Catholic / Orthodox Relations
Russia Orthodox Bishop Sees Bars To Unity
EWTN, 1/25/2002
Assisi - Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion attended the January 24 inter-religious prayer service at Assisi, as a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate...
After the ceremony, he spoke with Blandine Becheras of the Roman news agency I Media. The Orthodox prelate repeated the contentions often advanced by Moscow-- that ecumenical progress will be impossible until the Holy See curbs the Catholic "proselytism" in Russia, and the activities of Eastern-rite Catholics in Ukraine. The following is the text of the interview.

Q: All religions oppose terrorism. Patriarch Alexei sent you, with two others, to Assisi. So I presume that indicates the Russian Orthodox Church agrees with this initiative ?

A: It is very important that all religions should be united to fight against terrorism, because you will always find people who will misuse religions and use it not for peace purposes but for wars or creating conflicts. So we must proclaim very clearly-- all of us, Christians and Muslims and Jews and representatives of other religions-- that wars, conflicts, violence, have nothing to do with religion. The heart of every relgion is a quest for peace.

Q: Let us speak about relations between Moscow and Rome. Are they frozen or are they warming?

A: Relations are not frozen, but they are difficult. And they are difficult precisely because there are people in Ukraine, who, in the name of religion, exercise violence. Until this is stopped-- until our relations there are normalized-- there will be not peace between Catholics and Orthodox. This is why our relationship now is tense. But we are looking for a better future and we continue our conversations with the Roman catholic Church.

Q: Cardinal Kasper will be in Moscow next month. Have you been talking with him about that trip?

A: Yes, he will come to Moscow. We are looking for a breakthrough in our relationships, because we understand we cannot continue along with the same lines. We need constructive proposals from the Vatican, not just nice words.

Q: We have heard reports that [Moscow's Catholic] Archbishop Kondrusiewic might organize a meeting in Moscow on the topic of proselytism. Would you attend such a meeting?

A: I don't know what kind of meeting you mean. We are ready to negotiate.

Q: Do you think unity between Catholics and Orthodox could help to bring peace in the world ?

A: Definitely. We are the two traditional Christian religions. We must understand that there are many Christian confessions who have lost the sense of tradition and who do not preserve the inital faith of the Christian Church, who are influenced by liberal way of thinking. It is only the Orthodox and the Catholics who are able to preserve the traditional principles at theological, moral and other levels, including the level of spiritual life. This is why we need to be united as much as possible, and the fact that we are divided does a real harm to the Christian witness in the world.

Q: So what would be, at this point, the next step toward unity between both?

A: We must solve all the problems related to uniatism and proselytism.

Q: Do you think a meeting between Patriarch Alexei and the Pope would help to foster unity?

A: Yes, I definitely think that such a meeting would have a very historical significance because that would be the first meeting ever between the head of the Church of Rome and of the Church of Russia. But this meeting has to be prepared. It is not only to shake hands and to make beautiful pictures that the two heads of the church should meet each other. They have to prepare carefully their positions, in order that such a meeting would provide a breakthrough in our relationships.

Q: Do we need a special bi-lateral commission to prepare for such a meeting ?

A: We do not need to create any new commission because there are appropriate boards in each Church to negotiate. But we need to come to a better understanding of the situation. And from the Catholic side, we especially expect that they should bring constructive proposals not just beautiful and nice words about peace. One thing is to speak about peace and another thing is to work for peace.

Q: What kind of constructive proposals?

A: I cannot go into the details of the situation, but everybody knows that it is not peaceful-- that a conflict still exists, that there are places where the Orthodox have no place to worship. And I don't think, until this is solved, any significant progress could be achieved in our relationship.
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