Visit to Russia matters

Cardinal Parolin’s expected meeting with Patriarch Kirill comes as part of “a longing” to restore at least partial, if not full, unity among the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Aug 06, 2017

By Elise Harris
Cardinal Parolin’s expected meeting with Patriarch Kirill comes as part of “a longing” to restore at least partial, if not full, unity among the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Since the 1964 meeting of Bl. Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, the two traditions have reached a point “where the profound suspicion and distrust of some past centuries has diminished by the hard work of thoughtful men of both Churches as they’ve come to respect and appreciate the faith and learning of their counterparts.”

There are still those in the Orthodox community who view Rome with suspicion, believing them to be a controlling entity that would limit their freedom and strip them of their traditions. On the other hand, many in the Latin rite hesitate to draw closer to the Orthodox for fear that they are often closely linked with their governing states.

The Vatican hopes that the meeting might help pave the way for a just peace in situations of conflict as the Churches have been divided for more than 1,000 years. This meeting might help bring about a closer union among them.

Turning to the days of St John Paul II, Vatican analyst Robert Moynihan noted that the Polish Pope, who was very familiar with Russia and the Soviet regime, had said that “the Church needs to breathe with two lungs, that we need to have closer relations with the Orthodox.”

Russian Orthodox themselves were “brutally and cruelly suppressed” under the Soviet Union, he said, noting that thousands of churches were burned, many thousands of Orthodox Christians were arrested and hundreds of priests executed.

“The atheist communist regime was a brutal regime for our Christian brothers in the Soviet Union and in Russia, so I think this is a cause for us to feel compassion toward them,” Moynihan said.

When faced with accusations that the Russian Orthodox Church is nationalistic and is being used as a puppet of the government, Moynihan insists that, in his opinion, the Russian government “is attempting to become more of a normal country’s government.”

“It’s in reaction to the ideological rigour of the communist system that they are still torn by the mixture of nostalgia for the Soviet time and the attraction of this Western, liberal democratic culture.

“They’re right in the middle of this transition process,” he said, noting, that in recent years, they have been rebuilding their churches and re-studying Christian tradition.

In his opinion, Moynihan said, the efforts are those of a people trying to return to the “wellspring of faith” that was cut off for 70 years by “a very pitiless, tyrannical, atheist regime.”

“For this reason I feel, up and down the line, we ought to engage with the Russians and with all Eastern Europeans, and that we should gain from them a sense of how Christians can survive under cultural and political pressure as we ourselves face our own challenges in our increasingly post-Christian Western societies.”

In this sense, Cardinal Parolin’s visit marks “one more step in a multi-decade, multi-century process in which the Church tries to keep communications with the Eastern Churches.”

One point Cardinal Parolin and Patriarch Kirill are likely to touch on in their upcoming meeting is the joint declaration signed by the Patriarch and Pope Francis during their meeting in Havana last year which highlighted the need to work together to protect the environment, the poor, and the persecuted.

But odds are, when he meets with Putin, Cardinal Parolin will try to move the political pen on touchy issues, reinforcing the idea that the Holy See “can serve as a type of honest broker in between colossal powers, which are, as we all know, positioning themselves in very significant ways that will effect the future of Ukraine, the future of Eastern Europe, the future of Europe, as a whole, and the future of the world.”--CNA

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