Why the Russian Orthodox Church Opposes a Papal Trip

Journalist Offers Speculation

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ROME, FEB. 2, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Russian Orthodox Church opposes a papal trip to Moscow because it is trying, in part, to defend the borders of the old Russian empire, a noted journalist says.



Alexey Bukalov, correspondent in Rome of Itar-Tass, one of the most important Russian news agencies, analyzed the situation, in an article this week in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion.

Prior to the announcement of the Pope´s June to Ukraine, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published statements of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow in which he admitted the possibility of a papal visit to the Russian capital.

But the patriarch said it was possible only if there was an end to the "persecution" of his flock by Catholics in western Ukraine, and the proselytism of the Catholic clergy in the "canonical territory" of the Russian Orthodox Church. He did not give any evidence of the alleged acts of persecution, however.

Russian journalist Bukalov put Alexis´ comments in context. "Despite their apparent harshness, these two conditions imply progress in Alexis II in relation to his statements a few years ago, when he said that a real Orthodox Christian should not even pick mushrooms in the same forest with a Catholic," Bukalov said.

He added, "[The] Soviet Union, its Communist Party, and its KGB might have fallen, but the Russian Orthodox Church continues to defend the sacred borders of the old Russian empire. What is more, given that almost half of the dioceses supervised by the Moscow patriarchate remain outside Russia -- in Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Central Asia, etc. -- Alexis II increasingly stresses the universality of his Church."

This year, by coincidence, Catholics and Orthodox will celebrate Easter on the same date -- a possible basis for ecumenical overtures. "Will the patriarch take advantage of the occasion?" the journalist asked rhetorically.

Bukalov was not optimistic. "To date, no Russian authority has repented of the crimes committed against its own people," he said. "The hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has certainly not admitted the implicit sins of its collaboration with the Soviet state. Such an act of contrition on the part of Russia would also help, perhaps, to begin to heal the wounds caused by the schism between Catholics and Orthodox."

The Pope, however, has taken decisive steps, the Russian journalist wrote. He cited John Paul II´s proposal to review the way in which a pope´s service of universal communion can be applied; this is an issue that has separated Catholics and Orthodox since their 11th-century schism (see the encyclical "Ut Unum Sint," No. 96).

According to the Kremlin´s press service, President Vladimir Putin often speaks with Alexis II. Bukalov observed: "Perhaps [Putin] should explain to him that his reluctance to arrive at a rapprochement with the Vatican goes against the interests of the Russian state, inasmuch as the Kremlin and Vatican agree on numerous topics, including the Middle East question."

"We all know that Russia has suffered so much, or more than any other nation," he added. "Sadly, paraphrasing the title of one of the most popular Russian films of the Communist era, I still think that Moscow, or at least its patriarch, does not believe in tears."