09/03/2011, 00.00

Moscow Patriarchate’s “non-interference” to a possible Serbian Orthodox invitation for the pope

Nina Achmatova
Metropolitan Hilarion reiterates Moscow’s position but, for months, rumours say the Russian Orthodox Church is opposed to Benedict XVI’s presence in Niš in 2013 to mark the anniversary of Constantine’s edict because it could provide an opportunity for a meeting between the Russian patriarch and the pontiff.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Moscow Patriarchate is trying to stop the Serbian Orthodox Church from inviting Pope Benedict XVI to celebrations in 2013 marking the 1,700 years since Constantine’s edict, this according to international commentators, following an interview by the Serbian daily Politika with Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations.

During their council in May, Serbian Church leaders discussed the possibility of inviting the pontiff to the event. For Serbian Orthodox, the issue is a thorny one, complicated by the pope’s recent visit to Croatia where he prayed on the grave of Card Aloysius Stepinac (1898 -1960). For many Serbs, that act was an insult because they view the Blessed as an accomplice of the Ustaše regime of Ante Pavelić.

The official statement issued after the council indicated that the issue of Niš had been addressed but did not mention possible guests.

Rapidly, some media reported that a month earlier, in April, during his trip to Serbia, Hilarion had expressed the Patriarchate’s opposition to an invitation to Benedict XVI.

Celebrations are set to mark the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, issued by Constantine. The Roman Emperor, who was born in Niš, is remembered for ending religious persecutions and proclaiming the Roman Empire’s neutrality vis-à-vis all religions.

As such, the event could provide an opportunity for a meeting between the pope and Kirill, patriarch of Moscow, who will certainly be present. This is why the Russian Orthodox Church wants to stop the Serbs. The Moscow Patriarchate wants in fact to decide when and where the two religious leaders should meet face to face.

“It is an internal matter of the Serbian Patriarchate,” Metropolitan Hilarion said in the interview with Politika. “As far as I know, there is no single position on the papal invitation among Serbian Orthodox bishops, nor a single view about the meaning of the anniversary” as an historical event “for the representatives of the various Christian denominations or as an opportunity to express the brotherly unity of local Orthodox Churches.”

For now, the Patriarchate’s official position is simply one of “non-interference”, at least until the Serbs make their final decision. (N.A.)
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