“Cutting ties with Russian church is too easy”


Western Europe

Addy de Jong, RD

The debate in the Waalse Kerk. Photo Ronald Bakker

Should the World Council of Churches kick out the Russian Orthodox Church? That’s too easy, say many participants in a debate on Wednesday evening in the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam. “We have to keep talking.” But there are also other views.

“I had a lot to deal with this weekend”, confesses Rev. Karin van den Broeke, former president of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN), on Wednesday evening. In the daily Trouw, she turned against the idea of theologian Matthias Smalbrugge on Saturday to suspend the Orthodox Church from being a member of the World Council of Churches. After all, that Church, represented by Patriarch Kirill, scandalously supports Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, does it not? “It is time for the World Council to take sides. You cannot be friends with everyone,” says the professor at the Free University of Amsterdam (VU).

Not a good plan, Rev. Van den Broeke thinks. “I find the rhetoric of Patriarch Kirill appalling. But since he is part of the Council, you can say something like that to him, and you can ask the rest of the Church to use its influence to turn the war around,” said Van den Broeke, member of the executive committee of the World Council, on Saturday in Trouw.

Mirjam van Veen, professor of church history at the VU, understands that Van den Broeke was subsequently criticised for this view. “I argue for a cordon sanitaire,” says the scientist, who, like Rev. Van den Broeke, participates in the debate in the Waalse Kerk on Wednesday evening, organised by Trouw and by the European Academy on Religion and Society (EARS). “By saying what he says, Kirill is horribly perverting Christianity. I really do not know what dialogue with such a man should yield. As long as this Church sees things this way, we cannot see it as a sister church.”

But can you equate the controversial patriarch with the whole of the Russian Orthodox Church? No, according to Paul van Geest, professor of church history in Tilburg. “If you want to take measures as an exclusion of the World Council, it would be better to deny Kirill as an individual access to the various forums.”

It is far too easy to cut all ties with this Church in just a moment, says Erik Borgman. “It is better to choose the way of Pope Francis. He clearly shows which side he is on. But he does not say to the Russians: go away, I’m not talking to you anymore.”

These comments lead to a reaction from Hildo Bos. He is a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church in Amsterdam, the Nicholas Parish, which a few weeks ago violently clashed with Bishop Elisey and who then seceded from the Patriarchate in Moscow. “Enter the debate? There is no debate in this Church. This has to do with the structure of the Russian Orthodox Church. Yes, good things happen on the ground level, such as on the diaconal level. But you’re not here if you could replace Kirill. Then another comes forward and says similar things.”

One of the debates on Wednesday evening reads that “churches are pre-eminently the place where moral dilemmas of a war must be expressed.” Don Ceder, Member of Parliament for the Christian Union, stumbles over the words “pre-eminently”. “I tend to disagree. The church is pre-eminently the place where believers refer to the cross. That is the essence of being church. The Church has always been most powerful when, in the direst circumstances, it continued to point to Him Who endured the greatest suffering. That changes people; that leads to peace.”

Ceder indicates that he can also pray for Putin from that realisation. “When I see how Christ has prayed for me, also an executioner in the depths, could I not pray for the executioner Putin?”

This article was translated by CNE.news and previously published in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on April 7th, 2022.



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