Christians in Europe

A year after his installation Patriarch Kirill draws up a balance-sheet

On 1st February Patriarch Kirill celebrated the first anniversary of his official entry as head of the Orthodox Church of Russia. To commemorate his enthronement a year ago, the Patriarch celebrated a Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, in which over 200 bishops of the Patriarchate of Moscow and of other local Orthodox Churches participated. Metropolitan Christopher of Prague, Primate of the Orthodox Church of Bohemia and Slovakia, was also present. During the liturgy, Kirill raised to the rank of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The President of the Russian Federation, Dmitri Medvedev and his wife, also attended the celebration. On the following day, in the great Council Hall of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a consultation was held with over 150 bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church and chairmen of the Synodal Commissions. The initiative to convene such a consultation was decided by Patriarch Kirill to draw up a balance-sheet of what has been achieved in this first year of his patriarchal ministry and to establish the priorities for the next year. The bishops, at the end of this meeting, adopted a document containing the recommendations for the future activities of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Relations with the Catholic Church. A detailed paragraph of the report presented by Patriarch Kirill to the bishops is dedicated to relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. In this paragraph the Patriarch speaks expressly of the “positive tendencies” that have been registered in this bilateral dialogue over the past year. And he added: “Common activities and many meetings with the representatives of the Catholic Church have confirmed that our positions coincide on many questions that challenge Christians in the modern world. These questions include aggressive secularization, globalization, and the erosion of traditional ethical principles. It is worth emphasizing – the Patriarch continued – that on these issues Pope Benedict XVI has taken positions very close to those of the Orthodox Church. And this is demonstrated by his speeches and messages, as also by the opinions of senior representatives of the Roman Catholic Church with whom we have contacts”. Patriarch Kirill noted that “a common view of the protection of human dignity in Europe” had emerged also during the meeting that Archbishop Hilarion Volokolamsky had with the Pope and with other leaders of the Roman Curia in September. The Patriarch also recalled a decision taken in November by the European Court of Human Rights on the inadmissibility of the presence of crucifixes in Italian schools and he commented: “This was a clear attack on European Christian traditions”, and for this reason the Russian Orthodox Church had expressed its solidarity with the Catholic Church in Italy”. And he added: “We have reaffirmed our common conviction that European civilization has Christian roots. That’s why it is utterly unacceptable that Europe and its institutions should be deprived of the symbols of its spiritual identity”. In his report, the Patriarch does not paper over “the existing problems” in bilateral relations on which “we continue to work”. In particular he spoke of the “difficult situation in Ukraine”, expressing the hope that “concrete steps” would be taken on the Catholic side. Relations with the Protestant world. A completely different situation, on the other hand, is registered in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Protestant churches. The main problem here, according to the Patriarch, is the “rapid liberalization of the Protestant world”. The blessing of same-sex unions and the episcopal election of self-declared gay bishops are especially under accusation. These – said the Patriarch – “are the reasons why we are forced to interrupt our relations with the Episcopalian Church in the USA and with the Lutheran Church in Sweden”. In the paragraph reserved for relations with the Protestant world, the Patriarch also points out, with regret, the election of a woman bishop Margot Kassmann as President of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany. “A consequence of this – concluded Krill – is that in dialogue with our Protestant counterparts it is important to try to ascertain what chance there is of overcoming the fundamental differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism. If this proves impossible, there are still many other important issues that are not directly linked to the achievement of unity in the faith and structure of the Church, but fundamental in terms of cooperation for peace, justice, safeguard of the Creation and the solution of other problems that require the common action of those who believe in the Holy Trinity”. Lastly, the election of Metropolitan Emmanuel (Patriarchate of Constantinople) as President of the CEC is, he added, a source of “hope” for the “overcoming of the problems” that the Russian Church has with this European organization.

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