February 12, 2016

Pope Francis, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill Hold Historic Meeting

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill held an historic meeting this morning in Havana, Cuba. The main topics discussed were the persecution of Christians and the worldwide assault on marriage and the family. It is unknown whether Patriarch Kirill raised the concerns of the Russian Orthodox leadership about the Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Crux news site has an excellent article on that complicated conflict, by Father Andriy Chirovsky, a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Canada. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill signed a joint declaration following their conversation.

Previously, no Roman Pontiff had ever met with a Russian Orthodox Patriarch. St. John Paul II long tried to visit Moscow. On several occasions, the Vatican made efforts to arrange a summit meeting, however, negotiations always broke down. Russian Orthodox officials said that a meeting would not be appropriate until conflicts between the Vatican and the Moscow patriarchate were resolved. Efforts by Pope Benedict XVI to do the same also met with resistance.

NBC News Online offers this succinct and somewhat accurate summation of the theological issues separating the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches:
On many major theological issues Catholics and Russian Orthodox Christians remain closely aligned. But the issues that divide them run deep.
The central theological divide dates back to the eighth century and is based in differing philosophical interpretations of the Holy Trinity — the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Christianity.
The Orthodox Church also does not believe in purgatory, which Catholics believe precedes heaven.
There's the key political distinction — the Orthodox Church totally rejects papal authority — and differences on social issues. [ ... ]
The question of clerical marriage is also treated differently by the Russian Church, in which parish-level priests are permitted to be ordained as married men.
Despite the things that separate us, there is a great deal we agree on. Both churches have found common cause in defending traditional religious values like natural marriage, the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons in the face of secular assaults and religious persecution.

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