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Will Kirill and Benedict Meet?

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Will Kirill and Benedict Meet? Just about 100 days ago, on January 27, Russian Orthodox Church leaders chose a new Patriarch to succeed the later Patriarch
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2009
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      Will Kirill and Benedict Meet?

      Just about 100 days ago, on January 27, Russian
      Orthodox Church leaders chose a new Patriarch to
      succeed the later Patriarch Alexi II, who had
      died on December 5, 2008. His name: Kirill
      (photo). What has Kirill done since his
      election, and what are the prospects for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI?

      By Robert Moynihan, Editor, Inside the Vatican

      TH URSDAY, APRIL 30, 2009 — The new Patriarch of
      the Russian Orrthodox Church, Kirill, 62, has met
      Pope Benedict XVI, who turned 82 a few days ago,
      three times already — but that was before Kirill becamee Patriarch.

      Now, after nearly 100 days in office, Vatican
      observers are sensing that Patriarch Kirill and
      Pope Benedict may meet again — and thatt such a
      meeting will be a major step on the way to the
      long-hoped-for reunion of the Roman Catholic and
      Orthodox Churches, which have been divided for
      nearly 1,000 years, since 1054. But where and
      when could such a meeting be held?

      Kirill is an imposing figure, with a grey-flecked
      beard and sonorous voice. And he has important
      friends. When he was enthroned Alexi’s
      successor in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior
      in Moscow, the church was filled with celebrities
      and political leaders, and the first person to
      receive communion from him was... President Dmitry Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana.

      (Photo: The new Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch
      Kirill, center, puts on his vestments during the
      enthronement service in Moscow's Christ the
      Saviour Cathedral, Russia, Sunday, February 1,
      2009. Patriarch Kirill took charge of the Russian
      Orthodox Chur ch, becoming the first leader of
      the world's largest Orthodox church to take
      office after the fall of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

      In the Soviet era, the officially atheist
      Communist government treated the devout like
      moral lepers, imprisoning tens of thousands of
      clerics of all creeds. Now the Orthodox Church
      “has become a serious power in society,”
      former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told The Associated Press in March.

      Kirill met most recently with Pope Benedict XVI a
      year and a half ago, on December 7, 2007,
      privately at the Vatican (Photo: Kirill with Pope
      Benedict in Rome). The Vatican did not release
      any details about the meeting, but an interview
      with Metropolitan Kirill was published late in
      the afternoon by L'Osservatore Romano, the
      Vatican newspaper. The meeting with the Pope was
      "very positive and very beautiful," Kirill said
      at the time. "On our agenda there are many
      important themes such as the promotion of basic values."

      But great obstacles still remain to a closer
      collaboration between the two Churches, not to speak of full reunion.

      Indeed, Metropolitan Kirill's December 2007
      meeting with the Pope came just four days after
      Russia's Interfax news agency q uoted him as
      saying that the four Roman Catholic dioceses John
      Paul II established in Russia in 2002 should be
      downgraded again to their prior status of "apostolic administrations."

      "We shall never recognize them and will always
      dispute the presence of ordinary Catholic
      dioceses in the territory of Russia and consider
      it a challenge to our common idea" of Church
      organization, Interfax quoted Kirill as saying.

      Kirill said then that when the Orthodox or the
      Catholics have communities outside their
      traditional homelands, a bishop should be in
      charge of their pastoral care, but that bishop
      should be an administrator, not the head of a
      normal diocese erected on a territory already
      assigned to another bishop. (Russia’s Catholic
      community numbers an estimated 600,000 people in
      a country of 144 million where about 80% of the
      people identify themselves as Orthodox.)

      Still, Kirill added that regular contact between
      Vatican and Russian Orthodox officials was
      "essential" for promoting the growing
      understanding of the other needed to resolve the
      tensions and the theological differences that
      keep Catholics and Orthodox apart.

      And there has been regular contact since
      Benedict's election as Pope in April, 2005, and
      especially since Kirill's election as Patriarch
      in January, as representatives of the Holy See
      and representatives of the Russian and other
      Orthodox Churches have met many times in many different venues.

      One milestone occurred in the fall of 2007, when
      Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, after a
      week of meetings in Ravenna, Italy, drafted a
      joint document that acknowledges in a certain
      sense the primacy of the Pope. The 46-paragraph
      “Ravenna Document” (text below), envisages a
      reunified Church in which the Pope could be the
      most senior patriarch among the various Orthodox churches.

      Another milestone also occurred in 2007, on June
      16, when Pope Benedict XVI told a visiting Greek
      Orthodox leader, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of
      Cyprus, that he hoped the Catholic and Orthodox
      Churches could be united, despite centuries of
      painful division, and discussed how Catholics and
      Orthodox could work together on social, moral and
      bioethical issues, including opposition to
      same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.

      Chrysostomos had offered to play the role of
      mediator to try to arrange a groundbreaking
      meeting between the Pope and the then-Patriarch of Moscow, Alexi II.

      In a speech to the archbishop after their private
      session, Benedict said he held “firm hope” of
      uniting the two Churches. Despite
      “centuries-old divisions, diverging roads and
      despite the hard work of closing painful wounds,
      the Lord has never ceased to guide our steps on
      the path toward unity and reconciliation,” Benedict told Chrysostomos.

      Chrysostomos then told reporters that the chief
      problem was a "lack of communication" between the
      Pope and the Patriarch. He said he would pursue
      his offer to help organize a possible meeting
      when he met with Alexi in Moscow in mid-2007.

      Chrysostomos believed Benedict’s background as
      a theologian with a good grasp of Orthodox
      theology would help the process of reuniting the
      two churches, but he failed to broker a meeting between Benedict and Alexi II.

      Now, four years into Benedicts's pontificate and
      nearly 100 days into Kirill's patriarchate,
      nearly all Vatican observers agree that, as Pope
      John Paul II was drive n by the desire to end the
      scourge of atheist Communism, so Pope Benedict
      XVI still hopes passionately to see the restoration of a unified Church.

      And the path toward achieving that vision passes by way of Kirill.

      Benedict's hopes for reunion stem from his
      religious conviction that Christians should
      present a united witness to the world, but also
      from his pragmatic judgment that the increasingly
      relativistic and "anti-life" West needs the
      spiritual and moral support of the Orthodox world
      to overcome a secular mindset which has begun to
      penetrate into the western Church herself.

      This explains why Benedict has, since the moment
      Kirill was elected, made numerous gestures toward
      him of welcome and appreciation.

      Benedict XVI publicly expressed his joy at
      Kirill's January 27 election at a general
      audience the next day in Rome, saying, "I invoke
      upon him the light of the Holy Spirit for a
      generous service to the Russian Orthodox Church,
      entrusting him to the special protection of the Mother of God."

      In a telegram sent to the newly-elected
      Patriarch, the Pope wrote: "May the Almighty
      bless your efforts to maintain communion among
      the Orthodox Churches and to seek that fullness
      of communion which is the goal of
      Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue. I
      assure Your Holiness of my spiritual closeness
      and of the Catholic Church's commitment to
      co-operat e with the Russian Orthodox Church for
      an ever clearer witness of the truth of the
      Christian message and to the values which alone
      can sustain today's world along the way of peace,
      justice and loving care of the marginalised."

      The Catholic Archbishop in Moscow, Paolo Pezzi,
      called the election "very positive news" and said
      that it promised "continuity and recognition of
      the work of the former patriarch, Alexi II."

      The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting
      Christian Unity noted that Kirill was "a
      Patriarch with whom we have maintained fraternal
      relations for many years, and who met the Holy
      Father immediately following his election in
      April 2005, and again in the months of May 2006 and December 2007."

      The Council statement continued: "We trust we
      will be able to continue together down the path
      of mutual understanding we have already begun. We
      do not, of course, wish to lose sight of the
      difficulties that still remain, but we are ready
      and willing to co-operate in the social and
      cultural fields in order to bear witness to
      Christian values while, nonetheless, not
      forgetting that the ultimate aim of dialogue is
      the realisation of the testament of Jesus Christ
      our Lord: the full communion of all His disciples."

      Kirill the "John Paul II" of the Russian Church?

      Who is Patriarch Kirill?

      He is relatively young — at age 62, he is 20
      years younger thhan Pope Benedict is, and nearly
      the same age, 58, as Pope John Paul II was when he was elected Pope in 1978.

      And Kirill is energetic. For years he has hosted
      his own weekly television program "Words of a
      Pastor." He has traveled widely around the world.
      and he is willing to take risks to preach the
      Gospel (he recently agreed to speak to Russian
      young people in a sports stadium, something
      previous Patriarchs would have found unthinkable).

      He is also open to new ways of doing things. This
      winter, while he was acting Patriarch, he went to
      a rock concert in Kiev and delivered a homily to
      tens of thousands of young people.

      "Today Church and society are in fact one and the
      same thing," a spokesman for Kirill later
      explained. "Our Church believers go to discos and
      rock-concerts, and if there's a chance to give
      some Church tinge to such youth meetings, if
      young people are glad to hear a few words from a
      priest, why doesn't he go there and say these few
      words? The example of the Patriarch will surely
      inspire bishops, priests and laymen. When we
      speak about mission, we mean that we will go and
      preach, not that people will come to us. We mean
      that priests should come out20from their
      churches, officials of Church departments should
      step out of their organizations. We should go and
      meet people, even at the so-called youth
      hangouts, even if it's not usual to see a man in
      cassock there," the Russian Church official said.

      And Kirill is evidently a capable administrator.
      He has gathered around himself a "team" of
      well-trained and capable younger clerics and
      laymen to help him implement his vision for the
      Russian Church and nation, including the man he
      has chosen to take the post he himself held as
      head of the External Relations Department of the
      Patriarchate, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev (now promoted to archbishop).

      (Photo: Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, right, with
      the late Patriarch Alexi II, center, and the present Patriarch Kirill, left)

      On March 31, the news agency Interfax reported
      that the Holy Synod, the group of seven leading
      Russian Orthodox archbishops who form the highest
      ruling council of the Russian Orthodox Church,
      had named Bishop Hilarion as External Church Relations chief "unanimously."

      The agency reported that several other young
      clerics who are close to Kirill were promoted:
      &nbs
      p;
      (1) Archpriest Nikolay Balashov was named
      Patriarchate Secretary for relations with other Orthodox Churches;

      (2) Priest Georgy Ryabyh was named acting
      secretary for liaison between the Church and
      public, and both were appointed deputy chairmen
      of the Department for External Church Relations;

      (3) Bishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, a former deputy
      chairman of the Department for External Church
      Relations, was appointed Patriarchate Secretary
      for the Church's institutions abroad;

      (4) Priest Antony Ilyin was put in charge of the
      Church's relations with European international organizations; and

      (5) Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a 41-year-old,
      gravel-voiced cleric close to Kirill, was
      appointed to be the first head of a new
      Department for Relations between the Church and
      Society set up within the Church's administrative structure.

      On April 22, a further promotion was announced:

      (6) Fr. Igor Vyzhanov, 38, secretary for
      Inter-Christian relations in the Department for
      External Church Relations, the Patriarchate
      official responsible for relations with
      non-Orthodox confessions, was ordained an
      Archpriest by Patriarch Kirill personally during a Divine Liturgy in Moscow.

      The promotions of Hilarion, Mark and Chaplin, all
      relatively young men in th eir early 40s, are
      perhaps the most significant of these first
      appointments during Kirill's first 100 days.

      What has happened to these three "rising stars"
      is not without precedent. At the beginning of his
      own clerical career, Patriarch Kirill was the
      personal secretary to Metropolitan Nikodim
      (1929-1978) of Leningrad and
      Novgorod. Metropolitan Nikodim had encouraged
      Kirill to become a priest and was a very
      important figure in Kirill's early life. Nikodim
      was himself a very rapidly rising star. He had
      become the head of the Church's Department of
      External Relations at the very young age of 30.

      Nikodim, who many consider a saint, persuaded the
      Soviet government to allow the Russian Orthodox
      Church at have contacts with the world churches.

      From this, the Soviet government was able to
      create an appearance of freedom of religion in
      the USSR, while the Church in turn received a
      little breathing room in which to exist.

      Nikodim was also allowed to mentor and advance
      within the Church certain very bright and
      talented young men. These young men, such as
      Kirill, Juvelany, and Alexi, later became the
      leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.

      Tragically, on September 5, 1978, Metropolitan
      Nikodim died of a heart attack at the age of 48
      in the presence of Pope John Paul I.

      A decade=2 0later, on November 13, 1989, Kirill
      was appointed to be head of the External
      Relations Department and a permanent member of
      the Holy Synod. Kirill was 42 at the time — the same age as Hilarion today.

      Like his mentor Nikodim, Kirill created in his
      department a small group of very talented and
      bright young men — the best of the best. These
      men advanced to key positions within the External
      Relations Department. They are now Bishop
      Hilarion, Bishop Mark, and Father Vsevolod. They
      are all extremely talented, hard-working, and articulate.

      Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that in
      the first session of the Holy Synod since the
      enthronement of Patriarch Kirill, these three
      have been given key positions in the Moscow Patriarchate.

      In this regard, it appears that the former
      functions of the External Relations Department
      may have been divided in three parts. The part
      relating to the interface with the Russian
      government and civil society has been given to
      Father Vsevolod, the supervision of foreign
      parishes to Bishop Mark, and the general
      functions of the department and the key permanent
      seat in the Holy Synod to Bishop Hilarion.

      Among Catholic observers of the Russian Orthodox
      Church, all of these appointments are regarded as
      "good news" because of the deep faith, learning and openness of these men.

      Bishop Hilario n was the first person to propose
      an alliance between the Catholic and Orthodox
      Churches — an idea that has been subsequently
      echoed by many in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

      He is also active in the culture field, as an
      accomplished pianist and composer of sacred
      music. Bishop Hilarion's monumental Passion
      According to St. Matthew, first performed in
      Moscow and Rome in March 2007, was recently
      performed (on April 8) by the Hungarian National
      Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in St. Stephen's
      Basilica, the most famous Catholic church in
      Budapest. A capacity crowd of more than 2,000
      attended and the basilica was not able to
      accommodate all that came. The concert was
      broadcast live by "Radio Maria." Among the guests
      of honor were Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest,
      the apostolic nuncio to Hungary (Archbishop
      Juliusz Janusz), Archabbot of the Benedictine
      Abbey of Pannonhalma (Asztrik Varszegi), and the
      prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany (Dr. Korzensky Richard).

      Before the concert, Cardinal Erdo welcomed the
      crowd. He stated, "Today's event is not just
      another musical event but a sign of genuine and
      long-awaited collaboration between our Churches.
      I wholeheartedly congratulate Bishop Hilarion on
      his appointment to the high and responsible post
      of Chairman of the Department of External
      Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. I sincerely
      hope that our cooperation, rooted in his tenure
      as head of the Hungarian diocese of the Russian
      Orthodox Church, will continue in his new
      capacity." (Photo: Bishop Hilarion with Cardinal Erdo.)

      Father Vsevolod, though the living embodiment of
      "toughness," has been a very positive influence
      in the dialogue between the Russian Orthdoox and
      the Catholic Church in the Russian Federation.
      Father Vsevolod was also one of the very few
      non-Catholic Church officials to come to the
      defense of the Pope in the recent worldwide
      "condom controversy" which erupted during the Pope's March trip to Africa.

      Bishop Mark, a deeply spiritual man, who has
      lived and worked in Jerusalem, has traveled
      several times to Italy and to the Vatican, and is
      also a very positive influence.

      That a Catholic can appreciate these men does not
      mean that the three will not be zealous defenders
      of Orthodoxy, but it does mean that they are
      reasonable men open to dialogue. And for this
      reason, they can count on our prayers in the
      great responsibilities that they are assuming.

      Arguably, today Kirill is one of the 10 or 20
      most influential men in Russia, one of the key
      countries in the world, and his relative youth
      means that he will likely be an important factor
      in national decisions for years to come.

      Kirill now heads of a Church with more than 100
      million adherents — larger than the Anglican
      Church — including millions of Russsian Orthodox
      living abroad, which gives the Russian Orthodox Church a "global" aspect.

      Statistically, the Russian Orthodox Church is the
      second most numerous Christian Church after the Roman Catholic Church itself.

      But statistics are less important here than
      suffering and faith. The Russian Orthodox Church
      is a Church that suffered greatly under Soviet
      rule. Now it has "re-emerged from the catacombs"
      following the dissolution 18 years ago of the
      USSR (1991) to take on an ever-greater role in post-Soviet Russia.

      Russia's powerful Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin,
      and its President, Dmitry Medvedev, both attend
      church on feast days. Other Slavic leaders, like
      Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, do so as well.

      So it a time of hope for Russian Orthodoxy —
      despite the20enoormous challenges the faith
      confronts in Russia, which has become highly
      secularized. Kirill evidently hopes it will be a
      "Orthodox Moment" for his country, and his Church.

      Collaboration with Catholics

      Following the new Patriarch's enthronement on
      February 1, Benedict sent a second message,
      reiterating the importance of collaboration in seeking Christian unity.

      The Pope recalled his meetings with the new
      Patriarch in Kirill's previous role as the
      president of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

      The Pope characterized these encounters as full
      of "good will" and recalled Kirill's role in
      "forging a new relationship between our Churches,
      a relationship based on friendship, mutual
      acceptance and sincere dialogue in facing the
      difficulties of our common journey."

      On March 8 in Moscow, Kirill showed the type of
      spirit he is bringing to his pastoral task.

      He warned his hearers during a Sunday sermon not
      to trust some radical Orthodox fighters for the
      "purity" of faith, whose motto is "Orthodoxy or Death!"

      "When we meet a man who claims to be fighting for
      the purity of Orthodoxy, but in his eyes is lit
      the fire of anger, someone ready to shake the
      foundations of Church life to defend orthodoxy,
      if we do not find love and find anger, this is
      the f irst sign of that we have a wolf in sheep's
      clothing," the Patriarch said in his Sunday
      sermon at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. "In
      the eyes of these people you will not find love;
      they shine with the fire of pride. The most
      important criterion for evaluating any Church
      leader — fromm a Patriarch to a simple layman —
      is 'love' because 'where there iss love, there is Christ.'"

      On April 8, Kirill wrote to Benedict, expressing
      his condolences over the loss of life in an
      earthquake in Italy's Abruzzo region and said he
      was praying for the peace of the victims' souls.
      "I am conveying my most profound condolences over
      the loss of hundreds of lives in the earthquake
      in Abruzzo,"Kirill wrote to Benedict. "Sharing
      the grief of the families and relatives of those
      who have fallen victim to the natural disaster,
      we remember the Gospel saying: 'God is not God of
      the dead, but of the living, for to him all are
      alive.'" The message was published on the
      official website of the Moscow Patriarchate.
      (According to reports, 207 people were killed in
      the earthquake, 15 remain unaccounted for, and
      178 people were injured, of whom 100 seriously.)

      Then the authoritarian leader of Belarussia came
      onto the stage. Just a few days ago, on April 26,
      Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko,
      joining the "club" of Gordon Brown, Angela
      Merkel, Tony Blair and other heads of state who
      have recently paid a visit to Pope Benedict XVI, came to the Vatican.

      Before the meeting, the Belarusian president said
      he was going to present the Pope with a number of
      questions from the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kirill.

      Talking to the Pope, he also expressed hope
      that Benedict XVI would come to Belarus. The
      Belarusian leader seems to want to play a role in
      organizing the meeting of the Pope of Rome and
      the Patriarch of Moscow (the "third Rome").

      If Lukashenko’s proposal is accepted, Belarus
      will play an important role as a conciliator and
      a peacemaker. In this sense, Lukashenko is
      improving Belarus’ image on an international
      level and doing a favor for Kirill who seems
      interested in meeting the Pope yet a fourth time — thiss time, as Patriarch.

      Kirill's vision seems to have "Europe-wide"
      scope. Just yesterday, on April 29, an Interfax
      report cited the acting representative of the
      Moscow Patriarchate at the European International
      Organizations Archpriest Antony Ilyin, as sayi ng
      that the Russian Orthodox Church believes it is
      "crucial" for the Russian Church “to introduce
      problems of Christian values on the agenda of the next European Parliament.”

      And today comes the news from Moscow that the
      consecration of a Russian Orthodox church of
      Great Martyr Saint Catherine being built in Rome
      on the hillside above St. Peter's Basilica, under
      the direction of a committee headed by
      Kirill, has been set for three weeks from now: May 24.

      It is not clear whether Kirill himself will come to Rome for the consecration.
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