Russian Orthodox Official: Time for Solidarity


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ROME, SEPT. 21, 2009 ( Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev says there are so many reasons for Catholics and Orthodox to cooperate in our de-Christianized world that it is time to move past divisions and competition and exist in solidarity and mutual love.

The archbishop affirmed this after he met in the Vatican on Friday with Benedict XVI and on Thursday with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The cardinal invited the archbishop, who since March has been the chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Archbishop Alfeyev was already well-known at the Vatican, having previously been the Russian Orthodox Church's representative to the European Institutions in Brussels. He is also an accomplished composer, using his music to bring East and West together. His interpretation of St. Matthew's account of the Passion was performed at the Vatican before Easter in 2007; his Christmas oratorio premiered that year at a Catholic Church in Washington, D.C..

With his new role in the Russian Orthodox Church, the archbishop met with the Pope on Friday, later telling a group of journalists that he hopes the Holy Father and Patriarch Kirill will be able to meet soon.

"We support the Pope in his commitment to the defense of Christian values" he said. "We also support him when his courageous declarations arouse negative reactions on the part of politicians or public figures or they are criticized and sometimes misrepresented by some in the mass media."

"We believe that he has the duty to witness to the truth and we are therefore with him even when his word encounters opposition," the archbishop affirmed.

"Personally, I hope that sooner or later the meeting that many are awaiting between the Pope and the patriarch of Moscow will take place. I can say with responsibility that on both sides there is the desire to prepare such a meeting with great care," he said.

This meeting, Archbishop Alfeyev acknowledged, would represent a major step forward in relations between Catholics and Orthodox.

Much to do

The Orthodox prelate re-emphasized that at present there are enormous possibilities for cooperation between the two Churches.

Before us, he said, there opens the vast expanse of "today's de-Christianized world."

"All Christians, and especially we Orthodox and Catholics, can and must respond together to these challenges," the archbishop affirmed. "Together we can propose to the world the spiritual and moral values of the Christian faith. Together we can offer our Christian vision of the family [and] affirm our concept of social justice, of a commitment to protect the environment [and] to defend human life and its dignity."

The Church "is not a supermarket of the spirit," he continued; the Church "makes life fuller, more human and divine."

The archbishop then expressed his hope that the relationship between Catholics and Orthodox develops more intensely and that the problems that remain between the two traditions be soon overcome.

He further pointed out that the patriarch of Moscow would like to open a new page in relations between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, pursuing an open and sincere dialogue.

Constructive ties

The archbishop was on his first visit to Rome since his appointment to the external affairs office.

Cardinal Kasper spoke to Vatican Radio after his meeting with the Orthodox representative, affirming that "the meeting reflected the new situation between the Catholic Church and the Patriarchate of Moscow: We have overcome all the tensions that existed in past years and at present we have a normal relationship, tranquil and even positive, constructive."

"From the beginning, Hilarion expressed his high esteem for Pope Benedict XVI, who is much appreciated in the Russian Orthodox Church; later we spoke of our relations, especially the theological dialogue that will take place in Cyprus in the coming weeks," the cardinal explained.

The International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole will meet next month for its 11th plenary session. The Church leaders will examine a draft document outlined during a 2008 meeting in Crete. At present, the commission is reflecting on the role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the first millennium -- before the Great Schism of 1054.

This was the topic of discussion during the 10th plenary assembly of the Mixed Commission which, in 2007, brought together 30 Catholic delegates and 30 Orthodox to reflect on the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church.

During the Ravenna meeting, the delegation of the Patriarchate of Moscow decided to withdraw because of conflict among the various members of the Orthodox delegation.

Cardinal Kasper explained that that situation has been resolved: "Now [the Russian Orthodox] wish to return to dialogue; they have overcome these tensions between Moscow and Constantinople on the case of Estonia, and wish to collaborate normally."

He continued: "[W]e also spoke about our bilateral relations: By way of example, a concert they wish to have here in Rome; I suggested, [in turn] that we might also have an exhibition in Moscow.

"We have spoken of the exchange of priests, of theologians and of all that which might help to improve relations and also to overcome the prejudices and resistance that exist in Russia against the Catholic Church and ecumenism; however, little by little, we can also overcome this."

"Both sides are determined to go forward," Cardinal Kasper affirmed, admitting that "for the moment, a papal visit to Moscow is not on the agenda," though "they do not reject a meeting with the Pope."

Beginning to love

On Sept. 17, Archbishop Alfeyev attended afternoon prayer with the Sant'Egidio Community, in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, addressing a greeting to those present.

On that occasion, thanking the members of the community for their "contribution to dialogue" and their commitment to the poor and the neediest, he spoke of the common challenge represented by "a de-Christianized world," dominated by "consumerism, hedonism, practical materialism and moral relativism."

"Only united will we be able to propose to the world the spiritual and moral values of the Christian faith; together we will be able to offer our Christian vision of the family, of procreation, of a human love made not only for pleasure; to affirm our concept of social justice, of a more equitable distribution of goods, of a commitment to safeguarding the environment, for the defense of human life and its dignity," said the Orthodox prelate.

"Therefore, the time has come to move from a failure to meet and competition, to solidarity, mutual respect and esteem; I would even say, without a doubt, that we must move to mutual love," he stressed. "Our Christian preaching can have effect, can be convincing also in our contemporary world, if we are able to live this mutual love between us, Christians."