Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, representative of the
Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, delivered to
ZENIT a comment on the late Pope.
"He was a great Pope, perhaps one of the greatest in the entire history
of the Roman Catholic Church," Bishop Hilarion wrote. "There is no
doubt that he will soon be beatified and canonized by the Church to
which he dedicated his entire life."
"He was the most influential religious leader of modernity, and he made
an impact on the entire human civilization," he added. "Indeed, his
influence went far beyond the Roman Catholic Church, which he headed
for more than a quarter of a century.
"His message was heard and appreciated by millions of people all over
the world, not only Catholics, but also Orthodox, Protestants,
Anglicans, Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths and, what is perhaps
even more remarkable, by people of no faith."
Bishop Hilarion continued: "In the time when secular politicians in
most Western countries work hard to expel religion from the public
sphere, to reduce it to the realm of private devotion, to ban it from
schools, universities and from the mass media, John Paul II was a
public figure of such magnitude that his every voyage was widely
covered and his every pronouncement was commented by the mass media
"He was an 'orthodox' Pope in the sense of preserving traditional
attitude of his Church to dogma and morality," the Russian Orthodox
stated. "His stand on moral issues, such as marriage and family,
abortion, contraception, euthanasia and many others, very often evoked
criticism on the part of those who wanted traditional values to be
replaced by secular ones, and who attempted to oppose humanism to
"By being traditional, however, the Pope was by no means less humane,
being able to develop a universal humanism based on spiritual values as
opposed to the atheist version of humanism."
"For many years he contested atheism in his own country, Poland, and he
played part in the collapse of atheist totalitarian regimes in Eastern
Europe, but he also contributed enormously to the rediscovery of faith
by many of those who lost it because of liberalism and relativism
prevailing in democratic Western societies."
Bishop Hilarion further commented: "His life coincided with enormous
geopolitical changes which altered forever the face of Europe. These
changes, unfortunately, led not only to the introduction of religious
freedom in those Eastern European countries where it had previously
been violated, but also to the aggravation of the interconfessional
situation in some regions of Eastern Europe.
"A number of problems arose, in particular, between the Orthodox and
the Catholics in Russia and Ukraine, which prevented the leaders of the
Orthodox Church in both countries from meeting with the Pope. These
problems still await their solution.
"I met with the Pope twice, on both occasions delivering to him a
message from the patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II. On January 21, 2002,
which was our second and last meeting, I was entrusted with a somewhat
delicate mission of explaining to the Pope the conditions on which his
meeting with the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church would have been
"He was, of course, well aware of these conditions, which had never
been made a secret. Among them were an explicit rejection of all forms
of proselytism on the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,
and the recognition of the fact that 'Uniatism' could no longer be
considered as a way towards Christian unity.
"It is to be hoped that these principles will be reflected in a common
declaration of the primates of the Roman Catholic and the Russian
Orthodox Churches, once a meeting between them does take place. Such a
meeting may pave the way to a new page in the relations between these
two traditional Churches, whose common and united testimony to the
world would be so crucial and so timely."