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Bishop Hilarion: Catholic-Orthodox Relations Present and Future

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Europaica 42 6/2/2004 Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria: Catholic-Orthodox Relations at Present and in the Future Interview to Zenit International News
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2004
      Europaica 42 6/2/2004

      Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria: Catholic-Orthodox Relations at
      Present and in the Future

      Interview to Zenit International News Agency

      What are the hopes of the Orthodox Church with regard to the recent meeting
      between His Holiness Patriach Alexis II and the Catholic Cardinal Walter

      We hope that the fruitful discussions which took place between the Primate
      of the Russian Orthodox Church and the high representative of the Roman
      Catholic Church will lead to a better relationship between the two
      Churches. We hope that the concerns expressed by our Church and also by
      other Orthodox Churches, in particular, those related to the situation of
      the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, will be taken seriously.

      According to you, will Pope John Paul II establish a patriarchate for the
      Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine? If yes, why?

      It is difficult for me to predict how Pope John Paul II will be acting, but
      I hope the unanimous position of all Orthodox Churches against the
      establishment of the Greek Catholic Patriarchate will be taken into
      account. The question is: why has the issue of the Patriarchate in Ukraine
      become so urgent? While for several centuries the Greek Catholics lived
      without a Patriarchate, why should the Patriarchate be created now, when
      there is so much controversy around the very issue of Uniatism? While joint
      Catholic-Orthodox documents signed at Freising and Balamand stated clearly
      that Uniatism is not a way towards unity, why should the status of
      Ukrainian Uniate Churches be upgraded?

      Another question is: why should the see of the Greek Catholic primate be
      moved from Lviv to Kiyv? Traditionally Greek Catholics have been strong in
      Galicia, but they have never had any significant presence in the rest of
      Ukraine, especially in Kiyv, where the vast majority of believers belong to
      the Orthodox Church. The impression is that by transferring the see from
      Lviv to Kiyv and by attempting to create a Patriarchate the Greek Catholic
      Church under Cardinal Husar wants to assume the identity of a national
      Ukrainian Church, as opposed to the 'Moscow Church' headed by Metropolitan
      Vladimir of Kiyv. And this is in spite of the fact that Orthodox believers
      greatly outnumber the Greek Catholics throughout Ukraine, except Galicia.

      Moreover, the transfer of the see from Lviv to Kiyv points to a clear
      expansionist strategy. The recent official statistics show that there are
      14,350 Orthodox communities in the Ukraine, including those belonging to
      non-canonical (schismatic) groups. If we take only the canonical Ukrainian
      Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, it counts 10,044 parishes. As
      far as the Greek Catholic Church is concerned, it counts 3,334 parishes, of
      which 2,969 are found in Galicia. In Kiyv there are 823 Orthodox churches
      and only 8 Greek Catholic ones. The question arises: what have the Greek
      Catholics to do with Kiyv? It is quite obvious that any expansion of Greek
      Catholicism in traditionally Orthodox territories will take place at the
      expense of the Orthodox and to their detriment.

      You pose the question: if Pope John Paul II does establish a Patriarchate
      for the Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine, why would he do this? I do
      not know the answer. According to some experts, there is a certain lobby in
      the Vatican which wants the decision to create a Patriarchate in Ukraine to
      be taken precisely during Pope John Paul's pontificate. The reasoning
      behind this is as follows: the relations with the Orthodox Church cannot be
      much worse than they are now, and even if they are completely ruined, there
      will nevertheless be a new chance to improve them when there is a new Pope.
      The new Pope may claim that the establishment of the Greek Catholic
      Patriarchate in Ukraine was a mistake made by the present Vatican
      administration and may even apologise for it. The Patriarchate will,
      however, be already in place and will not be abolished. In this way two
      birds will be killed with one stone. I wish to believe that all this is
      pure speculation and that there are no such intentions in the Vatican.

      How do you believe the relations among the represented church groups would
      change after such a step is taken?

      I presume the official theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic and
      the Orthodox Churches, which is now temporarily suspended, will be stopped
      altogether, and the Catholic-Orthodox relations are likely return to the
      pre-Vatican II situation. This, I contend, will be a great tragedy.

      There are various points on which the different Churches are divided.
      Briefly, on which theological foundation could the Churches increase their

      Responding to this question, I would like to repeat what I said in November
      2003 at the University of St Paul, Minnessotta, and at the Catholic
      University of America, when addressing the issue of Catholic-Orthodox
      Relations. It seems to me that, if the relationship on a practical level is
      normalized, the two Churches may resume theological discussions. One of the
      most important theological questions to be discussed after the issues of
      Uniatism, proselytism and 'canonical territory' have been sufficiently
      addressed will be the notion of primacy. While the Catholics may wish to
      revisit this issue in order to make their doctrine more consonant with the
      tradition of the Ancient Undivided Church, the Orthodox may, on their part,
      wish to develop further their own comprehension of primacy in the Universal
      Church. We are accustomed to criticizing the Catholics for their view on
      primacy, but can we develop our own understanding of it in a way that
      convinces Catholic theologians? In order to do this, we must agree among
      ourselves on our interpretation of the relations between the local and the
      universal Church. In what precisely does the 'universality' of the Church
      consist? How is this universality to be manifested? Is there any room in
      Orthodox ecclesiology for a kind of 'universal' leadership? It seems to me
      that the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople will differ
      in their response to the last question from the representatives of other
      Orthodox Churches. The question therefore is not solved and requires
      further discussion.

      Once the divisive issues have been addressed and the existing difficulties
      resolved, Catholics and Orthodox will be much more amenable in their common
      response to the challenges of the modern world, such as ever growing
      secularism, ever increasing globalization, ever more evident loss of moral
      and ethical values. The Catholic and the Orthodox Churches both belong to
      the 'traditional' stream of Christianity, and together have much to say to
      the modern world, where the very notion of 'tradition' is put into
      question. Their testimony, however, will be successful only if they are
      able to speak 'with one mouth and with one heart.'

      There is, therefore, a long road ahead. But there are always some signs of
      hope. And there is indeed a common well from which both the Catholics and
      the Orthodox may draw. As one of my close friends, a Roman Catholic hermit
      and theologian, said, 'it is sin that divided the Churches and it is
      sanctity that will unite them again.' The legacy of saints and martyrs is
      common to both Churches - both have centuries-old experience of martyrdom
      and sanctity. In the 20th century both Catholics and Orthodox, together
      with people from other confessions and religions, suffered in Soviet and
      Nazi camps: many gave their lives for the faith. There are many striking
      testimonies of solidarity among Christians of different confessional
      backgrounds in the Soviet camps. These Christians were united not only
      because they had a common enemy, but also because they shared with each
      other their love for Christ and for his Church, a love which was not shaken
      even by the most severe persecutions. There was more that united them than
      that divided them, because what united them was Christ himself.
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