The Archbishop of Canterbury in Moscow

The Archbishop of Canterbury arrived in Moscow on Monday 20.11.17 for a short visit. One of his first engagements was to attend an evening service on the Tuesday at the St. Andrews Church. Before the Compline started, which was also attended by The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, a Q&A session was held with the Archbishop. The Archbishop covered a lot of ground. Some of the highlights follow:

Responding to a question on how the Archbishop came to faith and how he was ordained, the Archbishop told us in a light-hearted way how he surprised himself with turning to God when he had a very successful career going and surprised himself even more when he was ordained despite a bishop trying to put him off the idea.

To a question about the way that the Church communicates to young people and dropping Church attendance figures, the Archbishop said that attendance at all Churches everywhere are declining, the question is – what do we do? He said that Christians should pray for the conversion of people, and that we should learn how to love; to love ourselves, our neighbours and our enemies. The Archbishop said that it is true that some Churches are closing, but that we are ‘planting’ new churches as well, and that things are changing because we are learning to love. “If God is at the centre of the light of the Church, then there is still hope. I am hopeful.”

Talking about change, the Archbishop spoke about the necessity to make changes to the bureaucracy inside the Church, which he said he finds limiting. “We are changing the way we train clergy and the average age of trainees is coming down to under 30. We can easily talk ourselves into a state of despair, but in fact we have so many good things happening.”

To a question as to whether the Church of England can stay together, the Archbishop answered: We have to learn to disagree and yet to love one another. It’s a really difficult question. The Anglican community has already split into different Churches since 1900, and then split again and again… Once you split once you go on splitting. What is the solution? I come back to Jesus’s central command. We are to love God. We are to love one another, we are to love our neighbour, and we are to love our enemies…”

“Are we going to split over the issue of sexuality? I don’t know. What we do know is that we had a Primates Meeting in Canterbury in October. 33 Primates came, 6 could not come, and we had incredibly tough discussions. At the end of the week, people went away saying this was the best meeting we have had in decades… There were tough discussions, but it was within the family.  There were discussions about sexuality issues, about human trafficking, about persecution, about climate change… and we talked about these things and saw eye to eye with one another. At the end of the week we washed each other’s feet. The way we did it was the person who was washing another’s feet he finished, he blessed that person.

“We can survive. I keep coming back to God, and think about repentance, forgiveness. As regards the issue of sexuality, I really do not see a possibility in the foreseeable future of the Church of England, which covers the Diocese of Europe at the moment, unless something very odd happens, changing its rules on sexuality. That would mean, apart from everything else, a two thirds majority in Synod. And we are nowhere near that. And even if it did under circumstances which I can’t imagine, I would fight to the last breath to give room to those who disagree. We have to learn to disagree and yet love one another…”

Answering a question about relations between the Anglican and Orthodox Churches, the Archbishop said that there is ongoing communication between the Churches. He spoke about a fairly recent dialogue with representatives of the Anglican Church from all round the world with representatives of the Orthodox Church which resulted in something called the Buffalo Statement. “Orthodoxy brings real depth of understanding of the mysteries, it has delved very deeply into suffering… We are deeply grateful to Orthodoxy, and have a huge amount to learn. We are also grateful for the Orthodox Church’s practical help in supporting us here…. I think that relations between the two Churches are better, and we now have the potential to be more tolerant of each other when we disagree, and still be able to love one another.”

After a 5-minute break, the Compline started. In the middle of this gentle, reflective evening service, the Archbishop commissioned Reverend Malcolm Rogers, the new chaplain at St. Andrews, his Apokrisiarios and Representative to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe also took part in this service. The Archbishop broke with ceremony and asked the audience to support the Reverend and his wife in their mission though prayer, and joked, “if you don’t, I’ll be back!”

John Harrison 21.11.17 © RussiaKnowledge