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from issue no. 08 - 2004

May there be charity among the sister Churches

The Orthodox Church from the Council of 1917 to today and its relationship with the Catholic Church

by Andrea Pacini

The two first decades of the twentieth century were dense with happenings fundamental for religion in Russia. In 1905 a law about religious tolerance was emitted by the Russian State for the first time, with the consequent recognition of freedom of conscience for the subjects of the empire and freedom of organization for the different religious denominations. The law on religious tolerance made possible for example the emergence in the public arena of the “Church of the Old Believers”, until then reduced to an existence on the fringes, even though their communities were quite other than unsubstantial. The law also improved the situation of the Catholic Church, whose jurisdiction consisted in the metropolia of Mogilev (with its See in Saint Petersburg) on which five suffragan dioceses depended: Samoghizia, Lutzk-Zhitomir, Vilna and Tirasapol with its see in Saratov. The ecclesiastical province was the most extended in the world for the Catholic Church, and included three quarters of European Russia and the whole of Asiatic Russia. According to the diocesan statistics of 1910 the archdiocese had 28 deaneries, 245 parishes, 399 priests, and a total of 1,023,347 Catholic faithful. In Saint Petersburg the Catholic Theological Academy was at work with 58 students and the major seminary with 122 seminarians (taking courses in propaedeutics, philosophy and theology)1.
John Paul II and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in Kiev in June 2001

John Paul II and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar in Kiev in June 2001

Influenced in a positive way by the new politico-cultural climate, in that same year of 1905, the Russian Orthodox Church asked the permission of the Tsar to summon a Council to discuss a whole series of questions relative to its relations with the state and linked to its own internal reform. Permission was denied and only in 1917, after the October revolution, was the Council effectively summoned2. In the course of this Council some decisions of great importance were taken: after almost two centuries – to be precise from the issuing of the Ecclesiastical Regulations of Peter the Great in 1721 which, having abolished the patriarchate, had imposed a lay procurator of imperial nomination to preside over the Holy Synod – the patriarchate was re-established with the election of the new patriarch in the person of the metropolitan Tichon, thus removing the Orthodox Church from the direct influence of the state. There were further elaborated new statutes relative to the organization of the Church, clearly based on synodality, and reforms were discussed in reply many demands to bring the pastoral in line with to modern times.
This period of a “new spring” for the Orthodox Church lasted very briefly however: it was in fact suppressed by the new laws established by Lenin depriving all the Churches in Russia of legal status, preventing them therefore from operating in society even at the catechetical level. The Marxist politics of aggressive hostility towards religion began and provoked decades-long persecution of the Church and of believers. In 1925 Patriarch Tichon died and it was forbidden to elect a successor to the patriarchal post. So Metropolitan Sergei took over the leadership of the Church, and assumed the responsibility of patriarchal locum tenens (after the deportation and execution of the first elected locum tenens, Metropolitan Pietr Poliansky). Notwithstanding the fact that Metropolitan Sergei had recognized the legitimacy of the Soviet government in order to safeguard the survival of the Church itself (in 1930 he was even to deny publicly the existence of persecutions), the Soviet epoch signaled the beginning of a tragic phase. In the period between 1918 and 1943 persecution of the Church was continuous. The Orthodox Church was struck in an almost mortal way. In 1922 the confiscation of places of worship and the summary trials of members of the clergy and the faithful of all the Churches began. Bishops, priests, monks and lay people were executed in summary fashion or deported to the gulags. Persecution, destruction of monasteries and churches followed: by 1939 the Russian Orthodox Church had lost practically all of its hierarchic structure. According to the calculations of Dimitri Pospelovsky about 600 bishops and 40 thousand Orthodox priests were physically eliminated between 1918 and 1938, that is between 80% and 85% of clergy existing at the moment of the Revolution3. An analogous persecution was also undergone by the Catholic Church: by 1926 there was not one remaining Catholic bishop in Russia, and by 1941 only two of the more than 1200 churches existing in 1917 (situated particularly in Lithuania) were open for worship.
Above, the meeting between the Patriarch Alexix II and Cardinal Walter Kasper on 22 February 2004 in Moscow; below, the Russian president Putin honors Patriarch Alexis II on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday with the decoration Servants of the Fatherland

Above, the meeting between the Patriarch Alexix II and Cardinal Walter Kasper on 22 February 2004 in Moscow; below, the Russian president Putin honors Patriarch Alexis II on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday with the decoration Servants of the Fatherland

The government also tried to demolish the Orthodox Church from within, by stirring up of internal schismatic movements and by backing more progressive groups of clergy and faithful. These movements – the most important of which took the name “Living Church” – developed in reciprocal competitiveness however and ended by fading away both because of mutual rivalry and for lack of consensus from the people.
At the same time, in the face of what came to be considered the compliance of the metropolitan Sergei, strong opposition arose in the Church against his authority, and the church of the catacombs was born, subdivided into different chapels. In the diaspora, then, the Russian Church of emigration (or beyond the border) formed, beginning with clergy and Russian faithful who had taken the path of exile. This Church maintained itself – and maintains itself – to be the unique canonical heir to the patriarchate of Moscow, in that the hierarchy present in Russia, by recognizing the Bolshevik power, had lost its proper canonical status (by falling into heresy). The same difficulties in the relations with a hierarchy which seemed excessively compliant and compromised arose among the Russian diaspora in Western Europe, and provoked the founding of a new ecclesiastic jurisdiction: the Russian exarchate dependent upon Constantinople, which still exists.
The situation in Russia underwent an important change between 1941 – the date of the German invasion – and 1943. The German invasion of Russian territory provoked two events that produced a change in the relations between the Soviet State and the Orthodox Church. Faced with the German invasion Metropolitan Sergei made a patriotic appeal to the people to defend the homeland: Stalin understood that the Church could be useful in promoting and strengthening resistance against the invader. At the same time, in the regions conquered by the Germans, the Churches once again gained freedom of worship and of organization: Stalin feared that this example might encourage the Orthodox Church and Russian believers not to collaborate in the resistance. These two reasons convinced Stalin to open a new phase of relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1943 Stalin once again acknowledged the legal status of the Orthodox Church, handing back some of the places of worship, authorizing the election as patriarch of Metropolitan Sergei, allowing him to reorganize, however partially and under strict state control. Moreover it was to be the very regions that had fallen into the hands of the Germans that were to enjoy, even afterwards, greater facility in the exercise of worship, whereas elsewhere the situation was to remain difficult.
After repelling the German invasion in 1945 Stalin concentrated within the patriarchate of Moscow all the eastern ecclesiastical structures existing throughout the territories of the new Soviet expansion, including the Greek-Catholic ecclesiastical structures. The Greek-Catholic Church in the Ukraine was everywhere suppressed and its property transferred to the Orthodox Church. A part of the clergy, subject to strong pressures, accepted integration into the Orthodox Church (1947 and 1949), while a large portion of clergy and faithful went underground. We could therefore say that Stalinist ecclesiastical policies were characterized by two different attitudes: on the one hand, a change in relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, whose situation, though still precarious, improved.
On the other hand, sharp opposition to the Greek-Catholic Church, which led to its being wiped out on the formal level and its suppression on the material and pastoral level, in line with a policy that already in previous centuries the Czars had carried out, or tried to carry out, when the territories inhabited by Greek-Catholics became part of the Empire. The situation of the Catholic Church therefore underwent an objective worsening.
So if Stalin’s politics marked a certain improvement for the Orthodox Church, it was destructive for the Greek-Catholic Church.
Patriarch Tichon

Patriarch Tichon

The policy of atheization continued however, also to the detriment of the Russian Orthodox Church. In particular it was given a new impetus under Krusciev4. Thousands of churches were once again closed by force and most of the eight seminaries and the monasteries was suppressed. After Krusciev, in the ’sixties, strong state control on the bishops and the Church continued. In particular the Church was used as an instrument of propaganda abroad by the Soviet regime. The Church had to publicly deny the persecution. It was in this climate that the Russian Orthodox Church became a member of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in 19615. In the ’seventies and ’eighties however dissent developed, finding fertile soil among believers and priests. It was especially the intellectual believers and priests who manifested their dissent and spread news through samizdat about the reality of the Soviet system and the persecutions the Churches were subject to; samizdat also reached the West and provoked movements of solidarity towards believers in Russia. The consequence was a fresh anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union6.
Only in 1987 and 1988, in combination with the millennial of the Baptism of Rus’, did the thaw begin with Gorbacev which then took on inconceivable pace thanks to the general collapse of the communist governments in Europe. In 1990 the new law on religious freedom was issued, which recognized in a very ample way the right to freedom of worship and organization for all denominations. The law has undergone different restrictive amendments in subsequent years aimed especially at limiting the missionary action of “foreign” religious denominations and their members7. This evolution is linked to the fears which increasing religious pluralism has induced in some sectors of Russian society, particularly within the Orthodox Church. The final outcome of this process was the issuing of the new law on religious freedom in 1997, which was the object of many discussions at international and internal levels because of the disparity of treatment instituted among the different religious denominations, and because of the limits which, according to the critics, would be placed on the free exercise of religious freedom for the members of religious communities present in Russia for less than fifteen years.
It is certain that with the ’nineties a new period began therefore for the Russian Orthodox Church featuring two fundamental aspects: on the one hand there is the aspect of refound freedom, of the development of its organization and of the renewed acquisition of a recognized socio-cultural role; on the other the need to confront the complex challenges of a social situation defined by high de-christianization, by cultural, technological and political modernity, and, finally, by pluralism in the religious sphere.
Metropolitan Sergei. “Faced with the German invasion Metropolitan Sergei made a patriotic appeal to the people to defend the homeland”

Metropolitan Sergei. “Faced with the German invasion Metropolitan Sergei made a patriotic appeal to the people to defend the homeland”

In this complex situation relations with the Catholic Church also developed, initiated in an official way in 1961 and developed in a positive way during the successive Soviet epoch, when all the Churches shared the experience of subjection to a state of persecution. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church nevertheless from the ’nineties onwards, in the very climate of new freedom finally established, immediately encountered many points of friction. Catholic proselytism in Russia and the activities of the Ukraine Greek-Catholic Church – which had also regained its freedom and legal recognition in 1991 – are, according to repeated official declarations from the patriarchate of Moscow, the two points that make the relations between the two Churches controversial, but which should be understood in the complexity of the ecclesial, political and cultural panorama of Russia and the neighboring countries, in which the post Soviet transition is still in many ways in progress.
To understand the essential features in the new panorama affecting relations between the Churches, it is first necessary to consider that the end of the communist epoch and new-found freedom transformed the way the Churches experienced their reciprocal relations. If it is true that from the early ’sixties an intense process of ecumenical relations between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church had developed, it is also true that it had to do with an ecumenism which involved only the elite, that is specialists (especially members of the clergy) who dedicated themselves to this. But ecumenism had not in fact become a general part of the culture of the clergy, and much less of the Russian people. On the other hand if the Russian prelates came into contact essentially with the Vatican, the Catholic representatives for ecumenism had contact essentially with those Orthodox specialists who had the same task, that is with the patriarchate milieu. Though relations were positive — all the Churches having to face a situation of persecution — they involved a very restricted range of people.
After 1990 the true novelty is that the Russian Church opened itself to a multiplicity of relations with the Catholic Church both on Russian territory and abroad, and had an impact not only with the Vatican but with the Catholic Church expressed through its various figures and various bodies (dioceses, religious orders, pastoral activities …). It was an encounter with a living Church not now by a group of specialists, but by the clergy as a whole and by the Russian Orthodox population. The same can be said for the Catholic Church: it does not anymore have relations only with the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church responsible for ecumenic relations, but with a Church which has a variegated hierarchy and a people traversed by complex cultural and religious dynamics.
An encounter with characteristics that are entirely new thus began, which is why perhaps one should not be surprised if problems emerged. It has to do in fact with confronting a new epoch, for which there was not sufficient preparation.
The encounter was made even more complex by the social and cultural situation prevalent in Russia in the epoch of post-communist transition: the society was strongly secularized and, often, with very meager reference values, which made it not unusual for very individual forms of religious research to emerge within it, forms which do not necessarily refer to orthodoxy. On the other hand the new climate of freedom permitted the expression of a wide spectrum of forms of cultural and religious pluralism. The perception of a secularized society pushed different Christian communities of Protestant origin to launch themselves in the evangelization of Russia, finding their response in the absence of former religious rooting in a large part of the population. The increase in the presence of Catholic organizations in Russia created fear in the patriarchate of Moscow that the Catholic Church would pursue analogous missionary goals.
The Orthodox Church therefore found itself unexpectedly but certainly enjoying full freedom, but also with the need to confront the complex challenges of modernism and post-modernism, which include cultural and religious pluralism and a greater individualization in religious choice.8
Iosif Petrovych, Metropolitan of Leningrad, principal spokesman for the opposition to the Metropolitan Sergei carried on by the “Church of the Catacombs”

Iosif Petrovych, Metropolitan of Leningrad, principal spokesman for the opposition to the Metropolitan Sergei carried on by the “Church of the Catacombs”

The added fact that the ecumenical mentality is not diffused in Russia made the relations between the Churches complex, though opposition in principle to ecumenism should not be deduced from this. We can say that opposition in principle comes indeed only from a minority, just as decided support of ecumenism is only that of a minority of clergy and faithful. The greater part of Russian Orthodox Church holds traditional positions, in the best sense of the term: for them ecumenism is a dimension to understand and to clarify in its specific aspects9. The last decade of conflictual relations with the Catholic Church in Russia could be read as the clarification taking place of what “ecumenical relations” experience in concrete actually are. I believe this to be true for both Churches.
The most obvious points that have marked these last years in a conflictual way are known: the Pope’s journey to the Ukraine without the agreement of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Patriarchate of Moscow in June 2001, especially the transformation of the two apostolic vicariates in Russia into dioceses in 2002, and, finally, the setting up of the Catholic dioceses in Kazakistan in 2003.
These series of events confirm on the one hand the decision of the Vatican to establish an ordinary diocesan jurisdiction in the post-Soviet area so as to minister to the pastoral care of the Catholic faithful. On the other hand they are interpreted by the patriarchate of Moscow as expansionist initiatives in their canonical territory. In particular it has been repeatedly pointed out that these initiatives were taken without previous consultation with the patriarchate, and therefore expressed behavior that contradicted the mutual recognition as “sister Churches” so many times officially repeated.
This last observation is of particular interest because it expresses the ecumenic vision of the Russian Orthodox Church: the denomination “sister Churches” is in fact also used among the Churches of the Orthodox communion, among whom conflicts about questions of jurisdiction frequently break out (recently in Estonia, in the Republic of Moldavia, in the Ukraine). To accuse the Catholic Church of not behaving as a “sister Church” means to recognize it as such and therefore to assume a basic ecumenic perspective The problem however is that between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church there is not full communion, so that the denomination “sister Church” can not have the same significance as when applied to the other Orthodox Churches or to the Catholic Church. In particular the lack of full communion implies the existence of parallel ecclesial jurisdictions over the same territory. This is why the Catholic Church institutes dioceses in Russia for its own faithful, exactly as the Russian Orthodox Church has instituted its own dioceses abroad – outside its own traditional borders – for its own faithful.
The authorities of the patriarchate of Moscow are aware of this, and when they invoke the principle of “sister Churches” they do so in reference to the attitude with which the decisions were taken by the Catholics in charge, that is without previous information and consultation with the Orthodox side.
It is difficult to evaluate these events since they escape analysis. I believe that it can be said that on the one side certainly dialogue was missing “during the operation”, on the other that the positions of both parties ran the risk of being too rigid.
If it remains on the jurisdictional level the question will nevertheless not be resolved, because, remaining on that level, all the Churches have the right to set up their own pastoral structures where their own faithful are present in a more or less substantial fashion.
Patriarch Aleksij Simanskij presides over the Holy Synod in October 1945. After the war, Stalin adopted a more tolerant religious policy. The Ecclesiastic structure was restored, and the Council of 1945 elected Aleksij Simanskij patriarch

Patriarch Aleksij Simanskij presides over the Holy Synod in October 1945. After the war, Stalin adopted a more tolerant religious policy. The Ecclesiastic structure was restored, and the Council of 1945 elected Aleksij Simanskij patriarch

There remains finally another important dimension, one of a historical-cultural kind (therefore of “long duration”), which must be taken into account for an understanding of the difficulties in the relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Russia. It has to do with the historical state of conflict between Russians and Poles, which finds expression in the respective nationalisms of the two peoples who identify the “other” as the enemy. The fact that the large majority of the Catholic clergy and faithful in Russia is Polish is a factor that makes the relations objectively more difficult, because in many cases it fuels forms of behavior and perceptions of the other rooted in this atavistic diffidence and rivalry, which implies an attitude of distrust from the beginning, of non-dialogue, of suspicion10.
Taking this aspect into account also, which is far from constituting a positive precondition for dialogue, the modalities in which the various pastoral initiatives come to be realized take on decisive importance. It is not an accident that Cardinal Kasper during his most recent visit to Russia (January 2004), referred on several occasions to the need to draw operative consequences from the theological assumption of considering the Orthodox Church a “sister Church”. The cardinal dwelt upon this point of great importance and delicacy both on the occasion of the public conference held in Moscow in the reception room of the Catholic Cathedral – addressed to an essentially Catholic public – and in the private meeting with Patriarch Alexis II. The fact that in the public conference Cardinal Kasper underlined that recognizing the Orthodox Church as a “sister church” implied abstaining from proselytism, is a clear invitation to Catholics to employ a different style in their relations with the Russian people11. This different style could, as a minimum, manifest itself in the abstention from activities decidedly aimed at the direct evangelization of areas of Orthodox persuasion – where the role of pastoral responsibility of the Russian Orthodox Church should be recognized. A style more clearly ecumenical could however concretize itself in setting up shared operations, at least in the sphere of charity, an area in which the Catholic structures are very active. These charitable enterprises could be very effective in constructing bridges with Orthodoxy if the Catholic institutions did not act in an autonomous way, but sought combined efforts with the Orthodox dioceses. The greatly feared presence of religious Congregations (pointed out in detail by the patriarchate of Moscow and published in a report in the Summer of 2003 as a proof of proselytism) should probably be treated with greater sensitivity. On the other hand the Orthodox Church should also take into account that charitable activities are an expression and concretization of a lived faith (this is obvious in the Catholic tradition), and cannot be immediately interpreted as proselytism.
The premise for detente – the great task to perform – is nevertheless the inward acceptance of the category of “sister Church” by the hierarchy, the clergy and the faithful of both Churches: the fundamental and vital condition required for this to come about is to restore priority to the field of charity, which is the only thing that make us recognize in another Church a “sister” in the faith, and allow concrete consequences to ensue from that recognition, so many times authoritatively affirmed by the pontifical magisterium.
Patriarch Aleksij with the delegation of the Council 
of Leopolis which in March 1946 sanctioned the suppression of the Uniate Church in the Ukraine

Patriarch Aleksij with the delegation of the Council of Leopolis which in March 1946 sanctioned the suppression of the Uniate Church in the Ukraine

The very fact that in the course of the meetings between Cardinal Kasper and the senior hierarchy of the patriarchate of Moscow it was agreed to establish some mixed commissions with the Catholic Church, to face and discuss together the problems, is something to be done concretely in a perspective marked by dialogue and fraternity: problems and different points of view will not be lacking, even conflicting ones, but the method chosen is the right one, the way of dialogue, coherent with the reciprocal recognition as sister Churches.
Also, even if it did not clearly emerge from the report of the meetings held by Cardinal Kasper, it is certain that another key subject which makes the ecumenical relations between the Catholic Church and the patriarchate of Moscow difficult is the question of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. The Ukrainian question is an issue of great complexity in the first place within Orthodoxy itself. In the ’nineties in fact Ukrainian Orthodoxy found itself subdivided into three jurisdictions, of which one – the only canonical one – is an integral part of the patriarchate of Moscow, and the other two which aim instead at the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church12. These last two Churches have a strong Ukrainian nationalist spirit with anti-Russian tones, in large part shared by the Greek-Catholic Church. It is in this already complex situation that the specific question of the Greek-Catholic Church inserts itself, which after having been suppressed by Stalin, re-emerged from hiding with the end of the Soviet Union and obtained legal recognition in 1991 from the new independent Ukrainian State. The recognition involved the reorganization of the pastoral structures of the Church, and opened a dispute about the ownership of the places of worship (formerly Greek-Catholic, then taken over by the Orthodox Church, and then claimed – after 1991 – by the Greek-Catholics). The new property transfers took place on the local front in a non-programmed way, and the patriarchate of Moscow complained that this re-appropriation caused the break-up of several of its dioceses in Western Ukraine. In 1999 it was decided to set up a mixed Catholic-Orthodox Commission to resolve the questions concerning the ownership of the places of worship and their use, but without ever concretely setting it up.
This situation, which has by now a decades long history, is now overlaid by recent events, interpreted with fear by the patriarchate of Moscow. The last of these is the recent transfer (December 2003) of the primatial See of the senior archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Church, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, from the historic See of Leopolis to Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. The transfer raised fears and polemics on the Orthodox side. Kiev is in fact the historic cradle of Russian Orthodoxy, because it was here in the tenth century that the evangelization of the ancient Rus’ took place – an event culminating in the baptism of prince Vladimir of Kiev in 988 – and the Russian population received its Christian identity. For centuries Kiev was the See of the primates of the Russian Church, until its transfer to Moscow in the XVI century. Historical circumstances had in fact moved the political center of gravity, precisely to the principality of Moscow, from which the Russian empire with Moscow as its capital was to spring. Although the primatial See of the Russian Church had also followed the move north of the political center of gravity, Kiev remains a city full of symbolic heritage.
The recent transfer to Kiev of the senior Greek-Catholic archbishop’s palace was therefore interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as the Ukraine Greek-Catholic Church prelude to proclaiming its own patriarchate. In fact it has been known for some time that this Church seeks the recognition of patriarchal rank. This eventuality is nevertheless strongly opposed not only by the patriarchate of Moscow, but by all the Orthodox Churches13. To demonstrate the thorniness of the issue, the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I himself wrote a personal letter to the Pope in January 2004, in which he confirmed the absolutely inopportune nature of instituting a Greek-Catholic patriarchate in Kiev14. Such an institution would in fact place the Greek-Catholic Church on the same canonical footing as the patriarchate of Moscow, in respect to which it would represent the Catholic portion of ancient Rus’. It is clear that this evolution would add new fuel to the question of Uniatism, which already constitutes the principal point of controversy between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. On this very question of the Greek-Catholic Churches the work of the joint international Catholic-Orthodox Commission for theological dialogue ran aground at the meeting in Baltimore (July 2000). The erection of a patriarchate in the Ukraine would risk imparting a heavy blow to relations with the whole of Orthodoxy. In this sense the Ukrainian problem, which had been making relations between the Catholic Church and the patriarchate of Moscow very tense and complex for a decade – not least because of the presence of the two schismatic Orthodox Churches on Ukrainian territory, one of which proclaimed itself the Orthodox patriarchate of Kiev - is assuming an explosive potential at the level of all of Orthodoxy.
John XXIII with Vitalij Borovoj and Vladimir Kotljarov, two observers from the Russian Orthodox Church who participated in Vatican Council II

John XXIII with Vitalij Borovoj and Vladimir Kotljarov, two observers from the Russian Orthodox Church who participated in Vatican Council II

On this subject one can rightly consider that the recognition of the Orthodox Churches as “sister Churches”, could lead to the renouncing of the claim to the patriarchal title by the Greek-Catholic Church. It is a title which would have an essentially honorific meaning to it, but it is full of conflictual consequences for relations with the Orthodox Churches. If the Ukraine Greek-Catholic Church intends to fulfil a role of ecumenical mediation, as its authoritative representatives often claim, the renunciation of this request seems necessary15. On the other hand the measure of charity which the Churches must live in their reciprocal relations is not given by themselves or their own prospects, but must be in conformity with the charity of Christ himself who «humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has exalted him …» (Phil 2,8ff). True charity also demands the practice of humility in view of the higher good, and this finally is the perspective of a serious ecumenical path, in which all the Churches must tend to conform themselves more to Christ, to find again in Him and from Him the lost unity. A translation of these prospects into concrete choices, at the local and international ecclesial level, constitutes the only possible prospect for an ever truer and more effective ecumenism.

(Andrea Pacini gave a lecture on the same subject on 20 May 2004 in the Ambrosian Library, in Milan, during the convention “Catholicism and the Russian Orthodox Church. Past and present” conducted by Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, Prefect of the Ambrosian Library.)


1 cf. entry “Mohileff” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X, 1911. To the dioceses listed above the erection of the diocese of Vladivostok was added in 1923. The metropolia of Mogilev had twenty seven archbishops in its past, of whom the last, Monsignor Jan Cepliak, was condemned to death and expelled in 1923, during the course of Lenin’s offensive against the Churches. The diocese of Mogilev was erected by the Empress Catherine II in 1772, then recognized by Pope Pius VI. The diocese was erected a metropolia by the Empress in 1782, and recognized by the Pope in 1783 with the Bull Onerosa pastoralis officii.
2 A.Nivière, Les Orthodoxes russes, Maredsous 1993, pp. 48-50.
3 Op.cit., p. 50
4 cf. M. Skarovskij, La Croce e il potere. La Chiesa russa sotto Stalin e Chruscev, Segrate 2003.
5 The participation of the Russian Orthodox Church at the Ecumenical Council of the Churches made it possible for the Church to come out of the isolation in which the Soviet regime kept it, and was therefore a positive determining factor for the Church, despite the fact that this participation was manipulated by the regime to receive support from it in international relations: cf. I. Pavlov, “Lo stato attuale e le prospettive della Chiesa ortodossa in Russia”, in La Nuova Russia. Dibattito culturale e modello di società in costruzione, by various hands, Turin 1999, pp. 265-286, here pp. 274-275.
6 For a detailed presentation of the birth, flourishing and repression of Orthodox dissent, cf. J. Ellis, La chiesa ortodossa russa, Bologna 1989, pp. 491-747.
7 J. Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: Triumphalism and Defensiveness, London, 1996, pp. 157-190.
8 Cf. A. Roccucci, “La chiesa ortodossa russa nel XX secolo”, in A. Pacini (editor), L’Ortodossia nella Nuova Europa. Dinamiche storiche e prospettive, Torino 2003, pp. 237-283; A. Krindac, “La Russia nella sua dimensione religiosa”, in V.Kolossov, La collocazione geopolitica della Russia. Rappresentazioni e realtà, Torino 2001, pp. 185-28.
9 The ecumenical movement developed within the Christian Churches in the course of the first six decades of the 20th century, during the Soviet period itself which was for the Russian Church a period of difficult survival. It is no wonder then that in Russia ecumenism remained limited, as said, to an elitist dimension, and did not develop more widely on the level of theology, of spirituality, of everyday ecclesial experience. On the other hand traditionally the Catholic was and is identified as the “non-Orthodox” , not as a true believer therefore. This perception is still widespread today, given the theological delay in the ecumenical field, due to the historical circumstances of the XX century.
10 On the inherited preconceptions of past history which negatively affect the relations between Catholics and Orthodox in Russia, cf. M. Sevèenko, La chiesa cattolica vista dalla Russia, in Limes, June 2002.
11 The speech given by Cardinal W. Kasper in the Catholic Cathedral in Moscow on 18 February 2004 is published in Il Regno-Documenti, 5, 1 March 2004, pp. 134-139.
12 A. Pacini, Le Chiese ortodosse, Turin 2000, pp. 88-90; A. Kolodnyj, “Lo stato odierno della cristianità ortodossa dell’ Ucraina come risultato del suo sviluppo storico”, in G. De Rosa and F. Lomastro, L’età di Kiev e la sua eredità nel incontro con l’occidente, Rome 2003, pp. 249-262.
13 The adverse reactions expressed by the different Orthodox Churches are published in Il Regno-Documenti, 5, 1 March 2004, pp. 131-134.
14 Op.cit., pp. 129-131.
15 Cardinal Kasper himself in a recent interview clearly takes this line: cf. Ritorno a Mosca (interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper), in Il Regno, 4, 15 February 2004, pp. 83-86.

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