The Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign relations director has urged Catholic and Orthodox leaders to “speak with a single voice”, a week after bishops from both Churches pledged to “stand together” against the forces eroding religious belief in Europe, writes Jonathan Luxmoore.
“Our mutual relations are very good and constructive – dialogue continues uninterrupted, with debate at different levels,” said Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.
“However, we act separately on many occasions. The Pope makes a statement and the Patriarch says the same but they each do it alone. I firmly believe their message would be more powerful if they both spoke with a single voice,” he said.
Metropolitan Hilarion was speaking a month after the latest of his six meetings with the Pope, during which he said the two had discussed “common themes of mutual interest”. Interviewed by France’s Catholic weekly Famille Chrétienne, he said Pope Francis’ historic talks in February 2016 with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba suggested that both Churches could “intensify co-operation ... even without reaching full unity”.
“It was important then that they spoke together with a single voice and undertook joint initiatives,” he said. “Our Christian identity gives us a strength stemming from God and Christ, when the secularised societies typical of Europe can be described as spiritually weak. Such societies are not worth laying down one’s life for, yet, if we are not willing to sacrifice our lives, the battle is lost.” He made his comments as Catholic and Orthodox leaders committed themselves to resist forces undermining religious belief in Europe at an inter-Church forum co-chaired in Paris by Cardinal Peter Erdo, ex-president of the Council of Catholic Episcopates of Europe, and Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima for the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Moscow Patriarchate said Metropolitan Hilarion had also discussed closer ties with the Church of England in talks last week with Revd Patrick Irwin, the new head of Moscow’s St Andrew’s church, in the light of Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Britain in October.
Meanwhile, Russia’s pro-Orthodox Interfax news agency praised the Vatican’s outgoing nuncio to Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, for having helped to rebuild inter-Church ties during his previous assignment in Moscow.
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