MELBOURNE, Australia (CNS) — One of the smallest Eastern Catholic churches in the world, the Russian Catholic Church, faces some big issues, including its survival.

That’s the issue that will be front and center at a Congress of Russian Catholic delegates from around the world meeting in northern Italy in June. It has been organized by an Australian-based Russian Catholic priest, Father Lawrence Cross, a retired lecturer in theology at Australian Catholic University.

The congress, the first in Russian Catholic history, will occur against the backdrop of last February’s historic meeting in Havana between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. It was the first time a pope had met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Both churches drifted into schism in the two centuries after the so-called Great Schism of 1054.

Father Cross explained that the tiny Russian Byzantine Catholic Church was formed by Russian Orthodox who saw the pope, the bishop of Rome, as an essential element for the fullness of orthodoxy.

These Russian Catholics, Father Cross says, should be the poster-child for ecumenical relations, living proof that reconciliation is possible. Instead, he is worried they are in danger of being lost to history.

About 30 clerical delegates from Russian Catholic communities across the world, as well as laity, will meet in Seriate, just outside Bergamo, Italy, to discuss their future and once again petition Rome for an exarch, or bishop, and the revival of the Russian Catholic Exarchate.

“We have saints and martyrs, many dead in the gulags and shot for their Russian Catholic faith. I can’t believe that was all in vain,” said Father Cross.

“This is our last hurrah. If this fails, you can forget about the Russian Catholic movement,” he said.

The Russian Catholic Church began in the 19th century with the writings and work of philosopher, critic and mystic Vladimir Soloviev. He spoke against the unhealthy relationship between the Orthodox Church and the state, at that time the courts of Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II. He saw that the only way to end the corruption in Moscow was for the Orthodox Church to find a point of reference for unity and freedom outside itself. This guardian of freedom was Rome.

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Teachings of Christ

“Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33 ESV)

Theophany

When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, * worship of the Trinity was revealed, * for the Father's voice bore witness to You, calling You His “beloved Son”, * and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of these words. * O Christ God, * Who appeared and enlightened the world, glory to You! (Troparion, Tone 1)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

You have appeared to the whole world today, * and Your light, O Lord, is signed upon us, * who with knowledge praise You in song: * "You have come, and You have appeared, O Unapproachable Light." (Kontakion, Tone 4)

Theophany is a Greek word meaning "manifestation or appearence of God".

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

We honor the relics of the martyrs, that we may adore Him whose martyrs they are. We honor the servants that their honor may be reflected upon their Lord who Himself says: "He that receives you receives me."

St. Jerome, Epistle 109:1, NPNF II, 6:212