On May 11, just two days before the hundredth anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, addressed The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians held in Washington, D.C. The summit, which was organized by the Protestant evangelist Franklin Graham as part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, sought to call attention to the ongoing persecution of Christians around the world. During his visit to Washington, Metropolitan Hilarion also met with United States Vice President Mike Pence, where they discussed the necessity of forming a cohesive, multinational front against global terrorism.
Hilarion on the Persecution of Catholics and Orthodox
During address to the Summit, the Orthodox Metropolitan called attention to the history of suffering endured by both Catholics and Orthodox, particularly after the Soviet Revolution. According to Hilarion:
At that time the inter-confessional barriers disappeared, the inter-religious boundaries ceased to exist. What united Orthodox and Catholics in those years was far more important than that which divided them, for they were united by love of Christ.”
With respect to Christian persecution in the last century, this is what Hilarion had to say:
In Nazi Germany and the Second Spanish Republic in the 1930s, Christians of all denominations were subjected to persecution on a varying scale. The persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico in the 1920s was particularly brutal and bloody: had it not been for Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory, few people would have known about it. In the mid-twentieth century the Cultural Revolution in China was accompanied by the mass repression of Christian clergy. The sad list of countries where Christians were subjected to persecution throughout the twentieth century could go on almost indefinitely.
With an eye turned toward this century, Hilarion lamented the going persecution of Christians in the Middle East, a population which includes not only Catholics and Orthodox, but also Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Church of the East. (For more on these communions, including accounts of the situation of Mid-East Catholics today, see the May/June issue of The Angelus on the Middle East.) He called attention to the fact that both Catholic and Orthodox representatives had convened over the past year to discuss the situation in the Middle East; to promote a global response to Islamic terrorism; and work on collaborative projects intended to ameliorate the suffering of Mid-East Christians. As has been typical in recent years, Russian Orthodox-backed meetings and joint efforts with Catholics have proceeded without substantive doctrinal discussions.
An Unintended Irony
There was an unintended irony in Metropolitan Hilarion’s address, namely his willingness to speak of Orthodox/Catholic co-suffering with nary a mention of the Russian Orthodox Church’s centuries-long persecution of Greek Catholics, particularly those living in Russia and Ukraine. In countless speeches, Hilarion and other representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church have decried the “Uniates” (Greek Catholics) living in Ukraine without once apologizing for the Soviet/Russian Orthodox coordinated liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) in 1946. (For more on the liquidation and the eventual survival of the UGCC, see part 1 of the soon-to-be continued series of articles on Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, a heroic witness against Communism praised by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.)
Since the Russian-backed uprisings in east Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, Ukrainian Catholic priests have been attacked, imprisoned, and expelled from their parishes. Sadly, during his meeting with the Moscow Patriarch Kirill in Havana, Cuba last year, Pope Francis failed to highlight this reality or intervene on behalf of Greek Catholics living in Ukraine. That is a far cry from the work of his predecessor, John Paul II, who successfully petitioned former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to lift the legal ban on the UGCC in 1989.
Fatima and Russia Today
Although it is praiseworthy that the Russian Orthodox Church wishes to relieve the suffering or persecuted Christians in the Middle East, that should not excuse the fact that it continues to support the degradation of Greek Catholics while refusing unity with the Catholic Church. A great deal has been written about the resurgence of Russian Orthodoxy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the story is more complicated than what appears in Orthodox periodicals. According to a Pew Research Center study published on May 10, Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe, 71% of Russian citizens identify as Orthodox and yet only 6% of Orthodox Christians in Russia attend church weekly. (Orthodox median church attendance in Central and Eastern Europe overall is 10%.) Moreover, according to the Russian Orthodox news service, Pravoslavie.Ru, only around 4.3 million Russians took part in this year’s Paschal (Easter) services—or roughly 3% of the Russian population. This is astonishing given that the Russian Orthodox Church oversees approximately 150 million souls worldwide, or roughly 60% of the global Eastern Orthodox population.
With the Russian religious revival much shallower than many assume and the Russian Orthodox Church choosing to remain in schism from Catholicism, it is impossible to say that the “errors of Russia” are a thing of the past. Much of Russia remains closed-off from the True Faith.
This is one of many reasons why Fatima remains so central today. Until Russia is properly consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Russia will not be converted and she will continue to “...spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the [Catholic] Church.”
Whatever indirect or practical good the Russian Orthodox Church can carry out by aiding longsuffering Christian communities or resisting certain secular-liberal trends such as the spread of gender ideology and homosexualism pales in comparison to the supernatural good Our Lady can accomplish. May her Immaculate Heart triumph.