This is without a doubt the most important result to come out of the celebrations in Kiev, which ended in a joint statement to the press by Bartholomew I and Aleksij II.
Bartholomew insisted that “dialogue is always the most important thing because we are always responsible for Orthodoxy’s unity.”
For his part, Aleksij thanked the ecumenical patriarch several times, saying that he agreed that all problems must be solved through dialogue “without becoming tools of politicians.”
The festivities had begun amid controversy though. Moscow had criticised Bartholomew I’s decision to head the delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Kiev festivities.
Ungracefully Aleksij II’s staff had put pressure on other Orthodox Churches to stay away from the celebrations in Ukraine.
The dispute between Moscow and Constantinople has been going on for some time: first in Rhodes (Greece) in 2007, when Moscow announced it would not take part in the pan-Orthodox Synod in 2008; then in Ravenna when Moscow’s representatives walked out of a conference because they objected to the presence of the Estonian Orthodox Church which Moscow does not recognise.
The confrontation began to ebb when Aleksij II decided to take part in the Kiev festivities.
Since his arrival last Friday Bartholomew made it clear that his trip was not meant to reassert his “supremacy” but only “contribute to the unity of the Ukrainian Church . . . and honour the martyrs of the Holotovol famine of 1932-1933, victims of the atheist fury.”
He even admitted that “the Church as a living organism has problems,” adding that ‘what is important is knowing how to engage in dialogue with a spirit of love.”
During his stay in Ukraine Bartholomew met Metropolitan Vladimir, legate of the Moscow Patriarchate; Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (independent of Moscow); as well as Card Lubomir Huzar, of the Byzantine (Uniate) Catholic Church.
During a dinner given by Metropolitan Vladimir for the Ecumenical delegation, Bartholomew expressed his regrets that “that at this table the brothers from other Churches from the Land of Ukraine are absent.” He did reaffirm “the strong willingness of the Mother Church of Constantinople to mend rifts among its children.
The archbishop of Albania, a figure well respected in the Orthodox world, noted that often people forget that the survival of Christianity in this vast geographical area after the rise of Islam and the collapse of the ancient Patriarchal centres in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch was due to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
And probably in what may very well be a first, Turkey’s press followed in great number and with great interest the patriarch’s trip, stressing the role Constantinople played in the Christianisation and the civilisation of the Ukraine.
Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk said that the meeting, especially after the statement by Bartholomew and Aleksij, “breathed new life into the relationship between the two Churches”
One of his close aide confirmed that a solution to the split between the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church (which is considered “schismatic” by Moscow) and the one loyal to Moscow might be in a “temporary self-determination which would allow each Church to choose to which Patriarchate it wishes to join.”
This indicates that even within the Russian Orthodox Church there are those who disagree with the authoritarian practices of some of its members.