In an article in Crux: “Why a meeting between the pope and Russian patriarch is finally happening”, John L. Allen gives an interesting analysis of this coming event. We publish here some extracts of this analysis with commentary.
Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on Feb. 12 in Havana, (during his coming trip in Cuba). It will be the first meeting ever between the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the spiritual chief of Russian Orthodoxy.
For the better part of a quarter-century, rumors of such a meeting would periodically erupt, but it never came to be, in large part because of resistance on the Russian side.
Many Russian Orthodox fear that the Catholic model of ecumenism means submission to papal authority, and despite repeated assurances from John Paul, Benedict XVI, and now Francis that what they’re after instead is 'reconciled diversity,' the suspicion never seemed to abate. Further, many Russian Orthodox clergy and laity have a series of standing complaints about the Catholic Church.”
They fear that the “Uniate Churches” (Eastern churches in communion with Rome) are simply a way to pull people away from Orthodoxy. There is tension in particular with the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, which they consider illegitimately imposing in Moscow’s “canonical territory” with an anti-Russian political agenda. They are further opposed to Catholic proselytism in Russia (even though there were only 800 conversions in the 90's).
For Allen, 3 things have happened in recent years to facilitate such an event:
- the new Patriarch, Kirill, elected in 2009, a specialist of Russian Orthodox ecumenism, who now feels sufficiently in control of Russian Orthodoxy to dare to meet with the pope.
- the progress made in relations between Catholicism and other Orthodox churches, especially with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Since 2/3 of the world’s 225 million Orthodox Christians are Russian, Kirill does not want to lose his leadership especially in light of the first coming pan-Orthodox council of all Orthodox churches scheduled for Crete in June.
- Francis, as the first Latin American pope “does not summon the same set of historical resentments largely tied to European history as either John Paul II, a Pole, or Benedict XVI, a German.” Moreover “Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.”
During the pontificate of John Paul II, it was always taken for granted that the first encounter between a pope and the Russian patriarch would have to take place on neutral ground, and then could be followed by a papal trip to Russia itself.
Allen concludes: “Today, the idea of such an outing has transitioned from wildly improbable to increasingly plausible."
Source: Crux: “Why a meeting between the pope and Russian patriarch is finally happening”, John L. Allen
The recent history of the relations of churchmen with Russian religious and political officials involves a series of betrayal, beginning with Cardinal Montini under Pius XII. Cardinal Casaroli’s Ospolitik sacrificed many faithful Catholics and martyrs on the altar of a false ecumenism. The Second Vatican Council avoided a solemn condemnation of communism despite the requests of so many Council Fathers.
Under John Paul II, theological ecumenism with the Orthodox came to its most advanced point with the Balamand declaration, which resulted in Rome renouncing any formal attempt to convert the Orthodox. The general practice since has been a refusal of converting those who wish to join the Catholic Church. (See below the testimony of Bishop Fellay on this account.)
Pope Francis’ ecumenism does not intend to resolve theological questions as such but to discover the “whole truth” about the Church by service and dialogue, making a “journey towards full communion”:
Thus we affirm once again that the theological dialogue does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church, a truth that we never cease to understand better as we follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Hence, we affirm together that our faithfulness to the Lord demands fraternal encounter and true dialogue.
…by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person at every stage of life and the sanctity of family based on marriage, in promoting peace and the common good, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world.” Common Declaration of Pope Francis and Bartolomew, Jerusalem, May 2014
One can legitimately fear that the historical meeting to come with Russian Patriarch will become another occasion for confusion today about what has to be believed and done in order to seek out one's salvation. Past ecumenical gestures with Orthodox have weakened not only the image of the pope but his very function as defined by Christ Himself: “Tu es Petrus et super hanc Petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam.”
It is interesting to see that Rome's strongest political ally to defend persecuted Christians in the Middle East today seems to be the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. It is also interesting to note that, of all the denominations in the Orthodox world, the Russians are the most staunchly “anti-ecumenical” of all.
One cannot but wonder how this new step in the relations between Russian Orthodox officials and the pope can providentially accelerate the conversion of Russia by its consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
In his novel The Pope’s Guest, Russian author Vladimir Volkoff tells how the prophecy of Russia’s return to the Catholic Church announced in the apparitions of Fatima paved the way to a hopeful meeting between the Metropolitan of Leningrad and John Paul I, but eventually led to the assassination of both. Church history is not a novel, but God works in mysterious ways. May this meeting expose more of the Orthodox to the prophecy of the Theotokos!
Allen mentioned the return of a cherished Russian Orthodox icon called the Madonna of Kazan to the Patriarch of Moscow on the request of John Paul II in 2004. This venerable icon of the Theotokos of Kazan had been acquired by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima and enshrined in Fatima before being returned to the Kremlin.
Let us pray to Our Lady of Fatima for the conversion of Russia.
Extracts of Bishop Fellay’s sermon
on the occasion of the priestly ordinations in Econe on June 24, 1996
Let us consider the Orthodox Christians, the ones who are closest to the Catholic Church, the ones we should certainly give preference to win back for the Church.
What does ecumenism have to do with these? How does the Catholic Church, in the name of ecumenism, deal with the Orthodox?
Firstly, they have made an agreement with the Patriarchs of Moscow, and an explicit agreement with the other Orthodox churches based upon the declaration of Balamand, to try not to convert the Orthodox anymore.
What is worse, it hinders the return of those Orthodox who do want to convert themselves and who have recognized that the Catholic Church is the only true one, who knock at her doors and demand entrance!
We know of several such instances and of persons whom we have met ourselves, not only lay people, but also priests, prelates, and Orthodox Bishops who had been refused entrance into the Catholic Church!
Even worse: In 1989, a bishop in the Ukraine, who had been in hiding and taking care of the See of Lwolv, and who was therefore a Catholic who had suffered persecution to remain a Catholic, received many Orthodox faithful into the Church.
In those days with the apparent falling apart of Communism, the state released it’s tight control on religion, people would by the droves go for religion and among others many Orthodox wanted to convert and did in fact convert. Whole parishes at once would quit the Orthodox church or simply returned to Catholicism.
This bishop then, whose name is His Excellency Vladimir Sterniouk, received into the Church faithful, parishes and priests and even two bishops of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Patriarchate of Moscow was mad about this and contacted Rome. Rome answered that since only the pope can receive Orthodox bishops into the Church, and since the pope has not received any requests of bishops wanting to enter into the Church, therefore no Orthodox bishops have entered the Church.
Bishop Sterniouk has been obliged to dismiss these two bishops, whom he had just received into the Catholic communion, and send them back to the Orthodox.
Our conclusion is then, my dear faithful, that this ecumenism is an army’s weapon against the Catholic Church which is so much the more dangerous and pernicious because it presents itself under the appearance of peace, a smile and dialogue. Ecumenism has destroyed the Faith of the Church, has emptied her buildings and closed her doors."