Saudi offer for Moscow mosque, Orthodox call for church in Arabia

A Saudi offer to build a large mosque in Moscow has prompted Russian Orthodox organisations to ask for permission to build an Orthodox church in Saudi Arabia. Several western Christian churches have asked for or suggested such reciprocity with Saudi Arabia, which funds mosques abroad but bans any religion but Islam at home. It’s an issue that can only become more pressing if King Abdullah continues to preach interfaith dialogue and tolerance around the globe while not practicing it at home.

The Russian Muftis Council announced the Saudi offer to fund a mosque last week, promting an open letter to King Abdullah a few days later by what Interfax news agency called Orthodox public organisations. It didn’t come from the Russian Orthodox Church itself, but watch this space. The Russians have become increasingly active on the world religious scene as they emerge from the communist era and it would not be surprising to see them take a position on this question as well. There is probably also a domestic angle to this. Islam is the second largest religion in Russia and growing, so the Orthodox Church might feel a bit of competition. (Photo: St. Basil’s Cathedral on Moscow’s Red Square, 27 Jan 2007/Denis Sinyakov)

“You often say that Islam is a religion of justice. However, if Saudi Arabia builds mosques in dozens of Christian countries, isn’t it just to build a church for Christians living in Your Kingdom!” says the letter quoted by Interfax. “It would be just to create the same conditions for Saudi Christians as Muslims have in Russia … It is the only way to make interreligious dialogue honest and just.”

Read the full text of the letter in English here. It says Moscow already has two mosques but IslamOnline speaks of six.

Do you think it’s important to see churches built in Saudi Arabia? Should this be a litmus test for assessing Abdullah’s dialogue campaign?

Splash of cold water on warming Vatican-Moscow ties

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinSeveral news outlets (this blog included) noted an interesting warmer tone during a meeting in Moscow between Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s top ecumenical official, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy last week. The Rome-based Catholic news agency didn’t see it that way. Maybe the news we’ve been waiting for — the announcement of a meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Alexiy — will take longer in coming after all. wrote: “For some Russia experts Cardinal Kasper was supposed to meet the Orthodox leader to jumpstart the Joint Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission but apparently he failed to do so.

It also reported a pretty strong remark by Alexiy about the statement that came out of the Ravenna meeting of theologians that Russian Orthodox delegates walked out of: “The problem is not only that a statement was approved without our participation but the way it was done confers upon Constantinople a status like that of the Vatican for Catholics.”

Warm words hint at further Vatican-Moscow thaw

Cardinal Walter Kasper and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy meet in Moscow, 29 May 2008/Alexander NatruskinWith some news events, not much happens but the atmosphere is so striking that it’s worth mentioning all the same. That was the case in Moscow this week as Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, met Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II.

Though this was an unofficial visit, the patriarch and the cardinal both took care to use language noticeable for its friendly, accommodating and even warm tone in their greetings – a continuation of what is seen as a “thaw” and “emerging cooperation” between the two churches.

“I am convinced of the necessity in an Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, based on the coincidence of our positions on many of the issues facing the Christian world today,” Alexiy told Kasper. “I believe (your) interest in the life and traditions of the (Orthodox) Church will turn out to be important between our two Churches.”

Kirill tells L’Osservatore that Moscow-Vatican ties thawing

L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 1, 2007We reported on Wednesday that Metropolitan Kirill, the external relations chief of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been making very positive comments about relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches. “We now have a positive tendency — we have moved on from a severe frost to a thaw,” he told journalists in Moscow on Tuesday.

Now he’s said it directly to the Vatican, in an interview with the pope’s own paper L’Osservatore Romano (at the upper right of the PDF, in Italian). The Vatican daily on Thursday has an unusual front-page interview with Kirill where he spoke again of a thaw. “The big chill is over and it’s thawing time,” he said. The rest of the short interview repeats earlier statements about how the two churches share the same spiritual and moral valules and should work together to tackle the many problems facing humanity today.

Frost turns to thaw in Russian Orthodox-Catholic ties

Metropolitan Kirill and Vatican ecumenical chief Cardinal Walter Kasper in Moscow, Feb. 19, 2004Recent high-level contacts between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are starting to show some results. It’s still in the atmospheric stage, but the comments from Moscow are now much more positive than they used to be. The latest came on Tuesday from Metropolitan Kirill, the external relations chief of the Moscow Patriarchate, in a very Russian turn of phrase — “We now have a positive tendency — we have moved on from a severe frost to a thaw.”

Pope Benedict has been wooing the Orthodox churches from the start of his papacy and would like to become the first Roman pontiff ever to meet a Russian patriarch. The current patriarch, Alexiy II, tested the Catholic waters with a visit earlier this month to Paris, where he met Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard and other French prelates. He spoke about “emerging cooperation” between the two churches, without going into too many details. Speaking to journalists the next day, Kirill added a clearer assessment. “We have achieved some very positive results recently,” he said.

So does the frost-to-thaw image add anything? For journalists weighing every word these men say, it pushes the story just a little bit further. It was another departure from the wooden responses we used to hear in the past. That usually signals some real movement behind the scenes. When will we see the next step?

Russians jump the gun on Catholic- Orthodox papacy statement

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.”