On Thursday, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) begins an official visit to Poland, during which the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and the head of the Polish Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, will sign a joint message to the peoples of Russia and Poland. Experts have called the visit “a historic breakthrough in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches” and believe that the next step on the rapprochement path can be a meeting of Patriarch Kirill with Pope Benedict XVI.
“This is the first visit of the Russian Orthodox Church head to Poland since it became an independent state. This is also the first visit of Patriarch Kirill to the country with West European cultural tradition, and this choice demonstrates the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church to develop a cooperative relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in the European space for the protection of the general Christian moral values,” Komsomlskaya Pravda quotes deputy head of the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate Archpriest Nikolai Balashov.
Although the “brotherly dialogue” with the Polish adherents is officially the main item on the patriarch’s visit agenda, experts believe that the main issue of the visit will be the establishment of relations with Catholics, Kommersant writes. In 1054 there was a division of the Christian church into the Catholic and Orthodox, the newspaper says. The main reason was the rivalry for supremacy between the popes of Rome and patriarchs of Constantinople. Differences between the Eastern and Western Christian churches in doctrinal theology, organisation and rituals also contributed to the separation of the churches. Relations between the ROC and the Vatican remain strained to this day. The relations are complicated by the persecution of Orthodox Christians by the Uniates in Ukraine and by proselytism of Catholics in Russia.
Catholics do not hide that they pin major hopes on the Patriarch’s visit. “This is a step toward rapprochement between the two religions, peoples and countries,” described the upcoming event the head of the Polish Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Jozef Michalik.
During the visit, Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Michalik will sign a document on reconciliation between the peoples of Russia and Poland. The text of the document is kept secret. However, the ROC External Relations Department head, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, admitted in an interview with Kommersant that a group of representatives of both churches has worked on this document for several years. “The sense of the document is to call for reconciliation of our people. This does not mean that our people currently live in a state of enmity, but enmity took place in history,” Metropolitan Hilarion said. “The message is a religious understanding of reconciliation the essence of which is not oblivion of the past, but forgiveness in the spirit of Christian love.”
Experts have already called the visit of Patriarch Kirill to Poland a historic event. “This is a major breakthrough in relations between the Orthodox and Catholics,” theologian, Professor Anatoly Pchelintsev of Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH). “I do not rule out that the next step will be a meeting of the Patriarch with the Pope, but only if the differences between the ROC and the Vatican are resolved.”
“I do not rule out that the patriarch’s visit to Poland can give the opportunity for launching preparations for the next step in relations between the Vatican and the Russia Orthodox Church - the Pope’s visit to Russia,” Metropolitan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow Archbishop Paolo Pezzi told the publication. “It’s premature to talk about a meeting between the Patriarch and the Pope, it is still necessary to go a long way in this direction,” the ROC commented on this statement.