The Russian Orthodox Church has threatened to pull out of Anglican-Orthodox talks, if representatives of the breakaway Estonian Orthodox Church are seated at the dialogue table.
At a meeting last week of the Steering Committee of the International Commission for Anglican Orthodox Theological Dialogue in Istanbul, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and all Austria of the Russian Orthodox Church warned that his church would not participate in any ecumenical dialogue where representatives of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church were present.
In 2007 talks between the Vatican and the Orthodox churches collapsed after Russia walked out of a meeting in Ravenna, Italy due to the Estonian presence. The dispute however was not with Rome, but between Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I — who extended the invitation to the Estonian church to attend the Vatican talks.
Prior to the Russian invasion of 1940, the Estonian Orthodox Church was an independent church. However, when Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union, its church was absorbed by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonian speaking members of the Orthodox community in 1993 petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarch for a restoration of their Church, which Bartholomew granted three years later. Moscow has refused to recognize the reconstituted Estonian Church and briefly broke relations with Bartholomew over what it sees as an invasion of its ecclesial territory.
During last week’s Istanbul meeting, Bishop Hillarion told Bartholomew’s representative to the talks, Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokletia, and the representatives of the Anglican Communion: the Rev Canon Gregory Cameron of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Rt Rev Mark Dyer of Virginia Theological Seminary, and the Rev Canon Jonathan Goodall, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Ecumenical Affairs officer, that Russian would withdraw if Estonia were seated.
Canon Cameron told The Church of England Newspaper that the Anglican Communion respects “our dialogue with the Orthodox Churches as a whole and with the Moscow Patriarchate as dialogue partners in particular,” but the question of who represents the Orthodox is “not one which Anglicans can make. It must be between the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate, the Estonian Church and the other Orthodox Churches to settle the matter.”
However, Canon Cameron noted the meeting was “a very positive one in every other respect. There has been a good reception for the Cyprus Statement (The Church of the Triune God), which will be discussed at Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican representatives were warmly
received by the Ecumenical Patriarch and Orthodox delegates.”