By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, MAY 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Catholics and Orthodox are growing in the awareness they are not competitors but allies, says an official from the Moscow Patriarchate.
Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, affirmed this today at a press conference in the headquarters of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
That council, along with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Moscow Patriarchate, is sponsoring a Day of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican, being held today and Thursday.
Archbishop Hilarion, himself an accomplished music composer, noted how culture, art and music have become indispensable in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.
Through this language, "we can say what we cannot express with diplomatic or political words," he contended. "It is possible to live this dialogue at several levels, also with simple persons."
As part of the cultural event, there will be a concert Thursday in honor of Benedict XVI, sponsored by the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, His Holiness Kirill I.
Archbishop Hilarion went on to note that in both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church "the awareness has grown of not being in competition, but of being allies." The rivalries of the past, he added, "must stay there, in the past."
He noted that cultural changes, particularly the "de-Christianization of our countries," is calling for "greater collaboration."
Other cultural changes call increasingly for an open dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, the prelate said: "Today there are many mixed marriages. We often find an Orthodox person next to a Catholic."
"The whole of Russian culture has been founded on a Christian world," recalled the archbishop."When we were banned from all activities, culture enabled us to go forward."
He also reflected how Russian spiritual music is much heard in Catholic liturgy, not to mention how many persons read Dostoyevsky and other authors, he noted.
Friends of Benedict
Archbishop Hilarion affirmed that for many Orthodox, "the election of Benedict XVI was received positively," especially because of "his position on moral questions."
"There is a commitment [among the Orthodox] to observe and promote traditional values," he said.
In regard to the theological dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics, the archbishop projected that it will last for many years.
"Each stage of the dialogue ends with a text where Catholics and Orthodox say something together," he explained. "What is important is that these texts are received not only by theologians but also by the faithful."
For his part, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the cultural event can become an opportunity "to deepen our ecumenical relations themselves in a new dimension."
"The sad age-old separation between East and West was not only caused by theological differences or political conflicts, but especially by distance and a cultural alienation," he explained.
This distance must be overcome, the cardinal affirmed, not in the sense of a leveling "but in the sense of a mutual enrichment, a communion without fusion or absorption."
Such a communion, he proposed, can be "a strong common testimony of the richness of European culture and its Christian roots -- today, lamentably forgotten by many and even denied and rejected."
By Carmen Elena Villa