Moscow (AsiaNews) - "We cannot wait" was the title of a long article published on 4 December on the Russian Orthodox website bogoslov.ru, signed by Hieromonk Ioann (John Guaita). In it, after summarising the highlights of the pope's visit to the patriarch of Constantinople, the author expresses his thoughts about the urgency for the Orthodox Church to overcome the "deadlock" that has stalled the ecumenical dialogue.
Hieromonk Ioann, who has worked for years in the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, notes that the leader of the Catholic Church has been sending signals to Moscow to overcome the barriers that divide the two communities; so much so that even on the Uniate question (Ukraine's Greek Catholics who follow the Eastern rite but are loyal to the pope), " For the first time, a Roman Pontiff expressed a view about this controversy that coincides with the Orthodox position."
In view of this, the article asks whether the Russian Church will response to Francis' appeal: "We cannot wait: Unity is a journey, a journey that must be done, that we must do together".
AsiaNews is reprinting, in a translation from the Russian, some passages of the article. A longer version will be published in AsiaNews's paper edition in January 2015. The full article will be published shortly in Italy by the magazine Il Regno (The Kingdom).
In his address at the end of the liturgy in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St George in the Phanar, the See of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the pope . . . in a very simple and clear manner, linked the theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, which appears to have stalled lately, to the charismatic, personal and spiritual component of seeking unity between the Christian traditions of the East and West.
"I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions," said the pope with conviction. It is worth noting here that Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate . . . has presented himself "to the city and to the world," not as pontiff or pope, but as the "bishop of the Church of Rome, which he presides in charity".
For this writer, the first, improvised greeting of the new pontiff to the Romans from St Peter's loggia, not only clearly showed his human and spiritual gifts, but also embodied his ecclesiology . . . . The words of the first speech from the Loggia of the Blessings in the Vatican basilica represent something more than just an expression of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's Christian humility. They reflect his understanding of the primacy as a service in charity. In the history of the recent centuries of the Catholic Church rarely can one find other examples of Roman pontiffs who in so explicit a manner have exclusively called themselves "bishop of Rome".
During the return flight to Rome, when asked by a Russian journalist about the prospects of dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate, Pope Francis said, with his usual, surprising simplicity, "First I'll say something about Orthodoxy in general, and then I'll 'come to' Moscow. I believe we are moving forward . . . . What are we waiting for? For theologians to reach an agreement?"
During the in-flight news conference, the pope said, " I'll say something that a few, perhaps, are not able to understand: the Eastern Catholic Churches have a right to exist, but Uniatism is a dated word. We cannot speak in these terms today. We need to find another way."
Thus, talking to reporters, the pope, in a single sentence, removed one might say the stumbling block between Orthodox and Catholics that has existed for many centuries (the first Union, that of Lyon, dates back to 1274), which had lately become the major obstacle to dialogue. For the first time, a Roman Pontiff expressed a view about this controversy that coincides with the Orthodox position.
In the recent past, the Russian Orthodox Church has increasingly insisted that in the future the question of primacy, in the framework of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue, will have to be addressed in parallel with the evaluation of the phenomenon of Uniatism.
We can say that on 30 November 2014, the Catholic Church not only accepted the conditions laid down by the Russian Church, but with his unexpected statement, its supreme head expressed disapproval of the phenomenon of Uniatism.
After such an unprecedented statement, Pope Francis continued the conversation with reporters. Speaking candidly about a meeting with Patriarch Kirill, he said, "there is the problem of war in these times. The poor man has so many issues there that the meeting with the pope has been put on the back burner. Both of us want to meet and move forward."
Aware of internal opposition in both Churches from ultraconservatives, the pope said it was important for Orthodox and Catholics to agree on the Easter calendar and rejoice together. In each Church, according to Pope Francis, internal conflicts arise from a certain spiritual "introversion", from the fact that the Church is self-referential, turned in upon itself and its problems.
Therefore, "We cannot wait: Unity is a journey, a journey that must be done, that we must do together," said Francis, the Bishop of Rome. Will the Russian Orthodox Church respond to these words? Or will the sound of internal problems resonate far stronger than the Saviour's prayer for the unity of his disciples and followers in the centuries to come?