Russians jump the gun on Catholic- Orthodox papacy statement

October 26, 2007

Orthodox cross on a church in SiberiaThe Russian Orthodox Church has published an embargoed statement from a Catholic- Orthodox dialogue session that it walked out of in protest this month. The Web site of the Church’s representation to European institutions in Brussels posted the text along with a commentary saying it would give its opinion of the statement later. The statement was not due to be released until November 15. According to the French Catholic news service I.Media, its early publication evoked surprise and disappointment at the Vatican department for ecumenical relations, as well as concern this could compromise the continuing talks.

The statement is interesting because Orthodox churches supporting it recognised the primacy of the bishop of Rome, i.e. the Roman Catholic pope. We already mentioned this breakthrough in this delicate ecumenical dialogue in a post on October 17, quoting two participants. The text says the bishop of Rome is the protos, or first among the patriarchs of Christian churches. “They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium,” it said. “It remains for the question of the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches to be studied in greater depth.”

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna, the Russian Orthodox representative to the European Union, said in an interview on the website that the absence of his Church made the work of this International Mixed Commission problematic. “The Moscow Patriarchate represents more than a half of world Orthodox Christianity,” he said. “Without it, the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue will in fact be a dialogue of the Catholic Church with less than a half of the Orthodox Church.”

Hilarian said he hoped a solution could be found by the time the commission meets in about two years.

P.S. Here’s the Catholic News Service story on the statement.

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