Russia and Pope Francis & other news

(Peter Anderson) Pope Francis told journalists on his return flight from Athens that Metropolitan Hilarion would be coming to the Vatican soon to arrange a second meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill.  On December 22, a 60-minute meeting between the Pope Francis and Metropolitan Hilarion did in fact occur. (link); (link).  After the meeting, Metropolitan Hilarion gave an interview with TASS.  He stated that a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch is planned for 2022.  According to the Metropolitan, “we have discussed specific dates and specific places, but we cannot announce them yet, because they require additional elaboration on both sides.”  The future meeting will primarily relate to “how Christians can survive in the modern world, where they face persecution, violence, risk for life.” (link) 

In the interview Metropolitan Hilarion expressed doubts about a possible papal trip to Ukraine.  With respect to such a trip, the Metropolitan stated that he did not know how much would be possible in view of the political difficulties, the church schism, and the persecution of the UOC-MP.  However, he did not specifically state that the Moscow Patriarchate would opposed such a trip.  Rather, he stated, “It is up to him, not us.”  (link)  Metropolitan Hilarion had harsh words to say about the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  According to him, the dialogue has “turned into a deception” because of Constantinople’s “artificially inflating the primacy of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.”  The Metropolitan also referred to the Union resulting from Florence.  He stated: “ Whether this experience will be repeated now, we do not know, but the actions of Constantinople in recent years have been unpredictable.” (link)

It appears that at this point in time, both the Russian government and the Moscow Patriarchate very much value good relations with Pope Francis.  This can be seen in the congratulatory messages to the Pope on the latter’s 85th birthday, December 17.  President Putin had a telephone conversation with the Pope on his birthday (link) and also sent him a message (link)  which stated in part as follows:

You dedicated your whole life to promoting high spiritual and moral values.  You have made an invaluable contribution to developing relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church and to strengthening ties between Russia and the Vatican.

I have many pleasant recollections of our meetings and our constructive and meaningful talks, which reaffirmed the similarity between the attitudes of Russia and the Holy See to the key international issues.  I am confident that by working together we will be able to do a great deal to protect Christians’ rights and interests and to maintain interfaith dialogue.

The message from Patriarch Kirill (link) reads in part as follows:

As Primates of the two largest Christian Churches in the world, we have a special responsibility for the future of humankind.  This responsibility has a global dimension, as evidenced by our meeting in Havana and the Joint Declaration we signed.  I am glad to note that while remaining faithful to their own traditions, our Churches have achieved a high level of cooperation.  It enables us to work together to glorify the name of God throughout the world, strengthen the imperishable moral ideals in society, promote interfaith dialogue, and give proper responses to the present-day challenges.

There continues to be developments relating to the three churches of the Moscow Patriarchate operating in Western Europe – the ROCOR, the Archdiocese, and the Exarchate.  The Holy Synod of the ROCOR at its meeting on December 8-9 heard a report by Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe concerning “the uncanonical actions of Metropolitan Jean of Dubna [head of the Archdiocese], who has illegitimately claimed to have received a number of clergymen of the Russian Church Abroad without their canonical release.” (link) On December 13, Metropolitan Jean of Dubna met with Metropolitan Antony [head of the Exarchate].  Metropolitan Jean awarded Metropolitan Anthony the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, the highest decoration of the Archdiocese.  Included in the discussions of the two metropolitans was “the situation in Great Britain and Germany following the declarations of the two diocesan bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad [ROCOR] to break Eucharistic communion with the clerics of the Archdiocese.”  (link)

Also relating to Western Europe, Archbishop Simon of Brussels and Belgium [part of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Exarchate of Western Europe] celebrated his 70th birthday on December 7.  Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium [Ecumenical Patriarchate] attended the Divine Liturgy, was warmly greeted by Archbishop Simon, and spoke at the celebration. (link); (link) After the celebration, the Archbishop invited the Metropolitan to his residence “where there was a discussion in an atmosphere of brotherhood and sincerity.” (link)

In Ukraine on December 17, President Zelensky met with the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. (link)  Both Metropolitan Onufry (head of the UOC-MP) and Metropolitan Epifany (head of the OCU) were present.  At the meeting, Zelensky signed the new law "On the Service of the Military Chaplaincy," which will be effective July 1, 2022.  The new law is not discriminatory and allows both priests of the UOC-MP and OCU to serve as military chaplains. (link)

On December 15, a large delegation of monks and religious sisters, led by the Bishop Partenij of the schismatic Orthodox church in North Macedonia, was received at the Phanar by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (link) The Phanar treated the meeting as simply one of many groups and individuals that the Ecumenical Patriarch met on that day. (link) The delegation had previously been in Athens where its choir participated in an international Orthodox music festival.  It is reported that the choir sang and communed at a liturgy in Athens. (link) In January 2020 the Ecumenical Patriarchate had invited delegations from the Serbian Orthodox Church and the schismatic church to come to the Phanar for consultations and an attempt to find a mutually agreeable solution to the split in North Macedonia.  To the best of my knowledge, the Serbian Orthodox Church has never responded.

In Serbia, Patriarch Porfirije has continued his outreach to Catholics.  On December 20, he visited the Catholic cathedral in Belgrade and delivered a long and warm address.  He announced that the Serbian Orthodox Church will be making a donation to assist in the renovation of the Catholic cathedral. (link)

As is traditional, a delegation from the Vatican, led by Cardinal Koch, celebrated the feast of St. Andrew with the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Phanar on November 30. (link) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his address to Cardinal Koch referred to the work of the international dialogue and stated:

“The pandemic of the coronavirus has variously impacted our ecclesiastical life and inter-Christian dialogues.  It is now almost two consecutive years that the objectives of the Mixed International Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have been unable to be realized through person-to-person encounters.  We hope that this will occur next May 2022 [namely a meeting of the Commission’s Coordinating Committee] and that the convening of the Commission’s plenary will also return to its course.”

In contrast to Metropolitan Hilarion, the Ecumenical Patriarch is a strong supporter of the present work of the Commission.  The Catholic Church has been a strong supporter of the Commission since its inception.  On December 14, 1975, it was announced at a special Mass in the Sistine Chapel that a commission was being established to prepare for a theological dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.  During the Mass, Pope Paul VI, in a dramatic and unplanned gesture, knelt and kissed the feet of the astounded Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon, the Orthodox bishop who had come to Rome to make the joint announcement with the Pope.  The following recent link has a photo of this amazing event.  (link)

For those of you celebrating Christmas on December 25, I wish you a very blessed and joyful Nativity of Our Lord.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA