04/17/2007, 00.00
RUSSIA – VATICAN
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Aleksej II would meet the Pope but there are “no concrete steps” yet, says bishop Mark

The Russian Orthodox leader says Benedict XVI and the Patriarch of Moscow can speak “as one voice” about shared challenges but they still remain far apart. Uniate Church and the Petrine primacy are major obstacles. “The primacy of the bishop of Rome is not on the agenda of any Orthodox Church.”

Rome (AsiaNews) – At a meeting in the Vatican on the “Church’s mission and the ministry of Benedict XVI and Aleksej II”, the Bishop of Egorievsk, Mark, spoke of “sympathy” and availability to dialogue and “co-operation on shared social and spiritual challenges” but said that “no concrete step” could yet be made to bridge the gap between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

Although the atmosphere in the two years of Benedict XVI’S pontificate was one of esteem and openness, “it is not possible to talk about any concrete steps towards closer relations between the two sister Churches,” Bishop Mark said.

Not only is there the charge of proselytising, which Moscow levels at Catholics, but there is also the issue of the Uniate Church, i.e. Eastern Catholics in Ukraine, that demands a solution.

The deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations at the Moscow Patriarchate said that “Benedict XVI’s predecessor left him a message relative to the transfer of the Catholic cathedra to Kiev. That was not appreciated very much.”

Unlike the Ecumenical Patriarchate which is open to a compromise, Mark’s position on Petrine primacy remains unyielding.

“The primacy of the bishop of Rome is not on the agenda of any Orthodox Church,” he told AsiaNews, “and none of them can accept the primacy of the Pope.  I do not think that we should concern ourselves with internal problems at a time when people find themselves in a spiritual desert”.

Two days ago however, Patriarch Bartholomew I’s envoy, Metropolitan Joannis Zizioulas, had said that “the Orthodox are ready to accept the idea of a universal primate acting always in communion with the Synod.”

Still Bishop Mark tried to smooth some of the ruffled feathers. “Our Churches,” he said, “may have differences on matters of dogma, but they face the same task vis-à-vis a certain kind of modernity, one that violates our altars. If the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow can speak with one voice [on this issue] as they do now, their voice will be stronger and more easily heard.”

“If it is the expression of a sincere spiritual union, a meeting between Aleksej II and Benedict XVI will be possible. The Patriarch of Moscow himself talks about it with sympathy,” Bishop Mark said.

At yesterday’s conference Cardinal Poupard also referred to the much talked about meeting between the two Christian leaders.

“There is a common desire,” he said, “to see this meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch take place at a juncture when the journey already undertaken will allow for further steps.”

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