“As I and the other members of the Orthodox Bishops’ Conference of Germany (OBKD) have recently received two open letters written by two Russian diocesan bishops in Germany, Archbishop Mark (Open letter to the members of the OBKD, dated February 12, 2019) and Archbishop Tikhon (Appeal to the members of the OBKD, dated March 8), I take the liberty of taking position on both as follows, since they both dealt with the same issue.
The drafting of an “open letter” has been described as “contribution to the register of claims of history” (B. Drücker). In other words, the other readers of the letter, i.e. the readers interested in the topic, the ecclesiastical authorities in the motherland, the ecumenical partners, etc., are at least as important as the recipient of the letter, if not more important. Otherwise, the traditional form of written communication would have been chosen.
Archbishop Mark (ROCOR)’s letter, if I read it correctly, contains three parts. In the first part, the Archbishop speaks about the situation in Ukraine after the granting of the autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In the second part, he speaks about my Person as a co-signer of Tomos (as this document of autocephaly is known), and about the consequences of the withdrawal of Russian members of the Orthodox Bishops’ Conference of Germany (OBKD). In the last part, Archbishop Mark insists on the need to continue inter-Orthodox cooperation in Germany, and proposes new forms and structures for this cooperation. In addition, Archbishop Mark raises the fundamental question of the ecclesiological evaluation of the “Orthodox diaspora” because, as he writes, not all Orthodox Churches share the same conception of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
As far as the situation in Ukraine, I will not add any comment here, because I remain convinced that the second European country has the right to its own ecclesial structure, even if Moscow does not see it in this way. One example will suffice to show how difficult it is to receive objective information from over there. The Roman Catholic News Agency (KNA-ÖKI) recently reported on the Moscow Patriarchate communities that have moved to the new autocephalous Church: while a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church spoke about one hundred of these parishes, the Roman Catholic correspondent mentioned 200 parishes, on the same (!) double page of the Agency. What is certain is that we find ourselves in a process of transformation that is not simple, but which will be eventually also accepted and respected by the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact, Archbishop Mark himself mentions the history of his own ecclesial structure, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), whose reunification with the Mother Church was also the result of a long and complicated process. It is therefore probably premature, a few weeks only after the granting of autocephaly, to expect ecclesial “flourishing landscapes”.
The situation in Germany has indeed changed after the withdrawal of the Russian members (three bishops as well as the secretary general) of the OBKD. In their letters, both Archbishop Mark and Archbishop Tikhon present the prosperous activity of the Orthodox Bishops’ Conference of Germany, which has been in existence for almost a decade. I can only join in this evaluation, and I would like to express my thanks for the appreciation of the OBKD and its President, as manifested in both letters.
At this point however, we must again repeat that although we, in Germany, had already made some progress by the creation of the Commission of the Orthodox Churches in Germany (KOKiD) in 1994, and perhaps had done pioneering work in the field of Pan-Orthodox cooperation in what is known as the Diaspora, the Orthodox Bishops’ Conference of Germany (OBKD), as well as the other eleven such bodies that exist in the world, are in no way a German invention, nor an instrument of power arbitrarily set up or imposed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Rather, it is the result of a decision jointly made at the 4th Pan-Orthodox Preconciliar Conference at Chambesy (near Geneva), and the autocephalous Churches unanimously decided to create it. We cannot go back on this decision. If now the Russian brethren of the OBKD and of its sister organizations leave them all over the world, and then declare that the Conference of Bishops can no longer be designated or act thus, since the prescribed unanimity no longer exists, this is not constructive, to say it cautiously.
Moreover, it is reminiscent of the Moscow Patriarchate’s conduct in 2016, when they suddenly boycotted the Holy and Grand Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete (which had been jointly decided and prepared for decades), and then explained that it was not a Council, because all the patriarchates had not been present…
In the last part of his letter, Archbishop Mark proposes new structures for Orthodox cooperation. Archbishop Tikhon (Moscow Patriarchate) puts this idea in concrete terms, proposing a rotating presidency. This proposition, even if it may seem popular, is not only unrealistic ecclesiologically speaking –shouldn’t we then also choose rotating leadership in a patriarchate?– but is not feasible from a practical point of view: as the OBKD presidency would be rotating, the bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate would preside in his turn. Would the Russian bishops accept that, or would they withdraw and then return, when they themselves could take on the presidency? Would there not be then first or second class members in the OBKD, those who would participate in all the sessions, and those who would not be present at sessions chaired by some presidents? This also applies to the proposal to elect the president, because there would then be “eligible” and “non-eligible” members.
This brings me to my fellow bishop Tikhon’s letter, whose commitment to the Orthodox cause in Germany I esteem and praise, although his remarks on the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholomew are hardly encouraging. If we call for cooperation and a fresh start, it does not make much sense to include evaluations like these in this letter. But this can be related to the chosen form of open letter. As I have been active for almost five decades for Orthodoxy as a bishop in Germany, I cannot let myself be accused of lack of commitment for this cause, not even now in an unpleasant situation, for which neither me nor the Ecumenical Patriarchate is responsible.
I therefore encourage all our Orthodox bishops in Germany, all our clergy and every Orthodox Christian to continue and strengthen our Orthodox collaboration. And I assure our ecumenical partners that the Pan-Orthodox commitment, as well as the ecumenical sharing, continues to be at the center of the action of our Metropolitan Diocese and our Conference of Bishops. We will achieve this with imagination and creativity. It is in unity and for this unity that our heart beats. And this is how I basically understand also the appeals from my Russian fellow bishops.
Bonn, March 22, 2019″
Source in German