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Theme: Catholic – Russian Orthodox Relations

February 15, 2007

Zenit: Orthodox Circles Opposed to Papal Trip to Ukraine (2001)

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow is poised to oppose John Paul II’s planned visit to Ukraine this year, the Vatican agency Fides reported.

Fides sources report that during a recent meeting of the standing council of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Vladimir, representing the Russian Patriarchate of Kiev, was appointed to write an official letter to dissuade the Pope from making the visit, planned for June.

Fringes of the Orthodox world fear that a visit by the bishop of Rome would trigger an explosion of the interconfessional conflicts that have tormented Ukraine for more than a decade….

ReligioScope: Tensions between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church (2002)

Earlier this month, Russian authorities barred two Catholic priests — who worked in Russia and had valid visas — from entering the country. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and some Russian politicians say they believe Catholic “expansionism” threatens Russia. The Vatican says Catholics are subject to discrimination in Russia and that the Orthodox Church does not want to treat all religions equally….

World Net Daily: Religious persecution in Russia? (2002)

“Catholic priests in Russia are ‘persona non grata,'” and Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB, has compiled a list of priests termed “undesirable,” according to an internationally respected news source.

“An authentic anti-Catholic campaign is being conducted not only by the Russian Orthodox Church and nationalist forces, but also by State agencies,” stated the Italian news daily La Stampa.

The president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Russian Federation, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, issued a protest statement declaring “with grave concern” that “an organized campaign is being waged against the Catholic Church in Russia,” according to the independent Zenit news agency.

While authorities in the Russian city of Pskov, at the request of the local Russian Orthodox bishop, forbade the construction of a Catholic church, the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian legislature, has gone so far as to urge Russian president Vladimir Putin “to ban Catholics from Russian territory,” according to La Stampa.

The Catholic Church in Russia, like nearly all other faiths, has no clear legal status. Following the adoption in 1997 of the “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations,” only four religions – Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism – have official recognition in Russia….

Newsweek: War of the Faiths (2002)

Father Krzysztof Kempa has a congregation but no church. As he reads mass for 15 Roman Catholics in a dark, cramped apartment in the southern Russian city of Belgorod, he struggles to make himself heard over a curbside car alarm, the hum of an old Soviet refrigerator and a boiling tea kettle. The altar is a desk adorned with a candle and wooden cross. A bedroom doubles as a confessional. The faithful sing hymns to the accompaniment of a Yamaha synthesizer teetering precariously on an old washing machine. “We must keep up the fight,” Father Krzysztof admonishes his flock. “Otherwise we will drown.”

But he and his congregation are already drowning-in bureaucracy. That’s the weapon of choice in what has become a bitter religious turf war. The Catholics in this gritty industrial city, hard by the Ukraine border, have been denied the right to register as a religious group. They say it ‘s because local authorities, in cahoots with the Russian Orthodox Church, do not want to them to reclaim their own church, a tiny 19th-century chapel taken away after the Bolshevik revolution. Orthodox churchmen, who want the building for a children’s center, deny they’re playing politics or wrangling over real estate. But Belgorod’s Father Pavel Veingolt, who leads sermons at the newly renovated Orthodox church downtown, freely admits he has a problem with Catholics. In a land where the freedom to worship has long been denied, and where people are still awakening from seven decades of spiritual slumber, he sees them as dangerous competitors for the new faithful. “Our Russians are being stolen,” he insists, “before we have a chance to get to them.”

Zenit: Russian Orthodox: Time for a Change in Ties With Catholic Church (2003)

“The time has arrived to change the present difficult situation between the Orthodox Church of Moscow and the Catholic Church,” Metropolitan Kyrill said.

“Moscow is ready to discuss; the issues are on the table,” he said. “Once these difficulties are surmounted, the meeting between the Pope and the patriarch of Moscow will serve to turn definitively the difficult page of the past.”

On this occasion, he avoided the use of the world “proselytism” — a term often used in Orthodox circles to describe the Catholic Church’s activity in former Soviet lands.

Instead, the metropolitan referred to “missionary competition,” and related it to “the ideology of the free market of religions.”

(…)

Metropolitan Kyrill also said he believes that “ecumenism has met with a dead end.”

The ecumenical movement “has become the hostage of humanist secularism which has entered to a great extent in the churches of the West,” he contended.

“If we want the rebirth of ecumenism, we must change our attitude and put the defense of Christian values in contemporary society at the center of our concerns,” the Russian representative added.

Cardinal Kasper acknowledged: “We can learn much from the East, which can be for us a valid counterweight given the danger of sliding into theological secularism.”

NCR: Why the transfer in ownership of a Russian icon is a news story (2004)

The pope [John Paul II] … sees those disputes as transitory. He believes the third millennium will bring a “new springtime of unity” in Christianity. In a prayer he composed for an Aug. 25 liturgy handing over the icon to his delegation, the pope said it represents a “profound unity between East and West, that endures through time despite historical divisions and human errors.” Aside from a Slavic pope’s personal interest in East/West reunion, there is also a practical political logic to his desire that Europe “breathe with both lungs.” John Paul sees Europe threatened by secularism, moral relativism, and a progressive privatization of religion. The Orthodox, with perhaps as many as 300 million adherents, a fiercely conservative doctrinal streak, and a strong tradition of shaping culture, strike the pope as natural allies in the “culture wars.” He also sees unity between Catholic and Orthodox believers as the best way to awaken the “Christian soul” of Europe, an especially urgent task given increasing waves of Islamic immigration. Hence the return of the icon is, in effect, a way of saying: “Let bygones be bygones — we have bigger battles to fight.”

(…)

It was the Blue Army, an American Catholic group committed to spreading the message of Fatima, that purchased the Kazan icon in the early 1960s and placed it in a Byzantine chapel in Fatima, awaiting the conversion of Russia. They turned the icon over to the pope in 1993. John Paul, it should be clear, is not one to take the Fatima prophecies lightly. He believes that on May 13, 1981, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Mary changed the flight path of a bullet to save him from an assassination attempt. Hence his decision to give the icon back to Russia means that he believes the “conversion” called for at Fatima has already happened — i.e., the collapse of Communism. He does not believe that Russia needs to “convert” in the ecclesiastical sense, meaning to become Roman Catholic. Indeed, John Paul has made it clear that he believes the salvation of Russia will be through Orthodoxy, and that the future lies not in conversion but in communion – the Latin and Byzantine churches coming together as one family of faith, each preserving its legitimate autonomy

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NCR: Icon of the Madonna of Kazan returned (2004)

Kasper argued that the Kazan icon, which originated in Russia, circulated in the West, and now is returning home, is in effect a perfect symbol of the ties between East and West.

In one potential sign of the ambivalence surrounding the occasion, relatively few of the hundreds of people crammed into the cathedral actually heard Kasper’s words, since there were no microphones, and the German cardinal lacks the booming baritone of the deacons who had chanted the Orthodox liturgy.

There was little immediate indication the Russians were willing to forgive and forget.

Alexy responded by thanking the pope and the delegation, but added: “I hope this demonstrates a desire on the part of the Vatican to seriously return to an attitude of respect with regard to our church.”

McCarrick seemed slightly taken aback.

“I’m hopeful that when the patriarch said that, he saw that this is already the beginning, this act of the Holy Father,” McCarrick said.

Asked later by reporters about the possibility of a meeting with the pope, Alexy was blunt: “The conditions do not yet exist,” he said.

Later, when reporters asked Archpriest Chaplin, the spokesperson for the Moscow Patriarchate, if the return of the icon could be said to mark a new chapter in Orthodox/Catholic relations, he was even more curt: “No.”

“First, we have to cure the pain of some of our believers who still see a lot of unfriendly examples of missionary work of some of the people of the Roman Catholic church,” he said.

Radio Free Europe: Russia: Orthodox And Catholics — Heading Towards Reconciliation? (2005)

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking shortly after his election in April, had pledged to make dialogue with other religions his “primary task.” And these two visits by high-ranking Vatican officials came as a clear indication that the Holy See has set its sights on improving its ties with Moscow’s officialdom and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Relations between both churches, which split during the Great Schism of 1054, have been rocky. The Moscow Patriarchate regularly accuses the Catholic Church of poaching for converts in Russia and other traditionally Orthodox countries in the former Soviet Union.

The Vatican prelates’ recent visits to Moscow have shown that the rift is far from being healed.

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking shortly after his election in April, had pledged to make dialogue with other religions his “primary task.”

(…)

Aleksii II, however, has consistently accused the Catholic Church of proselytizing in Russia and insisted that he will not meet the pope unless the Vatican curbs what he describes as its aggressive missionary activities in the country.

(…)

Relations hit rock bottom in 2002, when Pope John Paul II raised the status of the Catholic Church in Russia by establishing four new permanent dioceses.

The Moscow Patriarchate reacted with outrage, calling the move an “unfriendly act” and canceling a meeting with a senior Vatican envoy, Cardinal Walter Casper.

The Vatican denies any wrongdoing, saying it is merely catering to Russia’s small Catholic community.

(…)

Despite these difficulties, the Catholic Church continues to actively minister to its growing community and to conduct charitable activities throughout the country.

This activeness has led some observers to interpret the Russian Orthodox Church’s repeated complaints against Catholics as a sign that it feels threatened by a better organized, better financed rival.

At any rate, the Vatican’s current efforts to mend fences suggest that relations between both churches will now depend largely on the Russian Orthodox Church — on its ability not only to put past grievances behind, but also to build up the loyalty of its believers.

CNS: Pope expresses hope that Catholic, Orthodox re-evangelize Europe (2006)

The meeting outlined Christianity’s challenges, including the threats of secularism, religious indifference and sects.

Participants were to look for ways the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches could work together to help Europe better cherish its Christian heritage and prompt Christians to infuse European policies and culture with ethical and moral values.

The papal message said that only by preserving and promoting Europe’s Christian values, while respecting “the different spiritual traditions which enrich” Europe, could the continent turn a new page in history and experience wholesome development.

(…)

In his remarks to participants May 3, Cardinal Poupard said that during his close collaboration with Patriarch Alexy over the years he discovered that the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches share very similar ideas concerning the root causes of the religious and moral crises that Europe faces.

While the two churches wish to “become aware of our legitimate differences in approach” and prospects for working together to evangelize Europe, he said in his text there was no doubt that the Gospel was the solution in bringing about “a true humanism” in Europe.

AP: Orthodox hope to end Catholic divide (2006)

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has told Pope Benedict XVI he hopes for a “rapid resolution” of ongoing problems that divide the Catholic and Orthodox churches, according to a letter released Friday by the Vatican.

Patriarch Alexy II also said in the Feb. 22 letter to the Pope that he was convinced defending Christian values in contemporary society should be a priority for both churches.

“I hope that the rapid resolution of outstanding problems between our two Churches will also contribute to this end,” Alexy wrote in thanking the pope for a letter he sent to mark the patriarch’s birthday.

Benedict, who has pledged to make healing strained ties with the Orthodox Church a “fundamental” commitment, in his letter repeated his call for the two churches to improve their relationship.

“Gestures and words of renewed fraternity between the pastors of the Lord’s flock indicate a more intense collaboration in the truth and in charity will help increase the spirit of communion that should guide the paths of all baptized,” Benedict wrote.

CNS: Orthodox official expects easing of tensions with Benedict (2006)

In an interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, Kirill said remaining tensions between the two churches “should be resolved in order to promote dialogue and rapprochement.”

The metropolitan praised Pope John Paul’s commitment to dialogue with the Orthodox and his leadership in drawing up a 1992 document outlining practical steps Catholics in the former Soviet Union must take to promote collaboration with the Russian Orthodox and to ensure they are not enticing believers from the Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, he said, “it did not translate into concrete attitudes.”

Kirill said he believes that under the pontificate of Pope Benedict a positive relationship “is developing in a more dynamic way.”

CWNews: Russian prelate disputes role of Ecumenical Patriarch (2006)

The Russian Orthodox Church has lodged a serious objection to the notion that the Patriarch of Constantinople is the worldwide leader of the Orthodox faith.

Following up on a protest that he had lodged during meetings of the joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission earlier this month, the Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna told the Interfax news service that Catholics must not impose their model upon the Orthodox world.

Bishop Hilarion said that the Moscow patriarchate welcomes further discussion on the question of whether the Catholic model– with Church centered in Rome– could be compatible with the Orthodox model of autonomous churches. However, he said, that discussion can continue only if “an ecclesiological model in which the Patriarch of Constantinople occupies the place of an ‘Eastern Pope’ is not imposed on the Orthodox Church.”

The Russian Orthodox prelate was reacting to a statement put forward during the 9th meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox theological commission. That statement said that after the schism of the 11th century it became impossible to hold an ecumenical council including all Christian leaders, but the separated churches “continued to hold ‘general’ councils, gathering together the bishops of local churches in communion with the See of Rome and the See of Constantinople.”

In the Orthodox world, Bishop Hilarion argued forcefully, the requirement of maintaining “communion with Constantinople” was never regarded as essential, as it is in the Catholic Church. While the Ecumenical Patriarch is recognized as the “first among equals,” he said, the autocephalous Orthodox churches have different understandings of the nature of that role. “Some rather regard this primacy as purely honorary, while others give certain coordinating functions to the Patriarch of Constantinople and see him as highest court.”

The Orthodox understanding of primacy cannot be changed, the Moscow representative said, without a worldwide meeting of Orthodox leaders. He expressed resentment that Cardinal Walter Kasper, the leading Catholic representative at meetings of the joint theological commission, had pressed for a vote on the disputed statement. Matters of doctrine, the Orthodox prelate said, should not be tested by majority vote.

Cardinal Kasper has said that he was surprised by the Russian Orthodox objection to the proposed statement– to which the Patriarchate of Constantinople had given its full support. But Bishop Hilarion told Interfax that the Moscow patriarchate would remain “hard-line” on the question.

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CWNews: Russian Patriarch thanks Pope for ecumenical gesture (2006)

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II has sent a message of thanks to Pope Benedict XVI after the Pontiff made a donation to help rebuild an Orthodox cathedral damaged by fire.

Pope Benedict had sent a €10,000 contribution to help repair Trinity cathedral in St. Petersburg, after a fire that seriously damaged the building, collapsing the dome. In a letter of thanks released on November 16, the Russian patriarch thanked the Pope for the donation, which he characterized as “a sign of sincere love for the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Patriarch Alexei said that the reconstruction of the cathedral was a matter of keen interest to Orthodox believers because the building is a “unique architectural masterpiece.” He added that he hoped the Pope’s generosity could be “a sign of further development of our relations.”

Earlier this week, in an interview with Paris Match magazine, the Russian patriarch had shown unusual openness to the possibility that he might someday arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Pontiff. “If such an encounter took place– perhaps in a third country– it would be a historic event of exceptional importance,” he said.

MosNews: Head of Russian Orthodox Church Says Roman Catholics Are Allies (2006)

A top Russian Orthodox cleric said on Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church were allies in the face of hostile secularism, the Reuters news agency reported Monday.

Metropolitan Kirill, the head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, has met Pope Benedict and is thought to be pushing for closer ties with the Catholic Church.

“In the Vatican and not only in the Vatican but all over the world, Catholics understand that Orthodox (people) are their allies,” Kirill told the Rossiya television station.

AP: Russian Orthodox Patriarch accuses Vatican of “unfriendly policy” in ex-Soviet states (2006)

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Tuesday accused the Vatican of pursuing an “extremely unfriendly policy” in Russia and other ex-Soviet states, warning that such behavior could further strain ties between the two churches, a Russian news agency reported.

Patriarch Alexy II reiterated claims that Catholic priests were working to convert people baptized as Orthodox believers to Catholicism and discriminating against the Orthodox in western Ukraine.

“I hope the Vatican will undertake concrete steps to change the situation for the better,” Alexy was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

CNA: Cardinal Bertone insists Catholic Church is not “poaching for converts” in Russia (2006)

The Vatican Secretary of State told reporters yesterday that the Roman Catholic Church is not engaging in proselytism in Russia and “poaching for converts” among members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone made this comment after journalists asked him to comment on Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II’s appeal to the Vatican to stop its “extremely unfriendly policy” toward the Russian Orthodox Church, reported Zenit.

“I do not know Patriarch Alexy’s statement, but I believe that relations between Moscow’s patriarchate and the Holy See are sufficiently good and talks are taking place, with frequent visits,” the cardinal reportedly said.

InterFax: Vatican’s representative in Russia urges Catholics to respect Orthodox traditions (2007)

Representative of the Holy See in Russia, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, has pointed out that it is important for the Catholics to respect the Orthodox church tradition for a success of the ecumenical dialogue.

‘We will seek to show more gestures of sympathy and respect for the Russian Orthodox Church, putting distrust and prejudice away, as we work only for the sake of Jesus. We must try to understand with love, and understanding takes learning’, Archbishop Mennini writes in an address to the readers of Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism which have been republished in Russian.

(…)

The present re-edition of Directory addresses, among other things, the principle problem of Orthodox-Catholic relations in Russia and CIS countries, which are cases of proselytizing the Orthodox faithful.

The Catholic clergy are strongly recommended ‘to pay attention to the norms existing in Eastern Churches for their faithful and to avoid any, even seeming proselytism’ and ‘to show sincere respect for the liturgical tradition of other Churches and church communities, which are asked, in their turn, to show reciprocal respect for the Catholic tradition’.

For the implementation of the Vatican II resolutions the Roman Catholic clergy and laity are ‘to develop contacts and exchange between Catholic monasteries and religious communities and monasteries and communities of other Churches, for instance through exchange of information, spiritual counseling, possible material aid or cultural exchange’.

Directory also stresses the importance of providing the clergy and laity with regular information on the state of the ecumenical movement, ‘so that they could include the ecumenical aspect in preaching, catechism, prayer and Christian life in general’ and invite clergy of other Churches ‘to hold conversations devoted to their traditions and pastoral problems which may be common’.

See also:
NCR: Interview with the Rev. John Lapidus

Zenit: A Russian Orthodox View of Papacy, and More: Interview With Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev Part 1 Part 2

Reader Methodios Stadnik: A Brief History of the Russian Byzantine Catholic
Church and the Russian Catholics

Radio Free Europe: Historic Kazan Icon Stands At Center Of Religious Issues
Tradition In Action: Polemic between Fr. Ladis J. Cizik and Dr. Marian T. Horvat on the handing over of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan

Wikipedia: Our Lady of Fatima

Update:
CWNews: Russian bishop sees chance for Pope-Patriarch summit
Spero News: Benedict and Vladimir discuss church affairs
CWNews: End Catholic “proselytism,” Russian patriarch demands

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