Catholic, Orthodox See Ecumenical Significance of Sistine Choir's Moscow Concert

Metropolitan Hilarion Notes Hope That 'Spiritual Unity' Expressed in Song Will Be Reflected in Churches' Relations

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The choir of the Sistine Chapel, together with the Synodal Choir of Moscow, performed a concert of sacred music on Tuesday night in honor of the 5th anniversary of Kyrill’s reign as patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The concert, held in the Armory Palace in the Kremlin, was organized by the Patriarchate of Moscow and included music of the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. 

The Sistine Choir, which left Rome on Saturday, followed an itinerary in Russia which included joint practices with the Synodal Choir of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The concert was directed at different times by the Maestro of the Sistine Choir, Monsignor Massimo Palombella, and by the Director of the Synodal Choir, Alexy Puzakov. 

Shortly before the Choir’s departure, ZENIT spoke with Monsignor Palombella, who reiterated the ecumenical importance of this initiative. “We were already in London last year with the Anglican Choir of Westminster Abbey and with the Lutheran Choir of Leipzig, and both have sung with us in Rome. The Anglican in Saint Paul’s Basilica in 2012, on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, and then the German Choir came.” 

Monsignor Palombella added that during this trip they would practice together “keeping in view the forthcoming June 29, when we will sing in the Eucharistic celebration presided over by Pope Francis, on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.”

After the May 26 concert in Moscow, the audience was addressed by the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who said in particular:

“We have just heard an amazing concert in which works of Italian and Russian composers of various periods were performed by two choral teams of exceptionally high quality – the famous Sistine Cappella Choir with its ages-old history and the State Tretyakov Gallery Choir, which is not so old but has already written a solid page in the history of our home musical culture. We thank the Sistine Chapel for this remarkable gift with which this choir has come to our country. Never before have I heard the Sistine Cappella singing Bortnyansky’s music, nor do I remember the Tretykov Gallery Choir performing works by Giovanni Palestrina.

“But we know that there is a direct genetic link between our church music and the music of the Catholic Church. The same Bortnyansky, just as other church composers, was a disciple of Italian masters who would leave their Italian opera houses to come to Russia in order to direct our court choir. And we can hear striking parallels in intonation and stile in these two musical cultures…

"I would like to express the hope that the spiritual unity revealed in today’s concert will also be reflected in relations between the Russians and the Italians and in relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches. These relations have not always been cloudless and we can see problems arising today too, but we can also see that the Orthodox and Catholic Christians, if there is a wish, know how to work together. And the most important thing is that they know how to glorify God together."

The path toward Catholic-Orthodox unity marked another milestone last weekend as Pope Francis met in Jerusalem with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, commemorating the 50th anniversary of their predecessors’ meeting in the Holy Land. 

The Religious Information Service of Ukraine noted, however, that Metropolitan Hilarion spoke of a limited effect of that meeting.

According to RISU, "Metropolitan Hilarion said that because Patriarch Bartholomew had not consulted with other Orthodox leaders before scheduling his meeting with the Pope, he would be acting on his own behalf, not as a representative of the world’s Orthodox faithful. Although the Patriarch of Constantinople is traditionally recognized as the 'first among equals' in the Orthodox hierarchy, the Russian Orthodox argues that he exercises that primacy only when other Orthodox patriarchs explicitly authorize him to do so. In the absence of such a mandate, Metropolitan Hilarion said, Patriarch Bartholomew will be representing only his own particular church, the Patriarchate of Constantinople."