Today, Pope Francis met with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church in Cuba. The two "his Holinesses" released a carefully-drafted joint statement that makes some welcome declarations, but does not encourage hopes that the 1000-year split is anywhere near to being repaired.
Patriarch Kirill is closely associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will no doubt consider the Cuban meeting a positive example of respect from and rapprochement with the West.
While historical divisions such as the filioque controversy over the correct expression of the nature of the Holy Trinity remain, perhaps the most tender subject for both sides is the status of Eastern Rite Catholic Churches in the Ukraine, which the Russian Orthodox Church considers unwelcome interlopers.
Russian identity is closely tied to Russian Orthodoxy. After the fall of Communism, the Russian Orthodox Church made a remarkable come-back. Yet despite impressive gestures like building the "The Church Upon Spilt Blood" in Ekaterinburg on the very spot where the last Tsar, Nicholas II, was murdered with his family, surveys have shown that religion has not penetrated into Russians' lives. Russia has the world's highest abortion rate, 73 out of 100 births, leading to a serious demographic crisis, according to Reuters.
|The Church Upon Spilt Blood in Ekaterinburg|
The statement rather oddly called Cuba "the symbol of hopes for the 'New World,' and the dramatic events of the 20th century." It briefly alluded to historical divisions, and "the permanence of many obstacles," but nonetheless expressed a cautious hope for unity. It acknowledged the persecution of Christians in Africa and the Middle East, and called for negotiation and action to combat terrorism. The Pope and Patriarch "bowed to the martyrdom" of Christians who "belong to various Churches," as a sign of Christian unity. Softer religious persecution in the West was also condemned, and Europe was called upon not to lose its Christian roots.
There was a call for interreligious dialogue and a condemnation of attempts to justify crimes by religious slogans, or the use of God's name.
The two leaders agreed that marriage was between a man and a woman, and said, "We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience."
Abortion and euthanasia were also condemned.
Proselytizing was condemned, no doubt with a particular focus on the Catholic Church in Russia.
The unequivocal statement about the sanctity of marriage is particularly welcome, and would seem to lay down a marker against efforts within the Church to recognize other forms of union. The Bear suspects the Russian Patriarch was the more conservative of the two interlocutors.