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Thursday, 25 February 2016

ECUMENISM BETWEEN ROME AND RUSSIA: A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY


Orthodox and Catholic believers should work as brothers, not rivals
19 February 2016, 10:15

my source: Pravmir.com

The first in history meeting between the patriarch of Moscow and the pope of Rome, which had been on the agenda for 20 years, was held in Havana on February 12. Head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk tells Interfax-Religion correspondent Alexey Sosedov about its results, influence on settling the main problem existing between the two Churches, fears about Orthodox and Catholics closing up, and prospects of the pope's visit to Russia and the patriarch's visit to Rome. 


- Your Eminence, what do you think about results of the meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis?

- Much is said that it is the first meeting in history, that there has never been such a meeting before, but I think that the most important about it is the content of the meeting. It is certainly pleasant to see the pope and the patriarch together, talking to each other in a fraternal atmosphere, smiling to each other. But the most important is the content of the meeting, which was fully reflected in the mutual declaration signed by the patriarch and the pope. I think this declaration for a long time will be a guidance for Christians of the two confessions: Orthodox and Catholic. 

The declaration also contains important words about the Gospels as shared grounds for believers of the West and the East, about the way to realize the Gospels commandments in difficult contemporary conditions. This declaration is a guidance for action. 

- Will this historic event influence the settlement of the main problem existing in relations between the two Churches: actions of the Greek-Catholics (Uniates) in Ukraine?

- The mass media have recently published a reaction from an archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to the joint declaration adopted by the pope and the patriarch. This reaction was very negative, very insulting not only to our side, but also to the pope. Those statements show that the administration of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has not changed its position. They are not ready to hear not only the voice of our patriarch, but even the voice of their pope. 

They have their own politicized agenda, they have their own clients, they are fulfilling these orders, and even the pope is not an authority to them.

- What mutual steps are necessary to bring Uniates to reason? Perhaps, we should expect that the Russian Church and the Catholic Church will set up a commission.

- There is an idea of the creation of some commission that would help resolve the problem of the Unia, but the specific parameters of this commission are now difficult to imagine, especially bearing in mind the way the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church are thinking.

In the early 1990s, a four-party commission was created to resolve specific, practical issues relating to the existence of Orthodox Christians and Greek-Catholics in Western Ukraine. However, the Greek-Catholics unilaterally left that commission, they did not want to participate in it. I think this is due to the fact that they don't want to walk the path that is now outlined by the pope and the patriarch in their joint declaration.

The way offered by the pope and the patriarch is the way of interaction in the areas where such interaction is possible. It's the path of halting the rivalry and transitioning to brotherly relations. And the Greek-Catholics don't need that at all. Their rhetoric is aggressive, hostile and loose, and it is in very sharp contrast not only with the content of the declaration, but also its style, its ministerial message, the reconciliating spirit coming from it.

- Many journalists are interested if the pope will come to Russia.

- This topic was not discussed at the meeting. Perhaps, everyone is interested, but I don't have a feeling that the pope cares much about it. At least, it was not voiced at the meeting. Neither the pope's visit to Moscow nor the patriarch's visit to Rome is under consideration now.

What the two Сhurches should focus on at the moment is stepping up interaction, expanding mutual understanding, and trying as soon as possible to overcome the negativity that has accumulated in relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics and working toward to bring minds and hearts closer together. And then the time will show us what to do. I think that when there will be conditions for the next meeting, we will decide where and when to hold it. 

- Are the Churches going to develop pilgrimage?

- The pope and the patriarch said at the meeting that we should be more open to each other in the field of pilgrimage. For example, a big flow of Orthodox pilgrims comes to relics of St. Nicholas in Italian Bari. Pilgrims from the Catholic Church also come to Orthodox shrines. We can intensify these two flows, as it is very important for people to meet each other, to have access to shrines of the other Church. 

- Is it possible to bring relics of Sts Peter and Paul from Rome or St. Jacob from Spain to Russia? 

- I consider it quite possible. I think our believers will be spiritually inspired if relics of the saints venerated in our Church, but kept in the Catholic Church, are brought to Russia. The reverse movement is certainly possible, I mean the shrines of the Russian Orthodox Church can be taken to the West so that believers of the Catholic Church can venerate them. 

- Can we expect it in the nearest future?

- I think the first exchange of shrines is possible during the year.

- How will the Russian and the Catholic Churches protect traditional moral values now?

- As to the protection of traditional moral values, we absolutely agree with the Catholic Church. We consider a marriage the union between the man and the woman for giving birth and bringing up children. We consider it necessary to protect human life from the moment of conception to natural death. We are against abortions. There were very powerful words in the declaration to protect life, to protect the right of each person for life. I think we will intensify our interaction in these directions. 

- We have recently learned that nuncio Ivan Jurkovic was moved from Moscow to Geneva. Is it somehow connected with the meeting of the pope and the patriarch? Do you know who will be the next nuncio?

- We do not know who will be the next nuncio. I learned from the mass media that Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic is appointed to Geneva. Appointment of nuncios is Vatican's internal affair, Vatican as a state. An apostolic nuncio is an ambassador of the Vatican state to other states. So appointments of nuncios is not a question of inter-church relations. 

This appointment should be in no way considered as the consequence of our discontent with the nuncio. On the contrary, we had very good relations with Nuncio Ivan Jurkovic as well as with his predecessor. We do not have any claims to him. We are thankful to him for the constructive cooperation. I think his appointment is connected with the rhyme of changing nuncio each four years, the same as ambassadors. Nuncio Ivan Jurkovic was in my TV program a day or two before our trip to Havana, we had a nice conversation. I heard that his new appointment is being prepared, but I did not have a chance to ask him about it. 

- Some Orthodox believers are afraid of closing up with Catholics as they see the danger of almost full merger of Orthodox and Catholic Church. What can you say to these people?

- First of all, I would like to recommend them to read the declaration of the pope and the patriarch attentively, it shows what they talked about. There was not any attempt of closing up the teaching, the dogmatic or theological questions were not discussed. Such discussion is not on the agenda today. The declaration starts with the message that loss of the God-commanded unity is a violation of the commandment of Christ voiced in his last high-priestly prayer: "may all be one." Unfortunately, Christians did not manage to keep this unity, Christians of the East and of the West are divided, they do not participate in Eucharist together. 

Today, we do not speak about overcoming this division, but we speak about learning to live and work in this world as brothers, not rivals in order to protect the values we share, to preach Gospels together, to open God's truth to people. Today we can do these things together. I like the words Raul Castro said at his meeting with Patriarch Kirill, when the patriarch was telling him about yet coming meeting with the pope. President Raul recalled the proverb that every road, even the longest one, starts with the first step. This step has been done and now I hope that believers of the two traditions will walk along this long road together, not making any compromises with their conscience, not making doctrinal compromises, but protecting the things we share.

MY COMMENTARY

When I was staying at St Elizabeth's Convent in Minsk, a thriving Orthodox monastery that has grown from a group of four nuns in the nineteen nineties  to over one hundred now, I had many conversations with Belorussian Orthodox about this and that.  One of the things I was told was how anti-Catholic so many of the Russian Orthodox clergy are.  "I don't understand how people can be so anti-Catholic when they don't know any!  How is it possible to condemn people you don't know!   The Russians are not like us.  Most have never met a Catholic, while, with us, Catholics are our neighbours, and even members of our families."

This anti-Catholicism is a hard fact that cannot be answered by argument, only by Catholics and Orthodox getting to know each other.   Even with people like Metropolitan Hilarion, you can almost taste the venom whenever he talks about Ukrainian Greek Catholics: they are his blind spot.  He is quite incapable of seeing recent history from their point of view, however obvious that may be to everybody else.

It must be remembered that Russia is just coming out of a period where there has been no difference between history and propaganda.   I was told by the widow of a colonel in the Russian army that Britain only came into the second world war when the Russians were winning; that, in fact, Russia won the war with little help from the allies.  Hence, no Hitler-Stalin pact to carve up Poland, no Battle of Britain, no Blitz, no African Campaign, no Italian Campaign, no enormous loss of English lives at sea, bringing food and arms to the Russian troops, no Normany landings, and a lot more.

The Russian myth is that everything bad comes from the West, and it is mostly to do with Catholicism.  Communism came from the West  If you meet a Catholic, you meet someone that personifies all the bad things that ever happened to the East in general and  to Russia in particular.  A monk of my community was chatting to a group of Orthodox clerics in Ukraine through an interpreter.   One said something to the interpreter that he wouldn't translate until after the conversation.  The Catholic monk pressed him about what the Ukrainian priest had said. What he said about their Catholic guest was, "He seems to be very pleasant.  He doesn't look like the kind of person who would set fire to Constantinople." 

On the other hand, it is important also to remember that there has been and continues to be much informal collaboration and even communicatio in sacris in areas of both Europe and the Middle East; and it is also true that Orthodox and Catholics have even identified with one another when they faced persecution together from Stalin's police, from sharing the same gulags or from suffering at the hands of ISIS and other Islamic fanatics. There is much shared experience in Ukraine; and the sharp lines drawn between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholics are not so clear between the Greek Catholics and the Kiev Patriarchate, nor between the Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch and the Catholic Melkite Patriarchate.

Nor were those lines so clearly drawn during history.  In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church remained in communion with Rome for quite a time after the schism between Rome and Constantinople. Thus the Russian Orthodox Church keeps the feast of the Translation of the bones of St Nicholas to Bari because, when that happened, they were  united with Rome, while it is not in the calendar of the Greek Church because of the schism. For a brief time, when Isidore of Kiev was Metropolitan of Kiev, Moscow and All the Rus, he was one of the leading pro-Western Orthodox bishops - they were not all moved by purely political considerations - some accepted ex animo the papal claims. A large part of Italy followed the Byzantine Rite until the seventeenth century and, off and on, the Italian Greek Catholics were in communion with both Rome and Constantinople.   In the Middle East, people have informally ignored the schism for centuries, perhaps since it began.



Any sign of moves towards Orthodox and Catholic unity would split Russian Orthodoxy down the middle, and not Orthodoxy in Russia, but in Greece and other countries as well; but this would happen just when the Russian Orthodox Church most wants unity, to concentrate its forces on resurrecting "Holy Russia".  An ever closer understanding between Catholics and Orthodox at a theological level, as shown in the Ravenna Agreement, fills them with alarm.  How can this article,
 THE DECLARATION OF THE POPE AND THE PATRIARCH LEAVES MIXED FEELINGS
 by Deacon Vladimir Vasiliki
be squared with the Ravenna Document ?   The Russians look with alarm at the fact that the Patriarch of Constantinople and Pope, when talking of primacy, use the same language.  As Pope Francis says, "The only authority in the Church is the authority of service, and the only power in the Church is the power of the Cross."  Moreover, the Pope says communion could take place without any pre-conditions.

The Russian Orthodox Church has taken action.   Theological agreement comes after loving one another, not before; so a process has begun, geared at the two churches getting to know one another, becoming accustomed to work together, to share shrines etc., to become friends.   Metropolitan Hilarion wants to take the emphasis off theological dialogue until both churches are fully accustomed to one another; and this is going to take time, a time that the Russians can use to re-convert Russia, using all their resources, undistracted by the Roman question.  

Thus, pope and patriarch didn't even say a prayer together, because there are Russians who hold that the pope is a heretic and it is forbidden to pray with heretics. The patriarch wants to get as close as he can to the pope without causing controversy. The Pope is primarily a pastor and realises that Christian unity is as much a pastoral problem as a theological one.   He understands that the two churches need to know each other enough to be able to kill off the prejudice, the false knowledge of the other that is the fruit of generations of government propaganda and of identifying Catholicism with Poland that was Russia's hereditary enemy.

It is ironic that the theology that forms the basis for ever greater theological agreement, the idea that picked up and shook the pieces of our respective understandings of the Church and then cast them into new patterns, eucharistic ecclesiology, was first formulated with clarity by Father Nicolai Afanassiev, a Russian Orthodox professor of canon law at the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris.

It places the sources of Tradition in the local eucharistic communities that are connected with the Apostles by apostolic succession.   This Tradition takes several forms as these local churches adapted to their own historical circumstances but all in common have a divine dimension and a human dimension, products of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church that makes the celebration of the Eucharist possible.   Thus there is a unity of substance in the diversity of forms; but it may not be easy to discover if expressed in a different vocabulary which has been formed in a different culture.   

Division is a lie because the Eucharist is one in every place. Ecumenism between the apostolic churches where separation has occurred is a voyage of discovery to find that unity underlying our differences because, if the eucharistic community is a real one, then we will find that unity: it is something given by God.   

All this involves taking  seriously the objections  made in other traditions about our understanding of the truth. What is true in what they say?  What is lacking in our living of the Tradition that makes them say it?   What insights, what gifts and graces do they have that could benefit us?  On the other hand, what gifts from God, what insights into the Christian Mystery that they enjoy, are really only for them, as some have been offered only to us?  This recognition that Tradition is present in various traditions, like the Gospel is present in four gospels, that both the unity and the diversity belong to the nature of the Church, and that the different traditions belong to each other and are a source of spiritual richness for all, has to be acknowledged by all on the ecumenical quest.  The modern Latin liturgy with the Eastern pattern of the new eucharistic prayers is a direct result of this insight, as is the Ravenna Document.

All this has taken place between Catholicism and Orthodoxy from time to time, without any ecumenical quest taking place.  Several feastdays in the West came from the East, feasts like the Presentation of Our Lady.  One contribution the West has made to Orthodoxy is the "Sisters of Mercy" in Belarus and the Ukraine.   The French sisters recruited by Florence Nightingale to look after the wounded in the Crimean War made such an impression on everybody that "sisters of mercy" were formed in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, and, later, were founded in St Petersburg by Saint Elizabeth Romanov, who was martyred under the Bolshevics.  "Sisters of Mercy" are proof that the Russian Orthodox can adopt a western-style form of religious life to its own spiritual advantage.

Now, let us go back to the article by Metropolitan Hilarion.  In a way, his version of Orthodoxy is nearer to the Catholicism of Pope Pius IX than we are.   His Orthodoxy is an "establishment" Orthodoxy, very much bound up with the State, with the nation.  Hence, the most important characteristic of Orthodoxy  in "establishment" Christianity is that it should be canonical, recognised by Canon Law by other canonical churches. Some Orthodox would say that the validity of the sacraments depends on the canonicity of the church that celebrates them. Pope Pius IX saw the Church as a world-wide perfect society bound together by a system of Law centred on Rome.  Without canonicity, sacraments bring about changes in individuals, but it is Law that makes the sacraments effective by binding people together. This idea of the Church came about because the Catholic authorities saw church institutions in relation to secular nations, and the one thing the Church and secular nations had in common is Law.   

"Establishment" Christianity, whether Catholic or Orthodox, stresses Law, while "dis-established" Christianity, which is the kind that exists in most of the world, stresses our common sacramental life in Christ which existed before any system of law existed; and Law, for us, becomes of secondary importance.  Law presumes the unity of Christians: it does not cause it.

On the other hand, it was a Russian Orthodox who lived in Catholic Paris who first formulated eucharistic theology, Patriarch Bartholomew lives in a Moslem secular state, and we Westerns cannot identify the Church with our nation because we are a minority within it, nor can we identify ourselves as "church" with the political establishment because no one pretends that it exists to put Christian values into practice: we are exiles.  Thus, while "christendom" exists, either in the imagination of those with authority in the Russian Orthodox Church, or in reality, our Western way of thinking on many subjects is going to be different from those of patriarch and metropolitan: you cannot imagine Pope Francis expressing himself as he does within the context in which Pius XI had to work.

If "christendom" is not the goal of the Church in the West, that ought not lead us to deny that God has something special up his sleeve for Russia; and I am sure that, whatever this may be, "Holy Russia" has much to teach us, and will help us and the advance of the Gospel in many ways.  It may even encourage us to think the unthinkable, to strive to win back western Europe for Christ!   Do not under-estimate God, nor the power of the Gospel.

   


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