WCC general secretary: Churches must work together for peace in Ukraine
By Lisa Zengarini
Despite difficulties and the complexity of the situation, the World Council of Churches is determined to continue its endeavours to build bridges of peace in Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian invasion, the WCC general secretary Rev. Jerry Pillay has said.
The South-African Reformed pastor, recently returned from a high-level mission to Ukraine and Russia aimed at exploring possibilities of joint efforts by the Churches to achieve a just peace for Ukraine, and also at bridging the longstanding dispute between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally affiliated to the Patriarchate of Moscow and the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Relations between the two Ukrainian Churches have been strained for some time and have worsened since the Russian invasion along with the tensions with the Patriarchate of Moscow.
In Ukraine the WCC delegation undertook an intensive series of consultations with local Church leaders, as well as Ukrainian government officials, while in Russia it met with Patriarch Kirill.
In an exclusive interview granted to WCC, Rev. Pillay explained that the primary purpose of the meeting with the Patriarch of Moscow was to discuss the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on the war, but also to address the deepening tensions between the two Orthodox Churches in Ukraine which also challenge the global ecumenical movement.
We can’t sit back and do nothing
Asked about the criticism raised by this second visit, in light of the unwavering support of the Patriarchate of Moscow to the Russian actions in Ukraine, Pillay pointed to the duty of the international ecumenical body to do something to stop the war.
“The WCC does not have the luxury of sitting back and doing nothing”, he said, recalling that both the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) are members of the WCC.
The war must come to an end
During his conversation with Kirill, the WCC General Secretary raised four important concerns. First, the war in Ukraine. “We said quite strongly that the war must come to an end”, Rev. Pillay explained. “We related to him what we had seen (in Ukraine) and we said we need to work toward the cessation of this war”.
Need for unity in the Orthodox family to bring about peace
The second concern expressed by the delegation regarded the divisions between the Orthodox Churches of the two countries and their different views about the war. “We must really understand that in this context of Ukraine and Russia the Orthodox Christians are in huge numbers”, Rev. Pillay emphasized. “They can play a very significant role and have an absolutely powerful influence in responding to the current situation. They can talk against the war; they can talk in favour of peace”.
WCC’s proposal for a Church roundtable to mediate differences
Other two important topics discussed were the role Churches can play in bringing about unity and putting an end to the conflict.
The delegation presented WCC’s proposal to convene a roundtable later in the year so that, as Churches seeking unity amongst themselves, they can then actually work towards seeking peace in Ukraine and Russia.
“The idea – explained Rev. Pillay - is to get the Ukrainian Churches to a discussion on the first day, and on the second day to have discussions with the Russian Orthodox Church, and on the third day to bring them all together to be able to discuss the issues of the war and to work together to restore the unity of the Orthodox family”.
While the response from the Ukrainian Churches was “very good”, said Pillay, Kirill at first expressed objections and concerns over possible “external influences” , citing explicitly the United States. Pillay reassured the Patriarch that the task of the WCC “is not to get involved in politics” but “to fulfill God’s will to bring peace to the world”.
In the end, the Patriarch agreed that the Russian Orthodox Church will have some internal dialogue while the WCC will continue to work on the concept paper of bringing the roundtable together.
Need for Churches to pool peace efforts
“That’s a positive indication in terms of the way forward” Pillay said, also expressing his hope that all the Churches working to put an end to the war in Ukraine, including the Holy See, can pool their efforts together.