“Good relations” exist “at present between the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow,” said Dominican priest Hyacinthe Destivelle, who heads the Bureau of Oriental Relations of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
A new reunion will take place at Vienna on February 12, 2018, to mark the second anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Havana in 2016, he said in an interview with Vatican News in English on January 5, 2018, a milestone prepared also for the great Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25, 2018).
Meeting at Vienna
They will meet in the Austrian capital, at the invitation of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn; Metropolitan Hilarion, President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Father Destivelle pointed out that the meeting in Cuba “opened a new phase in our relations,” leading to loan the Russian Church relics of Saint Nicholas, viewed by more than two million people in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as the visit to Russia of the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. It’s the first visit of a Vatican Secretary of State to Russia since 1999.
The Dominican Father also said that the joint working group, founded after the Havana meeting, is working on cultural and spiritual projects. “Spiritual ecumenism and especially the ecumenism of Saints is very important, he stressed, to remind us that “unity won’t be the fruit of our efforts,” but, rather, the work of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of the Saints.
Cultural events, such as study visits for young priests or concerts are also important to recognize that “although our cultures are different, we share the same faith,” continued Father Destivelle. Although he said he wasn’t aware of a papal plan to visit Moscow at this time, the Dominican priest emphasized the fact that such spiritual and cultural initiatives were essential to “prepare mentalities” for such a visit.
Although Catholics have been sensitive to the ecumenical problems since Vatican II, the Orthodox Church has suffered at this time and even if there have been high-level exchanges, “the people of God were not really involved in all these contacts,” explained the priest.
Finally, Father Destivelle mentioned the theological dialogue with the 14 Orthodox Churches, pointing out that the adoption of last year’s “Chieti document” is probably also a fruit of good relations existing at present between the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow.”
A Pedagogy Is Still Necessary
In connection with the dialogue with Russian Orthodoxy, observers confided to ZENIT that there certainly is a will of the Patriarch and his entourage to improve relations with Catholics but, at the same time, strong opposition remains, notably on the part of Bishops, but also of the people, among the “simple” people, who are far from all the theological battles, but who consider themselves guardians of the “traditions” and of the “purity” of the Orthodox faith.
Thus, for instance, some don’t see the loan of Saint Nicholas’ relics as a gesture of friendship on the part of the Catholic Church. For them, he is a great Orthodox Saint; so, it’s altogether normal that his relics are exposed in Russia! The same observers believe the Bishops don’t dare pronounce themselves in public, but they were unhappy with the meeting of the Patriarch and the Pope.
In sum, a true pedagogy is still to be implemented; it’s also the raison d’etre of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester