I do not normally worry about what Roman Catholics say regarding issues in the Eastern Churches, but I was disconcerted to read Fr John Hunwicke’s recent post on his own blog about Metropolitan Hilarion’s address at St Vladimir’s Seminary on the question of Primacy in the Church. What Fr Hunwicke wrote was, quite simply, tragically ill-informed, unspeakably naïve, and fundamentally misguided.
His remarks are, unfortunately, emblematic of the willingness certain types of traditionally-minded Westerners have to laud Hilarion’s work regardless of its shortcomings, on the basis, perhaps, that the Metropolitan’s silhouette against the background of a broken Western culture seems so much more impressive than many of their own hierarchs. Sometimes, however, impressive silhouettes can be cast merely by puffing out one’s chest and standing on one’s toes.
To suggest, as Fr Hunwicke does, that the more offensive assertions in Hilarion’s address were somehow excusable in light of Moscow’s role in a Ukraine characterised by ecclesiastical competition and strife, with no recognition that it just might be Moscow’s pathological hatred of anything and anyone that shows signs of independent aspiration might actually be to blame for said competition and strife, attests to the nescience of Fr Hunwicke’s position. Likewise his willingness to justify Orthodox behaviour in response to the Greek deacon at Pope Benedict’s inauguration. Such behaviour warrants categorical censure, not ‘understanding’. Finally, that he equates Russian Orthodox grievances with those of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – whose bishops and priests suffered the Gulag and worse at the hands of the Soviet state and Church – only plays into Moscow’s hands. If this is what Fr Hunwicke means when he speaks of the ‘immense sympathy and admiration’ he has for the UGCC, then he can keep it.
In case my own words on the matter were not that helpful, and Professor Antoine Arjakovsky’s extended response to the Moscow Patriarchate’s initial release on the question of primacy did not convince, I would strongly suggest reading Fr Robert Taft on the ecumenical situation in Ukraine and Russia, or equally, John Allen’s piece in CRUX on weak-kneed ecumenism. The latter two, at least, will serve as a sure corrective to Fr Hunwicke’s own, unfortunate, approach to such questions.