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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bishops Welcome Christian Dialogue

In the face of a strong isolationist current within the church, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Council of Bishops adopted a document Tuesday that calls for dialogue and cooperation with non-Orthodox churches, even as it says true unity of Christians is only possible if all accept Orthodox faith and practice.

The document, "Basic Principles of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Attitude Toward Heterodox," seeks to defend the church’s involvement in the ecumenical movement, which seeks a unity of sorts among the world’s Christian churches.

Along with another ground-breaking paper adopted Tuesday — a 100-plus page "social doctrine" that touches upon a wide variety of moral controversies, from contraception to genetic engineering — the 20-page document on inter-Christian relations was drafted by a group of church experts and handed to provincial bishops for study this Sunday.

Both papers were first made public Tuesday and are now posted on the church’s official web site, www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru. Both were prepared by the 12-person Holy Synod that leads the church and seem to have been presented to the Council of Bishops as something of a fait accompli.

The document on inter-Christian relations emphasizes that the Orthodox Church is the one true church founded by Christ. It rejects Protestant-inspired concepts of an "invisible church" of all Christians irregardless of their denomination, or a "theory of branches" holding that the original church was separated into equal parts that have to be reunified to become whole.

"The very concept of tolerance in matters of faith is unacceptable," says the document.

At the same time, the document speaks about the importance of Christ’s commandment of unity and says it is a duty of every Orthodox Christian to work toward such unity — by witnessing Orthodoxy in theological dialogues with non-Orthodox churches and by cooperation on social matters.

The document emphasizes that such dialogue is a two-way street. It welcomes Western interest in Orthodoxy and proposes the creation of joint research centers and exchanges of theological students and professors. And it condemns groups that try to exploit the existence of ecumenical relations to discredit the church leadership.

Reverend Igor Kowalewski, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Curia in Moscow, said Tuesday that the document was a "very positive step." He likened it to policies adopted by the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican II Council in the 1960s.

"I was particularly pleased by the spirit of mutual dialogue and by acceptance of a measure of grace in non-Orthodox Churches," Kowalewski said in a telephone interview.

Pastor Yury Sipko, deputy chairman of the Union of Evangelical Christians Baptists, said the document’s call for "brotherly cooperation" with other Christians in the former Soviet Union was particularly important for Baptists.

"In the provinces, many Orthodox priests say that the Baptists are their main enemies," said Sipko. "If the bishops understand what they have voted for and will continue to work in this spirit when they go home, it will be wonderful."