Moscow (AsiaNews) – The “Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church can and must take the initiative to make the world safer and lower the level of East-West confrontation. We can all feel part of a common cultural area, which we call Europe,” said the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundyayev) during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, a few days before Easter.
The patriarch used the occasion to send a message in favour of communion among Christians and reconciliation between parties in conflict around the world. He cited his "historic meeting" in Havana with the Pope of Rome Francis, with whom he discussed action in favour of peace.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church noted that religion has been one of the factor of European division, but today it "should contribute to the reconciliation of the inhabitants of the European continent, and to the spiritual union of peoples".
He cited "the close relationship between Russia and Italy over the centuries," like in the days of Tsar Ivan III’s "Holy Russia", when Italian architects were invited to build the Kremlin and the Cathedral of the "Third Rome".
Kirill also noted that today many people from Russia live in Italy, praying in more than 60 parishes affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate in major Italian cities.
The eschatology of peace and mission
During Holy Week, the Moscow Patriarchate held a major conference of "experts" on the subject of "Eschatology, metaphysics and futurology of recent events in Syria". This coincided with the great tensions between Russia and the United States over military action in the Syrian conflict.
Representatives of major Russian nationalist and Orthodox associations and movements pointed out that the "real enemies of Orthodoxy” came to the fore during the Syrian war.
At the same time, the Patriarchate’s "experts" insisted on the need not to express a “deserter’ eschatology, counting oneself out of conflicts, but appealed instead to a "missionary mobilisation" of religions.
According to the representatives of these groups, the Russian Orthodox Church must promote more meetings between religious leaders, involving in particular Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Shia spiritual leader could meet Patriarch Kirill to launch a spiritual war against the "great Satan" and the Antichrist at work in the Middle East.
According to the Patriarchate’s experts, it is essential to work for the "baptism of China and North Korea," citing the recent opening of a Russian church in Beijing, personally blessed by Patriarch Kirill himself.
Liquidating the sects
At home, Russia is facing more and more the issue of freedom of expression of "new religious movements", considered a crucial issue for society’s cohesion around certain foundational values.
In April, the trial of Jehovah's Witnesses began in the Supreme Court of Russia with the goal of liquidating their assets in Russia. Russia’s Justice Ministry has charged the latter with engaging in extremist activities, and must be shut down. In total, some 400 communities with about 170,000 members are involved.
Other groups have a stake in the fate of the Jehovah's Witnesses since they too could be charged with the same offence, namely the Seventh Day Adventists, the Scientology movement, Baptists, Protestants, Hare Krishna, Russia’s Molokany sect and others, whose representatives still claim not to feel under threat from the justice system.
Yet, Patriarch Kirill has been at war with “destructive sects" since the 1990s when he was metropolitan for external relations of the Orthodox Church. In his view, religion can promote peace only by freeing itself from sectarian extremism.