Director of Kiev´s Mohyla Academy Views Papal Trip

«I Do Not Exclude Renewal of Dialogue»

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KIEV, Ukraine, JUNE 27, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAVVENIRE).- An Orthodox metropolitan in the 19th century noted the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy and said the «walls that separate us do not reach the sky.» Kostantin Sigov believes in those words.

Sigov, 40, is one of the best-known intellectuals of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A philosopher and theologian, he is director of Kiev´s Mohyla Academy of Human Sciences, «beacon of humanistic and Christian culture,» as John Paul II described it.

Sigov is also a member of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and he sees cause for optimism in John Paul II´s historic visit to Ukraine.

«This trip has brought Kiev´s hill of St. Vladimir closer to Athens´ hill of the Areopagus, recently visited by the Bishop of Rome,» Sigov said. «Therefore, this time we can really say that faith moves mountains.»

Sigov attended the Byzantine-rite Mass celebrated Tuesday morning, in the Pope´s presence. Sigov´s attendance, and that of other Orthodox, was significant.

–Q: Professor Sigov, why did you decide to do this gesture?

–Sigov: I think that the Bishop of Rome´s visit is an extraordinary event, which will profoundly mark this part of the world. It is the irruption of a metahistorical element in history. I am profoundly moved both as a philosopher and a believer: To see the Pope in Kiev is a far more intense and moving spectacle than what Hegel imagined when he admired Napoleon´s entrance into Germany on horseback. No, I don´t think that the «Absolute Spirit» arrived in Kiev in the popemobile, but I am convinced that something great has happened.

–Q: Does the Pope´s [presence] in Kiev increase divisions or open the way to reconciliation?

–Sigov: Undoubtedly, the profound meaning of this trip lies in dialogue and reconciliation. Together we have heard the passage of St. Paul´s Letter to the Ephesians on the bond of peace. In Greek it is called «sindesmos,» and I think it is interesting that the World Fraternity, the most universal body that brings together all Orthodox Churches, is specifically called this.

–Q: John Paul II has again asked for and offered forgiveness to the Orthodox Church. How do you all respond?

–Sigov: It is the best way to regain unity. Recently, Bishop Kallistos Ware of Oxford and of the Patriarchate of Constantinople asked the Greek-Catholics for forgiveness for the 1946 Lviv pseudo-synod, with which Stalin placed the Uniates outside the law. Something is happening.

–Q: Then, how do you explain the Moscow Patriarchate´s blind opposition to the Pope´s heroic deed in Ukraine?

–Sigov: The real reasons must be sought in the confrontation with Catholics. There is a profound analogy between the present situation of the Orthodox Church, and that experienced by Catholicism at the end of Vatican II.

Just as among you there were fundamentalists who resisted change, so also among us today, after the fall of Communism and our refound liberty, there is danger of a schism. This is why the tone of the debate is heightened with regard to the outside [world], especially Catholics, in an attempt to close ranks within.

–Q: Metropolitan Vladimir, head of the Church to which you belong, has refused to meet with John Paul II.

–Sigov: I am convinced he did it against his own convictions. I know him well. He is a man of great faith and culture. When he was exarch in Western Europe, in Paris, he took initiatives of great openness and his thesis in theology has been a firm defense of Vladimir Soloviev and Serghei Bulgakov, namely, of the greatest Orthodox tradition.

–Q: But there has already been a schism in Ukraine with Filaret, don´t you think?

–Sigov: We are searching for our identity and, as often happens when a rather turbulent period is lived through, extreme solutions emerge. Every one knows that at one time Filaret was decidedly opposed to the Uniates and the Ukrainization of the Church. Now he has gone from one extreme to the other, and is followed by extremist people. We must change, but with balance and wisdom.

–Q: Do these ideas create problems for you in your Church?

–Sigov: No, my opinion is also that of many priests and lay people. The central problem today is formation. We have constructed many churches in the last 10 years, but we have not been able to construct a system of education that measures up to the times and is open to contemporary reality. Just think that in Moscow, 19th-century dogma manuals are fashionable again!

–Q: Will a period of ecumenical freeze between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate follow after this trip?

–Sigov: I do not exclude the renewal of the dialogue, perhaps on more consistent bases. If we succeed in changing our educational system, I think new and more open people will emerge. Time will be necessary, but this is the way.

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