As we know, on the afternoon of the Feast of the Three Great Hierarchs, the Pope of Rome met the Russian Orthodox Patriarch in Cuba, situated between north and south, east and west. And they met as equals, unlike in the usual meetings between Orthodox and Roman Catholics where the former are humiliated by the latter. This new respect by the Roman Catholics for uncompromised Orthodoxy is to be welcomed, however much some Orthodox may doubt its sincerity. Indeed, a writer in the ‘Catholic Herald’ is complaining about it http://catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2016/02/13/ the-vatican-did-everything-to-accommodate-patriarch-kirill-but-received-little-in-return/). Apparently that author believes that the Orthodox should be humiliated by the Imperialism of Rome!
I have been asked by several correspondents to say a few words about the document that both signed and which has been widely circulated on the internet. First of all, it must be understood that the statement issued by both sides is of course not a dogmatic one, but a diplomatic one. Some have not understood this, especially given the references to ‘Christian Churches’, which seems very strange when all Orthodox know that there is only One Church, the Orthodox Church. Many decades ago the much-respected writer of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Fr Michael Pomazansky, was asked the question why we Orthodox on occasions do talk about heterodox ‘churches’. He explained very simply that this is because the heterodox, although outside the Church, have still conserved part of the heritage of the Church.
For example, most Roman Catholics and quite a few Protestants believe that God is a Trinity and that Jesus Christ is True God and True Man. Why? Because this is the heritage which they have kept from the Orthodox Church in the first millennium, which in the statement is called ‘The Undivided Church’. Yes, outside the Church there are no sacraments, just rituals, sacramental forms, but we still call a Roman Catholic ‘church’ a church and a Roman Catholic priest ‘Father;’ and a Roman Catholic bishop ‘Bishop’, if they so wish to be addressed.
Equally, we allow Roman Catholics to visit our churches and show them kindness. In other words, we show respect and courtesy, that is Christian charity. As the saying goes, ‘You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar’. Just as we are strict on dogmatic issues, we can also show generosity and not meanness of spirit in everyday life. And we repeat, this document is not a dogmatic one, but a diplomatic one. It is therefore binding on no Orthodox in the world, except on the signatory of course.
Let us now look at the positive aspects of this joint statement. There are three of these:
Firstly, the Pope of Rome agrees with the Orthodox Church that the liberal secularism of the Western world (which Roman Catholicism engendered through its deformation of the Trinitarian Dogma) and its cultural imperialism is completely unacceptable. Is Roman Catholicism regretting opening Pandora’s Box a thousand years ago?
Secondly, the Pope agrees with the Church that we must do as much as we can to protect Christians (all of them Orthodox or former Orthodox) in the Middle East from Western-caused and Western-allowed ethnic cleansing in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Millions have fled for their lives, over a million Christians in Iraq alone, and only military action by the Russian Federation has kept Syria intact and the Patriarch of Antioch in Damascus.
Thirdly, the Pope of Rome agrees, at least on paper, that Uniatism has no future and that it must gradually die out, so that it becomes a case for textbooks on historical errors. No more proselytization and stealing of churches in the Ukraine. In any case if there is to be any hope that Roman Catholicism might draw closer to the Church of God, Uniatism must be restrained. The Uniats are now very worried: the Pope is abandoning them as the lost cause which they always have been.
Finally, one correspondent has posed a question about my article from before the meeting, entitled: ‘Our Man in Havana: From the Catacombs to the World Stage’. He says that Patriarch Kyrill is issued from the 1943 agreement with Stalin, which at last allowed the Church inside the then Soviet Union to operate freely, and not issued from the catacombs. There is here a fundamental misconception, which is to contrast the Catacomb Church with the ‘official Church’. They were of course one and the same; to say otherwise is to fall into sectarianism, to put oneself outside the Church, just like Roman Catholics and Uniats.
To fall into sectarianism also means to cut oneself off from the saints. Thus, the saints listed in Fr Seraphim Rose’s excellent and well-known 1970’s book ‘Russia’s Catacomb Saints’ from before 1943 are naturally saints venerated in the ‘official’ Russian Orthodox Church. To fall into sectarianism is also to cut oneself off from St Matrona of Moscow, St Luke of the Crimea, St Sebastian of Karaganda, St Laurence of Chernigov, St Kuksha of Odessa, the newly-revealed St Seraphim of Sofia, the saints of Glinsk and many, many others.
This self-isolation and drying-up of love is what happens to those who believe in a fictional ‘Soviet Church’. No such thing ever existed, however much the CIA pays or hoodwinks people to believe in it. There was just the Russian Orthodox Church under the long dead Soviet regime. True, a few long since dead individuals compromised themselves at that time under political pressure, but that is between them and God Who will judge them and all of us. For Orthodoxy the Church is the whole people of God, not a few compromised clerics. We are not clericalist puritans. As the ever-memorable Metr Philaret of Moscow, himself a priest of the Patriarchate of Moscow for fifteen years and his father a bishop of the Patriarchate, said, the fact that individuals compromised themselves is no reason to fall into the heresy of Donatism. St John of Shanghai agreed with this.
Most of the clergy who appeared after 1943 were already clergy beforehand, many of them ordained and consecrated even before the Revolution. In other words, they were not ‘invented’ by Stalin in 1943, but had already existed, underground, in the catacombs, before 1943. As Solzhenitsyn remarked in the 1970s, and as I myself witnessed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, ‘official priests’ were the catacomb priests. Thus, bishops of the ‘official Church’ issued priests with extra antimensia for secret services and those priests baptized and preached secretly, since they were not allowed to openly, all the while celebrating the Liturgy and other allowed services openly in ‘official’ churches.
As for Patriarch Kyrill, his father, an archpriest, spent several years in prison under the Soviets; it is in this sense that the whole Russian Orthodox Church inside Russia has come out of the catacombs – and is now on the world stage, symbolized by Patriarch Kyrill.