A landmark event happened late in the evening on February 12 2016 in Cuba. For the first time over the last 1,000 years, the religious leaders of Catholics and Orthodox have met. The two largest communities of the Christian world had antagonistic relations and were even at enmity at times. Suffice it to recall the measures taken in Russia against proselytism of Catholics or the continuous seizure of the orthodox churches in Ukraine by Uniate Catholics. Announcing the meeting of Patriarch Kirill of Russia and Pope Francis, analysts said the landmark meeting had been prepared for almost 20 years. Perhaps, it is true - the Russian Orthodox Church and Apostolic See of Rome had really sought a dialogue since 1990s. However, from our point of view, the meeting of Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis was organized quickly and purposefully.
What was the ultimate cause that pushed the leaders of the two churches to step up efforts towards a dialogue? There is no question of speaking of real rapprochement so far. Common interests and common concerns were the driving motives of the Havana meeting and the Joint Declaration signed there. Here are the results of the poll conducted among EADaily’s audience: 48% of the respondents said the meeting was a result of common interests. Another 30% called it an attempt to discuss discrepancies, while 18% of the respondents said the meeting was an immediate necessity. Only 4% of the polled readers supposed that the meeting could be a step towards reconciliation inside the Christian world. It is evident that the common concerns of Orthodox and Catholics are not about Ukraine. It is for more than a year that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis have been seriously concerned over the developments in the Middle East, the genocide of Christians in Iraq and Syria, persecutions of Christians in Libya, Egypt and others. However, there is another important reasons behind that meeting – the general situation with Christianity in the world, specifically in the West. Both the reasons were serious enough to prompt the Russian Orthodox Church and Vatican to launch a dialogue.
Actually, the organization of the meeting and all the arrangements that preceded it date back to June 2015 when President of Russia Vladimir Putin held quite long talks with the Pope while on a visit to Italy. In fact, mass media found out nothing substantial about the 50-minute-long meeting of Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin. Reportedly, they exchanged gifts having high spiritual value. After the meeting, the Pope accompanied the Russian president up to the exit of the Vatican Library and asked Vladimir Putin to send his regards to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia…
Let us highlight a number of points of the Joint Declaration. “By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the “Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labor of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us.” – One cannot but see here the unwillingness of the two religious leaders to align with Europe, much less with Western Europe. “Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents. It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.” Here is a hint at “non-attachment” of Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church to U.S. and the English-speaking part of North America.
Further, in the text, there are 4 points dedicated to the situation with the Christians and Christianity in the Middle East. These points have already alarmed the West, especially the United State. Perhaps, it was not for nothing that on that very day when Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis met, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with Orient TV disowned all the arrangements on ceasefire in Syria and, actually, threatened Syria, Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad personally with “ground operation” and deployment of additional ground troops to Syria.
“Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.
We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defense of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence,” they say in the Joint Declaration.
Many points of this landmark document unveil the fact that Jesuit Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill were “speaking the same language.” The text of the Joint Declaration is available on the web, and everyone can make sure that starting from the phrase “we have met like brothers” the Patriarch of All Russia and the Pontiff really told the world that the Catholics and Orthodox have common values if they are true believers. They have nothing in common with the “Western values” that the smart “fathers of Western democracy” and “European integration” have forced upon the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and even try to force these values upon the entire world.
To THAT VERY PART of the West the following words are devoted: “We are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life… Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition…”
The declaration contains a point that spotlights “the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe.” After affirming that the West has deviated from the Christianity, such statement not just hails the efforts of the orthodox clergy of Russia and other countries, but also contains a clear message to the West saying that these countries and peoples will save the Christian religion. What we have come to! The Catholic and Orthodox leaders have to make a joint declaration to “remind” “extra-democrats” and “extra-liberals” what the family and marriage are.
“The family is the natural center of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries. Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.
The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. 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…”
It turns out that the Russian Orthodox Church and Vatican have common goals and interests for 2016 and the f0llowing years:
1) To save and preserve Christianity in the Middle East;
2) To exert efforts towards revival of Christianity in the West and counteract the forces that destroy the Christian values under pretext of “fighting for human rights”;
3) To bring together all the forces that strive and are ready for a real fight against terrorism.
These goals run contrary to the goals and interests of U.S. and some European countries in the Middle East and generally in the world. It is hard to say if the Catholics and Orthodox will achieve a true unity to implement the above goals. Unfortunately, there were many U-turns in history. Suffice it to refer to the efforts by the security services (of Western countries) to “over-persuade” some pontiffs. At least, look back at the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II allegedly by Turkish terrorists…