Monday, July 28, 2008

Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican are in dialogue. The churches have been split since the Schism of 1054 between Rome and the Orthodox Churches of the East.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexiy II reported at the Council of Bishops that he and Pope Benedict XVI have been exploring a number of shared and important issues. However, while dialogue is a positive step suspicion is strong. The Russian Church believes Rome is trying to proselyte in Russia. The Vatican states it is only trying to minister to Catholics already there and not trying to infringe on the Russian Orthodox Churches territory.

The President of Belarus has invited the Pope to a State visit. This would place the Holy Father in the shadow of Russia and clearly in Orthodox territory. Pope Benedict has yet to decide if he will accept the invitation. However, dialogue by itself is a significant improvement. Rome and the other Orthodox Churches have been in dialogue for a number of years. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I exchanged visits with the Pope and expressed warm regard for the Holy Father. He also has expressed concern about the slowness of warming of relationships between the Latin Church and the Russian Church.

This may be the beginning of an historic thaw in relationships between two of the largest bodies of Christians in the world. However it will not happen over night. The Russian Church takes its concerns about Catholic activity in Russia seriously. Further, there are a number of conservative bishops who look at any conversation with other Christian groups as suspect. Both churches could benefit from our prayers for a softening of hearts and a growing focus on hospitality.

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