Rome and Moscow Seen to Be Growing Closer

Vatican Aide Points to Improving Relations With Orthodox

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2009 ( The relationship between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches is significantly better than a few years ago, largely thanks to friendships being formed by representatives of both, says a Vatican aide.

Jesuit Father Milan Zust, secretary of the Catholic committee for cultural collaboration with Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, affirmed this to L’Osservatore Romano today.

The Vatican daily is doing a series of articles on ecumenical relations, as the Church celebrates this week the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Father Zust, who accompanied the president of the pontifical council, Cardinal Walter Kasper, in his official visit to Moscow last May, highlighted the importance of these personal encounters with Orthodox dignitaries, which have multiplied in recent years.

«Personal relationships among Christians are an efficient means to promote communion,» he said. «With this, there is no desire to substitute or relegate theological dialogue, but yes, to increase the mutual trust necessary for this dialogue to be productive.»

In this regard, the priest pointed to the importance of Cardinal Kasper’s May trip, to mark the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

This visit, he said, aimed to «go deeper in knowledge of the Russian Orthodox Church, in its rich spiritual and cultural tradition.»

Cardinal Kasper went to Russian at the invitation of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The two leaders spoke of the future participation of the Russian Orthodox Church, beginning this year, in the Mixed Commission that studies ecumenical relations with the Orthodox.

«This issue is very important,» affirmed Father Zust, «because the continued absence up till now of the Russian Orthodox delegation in official theological dialogue was affecting the work of the commission.»

The cardinal also spent more than an hour with Patriarch Alexy II during that visit; the patriarch passed away in December and Cardinal Kasper led the Vatican delegation at his funeral.


Father Zust also affirmed that relations with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have also opened to a fruitful dialogue, with Cardinal Kasper’s visit to Metropolitan Volodymyr of Kiev in December 2007.

In addition to these gestures of friendship, the priest noted the importance of the commission of which he forms a part. Its fundamental goal is offering scholarships to Orthodox seminarians to come to Rome and study at pontifical universities.

«This growth in mutual trust between Christians divided by sad historical events and by human sin is very significant,» he said.

And the importance of these contacts is not negated by the fact that they are often carried out in private or with great discretion, he said. In fact, this discretion «increases their strength, which united to that of Christ, can make miracles, even when there is the impression that the path to communion advances too slowly,» Father Zust contended.

«The personal sacrifices, the interior renunciations, hidden from the rest, but known to the Lord, are the means we all have to pray for unity,» he stated. «The Lord knows how to transform them into elements of communion.»

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