In the meeting with a Russian delegation led by Hilarion, the pontiff came out against the creation of an Orthodox Patriarchate of Kyiv, autonomous from Moscow, a goal supported instead by Bartholomew I. The pontiff expressed veiled criticisms of the Greek Catholics, who should not meddle in the internal affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. A new meeting between Francesco and Kirill seems possible.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The audience on Wednesday in Rome, in which Pope Francis met with the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate, has generated positive impressions in Russia. In the conflict with the faction in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv) that seeks autonomy from the Patriarchate, the pontiff has openly supported the pro-Moscow faction.
Receiving the group of Russians led by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), at the end of a brotherly visit to the Italian Church, the Pope said: "In your presence, especially in front of you, dear brother, I would like once more to emphasise that the Catholic Church will never allow acts on its part to provoke divisions. We will not allow this; I do not want this. In Russia there is only one Patriarchate, yours, and we will not recognise any other.”
Francis’ remarks resonate solemn and meaningful, also because the question of "Ukrainian autocephaly" is causing a very serious crisis within the Orthodox world. The Ukrainian bishops most favorable to separation, such as the autonomous Patriarch Filaret (Denysenko), but also many prelates of the jurisdiction linked to Moscow, are waiting for the Tomos of autocephaly that the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Arhondonis) of Constantinople should pronounce this month in conjunction with the celebrations for the 1030th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus' (988).
The position taken by Pope Francis seems to go against this possibility, counterbalancing the intentions attributed to Bartholomew, the universal "primate" of the Orthodox. What is more, in the audience with the Russians, the pope also reiterated in no uncertain terms that Uniatism cannot be considered an acceptable method to achieve ecclesiastical unity in view of today’s relations between Orthodox and Catholics. Instead, the pontiff noted that only brotherly dialogue is the path to greater unity.
The pontiff's words also include a warning for Ukrainian Greek Catholics. "Catholic Churches should not meddle in the internal affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, especially for political reasons. This is my position, and the current position of the Holy See. Those who act differently do not submit to the Holy See," the pontiff said in what sounds almost like an excommunication for those who disobey.
Just before he left for Rome, Metropolitan Hilarion, the right-hand man of Patriarch Kirill (Gundyayev) of Moscow, spoke out against Ukrainian “Uniates”, who, in his view, are responsible for Kyiv’s attempt to achieve autocephaly, a goal supported by Ukrainian politicians and by President Poroshenko. According to Hilarion, " the rhetoric associated with the project for the so-called one local Church in Ukraine is often associated with a group, that of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainians, led by Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. The latter continues to make statements in support of the project a single local Church, saying that the unity of this Church should be based on the successor of the Apostle Peter, that is the pope of Rome," the Metropolitan told the NTV TV channel. Pope Francis’ words thus seem to be a direct response in support of Hilarion’s statement.
The Metropolitan also denied that the Patriarch of Moscow could join Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in the celebrations for Saint Nicholas in Bari, set for early July. In light of the "Ukrainian question", it is understandable that the Russian patriarch wants to avoid contact with his "big brother" Bartholomew, which the Russian press continues to describe, especially now, as the head of a marginal Greek Orthodox community in Turkey rather than the head of all Orthodox.
The controversy against the "Turkish Patriarch", as Bartholomew is often referred to in Russian media, is nothing new in the relations between Russian and Greek Orthodox. Two years ago, this was underscored by the Russian refusal to participate in the first historic pan-Orthodox council in Crete, thus causing it to fail.
At the same time, Metropolitan Hilarion has let it be known that a new meeting between Francis and Kirill is on the contrary desirable and the Russians’ recent visit in Rome are making it ever closer and more probable. For now, there are no indications as to when or under what circumstances the meeting might take place. What is clear however is that it will happen on neutral ground, thus neither in Moscow nor in Rome.