Orthodox Moving Toward Reconciliation

Prior to Pope´s Visit to Ukraine

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MOSCOW, FEB. 21, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II´s forthcoming visit to Ukraine this June is fostering a movement of reconciliation among Orthodox Churches divided by schisms, in order to speak with one voice in their dialogue with Rome.

In this context, delegations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russias, met in Berlin on Monday, to discuss the situation of the Church in Estonia and Lithuania, a statement of the Russian Orthodox Church reported Tuesday.

The meeting hopes to put an end to a grave crisis in the heart of Orthodox Churches. For four years, the relation between the patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople has been strained, especially over the situation in Estonia.

After the fall of Communism, the Church in Estonia wished to separate from Moscow. The situation became critical when the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople supported the separation and proposed to include the Estonian Church under its jurisdiction. This move was strongly criticized by Alexis II, who refused to pronounce the name of Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew in the liturgy, as required by the Orthodox rite. Such a rebellious gesture was unprecedented.

As a result, the Orthodox Church in Estonia is now divided between currents close to Moscow and those looking to Constantinople.

The situation is delicate, too, because Patriarch Alexis II was born in Estonia in 1929, in the heart of a family of remote German origin, which fled from St. Petersburg during the Bolshevik Revolution.

At 16, Alexis witnessed the annexation of the Baltic countries to the Soviet Union, although his family did not suffer deportation. He entered the Orthodox Seminary of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1947, and was appointed bishop of Tallin, in Estonia, in 1961. After his appointment as metropolitan of Leningrad, he was elected patriarch of Moscow in 1990, following the death of his predecessor, Pimen.

The meeting Berlin attracted Metropolitan Kiril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, president of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, and archpriest Nikolay Balashov, executive secretary of DECR, an organization for inter-Orthodox relations, representing the Russian Orthodox Church and its institutions outside the country.

Metropolitan John de Pergamon and Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia, secretary-general of the Sacred Synod of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, represented the latter´s patriarchate.

The participants at the meeting appealed to the hierarchs of the two Orthodox jurisdictions in Estonia to reach an agreement to end disputes over respective properties.

Thanks to this agreement, each ecclesial structure will have property rights on those ecclesial possessions now in use. The delegations approved the text of the agreement and will submit it to the Sacred Synods of both patriarchates. In addition, they agreed to continue their consultations on the ecclesial situation in Ukraine, and debated the possibilities of joint action in order to arrive at unity between Orthodox believes, overcoming existing schisms.

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