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NEWS STORY: Church Delegation Visits Russia in Effort to Thwart War in Iraq

c. 2003 Religion News Service MOSCOW _ In the final leg of their effort to thwart war in Iraq, the two leaders of the largest ecumenical groups in the United States and Europe met Wednesday (March 5) with a top cleric from the 80-million member Russian Orthodox Church. “We are here to communicate that in […]

c. 2003 Religion News Service

MOSCOW _ In the final leg of their effort to thwart war in Iraq, the two leaders of the largest ecumenical groups in the United States and Europe met Wednesday (March 5) with a top cleric from the 80-million member Russian Orthodox Church.

“We are here to communicate that in the United States there is not unanimous support for a war,” said the Rev. Bob Edgar, head of the New York-based National Council of Churches, before meeting with Metropolitan Kirill (Gundayev), the second most influential figure in Russia’s dominant faith.

Russian Orthodox Church leaders are generally opposed to war in Iraq but have been far less vocal than their Western counterparts from Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations.

That may change this month, though, as Russian church’s ruling Holy Synod is set to consider a resolution officially condemning military action in Iraq, said the Rev. Andrei Elisseev, the Orthodox official who hosted Edgar.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Edgar and the Rev. Keith Clements, head of the Conference of European Churches, the Russian hierarch pledged his support.

“Metropolitan Kirill said the Russian Orthodox Church shares their point of view and will do everything to avoid the use of violence in the Middle East,” said Elisseev.

For Edgar and Clements, Moscow marked the last of five capital cities they and other U.S. and European church leaders have visited in an effort to rally support among Christians and present moral arguments against the war to secular leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

In the last decade, the deeply traditional Russian Orthodox Church has had a sometimes prickly relationship with other more liberal churches that are members of ecumenical organizations like the Council of European Churches. The ordination of women and the sanctioning of gay unions are two issues that make the Orthodox especially uncomfortable.

On the issue of Iraq, though, the Orthodox have found common cause, noted the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, the ecumenical officer with the Orthodox Church in America who accompanied Edgar to Moscow.

“I often meet situations where it is difficult to find a common language,” said Kishkovsky. “But in the current situation there is a genuine common view, a common language.”

DEA END BROWN