I came across a disturbing press notice on the EKD (German Protestant Church) website in the wake of the election of Bishop Margot Käßmann as Chair of the Council of the EKD last month.

It would appear that the Russian Orthodox Church has expressed an intention to cut off ecumenical contact with the EKD because of Käßmann’s election. Apparently, ‘representatives of the Foreign Office of the Russian Orthodox Church had announced that relations with the EKD would be terminated… Archbishop Hilarion said that celebrations planned for the end of November to mark 50 years of dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the EKD would also mark the end of the conversations.’ Archbishop Hilarion was quoted as such in the Kommersant newspaper.

It appears that the fundamental reason for this move is that the Orthodox Church does not allow that a woman can be a bishop. Fair enough – and no surprises so far.

But the conversations between the two churches have been going on for years and the EKD has had female bishops for years. All that happened on 28 October was that Margot Käßmann was elected ‘Chair of the Council’. That isn’t a change of orders – that happened a long time ago.

So, it is not only the EKD that is expressing confusion about this. If ‘female bishops’ was the problem, the Orthodox would presumably have suspended their relationship with the EKD many years ago. But they didn’t.

So, what is this about?