One of the biggest obstacles of progress toward Christian unity has been the obstinacy with which the late Russian Patriarch Alexis rebuffed all attempts at personal dialogue with, not only Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but also the Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul (Constantinople).  It had always seemed that the hostility of Alexis toward Bartholomew was based on rivalry for domination in the Orthodox world.  Bartholomew, as the successor of the Patriarchs leading all the way back to the time of the Emperor Constantine in Constantinople obviously had the more valid claim for legitimate leadership of Orthodoxy even though his Church in Turkey had been reduced since the ascent of the Ottoman Turks to a tiny remnant of its former self.  Moscow on the other hand had grow large and powerful during the time of the Soviet Empire.

The hostily of Alexis towards Barthomew reached the nadir of their relationship when early in the 1990’s he forbade Russian Orthodox clergy from including the name of the Oecumenical Patriarch in the Liturgy because he disapproved of the actions of Bartholomew in regards to the overseas Orthodox churches.  That action would have been the analogous to the President of the USCCB ordering Catholic clergy in the United States to omit the name of the Pope from the Canon of the Catholic Mass.

I had the privilege of leading a pilgrimage of Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre’s Southwestern Lieutenancy to Istanbul at that time and of participating in the Easter Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomew.  Afterwards in a lunch with the Patriarch we discussed the problems faced by him in his relationship with the Russian Patriachy and the difficulty Pope John Paul II faced in trying to establish a dialogue with Alexis.

The meeting of the new Russian Patriarch Kyril and the Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is encouraging.  One might even begin to hope that there might be a meeting of Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kyril in the not too distant future.


» 07/07/2009 20:27
Kyrill in Constantinople, a turning point important also for the dialogue with Rome
by NAT da Polis
The new Patriarch of Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch agree that the pan-Orthodox meeting in October consolidated the path towards Orthodox unity. Only a united Church can meet the challenges of today’s world.

For his first foreign trip since his election Kyrill, Patriarch of Moscow, picked Constantinople. His visit was dominated by a desire among Orthodox to consolidate the spirit of a new journey together, a process which began back in October at the pan-Orthodox meeting in Geneva.

Based on Kyrill’s and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s remarks it is clear that the journey together, mutual respect and a consolidated Orthodox unity are important goals. Both leaders stressed the importance of the pan-Orthodox meeting in October, which laid down the grounds on which Christian Orthodoxy can develop its roadmap for the future.

Their respective address clearly expressed a strong desire to accelerate the ecumenical dialogue, a necessity in today’s world whose challenges only a united Universal Church can meet.

Bartholomew began his homily by stressing the long and important witness of faith of the Russian Church, which survived 70 years of Communist captivity under an atheist regime, to begin its journey anew.

He also noted the personality of the new Patriarch of Moscow, Kyrill, expressing his gladness at his election not only because he is a man of deep religiosity but also because he is a great expert of the Christian world.

“Dear brother! Even though the atheist regime has fallen, the atheist practices of hedonism and religious indifference flourish everywhere with all its consequences,” the Patriarch said.

“Mass murder is committed in God’s name and entire populations are uprooted from their land. There is a disgraceful trade in human beings and an upsurge in nationalism and religious fanaticism. [. . .] Instead of standing united and offering convincing responses to the challenges of a desperately troubled world, we Christians are troubled by intrigue and divisions, scornfully unwilling to be conscious of our responsibility towards Our Pastor Jesus Christ, who wants to see love, peace and unity prevail among us. For only then, shall we be able to set a good example for the nations [of the world] and thus for the Father of Light! [. . .] Indeed our last meeting in Geneva, which took place in an atmosphere of unity, stands as an example and a point of reference, and this not only for Orthodox Christians.”

Kyrill’s homily followed in the same spirit. In it the Patriarch of Moscow stressed the deep historical ties that link the two Churches, noting the gratitude the Russian people towards the Church of Constantinople, the Great Church of Christ.

Into his address the Patriarch turned to the spiritual contribution of the Russian Church. He described how the 70 years of captivity in which it was held helped it understand the importance of freedom and human rights.

“May our painful stories be useful; may they constitute the contribution the Russian Church can make to a world that is losing its way,” Kyrill said.

“With our mind turned to the journey already undertaken we can say that the seed of Salvation that the missionaries of Constantinople sowed has given life to a rich and blessed fruit. This constitutes Christian Orthodoxy’s shared inheritance.”

“Our visit represents a good beginning to renew the fraternal relations between the two Churches on the path towards the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ,” he said.

“From the bottom of our heart we agree with what you told every Orthodox at the pan-Orthodox meeting in October when you urged us to be conscious of our tradition and work for a united Church,” the Patriarch of Moscow said by way of conclusion as he addressed Bartholomew.

In view of the new climate the issue of the Estonian Church appears to be on its way towards a peaceful resolution. Until now it had been a major stumbling block in relations between Moscow and Constantinople.

“The strength of our shared tradition of faith is stronger than any human division,” the Ecumenical Patriarch told the press. Kyrill agreed.

Bartholomew invited Kyrill to take part in next year’s pilgrimage in Cappadocia, cradle of Christianity, a land rich in Christian vestiges.

Some pundits also noted how Kyrill showed what he is made of, not submitting to political pressures, a sign that he is a true man of the Church.

Lastly, Kyrill met Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Religious Affairs Secretary Ali Baltakoglu.

Turkish sources reported that during the meeting Erdogan said that the Theological School in Chalki would open soon.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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