Saturday, 19 September 2009

A glimmer of hope?

In recent years relations between us and the Russian Orthodox Church have considerably thawed since the election of Benedict XVI to the see of Peter, as will as the election of Patriarch Kyrill. Yesterday Archbishop Hillarion, head of the external affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, met up with the Pope.

There has been much talk of imminent reunion between the two sister churches on the blogs. Personally, I think this is wildly optimistic. There is a very long tradition of bitterness, jealousy and rivalry between Russian Orthodoxy and Polish Catholicism which alas is still alive and kicking in the Ukraine, particularly over the issue of the Uniates. Also in Orthodoxy there are movements that are heavily tied up with Russian nationalism and identity (and Serbian and Greek in the other churches), and who are very violently opposed to any kind of collaboration, let alone reunion.

It is all too easy to forget that although doctrinally Catholicism and Orthodoxy are almost identical, Orthodoxy is otherwise in fact very different to us and in many respects just not the same. Their liturgy, iconography, mystical tradition, spiritual and devotional life, religious orders and brotherhoods are completely different and can be quite a shock to Catholics unfamiliar with them. The Orthodox likewise often strongly object to many Catholic practices such as the Sacred Heart, as they see them as not part of and conflicting with the patristic tradition, and look upon our scholastic tradition with disfavour.

But nevertheless, with God anything is possible. Benedict's theology is greatly admired in Orthodox circles. And what is more his initiatives such as Summorum Pontificem, and his courageous stance in affirming the church's moral teachings in the face of the world media, have been most warmly welcomed by them. There is a genuine feeling among many of the Russians that Orthodoxy and Rome need the support of each other in their witness against the destruction of family life and normalisation of homosexuality. With this in mind, let us ask Our Lady's help to heal an ancient rift, so that they may be one!

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, pray for us.

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