By Matthew Trojacek

Pope Francis and Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, speak via video with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, then head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, on March 16. Also pictured is Ukrainian Franciscan Father Marek Viktor Gongalo Photo: CNS/Vatican Media

Metropolitan Hilarion Transferred

The Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church) made a surprise announcement June 7 that the Chairman of the Department of External Relations — often considered the “Number Two” after the Patriarch himself — Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev had been transferred from his position to a relatively small Russian Orthodox diocese in Budapest, Hungary. The minutes of the Patriarchate meeting announcing the move, it was noted, did not mention whether the move was requested by Metropolitan Hilarion, nor indicate any thanks for his service.

Hilarion was in Hungary June 1-5, perhaps in preparation for his move. He has had a close friendship with Catholic Cardinal Péter Erdő since the time that Metropolitan Hilarion was appointed Bishop of Vienna and Austria in 2003. In September 2021, Metropolitan Hilarion was invited by the Cardinal to speak at the 52nd Eucharistic Congress in Budapest. Metropolitan Hilarion has not echoed the more controversial statements made by Patriarch Kirill on the subject of Ukraine, and seemed to suggest this was a factor in his reassignment: “Many people ask me these days — why, for what?”

Metropolitan Hilarion said on June 12, after celebrating his final liturgy in the church in Moscow where he has been the pastor for many years the Church of Our Lady The Joy of All the Sorrowful on Bolshaya Ordynka Street . “I will not go into details now, in fact, I myself do not know many details… And it was said only that this is required by the current socio-political situation. That the road made a very sharp turn, I didn’t fit into it and ended up on the side of the road. But it’s better than if I drove into a ditch, my car would roll over and explode,” Metropolitan Hilarion summed up.

Attacks on Russian Orthodox Churches

There have been a number of recent attacks on Russian Orthodox Churches in Europe, including the vandalism of the Church of All Saints in Strasbourg, France, and a number of attacks on Russian Orthodox churches in South America.

“On the morning of April 5, two giant Z’s were painted in red on two bulletin boards of the Russian Orthodox Church of All Saints in Strasbourg,” the parish rector Father Philip Ryabykh reported.

“Well, we suffer together with all the suffering. We carry our cross of reproach in the days of Great Lent,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, three parishes of the Russian Church’s Diocese of Argentina and South America were vandalized in late March and early April.

The diocese reports that early in the morning of March 31, a group of intruders attacked the Church of the Hodigitria Mother of God in the Brazilian capital of Brasília. The vandals broke several church windows, shouting, “Russia, get out!” and “Putin is a murderer!”

Later that day, a Z was painted on the fence of the Church of the Holy Martyr Zenaida in Rio de Janeiro. Both incidents are being investigated.

On April 2, the Diocesan Cathedral of the Annunciation in Buenos Aires was vandalized, after which His Grace Bishop Leonid of Argentina and South America sent appeals to the national government bodies concerned with religious affairs. (OrthoChristian)

Priest’s Unexplained Expulsion from Russia Fuels Fears for Foreign Clergy

A Catholic priest was expelled from Russia without explanation amid fears for the well-being of other clergy ministering in the country. Father Fernando Vera, a Mexican member of Opus Dei, left Russia in mid-April after being told his residence permit was revoked. Father Kirill Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service on April 21 that no reason had been given for the priest’s expulsion, adding that the Catholic Church had “no reason” to believe it was connected with the conflict in Ukraine.

“All he did was relay to people what our bishops had already said — there’s no indication he went beyond that,” Father Gorbunov told CNS. “The letter he received states that a person has the right to appeal, so we hope he’ll reapply for a visa and have a chance to resume his service here.”

Father Vera most recently headed Moscow’s Saints Peter and Paul Parish, one of three Catholic parishes in the capital. (UCANews)

Pope Francis to Patriarch Kirill: Let’s Be “True Peacemakers” For Ukraine

In an Easter message to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Pope Francis expressed hope that the Holy Spirit would “make us true peacemakers, especially for war-torn Ukraine.”

In a letter published on April 24 on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website, the Pope wrote: “May the Holy Spirit transform our hearts and make us true peacemakers, especially for war-torn Ukraine, so that the great Easter passage from death to new life in Christ may become a reality for the Ukrainian people, who long for a new dawn that will end the darkness of war.” (CNA)

Pope Tells Russian Patriarch They Are Not “Clerics of the State”

Warning that the Russian Orthodox Patriarch should not “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy,” Pope Francis also said he would like to go to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin in an attempt to end the conflict in Ukraine.

The Pope reiterated that he would not be going to Kyiv “for now,” but “I first must go to Moscow, I must first meet Putin,” he said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, published May 3.

Pope Francis also provided more details about a video call he had with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in mid-March. “I spoke with Kirill for 40 minutes via Zoom. He spent the first 20 minutes holding a piece of paper reading all the reasons for the war. I listened to him, and I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about this. Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use the language of politics, but of Jesus. We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. That is why we must seek the path of peace, to cease the blast of weapons,’” Francis said. (CNS)

Greek Clerics Oppose Legalization of “Third Gender”

A number of priests of the Church of Greece have addressed the country’s Prime Minister, calling on him not to raise the issue of legalizing the so-called “third gender” for discussion in Parliament.

According to media reports, Aristotle University in Thessaloniki added “other” to the gender options on training center application forms, reports Orthodox Life. The current “Say Yes!” campaign is also actively pushing for “marriage equality” in Greece.

“Small minorities, well organized and having broad access to both print and electronic forms of mass media, have been pushing government and parties for years to legally recognize their sexual deviations,” seven priests wrote to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. (OrthoChristian)

Monument to St. Alexander Nevsky Demolished in Kharkov

The monument to Saint Alexander Nevsky pulled down in Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine

A monument to St. Alexander Nevsky was pulled down in the Saltova District of Kharkov on May 19. A video published by the Ukrainian outlet Strana shows the monument being pulled down by a rope tied around the saint’s neck and connected to a truck.

Archpriest Peter Kozachkov, rector of the nearby St. Alexander Nevsky Church, told the Union of Orthodox Journalists how they managed to pull the statue down: “From the very early morning, 30 minutes after the curfew, men armed with machine guns arrived by car, put soldiers so no one could get near, and very quickly, in just a few minutes, pulled the monument down. No one had any time to do anything to protect the monument.” (OrthoChristian)

Ukrainian Orthodox Church Addresses Restrictions Placed Upon It

The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) met on May 12. The previous meeting of the Synod was on February 28, a few days after the invasion.

The most important subject discussed was the issuance of a statement that first recounts how the UOC-MP “fully shares the pain and suffering of the Ukrainian people” and expresses confidence that “Ukraine will survive and maintain its statehood.”

However, the statement then condemns attacks against the UOC-MP, including bills introduced by certain Ukrainian parliament members and local governments or restrict the activities of the UOC-MP. The statement adds: “We note with sadness that all these facts are the result of the erroneous religious policy during the presidency of P.O. Poroshenko and the destructive ideology of the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine. We are convinced such activities of the previous government and the OCU became one of the reasons for the military invasion of Ukraine.” (Peter Anderson)

Schism Ends Between Serbian Orthodox Church and Macedonian Orthodox Church

A joyous event occurred in the huge St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade, Serbia, on May 19. It was a liturgy of reconciliation which marked the end of a 55-year division between the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA). Present were Patriarch Porfirije, primate of the SOC, as well as all of the bishops of the SOC who are now attending their annual Assembly in Belgrade. The bishops of the MOC-OA who served in the Liturgy were its primate Archbishop Stefan as well as Metropolitans Peter and Timotej.

In his remarks, Archbishop Stefan referred to the SOC and the MOC-OA as “two beloved sister Churches.” He thanked the Assembly of the SOC for acting in “unanimity with the Ecumenical Patriarch” in restoring communion with the MOC-OA. On May 24, feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Patriarch Porfirije announced the Church in what is now North Macedonia has obtained the consent of the Serbian Orthodox Church to be a completely independent and autocephalous Local Orthodox Church.

On May 24, Father Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of External Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, said: “We rejoice together with our Serbian and Macedonian brothers. We have been waiting for this event for many years. And now the hour of God’s will has come.” (Peter Anderson)

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