Pope Francis Russian Orthodox

Published: February 13, 2016

Pope Francis Russian Orthodox, In their joint declaration, the Pope and patriarch touted their historic conclave as an “indispensable” example of civility for a world riven by violence, poverty and sectarian strife.

“In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!”

The joint declaration did not specifically cite the agreement reached on Thursday by Russia and the United States, among other nations, to “cease hostilities” in Syria, the site of a devastating civil war.

But in a possible reference to Iranian and Saudi Arabian factions fighting a proxy war in the Middle East, Francis and Kirill urged all parties involved in the conflicts “to demonstrate goodwill and to take part in the negotiating table.”

The meeting is a diplomatic victory for Francis, who has made door-opening dialogue a prominent feature of his foreign policy. But it also carries some risks. Critics have warned that Kirill and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who are close, will use the Pope to boost their profile among Orthodox Christians and popularity in the West.

“The meeting takes place against the backdrop of current Russian military, political, and propagandist actions,” said Yury Avvakumov, assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. “At this moment, it would be useful for Russian leaders to have any public figure who would approach Russia with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.”

Still, many Catholics and Orthodox Christians hailed the meeting and joint declaration as significant steps toward strengthening ties between their traditions, which separated in 1054 after the Great Schism. (Also called the East-West Schism, the split was over theology and the primacy of the pope, whom the Orthodox do not consider the supreme leader of Christianity.)

Patriarch Kirill is not the leader of Orthodox Christianity, a title that technically belongs to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is based in Constantinople and has met with Pope Francis and his predecessors several times. But with a flock of 150 million followers, Kirill leads the biggest, and in some ways the most defiant, branch of Orthodoxy.

The Vatican had tried for decades to meet with Russian patriarchs, amplifying their efforts after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. But Orthodox leaders accused Catholics of trying to encroach on their turf by planting new churches in Russia and former Soviet satellite countries.

Friday’s joint declaration delicately alludes to the tensions between the churches, noting that Orthodox Christians and Catholics “have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts.” But the Pope and patriarch said they were “pained by the loss of unity” among Christians, who have splintered into thousands of denominations since the schism in 1054.

Despite their differences, the vicious persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa by the Islamic State and other terrorists reportedly prompted the Russians to consider meeting with their Catholic counterparts.

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