The Russian Orthodox Church said on Tuesday there was no “breakthrough” at a Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue meeting in Vienna last week that ended with reports of promising progress on the thorny issue of the role of the Catholic pope. The statement may be more interesting for what it doesn’t say than what it does. It’s not clear which reports Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate, was referring to when he said that “contrary to allegations in the press, the Orthodox-Catholic Commission meeting in Vienna has made no ‘breakthrough’ whatsoever.”
Russia’s Orthodox Church and Poland’s Roman Catholic Church have pledged to help their nations overcome a painful shared past and move towards reconciliation. The two churches, very influential in their own countries, agreed at a rare meeting of senior clergy to draw up a joint document that will express their Christian vision of how the two Slavic neighbours can come together.
By Aidar Buribayev
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, would be willing to meet Pope Benedict after disputes with Catholics in Ukraine are resolved, Archbishop Hilarion, the Church’s external relations head, has said. A meeting with the pope would begin to heal the 1,000 year-old-rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity, which split in 1054 amid disputes over doctrine and papal authority that remain unresolved.
(Video: Archbishop Hilarion holds a news conference in French during his Paris visit, 13 Nov 2009/courtesy of Orthodoxie.com)
Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s top official for relations with other churches, has been busy this past week putting his revived church’s stamp on the world Christian scene. Over the weekend, he urged Catholics and Orthodox to join forces to defend their traditional version of Christianity. His comments, made during a visit to Paris to inaugurate his Church’s first seminary outside of Russia, come only days after positive remarks he made last week about how the Vatican and Moscow were slowly moving towards a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict. Also last week, Hilarion indicated the Russian Orthodox might end their ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans after Germany’s Protestants elected a divorced woman, Bishop Margot Kässmann, as the new head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). After all this, he planned to take off for a visit to China.
A senior Russian Orthodox leader has said the idea of a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict could be moving towards the preparation stage. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign minister” of the Russian church, made clear that neither a date nor a location for such the long-awaited meeting was under discussion. But given the glacial pace at which progress on this issue is made, even the change in tone from Moscow is worth noting.