Fr Deacon Lance writes:
[I am sorry I do not remember the title. The subject of the document was relations bewteen the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Specifically I think the Synod was complaining about the erection of Latin Catholic dioceses in Russia and was referencing the previously friendly relations prior to the reestablishment of the UGCC. In fact ,Patriarch Alexy, when he was a bishop, was in favor of communing Latin Catholics who did not recourse to a catholic priest. Prior to the fall of communism there were only two functioning Latin parishes in Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg.]
Fr Deacon, you are going to have to be a little more explicit than that. What you have to take into consideration is.... under what circumstances it is being used and exactly what he is addressing?
Example is this recent statement by the Russian Orthodox Church where they use the term 'sister churches' claim being used by Rome at the same time it is proseltyzing in the territory of this so called 'sister church'. It is used in a derogatory and mocking way showing the difference in what the RCC says publically and what it does privately. "By their deeds they shall be known!"
From a recent article in 'Moscow News' addressing Orthodox Catholic/Roman Catholic relations where the term 'sister churches' is used -
There are two main problems marring the relationship between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. One of them is Catholic proselytism on the territory of Russia and the CIS, and the other is the conflict between Orthodox believers and Greek Catholics in Western Ukraine, Father Igor Vyzhanov told RIA Novosti.
The Moscow Patriarchate defines Catholic proselytism as activities by the Roman Catholic Church aimed at involving Russians, who historically and traditionally belong to the Orthodox Church, in Catholic Church practices and services. “This is exactly what the activities of many Catholic missionaries from abroad are aimed at,” Vyzhanov said.
These frictions between the two Churches ensured that Pope John Paul II’s long-cherished visit to Russia never happened, and the planned meeting of the Pope with Russian Patriarch Alexiy II in Graz, Austria in 1997 was cancelled.
According to Vyzhanov, there was a joint disclaimer project prepared for the meeting of 1997 that contained a refusal of 'uniatisim' as a means of reuniting the two Churches and a rejection of Catholic proselytizing in Russia and other countries of the CIS. However, at the very last moment authorities from the Roman Catholic Church decided to eliminate these two points from the document, which made the meeting senseless for the Orthodox side.
A spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate also recalled that last year, when the Vatican returned a copy of the Virgin of Kazan icon to Russia, Patriarch Alexiy stated firmly that “a meeting with the Pope must not be an event for the record, but a result of overcoming those conflicts that hurt all the believers”.
The conflict between the Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Western Ukraine is rooted deep in history, Igor Vyzhanov said. Its origins date as far back as the 16th century, when in 1596 in Brest some of the Orthodox bishops of Western Rus, then occupied by the Polish-Lithuanian state Rech Pospolitaya, set up a “Unia” - a union with the Roman Catholic Church.
As a result of the Unia, some Orthodox believers accepted the Pope as the Head of Church and adopted Catholic doctrine, maintaining the Orthodox ritual.
Those who set up the Unia with Rome received the name of Greek Catholics, or Uniates. With the total support of Polish authorities and the Catholic Church they started imposing the Unia on the territory of present-day Ukraine and Belarus.
“In the 18th century after Poland was divided, the previously Orthodox territories were once more part of the Russian Empire, and the believers could return to the Orthodox Church. The Unia only existed in the lands that were under Austria-Hungarian rule, and served as a constant weapon in the anti-Russian politics of the state,” Vyzhanov said.
“During World War II Ukrainian Greek Catholics cooperated with Nazi invaders. In 1946 the Soviet government prohibited Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church activities on the territory of the USSR,” he noted.
At the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was legalized again. By that time a large Orthodox community had formed in the region, following the Moscow Patriarchate.
Immediately after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was legalized, the Orthodox side offered to peacefully divide the church buildings and other possessions, according to the balance of Orthodox and Catholic believers in the region. In 1990 a board was formed with representatives of all the interested parties: Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Greek Catholics, the Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.
“However, under pressure from radical nationalists, a weighty party in Ukraine at that time, representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church left the board, depriving its work of all meaning,” the spokesman underlined.
Proclaiming “historical justice restoration”, with the full support of anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox local authorities, Greek Catholics captured churches by force. Finally in the Lvov, Ternopol and Ivano-Frank regions the Orthodox were deprived of almost all their churches and their civil rights.
The situation has not changed much since then. “Considering the fact that most Ukrainian believers are Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox Church cannot ignore the way its flock is being oppressed in these three regions. This is why we keep addressing the Vatican, in whose jurisdiction Greek Catholics rightfully belong,” Vyzhanov said.
He also pointed out that Ukrainian Greek Catholics keep trying to impose their influence on the Orthodox South and East of the country, where historically the Unia never set foot. “The plans of Ukrainian Greek Catholic officials are to move their headquarters from Lvov to Kiev and achieve the status of a patriarchate to be able to confront the Orthodox Church. But for the absence of formal approval from the Holy See, they would have acted long ago,” said the Patriarchy’s secretary.
Vyzhanov said there are several obstacles keeping the existing problems between the two Churches from being settled. “This is above all a certain inconsistency in the position of the Roman Catholic Church,” he said.
On the one hand, officials in the Vatican have never tired of demonstrating their peaceful intentions towards the Orthodox Church. When visiting Moscow in February 2004, Cardinal Walter Casper, head of the Pope’s council on Christian Union assistance, announced that Catholics see the Orthodox Church as a sister-Church and seek brotherhood with it. “Proselytism in Russia is not our policy, in fact it’s against the policy of the Vatican,” he assured.[/u]
Vyzhanov said that “there are lots of cases of good relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and certain episcopates, monasteries, universities and charity institutions belonging to the Roman Catholic Church”.
Despite this and the loudly proclaimed respect and love for Orthodoxy, there exist the “aggressive missionary activities” that Catholics carry out in Russia and other countries of the CIS, which the Orthodox Church can’t help seeing as unfriendly, he said.
Missionary activities on the territory of Russia are also carried out in spite of a document placing restrictions on them. It was published in 1992 by the Pope’s “Pro Russia” commission after a meeting between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate in Geneva. The document was entitled “General principles and practical regulations to coordinate the evangelizing activities and ecumenical obligation of the Catholic Church in Russia and other countries of the CIS”. The paper obliges Catholic clergy to refrain from overly persistent missionary activities in the stated countries and possibly cooperate with the Russian Orthodox Church.
“However, since the paper was published, there wasn’t a single case of Roman Catholics obeying its demands,” Vyzhanov said.
He also said the mood among Catholics is quite contrary to the “Pro Russia” paper’s mood, which became especially obvious in 2002 when four Catholic eparchies were established without even consulting the Orthodox Church. “Most Russian believers belong to the Orthodox Church. The new Catholic structures are clearly too big for the small number of Russian Catholics that is overestimated by their authorities,” Vyzhanov said.
He added that in 2002 there were two more eparchies established in the traditionally Orthodox lands of Ukraine’s South and East. In May 2003 the Vatican announced the establishment of two new Catholic eparchies in Kazakhstan.
“It’s obvious that in both cases the Catholic establishments are oversized to fit the expected success of missionary activities. The Russian Orthodox Church, whose influence by far exceeds that of the Catholics in these countries, can’t help being troubled by such treatment by a ’sister-Church’,” Vyzhanov underlined. “[/u]
There is other recent evidence that the Catholic side lacks a desire to listen to the Russian Orthodox Church,” the Moscow Patriarchate said. Among other things, there’s the effort to establish a Catholic Carmelite female monastery in Nizhniy Novgorod.
The Russian Orthodox Church considers such cases as expansion by Catholics on to traditionally Orthodox lands, Vyzhanov said.
In spite of this, the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate claimed to see the future of the Orthodox-Catholic relationship “as optimistic, though with caution” and takes the establishment of a good relationship as a “duty of the two Christian Churches” facing the threats and troubles of today.
Vyzhanov has special hopes for the council, formed in February 2004 for the sake of problem-solving by the Orthodox-Catholic Churches. “There have been two meetings so far, in May and September, to discuss some certain cases of Catholic proselytizing activities in Russia, such as those that took place in the Rodnichok orphanage near Moscow and other orphanages,” he said.
Meanwhile, on April 1, 2005 the first meeting of Joseph Wert, the new chairman of the Catholic Bishops of Russia Conference, the bishop of Western Siberia, and Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department took place. The sides have expressed a willingness to work together and to find ways of solving the existing problems between the two Churches.