Visit to Moscow with the Archbishop of Canterbury

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, visited Her Majesty the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury in October last year. This November 2017, Archbishop Justin made a return visit to Moscow. He was joined by a delegation including Bishop Jonathan Goodall (who has taken over from +Richard Chartres as our representative with the Orthodox Churches), Will Adam (International Ecumenical Secretary), David Porter (the Archbishop’s Chief of Staff), Ailsa Anderson-Cole (Communications Officer) and me. The aims of the visit were to commission Malcolm Rogers, the Anglican chaplain in the city, as apokrisarios (representative) to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and to take forward dialogue with the Patriarchate. It was the Archbishop’s first visit to Russia and a particularly important event given current political tensions between the UK and Russia.

Malcolm and Alison Rogers arrived in Moscow this summer. Malcolm’s primary responsibility is the pastoral care of St. Andrew’s Moscow, which is a diverse church community inhabiting a splendid Victorian Gothic building, unique in Russia, that was used in Soviet times as a recording studio. He also acts as the face of Anglicanism in Orthodox relations in Moscow. His knowledge of Russian is particularly useful for this. On our first evening, the Archbishop met members of the ‘Step Up’ programme, which works with former orphanage children to help them complete formal education in order to gain employment. In a service of Compline, the Archbishop commissioned Malcolm as apokrisarios. We were particularly grateful to the people of the chaplaincy for laying on extensive refreshments.

The following morning, we were taken to the Convent of St. Martha and St. Mary. Unusually for Russia, the convent sponsors extensive social work – in particular running an orphanage for children with Down’s Syndrome. It was a delight to meet the children and see how well cared for they were. At the conclusion of our visit, the mother abbess (above, middle left) offered us delicious refreshments.

The ‘main event’ was a lunchtime meeting for the Anglican delegation with Patriarch Kirill (above, left), Metropolitan Hilarion (above, right) and other members of the Russian delegation. This took place with a high level of formality, in the magnificently regal surroundings of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Patriarch’s opening address included significant reference to the Middle East and to Ukraine and was delivered to a bank of television cameras. The media then left, and Archbishop Justin was invited to respond.

The dialogue between the two principals continued over a six-course banquet for, I think, about two hours. It was an extremely open, honest and warm discussion. I was impressed that the Archbishop could sustain the highest level of religious (and indeed political) dialogue and debate, whilst also eating a very substantial lunch! Following lunch, we moved to Metropolitan Hilarion’s offices. There was further discussion of specific ways in which our two churches could collaborate, for example in clergy and cultural exchanges. A joint press statement was issued drawing the attention of world leaders to the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. You can read the statement HERE.

In the evening, the British Ambassador, Laurie Bristow (above), hosted a lecture and reception for the Archbishop. 100 people attended from different sectors of the international and Russian communities. After the lecture, the Archbishop answered questions on a wide range of subjects.

The following morning, (more food!) the Ambassador hosted a breakfast meeting for our delegation with younger Russians who had been sponsored to spend a period of time studying in the UK. It was fascinating for us to hear their perspectives on matters of faith, their future and their country. I enjoyed a conversation with a woman who had studied business at Durham University. She described how, she had been one of the first Russians to study market economics and accountancy after the communist era. She explained how, in communist times, the notion of ‘making a profit’ didn’t’ exist – so you had to start learning about ‘profit and loss accounts’ from a very basic level!

We left the embassy to go to the postgraduate institute of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, where the Archbishop delivered a lecture on Christian anthropology. You can read it HERE. From there, we were taken to the newly rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which dominates the Moscow skyline. (Its predecessor was systematically demolished by the Soviets.) The building is vast – the main worship space has a capacity of 10,000 people. Just one part of the complex, the auditorium (below) is far larger than any church auditorium in Britain. And from the roof of the cathedral you get a fine view over the Kremlin and beyond.

Moscow Cathedral Auditorium
View from the Cathedral Roof

This was an unforgettable visit. It was a privilege to be part of the Archbishop’s delegation and to experience first-hand dialogue and debate between global leaders. It was a tough and demanding engagement, and one could not but be impressed with the Archbishop’s grace, intellectual ability and diplomatic skill. At the highest level, the two religious leaders established rapport and respect. In many other informal conversations, members of the two churches shared stories and experiences. At a time when political relations between Britain and Russia are frozen, I found it so encouraging to be reminded of our common faith, common concerns and common humanity.

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