Robert Moynihan, writing September 21 2009 for Zenit, posed the question, Will the "Third Rome" Reunite With the "First Rome"? and concludes that the recent 5 day visit of Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev from the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, representing His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill I, to the Holy Father Pope benedict XVI could mark the turning point. (Read the full article here.)
There have been no official communiques, but the meetings with the Pope, Cardinal Kasper at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and other officials were clearly cordial. Moynihan wonders whether 'the silence suggests that what transpired was important'.
Indeed there was some interesting intelligence. Cardinal Kasper revealed on Vatican Radio his suggestion to Archbishop Hilarion that the Orthodox bishops form a bishops' conference at the European level. Something similar is indeed to form part of the agenda for the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Synod, but at national levels. Kasper said that a European conference would constitute a "direct partner of cooperation" with Roman Catholic bishops. Catholic and Anglican bishops have begun to work on a similar approach through the International Anglican & Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission, but also mainly at the provincial or national level. A pan-European conference of Orthodox bishops would correspond with the Consilium of Bishops' Conferences of Europe and the existing Conference of European Churches, which includes Orthodox and Reformation Christians, but not Catholics. But as yet there is no Europe-wide forum for focusing on Catholic-Orthodox relations and common work and witness.
An official meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch is not planned for the immediate future, but Cardinal Kasper remarked that it would be more likely to take place in a neutral territory, such Hungary, Austria or Belarus.
Interfax, the news service of the Moscow Patriarchate, on September 18 revealed that Archbishop Hilarion spoke to the Pope about 'cooperation between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in the area of moral values and of culture'. Moynihan observes that, while the Russian Orthodox Church is growing at home, it is not without enemies and opposition and looks increasingly to friends and allies.
Interfax later reported that during his meeting with the Pope, Archbishop Hilarion drew attention to the status of Orthodox believers in Western Ukraine, which is the main centre of activity and life for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Interfax stated that this was where three Orthodox dioceses had been almost eliminated as a result of 'coercive actions' of Greek Catholics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and spoke of the need to improve the situation in Western Ukraine," within the territories of Lvov, Ternopol and Invano-Frankovsk Dioceses.
But the report did not however mention the decades of suppression of the Ukrainian Catholic Church during the Soviet period and the coercion to become Orthodox, nor the restoration of Greek Catholic life in independent Ukraine and the recovery and restitution of churches and other property. Nor was mention made of the warmer relations and cooperatoin between Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox in modern Ukraine, despite the sad divisions that had arisen within the Orthodox community itself. It makes all the more pertinent Archbishop Hilarion's words in the homily he preached when he served the Divine Liturgy in Rome's catacomb of Saint Callixtinus:
Human sin is the cause of all divisions, while Christian unity can be restored only in the way of sanctity. Each of us, conscientiously fulfilling a task the Church has given him or her, is called to personally contribute to the treasury of Christian sanctity and work to achieve God-commanded Christian unity.
To read Archbishop Hilarion's interview with Interfax, The Consolidation of Orthodox diasporas can lead to the emergence of new Local Orthodox Churches, looking forward to the Pan-Orthodox Synod and its likely discussions, click here.