The big news in the Catholic and Orthodox Church is the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. This has caused quite a stir on various Orthodox and Eastern Catholic blogs and forums. Sadly, this historic event has brought to light some old prejudices towards Uniates. The amount of hatred espoused in the comment sections of certain blogs towards Eastern Catholics has made me at times angry and at other times sad. Given that background, I did not place much hope in the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch.
This afternoon the two meet and produced a joint statement.The full text can be found here. It is a timely document. The Pope and Patriarch call for the protection of Middle Eastern Christians, laud the ideal of Christian unity (much to the displeasure I imagine of certain sectors of Orthodoxy), call for the sanctity of life and marriage. It also addresses a new (and frightening) development that of manipulation of human reproduction:
We are also concerned about the development of biomedical reproduction technology, as the manipulation of human life represents an attack on the foundations of human existence, created in the image of God. We believe that it is our duty to recall the immutability of Christian moral principles, based on respect for the dignity of the individual called into being according to the Creator’s plan.
It is the section on Ukraine and Eastern Catholics that surprised me the most. Four paragraphs are given to this topic.
Paragraph twenty-four states:
Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism.
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5).
Consequently, it cannot be accepted that disloyal means be used to incite believers to pass from one Church to another, denying them their religious freedom and their traditions. We are called upon to put into practice the precept of the apostle Paul: “Thus I aspire to proclaim the gospel not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on another’s foundation” (Rm 15:20).
The Gospel is to be proclaimed to all nations by Catholics and Orthodox. The Apostolic faith of the Church is message needed desperately in the modern world.
Paragraph twenty-five states:
It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism”, understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbours. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.
I can not believe that the Russian Patriarch agreed (and signed) to this statement, given the contempt of Greek Catholics exhibited by many Orthodox. I thank God. Greek Catholics have been calling for reconciliation for a long time, maybe now the ROC will begin to dialogue with the UGCC. Maybe a meeting between the head of the UGCC and the Patriarch of Russia could be arranged? Now, the practical implications of this in Ukraine and Russia will be interesting to see.
Paragraph twenty-six states:
We deplore the hostility in Ukraine that has already caused many victims, inflicted innumerable wounds on peaceful inhabitants and thrown society into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. We invite all the parts involved in the conflict to prudence, to social solidarity and to action aimed at constructing peace. We invite our Churches in Ukraine to work towards social harmony, to refrain from taking part in the confrontation, and to not support any further development of the conflict.
Amen. May Russia’s occupation of Eastern Ukraine end soon and a peaceable resolution found.
Paragraph twenty-seven states:
It is our hope that the schism between the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine may be overcome through existing canonical norms, that all the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine may live in peace and harmony, and that the Catholic communities in the country may contribute to this, in such a way that our Christian brotherhood may become increasingly evident.
Orthodox Christians in Ukraine are divided into three major churches: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kievan Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. I think that overcoming their divisions will be a hard task but then again I didn’t think the Pope and Patriarch would ever meet. With God all is possible.
Paragraph twenty-eight states:
In the contemporary world, which is both multiform yet united by a shared destiny, Catholics and Orthodox are called to work together fraternally in proclaiming the Good News of salvation, to testify together to the moral dignity and authentic freedom of the person, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). This world, in which the spiritual pillars of human existence are progressively disappearing, awaits from us a compelling Christian witness in all spheres of personal and social life. Much of the future of humanity will depend on our capacity to give shared witness to the Spirit of truth in these difficult times.
Amen. Let us Orthodox and Catholic Christians work together to proclaim the Good new of salvation in Jesus the Christ.
Today was a historic day indeed. To God be the Glory.