Patriarch Alexy receives Cardinal Walter Kasper

His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia met on May 29 with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Welcoming his guest Patriarch Alexy noted that Cardinal Kasper’s unofficial visit had as its aim to come to a deeper knowledge of the life of the Russian Orthodox Church and the country. ‘You visited several dioceses of our Church, those of Smolensk, Kazan and Nizhniy Novgorod. In Kazan you saw a copy of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, which Pope John Paul II handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church in 2004. In the Diveyevo Monastery of St. Seraphim you venerated the honorable relics of St. Seraphim, our great saint’, the patriarch said adding that kind interest to each other’s traditions and shrines helped to promote good relations between the two Churches.

He also stressed the need for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. It is based on the positions the two Churches share on many problems that the world poses for Christianity today in such spheres as morality, social and family relations, human rights, and bioethics. ‘Our dialogue should lead to the development of Orthodox-Catholic cooperation in defending and preaching traditional Christian values before the secular world’, he said.

Cardinal Kasper cordially thanked His Holiness for the warm welcome accorded him by the Russian Orthodox Church and stressed the need for mutual understanding and dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Moscow Patriarchate. He conveyed to His Holiness a personal letter from Pope Benedict XVI.

In the course of the meeting, the primate of the Russian Church pointed out that in developing the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, which is basically of practical nature, it was also important to hold a theological dialogue between the two Churches. The Russian Orthodox Church has always been an active participant in it. In this connection, it is especially painful for the Russian Orthodox Church, His Holiness said, to see the developments around the recent plenary session of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church, which took place in October 2000 in Ravenna, when the Moscow Patriarchate delegation had to withdraw from the meeting because of the presence of representatives of the so-called Estonian Apostolic Church in it.

‘The question whether the Russian Orthodox Church will continue her participation in the pan-Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue remains problematic because the Patriarchate of Constantinople, regrettably, continues insisting that the Joint Commission’s meetings should be attended by representatives of the EAOC – a structure that does not enjoy the general recognition of the Local Orthodox Churches. For me as a native of Estonia who is well aware of the real church situation in that country, this is a special question’, the patriarch noted, recalling that he had served as priest in Estonia for 11 years and later was the ruling bishop of the Tallinn diocese till 1990.

His Holiness also stated that the unilateral actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople resulted in a situation where the world largest Local Orthodox Church cannot participate in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue – the fact that certainly diminishes its value and significance. ‘In case of the Ravenna document, the problem is not only that it was adopted without our participation, but also that we are dissatisfied with its contents, especially where the significance of Constantinople for the Orthodox is equated with the significance of Rome for the Catholics’, the primate of the Russian Church said.

He also stressed the importance of the Joint Working Group for settling the problems existing in relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. Especially difficult in the agenda of Orthodox-Catholic relations in Russia is the situation in children’s Catholic orphanages. Almost all the children there are baptized as Orthodox but in most cases they are raised in the Catholic rather then Orthodox spiritual tradition. ‘It would be beneficial for us to work out together a methodology for the work of Catholic orphanages in Russia and for pastoral care for their children’, the patriarch said.

He also expressed concern for the expanding activities of the Greek Orthodox Church in Ukraine and noted that in the Western Ukrainian regions where the Greek Catholics prevail numerically, ‘many parishes of the canonical Orthodox Church have been deprived of their churches and of any opportunity whatsoever for bearing witness to the Orthodox faith’. He said the Orthodox and the Catholics should together work out concrete and effective measures for settling this long-standing problem.

In the end of the meeting Patriarch Alexy expressed satisfaction with the visit of Cardinal Walter Kasper to various dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church and her holy places.

DECR Communication Service