Russian Patriarch Speaks About Proselytism
June 25, 1997
VIENNA, Austria (Reuter) - The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, faced with deepening rifts within his own church, spoke out strongly Friday against efforts by rivals to woo followers away. ``Proselytism is a big problem for us today,'' Patriarch Alexiy II told a news conference during a five-day visit to Austria. ``There can be no place for proselytism in the relations between the churches,'' he added.
The Russian Orthodox Church earlier this month called off a proposed meeting between Alexiy and Pope John Paul II, which would have been the first of its kind since the Great Schism split Christendom in 1054. Alexiy said the churches had not had sufficient time to agree on a common document, which he said must reject proselytism, or conversion of followers from one religious movement to another. He noted that such a historic meeting would have to be well prepared in advance. ``I don't think we can name a date for such a meeting. We are continuing our dialogue,'' he said.
The Polish-born pope, spiritual leader of the world's 960 million Roman Catholics, has expressed a wish to travel to Russia, where eastern Christianity was introduced less than a century before the Schism. But the Russian Church, sensitive to the influx of rival religions in recent years, has so far opposed such a visit. Tensions persist between the two denominations following the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, which sparked a race to fill the spiritual vacuum created by communism. ``After 70 years of state-run atheism, which alienated people from their faith, our most important task is to revive men's souls and our missionary work, not in other countries but amongst our own people,'' Patriarch Alexiy said.
The breakaway Orthodox church in Ukraine was a source of grief to many, he said. In Ukraine, where different branches of the Orthodox church are competing with each other as well as with a strong Greek Catholic church, relations are particularly fraught.
The patriarch earlier met Austrian President Thomas Klestil and called for Austria and Russia to coordinate efforts to create peace and stability instead of new divisions. ``We must eliminate the last remnants of the Cold War from memory and build up a common European house,'' he said.
Alexiy is visiting Austria to attend the Second European Ecumenical Conference beginning Monday.