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Patriotism, Secularism, and Eastern-Rite Identity in Ukraine

ALEXANDER R. SICH
Crisis Magazine
FEBRUARY 12, 2016

[Linked Image]

Today, an historic meeting between Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and Pope Francis takes place in Havana, Cuba. The Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC), largely at the center of the tensions between the ROC and Rome, at times finds herself struggling against nationalist and secular influences. While certainly not as widespread as the ROC falsely claims, nonetheless these influences may not only threaten to dilute the UGCC’s Christian identity, but may also complicate the ecumenical work of Pope Francis. The Catholic (Universal) Church is the Bride of Christ—charged first and foremost with evangelizing the world, calling all to growth in holiness, and defending each individual’s transcendent dignity as made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, the faithful will be impoverished and scandalized—not enriched—when the identity of any Catholic institution is usurped by ethnic passions.

More at http://www.crisismagazine.com/2016/patriotism-secularism-and-eastern-rite-identity-in-ukraine

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AS POPE AND RUSSIAN PATRIARCH MEET, UKRAINE FEARS A ‘SHAKY’ VATICAN

Rev. Andriy Chirovsky
11 February 2016
Crux

EDITOR’S NOTE: In much of the world, Friday’s historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Havana, Cuba, will be hailed as a breakthrough. Attitudes are more mixed, however, in Ukraine, long the front line of tensions between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox.

There, the 5-million-strong Greek Catholic Church has suffered terribly for its loyalty to Rome, constituting the world’s largest underground religious body during the Soviet era, and it’s also a leader in civil resistance to the current Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.

In this essay commissioned by Crux, the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, a Greek Catholic archpriest at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, who also serves as editor-in-chief of LOGOS, a journal of Eastern Christian studies, discusses the summit.

Among his key arguments:

Catholic/Orthodox unity is not some modern notion, since the leader of the Orthodox territory that included Russia came into union with Rome 600 years ago.

Since all Orthodox churches are staging a grand council in June for the first time in 1,000 years, Moscow has a clear political incentive for using a platform with the pope to boost its internal standing.

Many Russian Orthodox still have negative attitudes toward Catholics.

The Russian Orthodox have a tight relationship with the Kremlin, and Putin’s global ambitions may help explain why the meeting is happening.

While Pope Francis may know what he’s doing, Ukrainians have less confidence in the Vatican’s resolve.

full text of Chirovsky’s essay at http://risu.org.ua/en/index/monitoring/society_digest/62465/

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Francis and Kirill, a meeting that has many political and faith based reasons (I)

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Ieromonaco Ioann
11 February 2016
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Francis-and-Kirill,-a-meeting-that-has-many-political-and-faith-based-reasons-(I)-36662.html

After centuries of waiting, a week after the announcement, the dream of John Paul II and Benedict XVI will become a reality. Among the reasons for the meeting, the Patriarchate emphasizes the defense of persecuted Christians by Islamic fundamentalism and the widespread secularization even in the Protestant world. An alliance "against". There are also "political" reasons: preparations for the pan-Orthodox Synod and the indirect blessing of Putin. Conservative fringes of the Patriarchate are against "minimalist" meeting. First part of an analysis by a personality of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Tomorrow, February 12, Pope Francis will take part in a meeting in Cuba which his predecessors had only dreamed of: Benedict XVI and, above all, John Paul II. It is well known that apart from the long nurtured desire for a meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow, such an encounter had been prepared and, at least on two occasions, came very close to being realized. However, Moscow held that there were no conditions for a meeting and the reasons adduced were, basically, accusations of Catholic proselytism in Russia and conflicting relationships with the Greek-Catholics, especially in Ukraine.

The persistence of these problems - especially the one with the Greek-Catholic - was underlined on February 5 in Moscow by Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, during the press conference given by the Russian Church officially announcing the Cuban meeting. A few days earlier, the Patriarchate had reacted sharply to a recently published document n which the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine sets out its ecumenical vision.

Nevertheless, the new situation of terrorism and Islamic extremism, or the fact that in various parts of the world "some extremists are perpetrating a genocide of the Christian population, requires urgent measures and greater interaction between the Christian Churches," said the Metropolitan. "In the current tragic situation it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and join efforts to save Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to terrible persecution."

Against aggressive Islam

The first reason for the meeting between the heads of the two Churches is, so to speak, one of defense: faced with an aggressive Islam, or rather, the terrorism of the Islamic State, Christians must be more united. Ergo, offenses put aside.

The second reason is also "defensive" in nature. In recent decades "greater interaction between the Christian churches" has become increasingly problematic for the Orthodox because of the Reformed Churches’ different way of understanding moral life. The ethical positions of most of these churches, on issues such as homosexuality, genetic manipulation, women priests, euthanasia, abortion, makes collaboration extremely difficult for the Orthodox. Despite the injuries of history, past and present, for the Orthodox the Catholic Church is undoubtedly a much safer and more natural partner than Protestants. It was already the case from a canonical and dogmatic point of view, now it is so today from an ethical point of view. Therefore, the common difficulty with the Protestant world is bringing Orthodoxy and Catholicism together.

A third reason for the meeting, and the fact that it is taking place now, is found in the impending pan-Orthodox council, scheduled for June this year. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is in very good relations with the Holy See; he has repeatedly visited Rome and met with the Pope. The pan-Orthodox council, as, among other things, the recent meeting in Chambésy of the Primates of the local Churches showed, will not be an easy one, especially because of the tensions between Moscow and Constantinople. In this situation, certainly Moscow, the Third Rome, has an interest in arriving at the Council in a situation of better relations with the First Rome. Do not forget that one of the Council’s agenda items is Orthodoxy’s relations with other Christian Churches. Arriving at the Council after the Cuba meeting Patriarch Kirill can hope to have greater authority on the subject.

Putin, protector of Christendom

The meeting of the head of the Russian Church with the head of Western Christianity assumes, whether we like it or not, great political significance under the current isolation of Russia. At a time when Western governments are imposing sanctions on Russia, and the Russian government is taking refuge in an increasingly extreme anti-Western nationalism, the two Churches signaling a strong will for rapprochement.

It has been said that the meeting with the Pope was "suggested" to Patriarch Kirill by the Kremlin. Someone pointed out the fact that the last visit of the Russian president to the Vatican was followed by a sudden unscheduled visit to Rome by Metropolitan Hilarion. No doubt the Cuba meeting is pleasing to the Russian government. In recent years, President Putin has increasingly assumed the role of protector of persecuted Christianity on the world stage, and the Russian military intervention in Syria is presented as a reaction to the genocide of Christians. Vladimir Putin also presents himself as a defender of Christian values ​​in the face of moral relativism, secularism, the extreme liberalism of Western society. This image of the government and the Russian president is often conveyed well by some Western media. Now the Cuban meeting seems to give an implicit papal assent to that image of the new Russia, champion of Christianity and Christian values.

Moreover, it should not be forgotten that during the Cold War, in its ecumenical relations the Russian Orthodox Church simply repeated what the Soviet state said in the international arena. The "struggle for peace" was the slogan that the Moscow Patriarchate promoted at the World Council of Churches and everywhere else. However it is undeniable that Patriarch Kirill has tried to keep a distance and autonomy from the Kremlin, for example in the Ukrainian question.

The first meeting in history between the bishop of Rome and that of Moscow takes place in a "minimalist" style in neutral territory, on the other side of the globe, in an airport. The protocol is strictly secular, reminiscent of the meeting of two heads of state (greeting, private talks, signing of a joint declaration, the presentation of the two delegations), with no religious act: neither celebration nor common prayer (not even the Our Father ). As there will be none else present outside of the two delegations, the two successors of the apostles do not even have to issue any joint blessing ... unless specifically asked for by Raul Castro!

"Minimalism" and the future

This surprising "minimalism" is a precautionary measure of the Russian Church against the possible negative reactions from its most conservative fringe. The same precautionary reasons explain why a historic meeting that has been expected for centuries is taking place just one week by the public announcement.

As regards the choice of the place, in addition to the fact that the distance makes it almost impossible for visible reactions, such as protests and such, there are various interpretations. Cuba is definitely a place where the Russians feel at home, but it is also known by the Holy See: first of all for the vitality, enjoying a revival, of the Catholic Church on the island, as well as for the fact that from 1998 to date the country has been visited by three Popes. Finally, not least another reason is the "miracle" of Cuba's reconciliation with the United States in which Vatican diplomacy played an important part.

There is also a more positive reading for the choice of the place. Cuba is Latin America, which not only implies "the other side of the world" from which, in his own words, Pope Francis comes. America is the New World, the continent of hope. Old Europe was the scene of many wars between Christians, it is the continent that has suffered most from their division. Meeting in the New World (by the way, on the island that has defined itself "Island of Freedom") may be a sign of the will for a new start, for new relationships that are not too affected by the troubled past. In announcing the meeting at the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion expressed his hope that it "will open a new page in relations between the Churches".

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Francis and Kirill, the "alliance against" and the desire for unity (II)

Ieromonaco Ioann
12 February 2016
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Francis-and-Kirill,-the-alliance-against-and-the-desire-for-unity-(II)-36664.html

The meeting at the airport of Havana is a "fleeting encounter" for fear of negative reactions of the orthodox conservatives. Although political reasons seem to prevail ( "alliance against" terrorism, secularism, moral relativism, Islam, liberalism, Protestants, ...), the event is a step on the path towards full unity between Catholics and Orthodox. The second part of an article by a leading figure of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in a few hours in Cuba, although of historic proportions, is a little like a "fleeting encounter" given that it was announced and implemented in a matter of a week, at an airport outside Rome and Moscow. This "minimalism" is undoubtedly due to the Patriarchate’s fears of backlash from the more conservative Orthodox wing.

We can not say that such fears are unfounded. The reactions of the traditionalist Orthodox press and nationalist sites are quite negative, whereas the Russian secular public opinion seems to view the meeting favorably. Certainly the patriarch can not ignore the danger of internal discontent in the Church, if not schism. Prudence, therefore, explains the choice of location, the haste in its realization and its modalities, that being the completely secular nature of the encounter’s format.

The reasons why the Russian Church has accepted the meeting, repeatedly proposed by the Holy See, are different, and as already mentioned, they are strongly "reactive" in nature and seem linked to contingent situations of political expediency. They fall within the logic of alliances in opposition to an enemy.

Metropolitan Hilarion has long been a proponent of a "strategic alliance" with Catholics, even before he became Head of the Department takes care of the external policy of the Russian Church. The term "alliance" does not belong to the ecclesiastical language of any Christian tradition.

The use of the lay term suggests that the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox is understood by the latter as mere diplomacy, even though ecclesiastical. Likewise, those who believe in the unity of the Church, and suffer and pray for the full manifestation of this unity, can not help but be puzzled and baffled by this idea of ​​an alliance "against": against terrorism, against secularism, against moral relativism, against Islam, against liberalism, against Protestants ...

But really do Orthodox and Catholics, who believe they have, and they do, apostolic succession and recognize it in each other, not have any other reason for the fraternal dialogue than the presence of some common enemy? But really, as disciples of Christ, is all we can strive for really just a "strategic alliance"?

Jesus Christ, on the eve of his Passion, prayed to the Father, asking him earnestly for the unity of his disciples. He prayed not only for his disciples then, but also "for those who through their words will believe", that is for us. He asked the Father, not for a strategic alliance for those who believe in him, but "it may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us". To strive for the complete overcoming of all theological misunderstandings and historical offenses, the full re-establishment of brotherly love, the full manifestation of unity in Christ, is the duty of every Christian, the fulfillment of the new Commandment (the only one left by the Lord ), our response to that which was his heartfelt prayer: "May they all be one."


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