By a Special Correspondent
ARCHBISHOP ANTHONY BLOOM Exarch of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Western Europe, was very cautious about recent optimistic forecasts of unity between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches when he addressed the Catholic Society of Queen Mary College (University of London) last week.
He warned that there were considerable theological difficulties between the two Churches and it would be unwise to rush into union while they remained.
A fortnight previously, the Society had held a symposium on Christian unity at which Archbishop Athenagoras, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Great Britain, expressed high hopes for unity between the two Churches in the near future.
And four hours before Archbishop Bloom's lecture, the patron of the Society, Archbishop Heenan of Westminster, had celehrated Mass in the College. When talking to members of the Society afterwards, he, too, said that very little separated the Orthodox and Roman Churches.
Archbishop Bloom's speech was more cautious than retrogressive. When asked by the chairman of the Society to comment on the Greek Metropolitan's statement, Archbishop Bloom said that he regarded both Metropolitan Athenagoras and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople (who met the Pope in Jerusalam) as over-optimistic in their views on unity.
Where the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan had said that many theological differences between
Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism were based on semantics and misunderstandings, the Russian Archbishop cited the cases of the Filloque and the Papal primacy, where he thought the issues were clear-cut.
In his view, union while theological differences remained would cause tensions inside a unified Church and would possibly lead to a worse state than before. He thought it was better to wait until a deeper and more fruitful union could be achieved.
Archbishop Bloom was also questioned about the apparent disunity in the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly with reference to the "Catacomb Church" which was established in 1927 by Maximos, Bishop of Serpukhov, claiming to he the true Russian Orthodox Church and opposing the State recognised church under Sergi us.
Archbishop Bloom replied that as an organised Church it was a myth, because in a Police State it was impossible to exist as an underground for more than a few years without recourse to the sword.
The greatest part has rejoined the existing Church, he said, because experience has shown that Sergius' actions were not a betrayal of the. Church. "Nowadays, as far as 1 know, there isn't a body which is in opposition to the Patriarchal Church. But within the Church there arc two extremes: there are people who think that it is important to survive — to find a modus vivendi in the circumstances which are given, and others who are much more radical and would like a sharper line taken by the Church".
In reply to a question about the relationship between the Orthodox Church in Russia and the Church in exile, Archbishop Bloom said that there were three groups of people among Russians in exile. "There is a group to which I belong which has never severed connection with the Russian Patriarchate. The basis of our action is that, according to Orthodox Canon Law no one is allowed to reject his Bishop or head of his Church unless the Bishop or head of his Church professes heresy. No political, no social, or other reasons are sufficient".
Secondly there is a group, the majority of those in France for instance, which in 1931, to avoid the intricacy and tensions of Russian problems, applied to the Patriarch of Constantinople to receive them under his jurisdiction. "With this group we are in full communion."
There is a third group, said Archbishop Bloom, who arc now based in America. They have a Synod of Bishops who have rejected completely the authority of the Church in Russia on the grounds that recognition of the Soviet Regime by the Church in Russia constituted a betrayal of Christ. They have formed an independent body which nowadays is in communion with none of the Orthodox Churches except the Serbian Church, which has taken no decision. Happily so, said the Archbishop, because thanks to them they are still not rejected as a sect of Orthodoxy.