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Called to Unity

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Like many Ukrainian Greco-Catholics, I am pleased that Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill finally met in Havana February 12, even though the negotiations that preceded this encounter included some unseemly concessions. After all, for the last three decades such an encounter was always described as impossible because of the very existence of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church. I note that Pope Francis praised Patriarch Kirill’s humility, but the latter did not return the favor. After all, it was clearly the Pope who humbly agreed to the time and place for the meeting, in order for it to finally happen after decades of stalling on the part of Moscow. When the two met, Pope Francis tellingly said, “Finally . . .” That is a sentiment that I share. This should have been routine a long time ago. Moscow’s approach of seeking strength through aloofness really does not work in a world of instant communication. They have finally seen the light. Pope Francis favors frank dialogue over confrontation and posturing. But to dialogue, one needs a partner to come to the table. Finally, it has happened. One can only hope that the Patriarch of Moscow will also be open to a meeting with the head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who has repeatedly called for such an encounter.

The Moscow Patriarchate likes to attack the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church for many things, both real and imagined. At least now the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow have broken the ice and will be able to communicate directly about these and many other matters. Now, it remains to be seen what kind of spin Moscow and its admirers in the media and blogosphere will put on the meeting and the Joint declaration the two signed.

The spin will be important to watch because much of the world press is hopelessly confused in its reporting about the historic meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow. Endless references to the thousand-year estrangement between Rome and Moscow display ignorance of the fact that 1,000 years ago the Patriarchate of Moscow did not exist. It was created in 1589. Even the position of Metropolitan of Moscow goes back only to 1448. The creation of the Moscow Metropolitanate was a direct reaction to the fact that the Church of Kyiv (Kiev) had re-established full communion with Rome at the Council of Florence through Metropolitan Isidore. The Metropolitan of Kyiv, Petro Akerovych, had attended the First Council of Lyons in 1245. Moscow cannot claim the history of the Kyivan Church as its own and simultaneously ignore such momentous moments in that history. Furthermore, the Kyivan Church re-established full communion with Rome in 1596 through the Union of Brest, an explicit revival of Florentine models of unity, only to be beaten back by rivals who did not accept this Union. Even so, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev, Petro Mohyla in the 1640’s, made contacts with Rome and was the author of yet another proposal for renewing communion with Rome, on what he considered slightly better terms. Now, either the history of the Church of Kiev is a separate reality from that of Moscow, or it is part and parcel of Russian Orthodox identity. Moscow cannot have it both ways. Alas, Moscow does do its best to obfuscate matters. The Moscow Patriarchate (founded 1589) claims to be the Mother Church for the Church of Kiev (founded 988). George Orwell would smile at this sort of Double-speak. That is why Moscow does not correct commentators who talk about the thousand-year estrangement. It all makes Moscow look more exotic, more like a great prize to be wooed at all costs.

Read more at FirstThings.com…

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