On October 3-4, 2011, a Joint Pastoral Conference was held by the two dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany. Participating were three hierarchs: His Eminence Archbishop Mark, Ruling Bishop of the German Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia,; His Eminence Archbishop Feofan, Ruling Bishop of the Berlin Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church; and His Grace Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart, Vicar Bishop of the German Diocese of ROCOR. Eighty clergymen also participated.
On October 3, the country celebrated the Unification of Germany. The three hierarchs celebrated Divine Liturgy in Resurrection Cathedral in Berlin. Because it was a national holiday, a great many worshipers were in attendance.
The Conference was held on the premises of the Church of the Protection of the Most-Holy Mother of God. Questions of the daily life and work of the clergymen of both dioceses were discussed. Archbishop Mark and Archbishop Feofan, in their keynote addresses, noted the good fruits brought forth in the mutual relations of the two dioceses following the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion.
Both archpastors reported on the work of the Commission of the Inter-Council Presence, of which they are both members, after which they answered questions.
Special attention was paid to the topic of the language used in divine services. As the clergymen noted, Church Slavonic possesses great value: it deepens the understanding of Russian language and culture, both spiritual and cultural. The participants of the conference expressed their unity of mind on this topic (see below).
The work being performed by the Joint Committee on Translation into German, under the guidance of Archbishop Mark, was examined in detail. Representatives of various dioceses of different Local Churches in Germany also take part. Three members of this group were present at the conference. A new translation of Divine Liturgy for practical use into German was submitted with the aim of improving the text. It was noted that it is important to take into account theological as well as musical qualities of the text. Pastors who perform divine services in German were invited to comment based on their experiences with the aim of bettering the translations.
A discussion was held on the legal status of communities in Germany and their establishment with the aim of guaranteeing their social and educational goals.
Christina Keller, Coordinator of Orthodox Religious Education in North Rhein-Westphalia, then spoke. She discussed the possibility of the state officially sanctioning educational institutions of the Orthodox Law of God (religious studies) in German schools. The right to religious education is included in the German Constitution, which opens up enormous possibilities for Orthodox Christians in this nation. Federal authorities are responsible for manifesting such rights in school curricula.
Ms Keller also pointed to the problems connected with what children from Orthodox families are exposed to in schools. Parents play an important role in this matter. Their lack of motivation has a negative effect on children’s development, so a corresponding memorandum was prepared to encourage the broadening of teaching of the Orthodox Law of God in schools.
Protopriest Vladislav Tsypin, Professor of Moscow Theological Academy, discussed the norms of church law in his speech “The Canons and Their Role in the Life of the Church.”
After vespers, the archpastors and clergymen were received at the Russian Embassy. The Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation VM Grinin stressed the positive role played by the Orthodox Church in today’s world and referred to the beneficial cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church in the united Germany.
On the second day of the meeting, after Divine Liturgy at Protection Church, Fr Vladislav continued the discussion of the day before with his speech “Canonical Questions on the Mystery of Matrimony and Family Life.” An animated discussion ensued. The practice of both dioceses in the acceptibility of performing marriages with one spouse of another faith while observing certain conditions was discussed. It was decided that matters which were left unresolved would be submitted to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Church.
In conclusion, the bishops answered questions on current practice of pastoral ministry in both dioceses.
Once more emphasizing the benefits of the reestablishment of canonical unity within the Russian Church, the hierarchs called upon the participating clergymen of both dioceses to further mutual cooperation and the development of brotherly relations on both personal and prayerful level.
Resolution of the Pastoral Conference of the Russian Orthodox Church in Germany:
1. The Pastoral Conference, having deliberated the matter, decided to speak out in support of preserving the Church Slavonic language, which deepens the understanding of Russian language and culture, both spiritual and lay. In Russia, school curricula propose study in Old Russian and Church Slavonic, and broadening of this scope is desirable, both in an informal and in-depth study of the roots of our language. The Conference proposes that Church Slavonic be reflected in the corresponding subject of the program “Spiritual-Moral Culture,” with the aim that Russian schoolchildren gain an additional opportunity to learn the depth of their national-cultural foundations. In Germany, the matter of learning the language of the Church in pastoral ministry should be given special attention, not only for children, but for adults: churchification is bound to the elemental Word.
2. Upon discussing matters relating to the Mystery of matrimony and the heterodox, and civil marriage, various conceptions were discovered. This evoked concern among some of the members of the Conference who wished to introduce more clarity to the theory and practice not only of marriage, but the recognition as valid of the Mysteries performed, including those outside of the Orthodox Church.
The discussion revealed a need for painstaking study in the current situation relating to the canonical and sacramental aspects not only of church marriage, but the recognition of grace in acts performed outside of the Orthodox Church.
3. The Pastoral Conference of the two German dioceses decreed the inadmissibility of cremation (analogously established in the Minutes of the Second Conference of the two dioceses in Germany in 1994). The sole traditional form of Orthodox funeral is burial of the body in the earth. Exceptions to this must be submitted for review on the diocesan level.
4. The Pastoral Conference established that only Orthodox Christians may be godparents at baptism.
Website of the Berlin-German Diocese/Patriarchia.ru