished you a blessed saints day yesterday. Hope you had a good one. I know Saint Nicholas is the patron of Russia, and a very important saint to the Orthodox.

            I can see a situation where instead of walking out, Hilarion simply made it clear to all that he felt such-and-such about the situation and set it aside to deal with later. This was not an ecumenical council for goodness sake. And I agree with Devon, this does, in my experience, seem to support a general trend in Orthodoxy. I pray that I am shown to be mistaken though.

  2. Autocephaly is an interesting subject. It seems the biggest dispute is on who can actually grant such status.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocephaly
    Quote:
    “Over the last half century [i.e. until 1991] few subjects have provoked so much controversy in the Orthodox world as autocephaly. One need only mention the unedifying disputes between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the status of the churches of Poland, Czechoslovakia and America. Disagreement has centered on the way in which autocephalous status is attained. To put matters in simplest terms, according to the Russian Church, any autocephalous church has the right to grant canonical independence to one of its parts. According to Constantinople, on the other hand, only an ecumenical council can definitively establish an autocephalous church, and any interim arrangements depend upon approbation by Constantinople, acting in its capacity as the mother church and first among equals.”

    So for some in Eastern Orthodoxy, granting autocephaly is a matter of the head bishop granting this status to one of the bishops under him. But for others in Eastern Orthodoxy, only an ecumenical council can grant this, or at best any such arrangements must go through Constantinople “acting as mother church and first among equals”.

    It seems that as time goes on, Eastern Orthodoxy will become more and more Autocephalous, which would make Ecumenism more difficult, though possibly lead to EO returning to Rome in pieces. One danger here, which Devin touched upon, is that as nations begin to balkanize (esp in Europe), this could force more autocephalous churches along sharper and sharper ethno-nationalist lines.

    1. Nick, this is an interesting subject, and is another facet through which to view the question of authority within Orthodoxy. I am gaining a better understanding of this and plan to make another blog post soon on it with an analogy to the computer world.

    2. “It seems that as time goes on, Eastern Orthodoxy will become more and more Autocephalous, which would make Ecumenism more difficult, though possibly lead to EO returning to Rome in pieces. One danger here, which Devin touched upon, is that as nations begin to balkanize (esp in Europe), this could force more autocephalous churches along sharper and sharper ethno-nationalist lines.”
      Orthodoxy cannot become more and more Autocephalous, as the Church has no more, no less autocephaly than she had under the Apostles.
      If you mean the number of Churches, of course, they are supposed to grow as she makes disciples of all nations.
      However, the opposite trend also appears when warrented:after WWI the Patriarchate of Serbia united three autocephalous Churches, an autonomous Church, a defunct autocephalous Church, and Serbian/South Slavic dioceses from three other Churches, and the Patriarchate of Romania united three autocephalous Churches and a Romanian Metropolitinate and another diocese from two other Churches. Czechoslavakia has become the Czech Republic and Slovakia; the Patriarchate of Antioch has been divided amongst Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait and the Turkish Republic; the Patriarchate of Jerusalem has been divided between Palestine, Jordan and Egypt (and now with the large number of Hebrew converts, another division)-but none of them have been divided into autocephalous Churches. Alexandria now has undisputed jurisdicion over the whole of Africa.
      Autocephaly means nothing more than your local episcopal conference having authority.
      On that note, and “returning to Rome in pieces”: now that Itay has its Episcopal Conference of Orthodox Bishops of Italy and Malta (Conferenza Episcopale Ortodossa d’Italia e Malta) with the unanimous agreement of all the Orthodox Churches (the OCA concurring with the 14 signatories of the Chambessy accords), with a resident bishop in Rome and a million Faithful, we could, much in line with the Vatican’s justification of abolishing its patriarchate of the West, simply attach Italy to a Mother Church, give Italy autonomy (and eventually autocephaly), and move on.

  3. It’s basically Moscow trying to dictate to Constantinople that they are the number one see in Orthodoxy.

    Basically a pissing contest with the Russians throwing a hiss-fit.

    Orthodox are more disunited than Catholics, that’s a given.

  4. When one rejects the Vicar of Christ as divinely instituted supreme head of the Church, “autocephaly” and “independence” become ideals rather than filial obedience and reverent submission to a personal and singular authority, by which universal unity was meant to be preserved.

    1. “When one rejects the Vicar of Christ as divinely instituted supreme head of the Church, “autocephaly” and “independence” become ideals rather than filial obedience and reverent submission to a personal and singular authority, by which universal unity was meant to be preserved.”
      Like this?
      http://www.mmdtkw.org/RenRom0201g-SchismMap.jpg
      That was a lifetime of two-then three-“supreme pontiffs”:each with not only their own curia, and three colleges of cardinals, but also three different sets of Latin Patriarchs (titular, of course) for Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Each of the three sets of “the Catholic Chruch” not in communion with the other two. Three complete and seperate “universal unities” of the patriarchate(s) of the West, from supreme pontiff down through each seperate pentarchy throught the parrallel hierarchies down to the ordinary believer.

      And lest someone charge “tu quoque,” let me point out that the “quo” is what the “tu” promotes as the solution to our “problem.”

      Leaving aside the fact even by Vatican teaching there is nothing preventing a repeat (and indeed, a repeat came a generation later, Pope Felix V and the council of Basel anathematizng Pope Eugene and his council of Florence:which allowed Met. St. Jonah of Moscow, when the Russian Church rejected Florence, to claim all the patrimony of the Rus’, with the acquiessence of the secular rulers of Poland-Lithuania (which supported Felix as pope of Rome), and taking for sake of argument that it does not affect anything (not true, but that’s another argument), how much less important the two jurisdictions in Estonia in communion, in a tiny corner of the Orthodox world, than parrallel papacies literally from top to bottom. That is making a mountain out of a molehill.

      Fact is, until the Old Calendarist schism (if one doesn’t count the fall out from Chalcedon), we never had anything like the Great Western Schism in the East, and not only do the Old Calendarist schisms pale in comparison (most of them are quite local, as most do not commune with anyone else) it remains doubtful if the Old Calendarist schisms will much outlast a century.

      Btw, as to “filial obedience,” we in Antioch and Jerusalem do not have Rome, our daughter, as a mother Church.

      1. The Roman Church presides over the brotherhood in love, says St.Ignatius of the said Antioch. Do you not exclude yourself from the said brotherhood over which Rome presides, then, when you say Rome doesn’t preside over you?The like conclusion follows from Pope St.Clement’s letters, St.Irenaeus’ words etc.

        The determining characteristic of schism is rebellion against lawful authority. When such a rebellion doesn’t exist, there is no sin involved, and therefore no schism, but only a mistake as to a question of fact, like the CE said, as was the case when there were apparently multiple Popes.

        1. “The Roman Church presides over the brotherhood in love, says St.Ignatius of the said Antioch.”
          No, Pat. St. Ignatius says:
          “??…????????…???? ??? ?????????? ?? ???? ?????? ????????, ????????, ?????????????, ???????? ??? ??????????? ??? ??????,…”
          “to the…Church…which also presides in the region of the districts of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of purity/holiness and placed first in love”

          A little different, so to your question “Do you not exclude yourself from the said brotherhood over which Rome presides, then, when you say Rome doesn’t preside over you?”, no, as I am not in a suburbicarian Church. However, Bp. Siluan, the Romanian Orthodox bishop at Rome, and Met. Gennadios, the EP’s Metropolitan of Italy, Malta, San Marino and Exarch of Southern Europe and ex officio President of the Orthodox Episcopal Conference of Italy and Malta, are commemorated in the Orthodox diptychs of the Catholic Church-a term first attested by Pat. St. Ignatius speaking of St. Polycarp in Smyrna, now in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of New Rome. So I am in communion with those, who preside now “in the region of the districts of the Romans.”

          Then there is that issue that Pat. St. Ignatius neither addresses nor mentions any bishop at Rome, let alone a “supreme pontiff” whom you suppose to “preside over the brotherhood in love.”

          “The like conclusion follows from Pope St.Clement’s letters, St.Irenaeus’ words etc.”
          You will have to be more specific as to what you are refering to.

          “The determining characteristic of schism is rebellion against lawful authority. When such a rebellion doesn’t exist, there is no sin involved, and therefore no schism, but only a mistake as to a question of fact, like the CE”
          CE?
          “said, as was the case when there were apparently multiple Popes.”
          Then why should we take Florence over Basel? Why not reject both?

          Rome was on one side of the Meletian schism in Antioch, and Antioch and the Second Ecumenical was on the other. Who was in rebellion against lawful authority?

          Met. Hilarion was not in rebellion to lawful authority, but rather following it when he walked out. Had he stayed, as he explained in full immediately afterwards, he would have been in rebellion to lawful authority, namely his Patriarch and Holy Synod’s-who preside in the region of the districts of the Russians and Estonians (amongst others)-if he stayed.

  5. There seems to be an assumption that this sort of behavior is unusual or somehow a sign of disunity. Surely to an outsider this would appear to be the case, but this would be no different than Rome rejecting canon 28 of Constantinople with the East accepting it (a long-lasting territorial dispute) or the evangelizing of Bulgaria, where both Latin and Greek missionaries were attempting to evangelize the country, causing jurisdictional nastiness until the ruler of Bulgaria decided to align himself with Constantinople, allowing only missions jurisdictionally under Constantinople to be established. I am actually somewhat amused whenever Roman Catholics point out these supposed flaws of jurisdictional squabbling and ‘stagnant’ theology within Orthodoxy, not realizing that they are criticizing precisely that which makes Orthodoxy look like it never left the first millennium.

    1. Cavaradossi,

      A similar comment was made previously and was responded to, but I’ll make a short reply nonetheless.

      No one claims territorial disputes haven’t happened in the history of Christianity. But this is not an ecumenical council. It was a gathering between Catholics and representatives of Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Churches couldn’t even stay in the same room as each other without internal squabbles spilling over and one of them deciding to take his toys and go home. So it is a sign of disunity within Orthodoxy, and it is petty, as another Orthodox commenter agreed.

      That doesn’t mean necessarily that Eastern Orthodoxy is false. But it (along with many other similar examples) does provide evidence against the claim of seamless unity existing between Orthodox Churches.

      Whether Orthodox theology is “stagnant” or not is another topic and not this post’s subject.

  6. Scott Hahn has claimed that Orthodoxy is deficient because its theology is stagnant.

    “Further study led me to conclude that Orthodoxy was wonderful for its liturgy and tradition but stagnant in theology”

    http://tinyurl.com/7bvofss

    The implication would seem to be that Roman Catholic theology is superior since it is always in a state of evolution.

    Does this mean that when Catholic doctrine reaches a satisfactory level of development and clarification it then starts to stagnate??! Or is it imperative that Catholic doctrine *never* stops developing? That’s a curious idea!!!

    Is the Roman Catholic Church unique in this respect? Does Buddhist teaching constantly evolve? Judaism? Islam?

    Do people here believe that constantly evolving theology is a necessary mark of the true Church?

    1. Welcome back Fr. Ambrose,

      This is not on-topic for this post. But I will say a few words. Claiming that Orthodox theology is “stagnant” is not the way I would put it, since that word brings to mind a dirty puddle of water that has algae growing in it.

      The Holy Spirit continues to deepen the Church’s understanding of divine truth, and I imagine that will not stop til Christ returns in glory.

      In any event, making a polemical retort that goes to the other extreme, that somehow the Catholic Church’s theology is “constantly evolving,” doesn’t help produce good dialogue either.

      I think that an interesting example of how Catholic theology deepens is found in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. There you have a positive explication of who man is from Genesis to Revelation, especially in regards to how his body and sexuality inform us of God’s divine plan for him, both in marriage and family life, as well as consecrated celibacy for the Kingdom.

      Nonetheless, I don’t want to go off on a tangent for this post. So I’m fine if you choose to make one last comment regarding it, but we can take this topic up more fully in a future post.

  7. Dear Devin,

    The question of development of doctrine is rarely discussed in Orthodoxy, usually only when our Roman Catholic friends bring it up. It seems to have taken on major significance in Cardinal Newman’s day when he wrote justifying ‘development of doctrine’ against the Protestants critical of such things as the promulgation of papal infallibility. One can find threads on the topic in OrthodoxChristianity.net in the Orthodox-Catholic subforum.

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