Interview with hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), secretary for relations between Christians from the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations. The recent agreement on the primacy and synodality signed in Chieti. The difficulties of the pan-Orthodox Synod. The memory and the value of embrace between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - An all-round cooperation between Orthodox and Catholics to be "peacekeepers" and "moral reference points" in a world marked by armed conflicts, terrorism, persecution, consumerism, materialism. This is what it hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), secretary for relations between Christians from the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations hopes. In an interview with AsiaNews, he explains the value of the agreement signed in Chieti on primacy and collegiality. He also speaks of the difficulties among Orthodox churches. Pope Francis’ meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba catalyzed the growth of fraternal relations between Moscow and Rome. Here is the full interview.
What is the significance, for the Russian Orthodox Church, of the adoption of the document on the primacy and synodality, in the last plenary session of the Joint Commission in Chieti?
The adoption of the document is the result of many years of discussions of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, on the issues that concern the principles of collegiality and primacy at the time of the first Christian millennium of our era . It shows that, at that time, the attitude towards this issue, in the West and in the East, was different, but this difference did not abolish the fundamental unity of Christians. In this way, the experience of the first millennium is our common heritage and the signed document lays a solid foundation for the further development of Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. The Russian Orthodox Church is one of the most active participants in this dialogue and has always been the force that has promoted this process, despite the challenges presented in it, and that at times seemed insurmountable.
Why has been possible to reach agreement on the document now?
The adoption of the document, in previous years, had been hampered because in the past it did not reflect the general location of the Churches, but only one of the positions held within the theological debate. The current text is based on tradition, for us ordinary, of the undivided Church and on sources that are recognized by both parties. In this way, the document cannot be the subject of a further division and endless theological disputes, but the basis from which to pursue our dialogue.
As this can help to develop relations with the Catholic Church?
Relations between Orthodox and Catholics are moving forward thanks to the fact that we were able to strengthen our theological dialogue. But relations also affect many other aspects of life. For example, cooperation between the Russian Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic is developing in directions such as cooperation in the academic, cultural and humanitarian spheres, in the question of the defense of traditional values in society and support for our brothers and sisters who live situations danger in different regions of the world. These last two issues were at the center of the historic meeting of Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis, in Havana in February this year. The leaders of the two largest Christian communities signed a document, which provides an answer to the question about the causes of the global crisis in the world and launches an appeal to join the fight against this, which threatens the very existence of human civilization. In my opinion, this document is a reference framework for broader cooperation between religious leaders from around the world. The Cuba meeting of was a sign of hope for the leaders of the Churches in the Middle East and has already given impetus to the activation of enhanced cooperation between them.
After the pan-Orthodox Synod of Crete how are relations between the Orthodox Churches?
The Orthodox world is currently experiencing a very interesting period in its history. The mechanism to enact the principle of conciliarity is entering a new phase, compared to the past centuries when the last Pan-Orthodox Synods were summoned. It is a multifaceted process and certainly it will encounter difficulties in its path. Unfortunately, in Crete we did not have a pan-Orthodox Synod. However, the pre-conciliar process has not stopped and will continue so that the Orthodox Churches can solve the existing disputes between them and give a united response to the challenges currently facing humanity.
What are the challenges that Christians today must face in their mission in the modern world? Can you perhaps indicate an area where further cooperation with the Catholics in can be developed?
Today the world is going through a deep crisis, which affects many aspects of our lives. The armed conflict, which threatens to escalate into a global confrontation between the great powers have multiplied. The phenomenon of terrorism has spread. Social divisions are exacerbated. The problem of hunger and disease remains as does the threat of environmental catastrophe. One of the main reasons for these problems is the cult of consumerism in society the, the opposition between spiritual and material well-being . In these circumstances, Christians are called to be witness to the true values to the world, to fulfill the role of peacekeepers and to be the 'salt of the earth'. The Churches must respond to this high calling. Unfortunately, we often see that the same Christians lose their spiritual compass, are influenced by the pernicious spirit of the times, which is the case with the doctrines of some Protestant churches, which have eroded the concept of Christian morality.
The Orthodox and Catholic Church remain a bastion of traditional morality and feel their responsibility for the future of civilization. They have maintained their potential for peacekeepers and represent a point of reference for those who do not want to stifle the voice of their conscience in their hearts and who want to change our world for the better. In this sense, cooperation between Orthodox and Catholics on the most pressing contemporary issues is more important than ever.