Moscow (AsiaNews) – The 80 year long schism within the Russian Orthodox Church was healed today with the celebration of the first communal liturgy in Moscow. President Putin, who addressed the congregation during the celebration, had long sought an end to the division, receiving words of praise from the ex separatists.
In Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral Patriarch Alexi II with Metropolitan Laurus, who leads the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in New York, celebrated the historic event in which the clergy from the two Churches partook of communion from the same chalice. Before the solemn ceremony the two religious leaders signed the Canonical Communion Act, putting an end to nine decades of bitter division within the Russian Orthodox Church which began as Communist rule took hold after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The schism became official in 1927, when Patriarch Sergiy declared loyalty to the communist regime.
This morning the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, symbol of the current religious renewal, was packed with faithful from all over the world. At least 500 journalists were there to cover the historic event, which Russian press attributes to the intervention of President Vladimir Putin, in the front row at today’s celebration. In 2003 he delivered an invitation to metropolitan Laurus to visit Moscow on behalf of Alexi II. "Unity of the Orthodox Church - said Putin from the pulpit – is the necessary precondition for unity across the entire Russian world”.
With the signing of the canonical communion act, Patriarch Alexi II has become the leader of the reunified Church, the Church in exile however will maintain a certain autonomy: it will continue to appoint its own priests, it will maintain control of its properties and daily affairs and it will have the right to send representatives to the annual bishops conference in Moscow. The Patriarch of the Russian Capital will however have the right to approve nominations of new leaders to the outside Church. Moreover priests from the two Churches will be able to concelebrate the Eucharist.
According to official estimates, the outside Church counts over 480 thousand faithful in the US alone. According to the Moscow patriarchate two thirds of the 142 million Russian citizens are Orthodox, to whom a further million faithful in the ex soviet republics must be added.