World Council of Churches - News Release
Contact: + 41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363

For immediate release: 17 June 2005

First official visit by WCC general secretary to Russian Orthodox Church

The revival of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and its relations with the World Council of Churches (WCC) will be the focus of an 18-24 June visit to Moscow by an ecumenical delegation led by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia. It is the first official visit to the largest member church of the World Council of Churches by its current general secretary since he took up the position in January 2004.

The programme includes meetings at some of the main spiritual, social and educational centres of the church which have developed in the years since the end of the Soviet Union, including the Trinity St Sergius Monastery and Academy, St Tikhon's Orthodox University, and the St Dimitri charitable sisterhood which runs medical and social projects in Moscow. The delegation will pay respects at the Butovo memorial outside the city, where thousands of people, including many Christian clergy and monastics, were shot during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

Meetings between Kobia and Russian Orthodox Church leaders Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All Russia and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chair of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR), will look at ROC-WCC relations in the light, particularly, of the work of a Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC.

The ROC was instrumental in the creation of the Special Commission in 1998 in response to sustained criticism of the Council by some of its Orthodox member churches. It is now part of a Steering Committee that oversees implementation of the Commission's 2002 recommendations which seek to reorient the Council’s priorities and methods of work. Kobia attended the most recent meeting of the Steering Committee in Minsk, Belarus in June 2004.

The WCC delegation will also meet with the minister of culture and communication, Dr Alexander Sokolov, who chairs a state commission for faith communities issues, and with the first vice-chairman of the Russian parliament (Duma) Mrs Liubov Sliska.

Archbishop Nifon of Targoviste (Romanian Orthodox Church), Dr Mary Tanner (Church of England), and Dr Robert K. Welsh, (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ), as well as WCC deputy general secretary Mr Georges Lemopoulos will accompany Kobia on the visit.

> Visit programme

Sunday 19 June: Attendance at Divine Liturgy in Moscow
Visit to the Butovo memorial

Monday 20 June: Visit to the Kremlin
Meeting with first vice-chairman of the Russian Duma, Mrs Liubov Sliska
Visit to St Dimitri charitable sisterhood

Tuesday 21 June: Meeting with Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All Russia
Meeting with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad
Meeting with DECR staff and representatives of other Christian bodies and NGOs

Wednesday 22 June: Meeting with the minister of culture and communication Dr Alexander Sokolov
Visit to the Trinity St Sergius Monastery, and Moscow Theological Academy

Thursday 23 June: Meeting with ROC DECR staff
Press conference at the Interfax press agency (see below)
Meetings with staff and students at the St Tikhon's Orthodox University

The Russian Orthodox Church joined the WCC in 1961 and four of its representatives currently sit on the Council's 150-member central committee. Former WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser paid extensive visits to the church in 1998 and in 2003.

A press conference with the WCC general secretary and members of the delegation will be held at the Interfax news agency at 3pm Moscow time on Thursday 23 June 2005.

Media contact in Moscow: ROC DECR communication service: Tel: +7 095 2302439.

Media contact in Geneva: Alexander Belopopsky, +41-79-455-9080

Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.