A Russian in Rome

Pope Benedict & Met. Hilarion

Source: Inside Vatican

The end of state atheism in Russia in 1991 and the return to Christian faith in that country, at least in a modest way, in the years since — opinions on the extent of Russia’s religious renewal are sharply divided — seemed something impossible in the 1960s, 1970, 1980s…

Pope John Paul II fervently desired that change so that Europe might regain its spiritual health and “breathe with two lungs” — Eastern as well as Western, Greek as well as Latin, Orthodox as well as Catholic… despite all the centuries of division and mistrust since the “Great Schism” of 1054.

In the long process of this new “breathing” a special moment occurred on September 29 at Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome.

On the morning of September 29, Benedict XVI welcomed the Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Patriarchate of Moscow’s Department for External Church Relations — the equivalent of the “Foreign Minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church (photo above).

It was the third meeting between the Pope and the Metropolitan, following Hilarion’s election as the Department’s leader.

Hilarion gave Benedict as a gift an icon of St. Benedict of Norcia, who is of course Pope Benedict’s patron saint (because the Pope’s name is Benedict), and the Pope received the icon with pleasure.

Here is a video which shows the Pope meeting with Hialrion and greeting his entourage. It is worth the 60 seconds it takes to view it:

During his visit to Rome on September 28, Hilarion met with Cardinal President Kurt Koch at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to discuss the future of cooperation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

During the meeting, “the protection of Christians and the overcoming of Christianophobia” were discussed.

Obstacles remain

After the meeting with Pope Benedict, Hilarion gave an interview to Vatican Radio where he outlined some of the problems that continue to remain preventing the full reunion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches — the “two lungs” which Pope John Paul hoped would soon “breathe together.”

One problem is that the Orthodox themselves are divided into 16 different Churches, and have not settled certain internal questions of authority.

One special date to note: May 2013, when celebrations are scheduled recalling the end of the decades of terrible persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago. In 313, the Emperor Constantine issued his “Edict of Milan” declaring the Christian faith legal in the Roman Empire. (There were no more Roman governmental persecutions after that, except briefly under the rule of Julian the Apostate in 360 A.D.)

The Orthodox are planning a great gathering in 2013 in Nis, Serbia, to commemorate the Edict of Milan, because Nis is the birthplace of the Emperor Constantine.

And there is some talk — not confirmed — that the Orthodox may invite Pope Benedict to attend that celebration, which would then become the first meeting ever between a Roman Pope and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch.

This would be a symbolic moment, in a world which is turning once again against Christianity, with legal restrictions against the teachings of the faith rising in the West, and persecutions occurring in various places around the world.

So let’s keep watch for developments on this front.

Here is a news story which summarizes Hilarion’s remarks. I have bold-faced a paragraph at the end which mentions the Nis meeting in 2013.

+ + + + + + + + + +

Source: Catholic News Agency | Benjamin Mann

Orthodox archbishop: we’re internally divided on question of “primacy”

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 30, 2011 / 12:51 am (CNA).- A leading Russian Orthodox official says the Eastern Orthodox churches have yet to resolve the question of authority among themselves, a condition for future progress on the issue of the papacy.

“I would say that there are certain divergences, and there are different positions, of the Orthodox churches on the question of the primacy,” said Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, in a Vatican Radio interview following his Sept. 29 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo.

“As we discuss the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, within the framework of the next commission, we do not only discuss the primacy of Rome; but we have to touch the issue of the primacy in general,” noted the Orthodox metropolitan, apparently referring to future proceedings of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

“And here, of course, we have different traditions – not only between the Catholics and the Orthodox, because we never had such a centralized system as the Catholics have – but we also have some difference among the Orthodox, as to what should be the role of the ‘first hierarch’ in the Orthodox Church.” The Patriarch of Constantinople occupies that role, but his prerogatives are not fully defined.

Metropolitan Hilarion was scheduled to participate in the last session of the Catholic-Orthodox commission, held in 2007 to discuss the question of papal primacy. But an internal dispute between Constantinople and Moscow, over an Orthodox group in Estonia, prompted the Russian representative to walk out. The two churches also dispute the status of the Orthodox Church in America.

On Thursday, the metropolitan made an apparent reference to these types of difficulties between the Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, saying that “if a particular Orthodox church will want to impose its own vision of this primacy on other churches, then of course we will encounter difficulties. And this is what is happening at the moment.”

Meanwhile, the world’s local self-governing Orthodox churches are also attempting to organize a historic Pan-Orthodox Council, comparable to the Church councils held in the Byzantine empire during the first millennium.

The new gathering has been in preparation for 50 years, as the Orthodox world seeks to determine how the Patriarch of Constantinople should exercise his authority.

“We believe that his role should be the primacy of honor, and also he is afforded some coordinating role: for example, he can convene the Pan-Orthodox Council,” said Archbishop Hilarion. “Of course, previously – in the history of the ecumenical councils – it was not the Patriarch of Constantinople, neither was it the Pope of Rome, but it was the (Byzantine) Emperor, who convened the councils.”

“So we have this model (of primacy), which is emerging in the Orthodox tradition. But generally, for centuries we had a very decentalized administration. Each autocephalous church is fully independent from other churches in its self-governance. And therefore we do not have a very clear picture as to what should be the role of the primate in the Orthodox tradition.”

“Without having this clear and unified vision, we cannot easily discuss the issue of how we see the role of the ‘Primus Inter Pares’ (‘first among equals,’ an Orthodox concept of the papacy) in the universal Church,” Metropolitan Hilarion admitted.

The phrase “first among equals” signifies the typical Orthodox view of the Pope as having a primacy of honor but not jurisdiction. In his 2010 book Light of the World, Pope Benedict said the “first among equals” view of the Pope was “not exactly the formula that we believe as Catholics,” due to the Pope’s “specific functions and tasks.”

Until Orthodoxy clarifies its own systems of authority, Archbishop Hilarion said, hopes for progress on the question of the papacy between Catholics and Orthodox are “probably not too high.”

“But still, there is hope, because if there is willingness to accommodate different positions and to produce a paper – or several papers, maybe – which would clearly state the differences, which would outline the way forward, then we can progress.”

The Moscow Patriarchate’s ecumenical representative also expressed hesitation about a possible meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow, which has never occurred in the centuries since Moscow’s elevation to patriarchal status in 1589.

There are hopes that such a meeting could take place in 2013, on the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity’s legalization by the Emperor Constantine. But Archbishop Hilarion said Catholics and Russian Orthodox believers should not jump to conclusions about when a meeting may occur between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow.

“We believe that such a meeting will take place at some time in the future. We are not yet ready to discuss the date, or the place, or the protocol of such a meeting – because what matters for us, primarily, is the content of this meeting.

“As soon as we agree on the content, on the points on which we still disagree or have divergent opinions, then I believe we can have this meeting. But it requires a very careful preparation, and we should not be hurrying up, and we should not be pressed to have this meeting at a particular point of time.”

Despite his cautious attitude toward this meeting and other ecumenical matters, Metropolitan Hilarion spoke warmly of Pope Benedict XVI himself.

During his recent trip to Germany, the Pope met with representatives of the Orthodox churches in the country, and spoke of a “common engagement” among Christians to ensure that “the human person is given the respect which is his due.”

“His Holiness is a man of faith and whenever I meet with him I’m encouraged by his spirit, his courage and his dedication to the life of the Church worldwide,” Metropolitan Hilarion said after his meeting with the Pope on Thursday.

“Of course I’m very impressed by his knowledge of the Orthodox tradition and the attention he pays to the dialogue between the Catholics and the Orthodox… I believe that this attitude of the Primate of the Roman Catholic Church will greatly help us in our way towards better mutual understanding.”

(Here is a link to the article: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/orthodox-archbishop-were-internally-divided-on-question-of-primacy/)


  1. Metropolitan Hilarion’s visit to the Cathedral early this year was by far one my favorite guests to the Cathedral! He immediately felt like he belonged here and his talks were very clear and to the point.

  2. Wesley J. Smith says

    Hope! I was touched by the respect given the Pope by the Orthodox priests and lay people kissing his hand.

  3. V.Rev.Andrei Alexiev says

    Sorry,folks,but I’m not having any of this talk of union with Rome UNLESS they return to the Rome of pre-1054.Call me a bigot or whatever,but kissing a bishop’s hand means submission to him.I can respect the Pope as a human being made in the image and likeness of God,but I cannot give him the courtesy that I would give an Orthodox bishop.I certainly can respect Roman Catholic clerics;I would call a Catholic priest “Father”,but again I couldn’t escort him into the Holy Altar as I would an Orthodox priest.

    • I agree with you, Fr. Andrei. If anything, the pope should kiss the hands of Orthodox priests.

      • Wesley J. Smith says

        I think it was an honorable show of humility, and I certainly trust + Hilarion to maintain Orthodox dogma. It is exactly the attitude we will all need to heal the schism, because what divides us is far less deep and broad (and dangerous) than the threats that this way come against the Church from other sources. But I agree that healing would have to not require Orthodox Christians to accept post schism Catholic theology.

        • Wesley, for any “unity” to mean anything, it would mean the Pope and other current Roman Catholics coming to be united to the one and only Church that they presently do not belong to.

          Not only would Orthodox not be accepting post-schism Roman Catholic teachings, nobody else wanting to be united with the Church could continue to accept those teachings, either. They would also have to accept Orthodox teachings as defined and refined in the past millennium, as well.

          Anything less is blasphemous false ecumenism.

          • CodeNameYvette says

            Helga says, and I agree, that “Anything less is blasphemous false ecumenism.”

            A good example of which is the phony-baloney “Three Branch Theory” so beloved by some OCA clerical celebrities and their devoted followers. You might as well say that the Arians were a branch of the Church. And Mrs. Eddy.

            A lot of the salt seems determined to throw out its own savor and itself too onto the dung heap.

            • Carl Kraeff says

              I am not aware that the OCA accepts the Two Lung or the Three Branch theories, or any variations thereof. I have never heard any “OCA clerical celebrities and their devoted followers” espousing such either, Would you care to give us some names and citations?

              • CodeNameYvette says

                Here’s this for starters, Carl, who said:

                I am not aware that the OCA accepts the Two Lung or the Three Branch theories, or any variations thereof. I have never heard any “OCA clerical celebrities and their devoted followers” espousing such either, Would you care to give us some names and citations?


                I have been disgusted to see more than one OCA church make reference to the “three branches” on its website. I leave you and the others on the list to discover on whose site this particular bit of tripe was published. And you may note the name of the celebrated author quoted.

                Describing the Orthodox Church as a “branch” of world Christianity is false teaching. It implies equality with entities that have broken away from the one true Church founded by Christ. It ought never to be done by Orthodox Christians.

                It is based on a false teaching invented by Anglicans to convince themselves, back in the day when Roman Catholics cared about such things, that Anglican orders and sacraments were valid. The three-branch theory is still taught among Anglicans. It reduces Orthodoxy to a collection of regional folk customs: some folks like red hats, some like Communion in a spoon, no big deal.

                It is at best a weaselly way of placating those outside Her. At worst — I’ll leave that to God.

                Here’s an antidote. You won’t like it at all but others might: http://www.holy-trinity.org/about/intro.html. I’ll throw in a fine thrashing given to that weak reed, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware: http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/review_toc.aspx.

                • Carl Kraeff says

                  Thanks for your reply. The Holy Trinity Cathedral–who would have thunk! OTH, the site carries mostly traditional Orthodox articles, sermons, etc.., to include some from the distinguished bishops who have had their seats there, such as Bishop Tikhon (Fitzgerald) and Saint Tikhon, Confessor of Moscow. Furthermore, I am not prepared to judge Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and Father Meyendorff over a few selected points. I understand how anyone may get upset over a bold statement that the Orthodox Church is one of three branches of Christianity. This is statement that is more an opening o the heterodox than a teaching meant for the Orthodox. Yes, those church officials who toil in the larger religious sphere do tend to sound less than 100% Orthodox at times. It is part of the struggle to tell our story.

                  Regarding the critique of The Orthodox Church at the Orthodox Christian Information Center, I am not surprised at all. I am sympathetic to their POV but I like a more balanced analysis than it generally delivers.

                  • CodeNameYvette says

                    Carl, if your mind cast a shadow it would resemble a bent corkscrew.

                    What part of “the struggle to tell our story” is provided by blathering modernistic heresy?

                    Why should we not expect our “church officials who toil in the larger religious sphere” to be, at a minimum, Orthodox in their views and statements?

                    Don’t you get it? You don’t place truth and falsehood on a scale and find the “balance”.

                    What this is really about is a different form of tribalism. Met. Kallistos’s primary allegiance is not to the Orthodox Church. It is to the tribe of preening upper-class academics, subgroup theological. He conducts himself as a professor in a lecture hall, devising and testing pretty little theories to impress the students rather than as a shepherd who is supposed to defend his flock from the wolves, even at the cost of this own life. The man is a religious dilettante.

                    But I am forgetting the rules of modern western Orthodoxy. If the dumpy creepy guy we don’t like says it, it is BAD. If the highly decorative gentleman with the Oxford drawl says it, it is — well, if not GOOD, just one of those “selected points” of yours.

                    Never mind which one of them does the greater harm to the flock.

                    • Pringlesnap says

                      Thank you, Yvette, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Yes, there has indeed been a lot of harm to the flock, not least in Oxford.

          • Are you kidding me? says

            it would mean the Pope and other current Roman Catholics coming to be united to the one and only Church that they presently do not belong to.

            Oh brother.

            I know that’s y’all’s beliefs, but gimme a break.

            There are 1.31 billion of us, and, with all our recent problems, we still seem to be in a heck of a lot better shape than youse guys are, judging from what I’ve seen on this site and elsewhere.

            I think I’ll stick with the Rock of Peter, thank you very much.

            And I’ll stuck with the ecumenical overtures made by recent popes, who at least have the humility and charity to extend some sort of olive branch.

            • Michael Bauman says

              AYKM. There have been olive branches on both sides at a high level. However it is worth noting that not long after the Pope ascended his throne he commented that all would be well between us if we Orthodox would just submit to his authority and primacy. The official teaching of the the RC is still that we are schimatics and going to hell. The official stance of the Orthodox is that the office of the papacy is heretical as it is visualized and contextualized within the RC communion. The authority of the papacy has always been the issue, it still is and it is not likely to go away. Our two visions of ecclesiology are too different to be compromised I fear. Unless we are both wrong (unlikely) one of us will have to submit to the other if we are to have full unity. Much more likely that we will persist in our disunity until our Lord comes. In the mean time, to the extent that we can show forth Christ in concert with others of a similar mind, we are all strengthened.

              As to the the ‘state of the Church’: it has always been messy. The messiness is part of our enduring charm (at least to some) and evidence of the continued presence of the Holy Spirit (His strength being made evident in our weakness don’t you know). I rather like the challenge of responding from an authentic Chrisitan orientation on a daily basis rather than the tempation to rely solely on a rule book from afar despite the fact that I mostly fail at it.

              If our bishops would just be bishops a great calm and a great energy would be shown forth that would astonish us all. It will come at some point but evidently, not yet.

              Watch and pray forgiving all for everything

        • Your point that the dangers of secularism threaten not only the two Churches but Western Civilization as a whole is a good one Wesley.

          Further, divisions between the RC and Orthodox should not preclude us from working together against those dangers. That’s the vision Pope Benedict and Pat. Kyrill share together. I don’t think Benedict is going become an Orthodox or Kyrill a Roman but making common cause towards the re-Christianization of Western Europe (and pray that it can happen) is a good one. It deserves support from both Orthodox and Catholic believers.

          For the record, I was moved by the respect shown towards Pope Benedict as well.

          • Wesley J. Smith says

            And radical Islamism. We are caught in a pincer. Being spiteful towards Rome accomplishes nothing.

            • Geo Michalopulos says

              IMHO, the only thing the RCs have to “revisit” would be the doctrine of the Filioque. It is from this that all subsequent “theologemouna” (e.g Limbo) and thus, divisions emanated. I agree that the aspect of humility that these Russian priests showed was correct.

              More to the point, the meeting between +Hilarion and +Benedict was one of substantive issues. Not meeting for the joy of meeting. The ROC is not interested in “boutique” issues that preoccupy other denominations. There are serious problems down the road people.

              For example, the juggernaut of abortion-at-all-costs and homosexual “marriage.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan of NYC wrote a scathing letter to the Obama Admin saying that the RC will not accept the current HHS mandates. And recently, the RC told the US Army that it will in no way perform homosexual unions at the Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity at West Point. Would that our bishops would stand in solidarity with them and issue an encyclical in support of them.

              • Peter A. Papoutsis says

                Agreed! Well put. Funny how a little Latin phase has caused so much division anguish and separation.

                • Michael Bauman says

                  Peter, that is because it is not just a word or phrase, it expresses a substantial and abiding difference in the nature of the Godhead which redounds throughout the Church in all things she does and believes.

                  The Papacy resisted allowing the filioque into the Creed for a long time and did so initially only under great pressure (diplomatically and militarily) from the Franks.

                  • Peter A. Papoutsis says

                    I know, but still that one little word packed a big punch that is still felt to this day.
                    Take care guys I have to go home now to my two little ones after their first week in school. Wow!


            • Are you kidding me? says

              Thank you, Wesley Smith!

  4. Christians should pray that the recent meetings between Pope Benedict XVI and Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion will serve as a prelude to closer Catholic-Orthodox relations — and ultimately to Christian unity.