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Saturday, 16 April 2016
Thursday, 18 February 2016
We have posted these on our website as important, indeed urgent, first assessments of the historic Joint Declaration, what it represents and what it will result in.
These are, for ease of reference:
- "Parallel Worlds", the interview with His Beatitude Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv, Patriarch and Head of the Ukrainian Gree-Catholic Church
- "Epochal Meeting, Epochal Consequences", an article by Myroslav Marynovych, the founder of Ukrainian Amnesty International, former Brezhnev concentration camp prisoner, and currently Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv
- "Who played whom?" an article by Dr Adam DeVille, Chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of St Francis, Fort Wayne, Indiana
- "Called to Unity", an article by Fr Andriy Chirovsky, Founder and Director of the Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of St Paul, Ottowa
- "The Vatican did everything to accommodate Kirill but got little in return", an article by Fr Mark Drew in the UK Catholic Herald, of our own expert advisory panel
Already Metrpolitan HIlarion Alfeyev has lamentably abandoned the tone of the Joint Declaration by observing, "The Unia brought so much suffering to the Orthodox in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Union continues to be an open wound on the skin of Christianity." This despite it being the Tsarist Empire that not only brought suffering to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but abolished it. We hope to obtain a full citation of his remarks for a fair assessment.
25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism,” understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.
26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity, and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.
27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.
5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you . . . so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).
Read the article on line at First Things, here: Called to Unity | Andriy Chirovsky | First Things
Unfortunately, this is what happened.
The first problem was the meeting itself. It had been sought by several predecessors of Pope Francis. In particular, it had been insistently pursued by Pope John Paul II. However, the prize went to the Pope, who was the least prepared of all.
This is because Pope Francis is a pastor and not a politician, as Moscow knows very well. Of all the popes, he was the safest to deal with. Moreover, the current Pope, formed in Latin America, is not well versed in the situation in Eastern Europe and has never had direct contact with the “secrets of the Kremlin court.”
The sphere where the Pope feels at home and where he is capable of reaching spiritual heights is the human soul. However, world politics, as has become very evident, has been relegated to the politicians of the Roman Curia of the Apostolic See.
The Moscow Patriarchate has for a long time skillfully taken advantage of certain features of Vatican positions, consistently refusing meetings with popes when it found the conditions to be unfavorable. The “guilty” were always the Catholics, of course, either because of the fictitious “Catholic proselytism in Russia” or the so-called “violence of Greek Catholics over the Orthodox in Western Ukraine.”
And suddenly all these arguments vanished. The motivation here, of course, was again of utmost importance. It became necessary, apparently, to jointly protect the Christians of Syria (who, incidentally, have been eagerly bombed by Russia) and to protect human civilization from all sorts of perversions. And, in reality, to save Putin’s Russia from complete isolation and defeat.
I suspect that Vatican diplomats are celebrating this “victory”: decades of enormous efforts that finally have given positive results. Moscow was finally “persuaded to a dialogue.” In fact, the Pope said that key word “finally” when he embraced the Patriarch.
However, to determine who really won here let us turn to the Declaration signed in Cuba.
Trusting and peace-loving people will pay attention primarily to a number of paragraphs that, if separated from the circumstances, could easily be considered as achievements of recent interchurch relations. For example, those troubled by the silence of secular Europe to the suffering of Christians from the violence in the Middle East will be glad to see that the signers of the Declaration share their concerns.
People with a more liberal inclination, for whom pluralism and tolerance are important, will be satisfied with paragraph 13 that ” Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony.” On the other hand, people of conservative inclination will be satisfied with paragraphs 19-21, where traditional family values, the right to life, and warnings about the dangers of aggressive secularism are emphasized.
But for me, educated in the duplicity of communist ideology and shocked by the cynicism of the Russian World ideology, deeds are important, not words. So when I read in paragraph 13 that “In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions,” I immediately remember that the Moscow Patriarch has not uttered a single word to condemn the military aggression of his country against Ukraine nor the religious persecution on the occupied territories. Therefore, he has not fulfilled the requirement that he so eloquently invokes in the quoted passage.
This is why these points in the Declaration, which primarily relate to the situation in Ukraine or which are applied to it, are for me a test that reveals the sincerity or insincerity of the Moscow Patriarch and the awareness of the Catholic side.
Paragraph 26 could be called “Balamand-like.” It repeats almost word for word the famous formula of the Balamand Agreement which made it famous, namely the distinction between:
(a) “Uniatism” as a method of achieving unity of churches and
(b) the Eastern Catholic Churches which, though they were created as a result of the union, still have a right to exist.
But there is one “minor” change in the Cuban Declaration. It no longer refers to the Eastern Catholic Churches but to church communities. To the secular ear, the difference is almost unnoticeable, but the ecclesiastical reality behind these definitions is radically different! The Vatican is well aware of this difference when, for example, it distinguishes between “Protestant Churches” and “Protestant Church communities.”
Therefore, one cannot consider this a simple omission. The document clearly speaks of “communities,” which as a result of the union “became separated from their churches.” Therefore, this entire paragraph is written on the basis of Orthodox ecclesiology according to its Moscow interpretation.
It is worth quoting paragraph 26 in full: ” We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants, and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parties involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity, and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.”
This paragraph was clearly written in the Kremlin. It literally repeats the Kremlin’s propaganda cliché about the purely domestic nature of the “conflict in Ukraine.” It contains an indirect allusion that the Russian Orthodox Church in the zone of conflict is peace-loving whereas the “Uniates” and the “raskolniki” (schismatics –Ed.) are fueling the conflict. In any case, this is how this paragraph will be used by Moscow in the future.
And finally, there is no mention in this paragraph of something that is obvious to the entire world — Russia’s involvement in this conflict. The fact that this point was proposed by the Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow – Ed.) is clear, but what is extraordinary is that the Vatican diplomats accepted it and eventually so did the Pope. While it might have been possible not to understand the nature of the “Ukrainian conflict” in the summer of 2014, the “naïve ignorance” exhibited in the beginning of 2016 is on the Vatican’s conscience.
In paragraph 27 the Declaration signatories express the “hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms.” Well, this is longtime Vatican politics — to maintain contacts in Ukraine only with the “canonical” Orthodox Church.
So it is not difficult to imagine how negatively this paragraph will be received by the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches that are not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. One can only deplore once again that in the Vatican’s view the principle of canon law takes on an absolute character with no regard to the distortions of truth and justice that are at its core.
The desire to avoid irritating Moscow has become the starting point for any steps in the Vatican for relations with other churches. For Ukrainian Christians this could be a reason for outrage if not for the fact that, fortunately, the Gospel says nothing about canonical law but quite a lot about truth and the necessary caution that Christians need to exhibit in the face of the evil one. The impression of evil is only amplified when you read paragraph 28, which contains many beautiful and accurate words on the need for cooperation between the Orthodox and the Catholics and about the evangelical basis of this cooperation. However, as soon as one comes across the words about the need ” to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person,” the mind immediately sees the massive violations of human rights in the occupied territories controlled by Russia, which have now become the preserve of the “Russian World.”
The issue is the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the physical destruction of Protestant pastors, the arbitrary arrests and “disappearances” of the activists of the Crimean Tatar movement and so on. There is not a single word about all this in the Declaration. It is as if the suffering of the “non-canonicals” and those of other “religious affiliations” are less worthy of compassion than the Christians in Syria.
In the past, Roman popes repeatedly used meetings with political or religious leaders to defend religious freedom and human rights. It is enough to remember the release of Patriarch Yosyf Slipyi from Siberian imprisonment, which we owe to Pope John XXIII, or the legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which we owe to Pope John Paul II.
This is why it was impossible to condemn the planned meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill before it took place because the Pope had the opportunity to defend the interests of those harmed by Russian aggression. He had the opportunity but did not use it. The Cuban Declaration of the two church heads was structured is such a way that Russia is referred to as the country of the “unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith ” where there is the opportunity now to “to freely confess one’s faith” while concern arises only about other countries. It is only in other countries that “Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them.”
This is why I have reached the painful conclusion that on the issue of Ukraine and Russia the Catholic Church has once again avoided the truth for the benefit of an ephemeral “dialogue with Moscow.”
The Cuban Declaration of the Pope and the Moscow Patriarch is a vivid illustration of several things at once: the undeniable victory of the Kremlin and the FSB along with all their obedient subjects, to which I add the Russian Orthodox Church; the complete failure of Ukrainian state diplomacy in the Vatican and the clear inadequacy of the information service of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church there; the helpless blindness and incompetence of the Vatican diplomacy, which is so easily fooled by the vocabulary of peace; and the ominous failure of Europe’s influential circles to decode the deceitful formulas of Putin’s propaganda.
This is why it is logical to conclude that the meeting between the Roman Pope and the Moscow Patriarch was epochal. However equally epochal were the failures of the Vatican diplomats, who could not see the real world from behind their shabby textbooks on “Ostpolitik.”
Myroslav Marynovych is a vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, co-founder of Amnesty International Ukraine, a founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, and a former political prisoner.
Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Ukrayinska Pravda
English translation online here: An epochal meeting with epochal consequences -Euromaidan Press |
Sunday, 14 February 2016
"The Vatican did everything to accommodate Patriarch Kirill, but received little in return" - Fr Mark Drew, Catholic Herald
The reported first words of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill on their historic meeting – for historic it was, however hackneyed the word – were revealing. “Finally” said the Pontiff, adding “we are brothers”. Kirill was equally satisfied but perhaps less effusive: “Yes, things are much easier now”.
Easier no doubt because the Vatican, in its eagerness to secure a meeting that had eluded successive popes for decades, had allowed the Moscow Patriarchate largely to set the terms and the agenda for the meeting. Meeting in Havana, in a country where Russian political influence was once strong, the two men issued a carefully negotiated joint statement whose final form was agreed only a matter of hours before, no doubt after minute negotiations and searching scrutiny from officials on both sides.
There is a commitment to work towards unity: “It is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God”. This might seem self-evident to Western Christians, but the Orthodox involvement in ecumenism is hotly contested by influential voices in Russia and elsewhere. For this reason Moscow stressed from the outset that Pope and Patriarch would not pray together. So, committing himself to seeking restored communion is not lacking in courage on Kirill’s part.
Nonetheless the main emphasis of the text is on common witness and action ad extra. There is an insistence on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on the general suffering caused by conflicts there, with Syria and Iraq mentioned explicitly, and a plea on behalf of the two Orthodox bishops of Aleppo held captive since 2013. A strong plea is made for a reversal of the conditions which threaten the ancient Christian communities in these lands with extinction or permanent exile. The language is somewhat stronger than Francis has generally used in public, and some will be wondering why it has taken Kirill’s involvement to persuade the Pope to adopt a more combative tone.
The same consideration applies to the firm words the statement contains on the need to counter the advance of secularism and the promotion of traditional Christian moral values. The defence of the family, based on heterosexual marriage and requiring openness to procreation, is reinforced by an explicit condemnation of cohabitation, abortion and euthanasia.
Francis has of course always said that his attitude to these questions is no different from that of his predecessors. But he has expressed reluctance to allow them to assume the prominence in his public pronouncements which they receive in this joint text. His own pressing concerns are echoed, though perhaps with lesser vigour, in the affirmations of the necessity for joint promotion of ecological concerns, social justice and humanitarian aid to refugees, though it is noteworthy that there is no outright call for a policy of generous welcome to the displaced.
There is much reference to dialogue and mutual respect, not only between Christians but also between adherents of different religions and world views. This too is more of a reflection of Francis and the Vatican’s priorities than those of the patriarchate.
Kirill will, however, be satisfied with the references to conditions nearer home. There is an almost jubilant celebration of the religious rebirth in Russia since the fall of atheistic communism, and it was inevitable that this would not be balanced by any reference to the ambiguous consequences for the Russian Church of its closeness to centres of political and economic power. There are several paragraphs directly relevant to the situation in Ukraine, and these should and will receive close scrutiny.
Ukrainian Greek Catholics will have mixed feelings about the document. It is no surprise to find the customary rejection of “uniatism” as a way forward towards unity, though there is a welcome acknowledgment that Eastern Rite Catholic communities have a right to exist. Several key phrases seem to me, while seeking an apparently even handed tone, to echo Orthodox concerns in a way that will be especially pleasing to Kirill and his constituency at home.
The rejection of proselytism and pressure to convert applies to both sides of course, but by saying that the Greek Catholic Church should “undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours”, the statement might be seen as restricting their right to evangelise. The injunction to the churches to “refrain from taking part in the confrontation” is unobjectionable in itself, but might mirror accusations from prominent sources in the Patriarchate that the “uniates” have been whipping up anti-Russian sentiment.
Moscow has also accused Greek Catholics of fomenting division between the rival Orthodox groups in Ukraine, so it is significant that the text expresses the desire “that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this”. The hope is expressed that the inter-Orthodox schism in Ukraine will be “overcome through existing canonical norms”. Does this constitute explicit Catholic support for the Moscow Patriarchate’s rejection of any autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which would be a pre-condition of restored unity for the groups separated from Moscow?
On reflection, this statement seems to me to be a significant boost to the objectives of the Moscow patriarchate. As well as seeing many of its own priorities endorsed, Moscow now looks like it has been accepted by Rome as privileged partner in the dialogue, at the possible expense of Constantinople. The Vatican, for its part, will be satisfied that the encounter took place at all.
It is Kirill who has most reason to be satisfied with the meeting and with the statement. He has made a courageous and significant gesture in indicating that he sees restored communion as a goal, with an affirmation that Catholics and Orthodox enjoy a “shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium”. But he has seen Rome bend over backwards to accommodate him, without any real concession in return. I must confess to a certain disappointment at the lack of any concrete reference to such convergence as has already occurred on the disputed points of doctrine, or even of any explicit commitment to on-going dialogue about them.
The meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill concluded with the signing of a Joint Declaration, which elicited mixed reactions on the part of the citizenry and Church representatives of Ukraine.
His Beatitude Sviatoslav, the Head of the UGCC, shared his impressions of the meeting in general and of the document in particular.
The following interview in Ukrainian was conducted by Father Ihor Yatsiv and posted on the official website of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kyiv on Saturday 13 February. The links to the source are below. We are also grateful to Royal Doors for making available a full translation into English.
Your Beatitude, kindly share with us your impressions of the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. What can you say about the Joint Declaration that they signed?
From our experience, gained over many years, we can say that when the Vatican and Moscow organize meetings or sign joint texts, it is difficult to expect something good. Firstly, I would like to say something about the meeting of the Holy Father with Patriarch Kirill, and then I will comment on the text of the declaration.
One notices immediately, especially from their comments after the meeting, that the two sides existed on two completely different planes and were pursuing different goals. His Holiness Pope Francis experienced this encounter primarily as a spiritual event. He opened his remarks by noting that we, Catholics and Orthodox, share one and the same Baptism. In the meeting, he sought out the presence of the Holy Spirit and received His support. He emphasized that the unity of the Churches can be achieved when we travel together on the same path. From the Moscow Patriarch one immediately sensed that this wasn’t about any Spirit, or theology, or actual religious matters. No common prayer, an emphasis on official phrases about “the fate of the world,” and the airport as a neutral, that is, non-ecclesial environment. The impression was that they existed in two parallel worlds. Did these two parallel realities intersect during this meeting? I don’t know, but according to the rules of mathematics, two parallel lines do not intersect.
I found myself experiencing authentic admiration, respect, and a certain reverential awe for the humility of Pope Francis, a true “suffering servant of God,” who seeks one thing: to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ before humankind today, to be in the world, but remain of Christ, to have courage to be “not of this world.” Thus, I would invite all not to rush in judging him, not to remain on the reality level of those who expect only politics from this meeting and want to exploit a humble pope for their human plans at all costs. If we don’t enter into the spiritual reality of the Holy Father and do not discern together with him the action of the Holy Spirit, we shall remain imprisoned by the prince of this world and his followers. Then, for us, this will become a meeting that occurred but didn’t happen. Speaking of the signed text of the Joint Declaration, in general it is positive. In it are raised questions, which are of concern to both Catholics and Orthodox, and it opens new perspectives for cooperation. I encourage all to look for these positive elements. However, the points which concern Ukraine in general and specifically the UGCC raised more questions than answers.
It was officially reported that this document was the joint effort of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) from the Orthodox side and Cardinal Koch with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from the Catholic side. For a document that was intended to be not theological, but essentially socio-political, it is hard to imagine a weaker team than the one that drafted this text. The mentioned Pontifical Council is competent in theological matters in relations with various Christian Churches and communities, but is no expert in matters of international politics, especially in delicate matters such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Thus, the intended character of the document was beyond their capabilities. This was exploited by the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is, first of all, the instrument of diplomacy and external politics of the Moscow Patriarchate. I would note that, as the Head of our Church, I am an official member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, nominated already by Pope Benedict. However, no one invited me to express my thoughts and so, essentially, as had already happened previously, they spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice.
Possibly the Apostolic Nuncio can help me understand the “obscure places” in this text and can explain the position of the Vatican in places where it is, in our view, not clearly formulated.
However, paragraph 25 of the Declaration speaks respectfully of Greek-Catholics and the UGCC is essentially recognized as a subject of inter-church relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.
Yes, you are right. They no longer seem to object to our right to exist. In reality, in order to exist and to act, we are not obliged to ask permission from anybody. The new emphasis here, of course, is that the Balamand Agreement of 1993, which Metropolitan Alfeyev has used until now to deny our right to exist, is now being used for its affirmation. Referring to the rejection of “uniatism” as a method of uniting Churches, Moscow always demanded from the Vatican a virtual ban on our existence and the limitation of our activities. Moreover, this requirement was placed as a condition, in the form of an ultimatum, for the possibility of a meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch. In the past, we were accused of “expansion on the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” and now our right to care for our faithful, wherever they are in need, is recognized. I assume that this also applies to the Russian Federation, where today we do not have the possibility of free and legal existence, or on the territory of annexed Crimea, where we are “re-registered” in accordance with Russian legislation and are effectively liquidated.
This change of emphasis is definitely positive, although essentially nothing new has been said. The recognition that “Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence” is encouraging. We have been talking about this for a long time, and both Myroslav Ivan Cardinal Lubachivsky and His Beatitude Lubomyr frequently appealed to our Orthodox brothers with these words, but there was no answer. I hope that we will be able to foster bilateral relations with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), moving in this direction without interference from Moscow.
How would you comment on this statement: “We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict?”
In general, I would like to say that paragraph 26 of the Declaration is the most controversial. One gets the impression that the Moscow Patriarchate is either stubbornly refusing to admit that it is a party to the conflict, namely, that it openly supports the aggression of Russia against Ukraine, and, by the way, also blesses the military actions of Russia in Syria as a “holy war,” or it is appealing first of all to its own conscience, calling itself to the same prudence, social solidarity, and the active building of peace. I do not know! The very word “conflict” is obscure here and seems to suggests to the reader that we have a “civil conflict” rather than external aggression by a neighboring state. Today, it is widely recognized that if soldiers were not sent from Russia onto Ukrainian soil and did not supply heavy weapons, if the Russian Orthodox Church, instead of blessing the idea of “Russkiy mir” (“the Russian world”) supported Ukraine gaining control over its own borders, there would be neither any annexation of Crimea nor would there be any war at all. It is precisely this kind of social solidarity with the Ukrainian people and the active construction of peace that we expect from the signatories of this document.
I would like to express a few thoughts on the phrase that encourages Churches in Ukraine “to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.” Churches and religious organizations in Ukraine never supported the war and constantly labored towards social peace and harmony. One need only to show some interest in the topics raised through the appeals of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations over the last two years.
Instead, the appeal not to participate in the protests and not to support its development for some reason strongly reminds me of the accusations by Metropolitan Hilarion, who attacked the position of “Ukrainian schismatics and Uniates,” practically accusing us of being the cause of the war in Eastern Ukraine, at the same time, viewing our civic position, which we based upon the social teaching of the Catholic Church, as support for only one of the “sides of the participants in the conflict.”
In this regard, I wish to state the following. The UGCC has never supported nor promoted the war. However, we have always supported and will support the people of Ukraine! We have never been on the side of the aggressor; instead, we remained with our people when they were on the Maidan, when they were being killed by the bearers of “Russkiy mir.” Our priests have never taken up arms, as opposed to what has happened on the other side. Our chaplains, as builders of peace, suffer the freezing cold together with our soldiers on the front and with their very own hands carry the wounded from the battlefield, wipe away the tears of mothers who mourn their dead children. We care for the wounded and for those who have suffered as a result of the fighting, regardless of their national origin, their religious or political beliefs. Today, more than ever, the circumstances are such that our nation has no other protection and refuge, except from its Church. It is precisely a pastoral conscience that calls us to be the voice of the people, to awaken the conscience of the global Christian community, even when this voice is not understood or is disregarded by the religious leaders of Churches today.
Your Beatitude, will the fact that the Holy Father signed such an unclear and ambiguous document not undermine the respect that the faithful of the UGCC have for him, given that unity with the successor of Peter is an integral part of her identity?
Undoubtedly, this text has caused deep disappointment among many faithful of our Church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. Today, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truth nature of this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See for Russian aggression against Ukraine. I can certainly understand those feelings.
Nonetheless, I encourage our faithful not to dramatize this Declaration and not to exaggerate its importance for Church life. We have experienced more than one such statement, and will survive this one as well. We need to remember that our unity and full communion with the Holy Father, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, is not the result of political agreement or diplomatic compromise, or the clarity of a Joint Declaration text. This unity and communion with the Peter of today is a matter of our faith. It is to him, Pope Francis, and to each of us today, that Christ says in the Gospel of Luke: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
It is for this unity with the Apostolic See that our Church’s twentieth century Martyrs and Confessors of Faith gave up their lives, sealing it with their blood. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Lviv Pseudo-Synod, let us draw from them the strength of this witness, of their sacrifice which, in our day, at times appears to be a stumbling block – a stone which the builders of international relations frequently reject; yet, it is precisely this stone of Christ of Peter’s faith, that the Lord will make the cornerstone of the future of all Christians. And it will be “marvelous in our eyes.”
[Source in Ukrainian: UGCC Official Website]
We gratefully acknowledged the translation from Royal Doors, here:
“Two Parallel Worlds” – An Interview with His Beatitude Sviatoslav - Royal Doors
Pope Benedict XVI was, and is, known for playing the piano. Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the chief architect of Friday’s Cuban summit between his boss Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, is a published composer of sacred music. But what about Francis himself? What are his musical talents? After his visit to Cuba today, I cannot help but wonder: does Pope Francis secretly play the fiddle?
More than one of my Orthodox friends (and not a few of my Ukrainian Catholic friends), in commenting earlier this week before the Cuba summit between the pope of Rome and the patriarch of Moscow, voiced the worry that Francis would get “played” by Patriarch Kirill—that he would walk into a Russian trap. Having read the statement of the Cuban summit, there are indeed parts of their joint statement that read very much like it was drafted solely by and for the Russians who, I have no doubt, will shamelessly spin it to suit their agenda.
But I wonder. I wonder if Francis will not be happy to have the Russians make such claims in the months ahead. I wonder if the Russians, thinking they have “played” the pope, have not unwittingly found themselves pulled into an orchestral arrangement in which they are simultaneously first and second violin, simultaneously both composers and, more important, players alongside others they cannot totally control. I wonder—to use a famous Russian formulation attributed to Lenin—who played whom?
This statement, then, admits of more than one reading, more than one hearing. Patriarch Kirill may have thought he was first violin, and perhaps he was at points; but it is not at all clear to me that Pope Francis was only second violin the whole time. Consider, in witness of this, four examples from the joint papal-patriarchal statement from Cuba, and a fifth from the meeting itself. It is my contention that all of these compositions are composed in such a way as to admit of hearing in two quite different ways.
First, paragraph 24 says of Catholics and Orthodox: “We are not competitors but brothers.” Many Catholics, perhaps most Catholics, and certainly most Russian Orthodox, will read that and think it’s aimed at Catholics, who are always (so the Russians claim) engaging in this competitive sheep-stealing “proselytism” condemned in the line immediately before this one.
But the statement can also be read—and I would argue very much should be read—not as a rebuke of Catholics, but as a quiet and wholly necessary reassurance to Russians. For it is Russians who need to be assured, again and again, that Catholics in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere are not there at Orthodox expense, and that any growth in Catholic numbers is not a defeat for the Orthodox, but a common victory for the Gospel of our common Lord.
This statement says, in effect, we must no longer conceive of our relationship as a zero-sum game: Orthodox lose if Catholics win converts, or vice versa. If Catholics grow in Ukraine or Serbia or Russia or Greece: to God be the glory! And if Orthodox grow in Quebec or Palermo or Vienna or Dublin: to God be the glory! According to both Catholic and Orthodox teaching, a person entering into either Orthodoxy or Catholicism has access to “valid” sacraments and thus all the means necessary to salvation. So we can and should be united in rejoicing at each other’s gains, and united again at mourning each other’s weaknesses and losses.
Secondly, paragraph 25 also makes three claims (in italics) that can be read both ways. The whole paragraph in full reads:
It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence. (emphasis added)
Today: This can and should be read as meaning that nobody in 2016 is looking to create another Eastern Catholic Church out of an existing Orthodox ecclesial community. And indeed nobody is doing that. Rome has twice now foresworn off any future “uniate” churches.
But the “today” is key here, I’d suggest, insofar as it cuts off any kind of retroactive rubbishing of the past, any kind of apology (cf. my “Apologia Pro Unia”, Feb 8, 2016) for what happened yesterday, or at any point in the past. “Today” closes the door to the past and prevents us from indulging in that infuriatingly jejune practice popular among spoiled students of dragging up the dead to condemn them for insufficient sensitivity to today’s politics—whether it’s Columbus, Junipero Serra, or the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. In other words, Eastern Catholics exist, and neither they nor Rome are prepared to condemn them and apologize for their past existence.
Third: Ecclesial community. This phrase, admittedly, stuck in my throat, and it has already for several of my Ukrainian Catholic friends. For it reminds us of language used in the very early 1990s, when the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) was emerging from the underground but bureaucrats in both Moscow and Rome tried to downplay its significance by conjuring up such ecclesiologically incoherent and twisted terminology as “Catholic communities of the Byzantine rite.”
In this context, however, “ecclesial communities” is used to refer to one-time Orthodox bodies who happened to became Catholic. This phrase, then, also admits of a dual reading—it can be read as applying in a denigrating fashion to today’s Ukrainian Catholic Church; but it is first posited of the Church of Kievan Rus, which is Orthodox and whose Orthodox bishops took themselves to Rome in 1595 to negotiate the Union of Brest. This must not be forgotten!
This “ecclesial communities” phrase is also useful insofar as it can also be turned back on today’s Orthodox, who have themselves created their own “uniate” communities of former Western Christians—both Protestant and Roman Catholic—who have become Orthodox through jerry-rigged “Western Rite” communities set up by various Byzantine Orthodox Churches—the Russian and the Antiochian among them. Serious Orthodox commentators I have talked to—Paul Meyendorff of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, for example—and other Orthodox scholars past (e.g., Alexander Schmemann) and present (e.g., Jack Turner) have all said these “Western Rite” communities are totally incoherent and little more than “uniatism in reverse.”
But, fourth, perhaps the most important phrase is this, again from paragraph 25 when, in speaking of Eastern Catholics, it says they have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful. After a quarter-century of unrelenting hostility from the Russians directed against Ukrainian Catholics, it is no small thing for them to finally concede in print that we have a right to exist.
Now, to be sure, and following Churchill’s famous phrase from 1940, I do not consider this the end, or even the beginning of the end, of Russian hostility and complaints about “the uniates.” But this statement is, perhaps, the end of the beginning phase in the propaganda war, which has lasted twenty-five years now.
Consider, fifth and finally, the very fact of the meeting itself. Having for so long held the prospect of a papal-patriarchal summit hostage to its own demands, the Russians can hardly return to doing so now. They sought this meeting because they clearly need it to boost their badly battered standing in both the international political and ecclesial arenas thanks to their war against Ukraine, their involvement in Syria, and their incessant campaign to shove the Ecumenical Patriarch into the Bosphorus. They got the meeting they wanted, and they got the statement they felt they needed.
But so did the pope—on both scores.
There is a reason that the Jesuits were exiled in 1820 from Russia by Tsar Alexander I. There is a reason the Jesuits have long struck terror in the hearts of Russians and others. There is a reason that to call someone (whether a member of the Society of Jesus or not) “Jesuitical” used to be an accusation of the slipperiest, slyest, most casuistic forms of argument that could be read one way or another.
You have to hunt high and low to find Jesuits like that today, but I think one has been hiding in plain sight all along in Casa Santa Marta in Rome, happily playing second fiddle while others wrote and attempted to take sole credit for the composition, and also insisted on conducting it themselves. Well played, Francis, S.J.
With grateful acknowledgement to CWR and Dr DeVille. Read the article and links at CWR online here:Francis and Kirill: Who Played Whom? | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views
Saturday, 13 February 2016
"The inability to get any kind of reference in the joint statement to foreign aggression in Ukraine is a major flaw in an otherwise decent statement - Ukrainians worldwide will be very disappointed. And Antonii Pakanych's (metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate) prominence in the Moscow Patriarchate delegation without anyone even remotely representative of Eastern Catholicism (not to mention Ukrainian Greek Catholicism) is also very unfortunate."
On February 5, Father Galadza signed a statement of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies Regarding the Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Cuba
Report from RISU here:
Rev Peter Galadza on joint Francis-Kirill statement: Ukrainians worldwide will be very disappointed
Friday, 12 February 2016
1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.
It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.
2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.
It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.
3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the “seed of Christians”.
5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: “So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you … so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).
6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!
7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.
8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.
9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.
10. Thousands of victims have already been claimed in the violence in Syria and Iraq, which has left many other millions without a home or means of sustenance. We urge the international community to seek an end to the violence and terrorism and, at the same time, to contribute through dialogue to a swift return to civil peace. Large–scale humanitarian aid must be assured to the afflicted populations and to the many refugees seeking safety in neighbouring lands.
We call upon all those whose influence can be brought to bear upon the destiny of those kidnapped, including the Metropolitans of Aleppo, Paul and John Ibrahim, who were taken in April 2013, to make every effort to ensure their prompt liberation.
11. We lift our prayers to Christ, the Saviour of the world, asking for the return of peace in the Middle East, “the fruit of justice” (Is 32:17), so that fraternal co–existence among the various populations, Churches and religions may be strengthened, enabling refugees to return to their homes, wounds to be healed, and the souls of the slain innocent to rest in peace.
We address, in a fervent appeal, all the parts that may be involved in the conflicts to demonstrate good will and to take part in the negotiating table. At the same time, the international community must undertake every possible effort to end terrorism through common, joint and coordinated action. We call on all the countries involved in the struggle against terrorism to responsible and prudent action. We exhort all Christians and all believers of God to pray fervently to the providential Creator of the world to protect His creation from destruction and not permit a new world war. In order to ensure a solid and enduring peace, specific efforts must be undertaken to rediscover the common values uniting us, based on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
12. We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).
13. Interreligious dialogue is indispensable in our disturbing times. Differences in the understanding of religious truths must not impede people of different faiths to live in peace and harmony. In our current context, religious leaders have the particular responsibility to educate their faithful in a spirit which is respectful of the convictions of those belonging to other religious traditions. Attempts to justify criminal acts with religious slogans are altogether unacceptable. No crime may be committed in God’s name, “since God is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).
14. In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith. Thousands of new churches have been built over the last quarter of a century, as well as hundreds of monasteries and theological institutions. Christian communities undertake notable works in the fields of charitable aid and social development, providing diversified forms of assistance to the needy. Orthodox and Catholics often work side by side. Giving witness to the values of the Gospel they attest to the existence of the shared spiritual foundations of human co–existence.
15. At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.
16. The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.
17. Our gaze is also directed to those facing serious difficulties, who live in extreme need and poverty while the material wealth of humanity increases. We cannot remain indifferent to the destinies of millions of migrants and refugees knocking on the doors of wealthy nations. The unrelenting consumerism of some more developed countries is gradually depleting the resources of our planet. The growing inequality in the distribution of material goods increases the feeling of the injustice of the international order that has emerged.
18. The Christian churches are called to defend the demands of justice, the respect for peoples’ traditions, and an authentic solidarity towards all those who suffer. We Christians cannot forget that “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor 1:27–29).
19. The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.
20. The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.
21. We call on all to respect the inalienable right to life. Millions are denied the very right to be born into the world. The blood of the unborn cries out to God (cf. Gen 4:10).
The emergence of so-called euthanasia leads elderly people and the disabled begin to feel that they are a burden on their families and on society in general.
We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.
22. Today, in a particular way, we address young Christians. You, young people, have the task of not hiding your talent in the ground (cf. Mt 25:25), but of using all the abilities God has given you to confirm Christ’s truth in the world, incarnating in your own lives the evangelical commandments of the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Do not be afraid of going against the current, defending God’s truth, to which contemporary secular norms are often far from conforming.
23. God loves each of you and expects you to be His disciples and apostles. Be the light of the world so that those around you may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:14, 16). Raise your children in the Christian faith, transmitting to them the pearl of great price that is the faith (cf. Mt 13:46) you have received from your parents and forbears. Remember that “you have been purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20), at the cost of the death on the cross of the Man–God Jesus Christ.
24. Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5). Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another's foundation” (Rm 15:20).
25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.
26. We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.
27. It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.
28. In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.
29. May our bold witness to God’s truth and to the Good News of salvation be sustained by the Man–God Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who strengthens us with the unfailing promise: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32)!
Christ is the well–spring of joy and hope. Faith in Him transfigures human life, fills it with meaning. This is the conviction borne of the experience of all those to whom Peter refers in his words: “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people; you ‘had not received mercy’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).
Bishop of Rome, Pope of the Catholic Church Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia
Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill - Vatican Radio
The Orthodox Church is not usually associated with rapid change and fast-moving news stories. Its image is more usually one of immobile customs, ancient rituals and an unshakeable attachment to tradition. Of no Orthodox body is this more true than of the Russian Orthodox Church, sometimes styled as the “Third Rome” and seen by many as the solid repository of the ecclesiastical polity and political culture of the Byzantine Empire.
The past week, however, has seen news stories developing with unaccustomed speed. First, news came out that plans to hold the “Great and Holy Council” of the world’s Orthodox churches in Istanbul had been abandoned in favour of a venue in Crete. This was to accommodate the Moscow Patriarchate’s reluctance to hold it in Turkey, now locked in geopolitical conflict with Putin’s Russia.
Then came another bombshell. The Moscow Patriarchate confirmed that a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis, which veteran Italian Vaticanologist Sandro Magister had announced the previous week – only to provoke a denial from sources linked to the Patriarchate – was actually to take place after all.
With hindsight, the denials should have been treated as suspect from the start. When politicians say “there are currently no plans”, we all know that the planning process must be well advanced, and the Moscow Patriarchate is a very politically savvy entity. It has to be; it has been a hostage to political fortunes since its origin.
Headlines spoke of a “historic first meeting between Catholic and Orthodox since 1054”. There has indeed been no meeting of a pope with a Moscow patriarch since that date, when relations between Rome and Constantinople were severed, but there was no such encounter before it either. This is not only because popes and patriarchs of the first millennium were not in the habit of making long and arduous journeys to meet each other, but also because the Moscow patriarchate was yet to exist.
The Slavs were first evangelised in the 9th century by Saints Cyril and Methodius. It took another century for the new faith to become established in what is now Ukraine and Russia, symbolised by the baptism of Kievan Rus in 988. The spiritual heritage of that event is hotly disputed today between Russia and Ukraine. Political fragmentation, as well as Mongol and Tartar invasions, pushed the political centre eastward to Moscow, and gradually Kievan Rus was overtaken and eventually absorbed by what became the Russian Empire.
Moscow became pre-eminent as an ecclesiastical centre, too. The Muscovite rulers were keen to establish the independence of their church from Constantinople. That keenness was bolstered by their rejection of the policy of reunion with Rome then being pursued in Byzantium, and so in 1448 a metropolitan see was created in Moscow.
It took more than a century for the Russian Church’s autocephaly to win acceptance from Constantinople. But in 1558 the metropolitan of Moscow took the title of Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus. The Fall of Constantinople to the Turks had meant that many Orthodox would henceforth look to Moscow as the “Third Rome”, the new seat of Christian empire whose resistance to union with Rome had given it added prestige as a bastion of Orthodoxy.
Russia had become an empire in 1547 when Ivan the Terrible took the title “Caesar”, or Tsar in Russian, and over the centuries the importance of the patriarchate waxed and waned with the fortunes of the state, assuming a vital authority when the rule of the tsars was weak. This was what motivated Peter the Great to suppress the institution of the patriarchate altogether in 1721, replacing it with a standing synod over which successive tsars would keep tight control through a lay procurator.
In effect, the Church was run by a civil servant as a department of state for almost two centuries. Only in 1918 did a brief window of freedom allow the restoration of the patriarchate, before a whirlwind of expropriation and persecution beat down upon the Russian Church, now seen as the enemy of the state which had so long simultaneously nurtured and contained it.
That persecution was a defining experience for the Russian Orthodox Church, which faced near extinction. The brutal repression was mitigated under Stalin – at the price of total subservience – but it definitively ended only with the fall of communism in 1990. The outgoing generation of hierarchs were men who had been obliged to combine the cultivation of the fragile flame of faith with the necessity of a more or less willing collaboration with the state security apparatus.
Kirill, who became Patriarch in 2009, has promoted a younger generation of clerics to the episcopate, probably aiming to consign this period to history. But he remembers it well, having had to negotiate its necessary compromises as a young monk and theologian before becoming an archbishop in 1984.
Kirill inherited a Church which in many ways seems flourishing, and well on the way to recovering its privileged position in pre-revolutionary Russian society. Still, the fragilities inherited from the past are never far below the surface. Although church membership has boomed since the end of communism, mass baptisms have not generally been accompanied by solid catechesis and regular religious practice. With at least 50 million members in Russia and many more in affiliated Churches worldwide, Kirill’s Church is by far the largest Orthodox body, counting perhaps 40 per cent of Orthodox believers. Yet although most Russian citizens now define themselves as Orthodox, the Church’s grip on Russian society is probably neither as deep nor as secure as statistics suggest.
This is the context within which Kirill seeks to gain for his Church both security and stability at home, and influence and prestige abroad. His decision finally to meet the Pope, a meeting fervently desired by recent pontiffs but consistently refused by previous patriarchs, is to be interpreted against this background. We may consider his objectives under these two aspects: relations with the Russian state and external relations and influence.
Kirill may seem to have a cosy relationship with the Putin regime, but this involves maintaining an equilibrium which is not always comfortable. Western, conservative Christians are sometimes superficially impressed by Putin’s desire to be seen as a protector both of Christian moral values and of persecuted Christians, in the Middle East especially. They should, however, be under no illusion that this is any more than political posturing designed to bolster the president’s popularity at home and advance his policy objectives abroad.
Kirill will want to take advantage of this policy to serve his Church’s own interests and priorities. There is little doubt that he favours good ecumenical relations personally, having promoted them since the early stages of his career in the hierarchy. In Soviet days the Russian Church was among the most ecumenically inclined of Orthodox jurisdictions, in part because this made for a better image abroad and favoured its objective of détente with the West.
When the fortunes and liberty of the Church increased after 1990, this pro-ecumenical stance experienced a marked decline. Putin, now suffering from international isolation as a result of his aggressive foreign policy and economically weakened with sanctions biting and energy dollars in short supply, is probably encouraging Kirill to seize the initiative.
At the same time, the forthcoming pan-Orthodox synod this summer is an opportunity for Kirill to present his patriarchate as the de facto leader of world Orthodoxy. To polish up the reputation of the “Third Rome” he will be trying to push Constantinople further into the shade. Hence the transfer of the synod to Crete is certainly at least as much about this as about avoiding Turkish harassment. If Kirill can be seen to take upon himself the mantle of chief Orthodox interlocutor with the papacy, he will certainly derive some satisfaction in depriving arch-rival Patriarch Bartholomew of that role.
And yet he will be simultaneously looking over his shoulder towards powerful elements within Orthodoxy, not least in Russia, who resist ecumenism on principle. Hence his repeated assurances that, while promoting warmer relations, he does not envisage actual reunion. He presents his dialogue with Catholicism as being a matter above all of seeking cooperation in defending Christian morality against secular encroachment, and defending persecuted Christians, in the Middle East especially.
Both of these, incidentally, are issues on which Pope Francis seems to prefer the softly spoken approach to war-like posturing, so it will be interesting to see what sort of common statement emerges.
One issue which is delicate for both Francis and Kirill is Ukraine. Kirill’s patriarchate has been haemorrhaging adherents, in western Ukraine especially, over its closeness to Putin’s Kremlin and to the cause of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern provinces. Overt support of pro-Russian separatists by clerics loyal to Moscow, despite Kirill’s attempts to soften the line, have led to entire parishes defecting to the rival Kiev Patriarchate. Constantinople has been forced to reject outright this new jurisdiction, and Kirill will ensure that it remains out in the cold at the Crete meeting. He will be on the lookout for anything Francis might say which he can use to bolster his interpretation that what is happening in Ukraine is a “fratricidal civil war”, rather than a Russian incursion against Kiev’s sovereignty.
Francis is no ingénue when it comes to recognising and outflanking political manipulation, but here he is navigating a minefield. Vatican officials will have briefed him intensely on the pitfalls to avoid, but his tendency to make spontaneous and not always clearly defined gestures of goodwill will mean that it will be a nerve-racking meeting for those seeking to keep Vatican diplomacy running along well-planned lines.
Others who will be watching the meeting with a degree of apprehension will be the clergy and faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest Eastern Catholic Church. In recent years they have felt almost abandoned by the Vatican, as time after time it has cultivated the Russians by rejecting “Uniatism” (the derogatory term used by Orthodox of Eastern Catholics) as a way forward for ecumenism while affirming at the same time that the Eastern Catholics have a right to exist. Any careless words which Kirill might exploit in this way will only serve to confirm the impression of Ukrainian Greek Catholics that they are being thrown under a bus.
The meeting of the Pope and Patriarch, while certainly historic and of real symbolic importance, should not be seen as a harbinger of unity round the corner. Those who expect this to come about from high-level gatherings of hierarchs of the respective Churches probably are missing the point about what Orthodoxy is.
The Orthodox Church is hierarchical, but its hierarchs are not the Church and it does not belong to them. Catholics, used to well-defined structures where authority is seen to come from the top, are often over-optimistic not only about what Orthodox hierarchs want from ecumenism but also about what they can deliver.
Orthodoxy lives above all in its worship, in its parishes and monasteries and in the hearts of its faithful. Its saints and mystics exert an authority at least as real as its official hierarchs. Much the same, in reality, can be said of Catholicism, as Benedict XVI tried to remind us. Ecumenism between us will prosper, and with God’s help succeed, when our communities get to know each other, when prejudices are dispelled and we begin to learn deeply from each other and imitate each other’s strengths, putting the quest for holiness at the heart of our concerns.
This process has scarcely begun. Realism about the limited possibilities of the present moment, and the determination to seize them without yielding to the disappointment generated by excessive expectations, are a necessary part of it.
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