Patriarch Kirill limited by service to Kremlin


Why Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will not meet in near future

by Boris Falikov, 8 December 2014


After completing a visit to Istanbul, Pope Francis talked with journalists on board an airplane. Among other things, there also was voiced the question: does he intend to meet with Patriarch Kirill? The pope answered, "Yes, we both want this, but there are problems."


The patriarch did not wait long in responding through his press secretary: Ukrainian Greek Catholics are preventing the meeting, who not only fully support Kiev in the armed conflict but also are intriguing against the Moscow patriarchate in concert with the patriarchate of Kiev. So let's talk a bit. What lies behind this absentee dialogue?


For a start, I quote the pope's answer entirely, since not a single one of official Russian news media bothered to do so. Here it is: "I told the patriarch that I will go wherever he needs. Let him say the word and I will arrive. But in connection with the war, the poor man has so many problems that his meeting with the pope must wait. However we want to meet and we want to move forward."


About the patriarch's problems connected with the war in Ukraine, Francis knows firsthand. More accurately, not so much about the problems as about the claims on this matter against the Vatican.


At the Synod of Catholic Bishops that was held recently in Rome, devoted to problems of the family, the Moscow guest Metropolitan Ilarion unexpectedly changed the subject and burst into a passionate philippic against Ukrainian Greek Catholics. They supposedly are supporting Orthodox "schismatics" in their struggle against the Moscow patriarchate. Isn't it time for the Vatican to rein in its presumptuous wards?


The demarche had consequences. The head of the Uniates, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, told the press that he never received such support on the part of Catholic bishops as he did after Metropolitan Ilarion's speech.


There was an uproar, but the Vatican clearly learned that it must not count on a rapprochement between the churches in the near future.


The pope also told journalists on board the plane about this by expressing remote sympathy for "the poor man" Kirill. And so it remained for him to repeat the accusation of his chief diplomat.


And so, on the surface the absentee dialogue of the pope and patriarch did not contain anything new. But is the issue only the Greek Catholics? This is not the first time the RPTs has mentioned them as hindrances to normal relations with the Vatican. However, if one thinks about it, a rapprochement of the two churches is being prevented by deeper causes.


During the Istanbul visit, the pope met with Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. They are bound by warm friendly relations. Recently they met during Francis' trip to Israel and then the pope invited the patriarch to the joint prayer of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents in Rome.


So now Francis and Bartholomew discussed Middle Eastern problems, complaining that bloody conflict in the Arab world had led to general flight of the Christian population.

"Those who persecute Christians today do not ask of their victims what church they belong to," Bartholomew said. Therefore in the face of the united threat of Islamic extremism, Middle Eastern Catholics and Orthodox recognize ever more strongly their common Christian roots.


Theologians are hardly likely to resolve quickly our thousand-year-old disagreements, Pope Francis agreed with him, and it is necessary to strive for Christian unity on the basis of personal experience. And this is not necessarily the experience of suffering. Joint efforts based on Christian love will lead to the same end.


Embracing the patriarch during the liturgy, the pope asked for his blessing. And this gesture of humility undoubtedly remains in history as a symbol of the convergence of the two churches.


Relations between Moscow and the Vatican have a completely different character.


Russian Orthodoxy has always treated Catholicism with deep distrust.


And although the conversations of the last quarter century about a meeting of the Roman pontiff and the Moscow patriarchate have become ever more frequent, they have not led to such results. One or another theological and political hindrance has always stood in the way. Now the political ones are dominating.


From day to day, the RPTs is strengthening a close union with the state, serving its ideological needs. Among them, the idea of the "Russian World" takes the foreground—the political integration of the Slavic peoples on the basis of Orthodoxy.


In Ukraine, this idea has suffered collapse, developing into an armed conflict of Russians and Ukrainians. The Moscow patriarchate has quickly lost its influence on Ukraine and it is trying with all its might to prevent the formation there of a local church. It accuses the Kiev patriarchate and Greek Catholics who sympathize with it of striving for this.


But the issue is not limited to this. What is happening in Ukraine is interpreted by the authorities as a conspiracy of the West against Russia. Nationalistic sentiments are swelling in the country, and the church is trying with all its might to give them ideological bases such as the Declaration of Russian Identity.


It is clear that in such a situation there cannot be any talk about some rapprochement with Catholics. On the contrary, emissaries are being sent to Rome demanding of the Vatican that it bring presumptuous Uniates to heel. It is hardly likely that the RPTs reckons on somehow influencing thereby the political outcomes. The goal is different: to show the Kremlin that it is not sitting on its hands and it is participating with all its might in the struggle of Russia with the awful enemy. It is not an accident that Metropolitan Ilarion's speech at the Catholic synod caused the feeling that he was speaking not to the Catholic audience in Rome but to the assembly of Orthodox patriots in Moscow.


These same goals were served also by Patriarch Kirill's answer to Pope Francis' answer about the prospects of a meeting between them.


All of this, without doubt, is understood in the Vatican. And nothing else remains for the pope but to feel sorry for the Moscow patriarch, whose head is stuck in politics, far from the church's interests. But this does not prevent Francis from moving along the path to Christian unity along with Bartholomew, who, as the meeting in Istanbul again showed, completely shares his hopes and aspirations. (tr. by PDS, posted 13 December 2014)


Russian original posted on site, 8 December 2014


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