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By Deacon Keith Fournier

2/24/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There is a growing recognition that there is more that joins theologically faithful Catholics and theologically faithful Orthodox than that which separates us.

Benedict XVI earned the great respect of Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church throughout his service in the Chair of Peter. I believe he was making progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and Western Christianity which can make the Third Millennium a millennium of communion and bring an end to the disunion of the second millennium. It remains his unfinished legacy; one which I sincerely pray his successor will pick up quickly.

Pope benedict XVI and Metropolitan Hilarion

Pope benedict XVI and Metropolitan Hilarion

Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/24/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: Orthodox, Russian orthodox, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Patriarch Kirill, Pope Benedict XVI, ecumenism, Christian unity, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - Upon his election to the Chair of Peter some observers indicated Pope Benedict's age would make him a caretaker Pope. They were absolutely wrong. History will record the papacy of Benedict XVI with great favor. He planted seeds which will bear fruit long after he has joined his beloved predecessor and friend, Blessed John Paul II in the Fathers house. 

On April 20, 2005, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI gave his first message at the end of a Mass he had concelebrated with the members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. He signaled his mission in these words: "Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Luke 22: 32).

"With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty."

The mission of restoring the full and visible unity of the Church was at the heart of Benedict's papacy. He made Church history, when Motu Propio, he released the Apostolic Constitution on Groups of Anglicans which began the healing of the divided Western Church. The fruits of these Ordinariates will be recounted by future historians as among the most important events in the Third Millennium of the Church.

Benedict XVI earned the great respect of Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church throughout his service in the Chair of Peter. I believe he was making progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and Western Christianity which can make the Third Millennium a millennium of communion and bring an end to the disunion of the second millennium. It remains his unfinished legacy; one which I sincerely pray his successor will pick up quickly.

I pray daily for the full communion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I do so because I believe it is the will of God that "All May be One" (John 17: 21).  I further believe that the healing of the division between the two churches will unleash a profound renewal of the entire Church at the dawn of a new missionary age. I believe that the gifts found in the whole Church will enrich both East and West and assist us in the mission which we must face together in our One Lord.

I watch for every sign that the two lungs of the One Church are beginning to fill with the breath of Divine Life, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can animate the One New Man, Jesus Christ, to heal the division which has gone on for too long in His Body. Yes, I watch with the eyes of living faith. Some say I see these developments with what they would call "Rose Colored glasses". If I do see through the color of rose, it is because the color symbolizes the hope which comes from faith in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

I welcomed with great hope the selection of Patriarch Kirill as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. His election was the first election of a Patriarch since the fall of the atheist Communist regime which governed the former Soviet Union for so many years. It was a sign of hope for the revitalization of the ancient faith in this critical time in history.

Patriarch Kirill is theologically and doctrinally solid - a man of deep faith and courage. He is a champion of the authentic Orthodox Christian Tradition and a stalwart defender of the doctrine of the ancient Faith. He is outspoken in his concern over the moral decline of Russian, European and the broader western culture. He is also dedicated to doing something about it by leading a resurgence of authentic Christianity in a new missionary undertaking to the culture.

In an insightful analysis written for Catholic Online entitled Patriarch Kirill & Pope Benedict: A Tale of Two Leaders for a new Missionary Age Orthodox priest Fr Johannes L. Jacobse, the editor of Orthodoxy Today and President of the American Orthodox Institute opined  " Patriarch Kirill is a theological conservative in the mold of Pope Benedict. Both see religion as the wellspring of culture. Both understand that Europe cannot escape a final capitulation to tyranny if it does not rediscover its Christian roots." In this insight, and in so much else which this good priest writes, he is correct.

Patriarch Kirill has not ceased to offer his voice of clarity and authority to the growing Catholic and Orthodox critique of the decline of moral values and the hostility of the contemporary culture toward the Church. He is a fervent and prophetic figure, exposing the growing rejection of Christian influence throughout the world and warning of the the dangers such a rejection presents.  He has called upon Orthodox Christians to be actively involved in reclaiming the culture with the values informed by the ancient faith. In that vital work, he regularly expresses his support for their collaboration with Catholics. 

One of many signs of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Third Christian Millennium is the rediscovery between Orthodox and Catholic Christians of our common Baptismal bond as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. I am numbered among those who believe that the Holy Spirit is gathering a movement of Orthodox and Catholic Christians who recognize a shared calling to herald a new missionary age of the Church in this critical hour.

There is a growing recognition that there is more that joins theologically faithful Catholics and theologically faithful Orthodox than that which separates us. The urgency of the cultural decline compels our collaboration in Christ and is leading us to a growing mutuality of respect which may pave the way toward communion.  

Shortly after his selection, the Patriarch noted that, "in the Vatican and not only in the Vatican but all over the world, Catholics understand that Orthodox (people) are their allies. And Orthodox (people) are more and more coming to understand that Catholics are their allies in the face of hostile and non-religious secularism."

One of the Patriarch's greatest assets is Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. He is a youthful, thoughtful and brilliant scholar and Church leader in his own right. He is the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external church relations. He recently gave an interview to Russian newsman named Sergey Brilev which can be read in its entirety on the website of the Department.

It offers some insightful comments on the voluntary resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Its positive perspective on Catholic and Orthodox collaboration also bodes well for the continuation of the momentum which is underwway between these two sister churches. I pray that it leads to some form of full communion. I also pray that the successor of pope Benedict XVI makes it a major priority of his pontificate. I offer some excerpts below:

**********
Brilev: There is certain ticklishness in what we are going to discuss because neither you nor I are Catholic. You though are a one who is much more well-versed in, if I may say, the church mechanics, but not necessarily wishing to reveal it all to journalists. Nevertheless, tell me how have you taken the news about the resignation of the Pope of Rome?

Metropolitan Hilarion: This news was a surprise for everybody including the Pope's closest entourage. The dean of the Cardinals College Angelo Sodano is known to say that it was 'like a bolt from the blue'. Actually the Pope of Rome has dropped some hints in recent years that it may happen, and it was not accidental that he visited the tomb of Celestine V, one of few popes who abdicated and was later canonized. Pope Benedict XVI was contemplating it. I believe his decision resulted from his responsible attitude to his office. Most likely, having assessed his physical resources, he made this, I would say, wise decision.

Brilev: There are several details I would like to move back to consecutively. I will cite you yourselves. You said that it was 'an act of personal courage' on the part of the Pope of Rome himself but at the same time there are words of his brother Georg who said, 'No, everything is all right with his health; he is simply tired'. I render it freely but in essence the words sounded exactly like that. In this connection, there is still certain scepticism with regard to this decision of Benedict XVI. I can already feel that you do not share it, but how would you comment on it?

Metropolitan Hilarion: I do not share this scepticism, nor do I agree with the opinion of some people who are ready to speak about a conspiracy theory in this situation. I personally met with the Pope on three occasions. Certainly, his health is not bad for his age, though in the few years I have had an opportunity to observe him, he has visibly aged, and, as they say, slipped a lot. Besides, it should be taken into account that he has never seen his office as ceremonial, and I believe never craved for it but took the election as a cross placed on him to bear. I believe he made his decision from the feeling of responsibility as he understands that with time he will get older and weaker. That is why he made the decision to give his post up to somebody else.

Brilev: Let me ask a question than may seem to many to have a second bottom. Perhaps it really has it. According to many, Benedict XVI's decision was catalyzed by the criticism leveled against the Catholic Church as, regrettably, cases of sexual abuse of children and many other things have accumulated in it. For instance, the case of this butler was rather loud. I refer to it because the Russian Orthodox Church has sometimes found itself attacked by both open and covert ill-wishers, etc. Has the criticism voiced become a catalyst or no? What do you think?

Metropolitan Hilarion: It is difficult to say. I believe the Pope has weighed all the circumstances. Really, the Catholic Church has recently come to face new challenges. In some sense they are old because under Pope John Paul II the Catholic Church was criticized for conservatism and traditionalism. The criticism came from the extremely liberal Western society. At the same time, Pope John Paul II was popular with the mass media; one can say he was a media-star. In those years Benedict XVI was at his side. He was a cardinal then, leading one of the major congregations.

He saw the process of aging and dying, but not in the way the mass media look at it. He saw it with the eyes of a church man and understood that actually for some time the Church was left without real governance under a living pope or the governance was entrusted to other people. I believe as a witness to this he did not want to repeat this experience in his own life.

Brilev: You spoke about Celestine V. He is mentioned in Dante's 'Divine Comedy' and the author seems to accuse him of faint-heartedness.

Metropolitan Hilarion: Here is for you an example of different views of the church reality. Dante put Celestine V in Hell while the Catholic Church has canonized him.

Brilev:  Never in my life have I thought that I would catch you up on a word, but unexpectedly I did. Speaking now about the first hierarch of the Catholic Church, you mentioned simply a pope. At the same time, as far as I can understand it, in the Orthodox system of coordinates one should necessarily add the words 'of Rome', for there is the Pope of Alexandria, who is much more close to the Russian Orthodox Church canonically.  It is just an introduction to the question I wanted to ask. You and the Catholics have a common negative agenda, for instance, the unacceptability of same-sex marriages for both Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism - the fact often mentioned now in the news. Do you have a common positive agenda?

Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes, we have, because, in the first place, both the Orthodox and the Catholics have a common faith in One God glorified in the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Both the Orthodox and the Catholics are at one in confessing Christ as God-Man. We have differences in dogmatic matters, not as strong as those on which we agree. We disagree on the understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, while the Catholics say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is a long historical dispute; it has lasted for over a millennium.

In addition, we have common approaches to all the fundamental moral and social issues. For instance, our family ethics is almost identical. Why do the Catholics stand out against the legalization of abortion, support of same-sex unions and adoption by same-sex couples? Because both the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church build their moral teaching on the biblical foundation. We share it.

---


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