Francis and Kirill, a Holy Alliance for the future of Christians and the world
The meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill has been eagerly desired for quite some time. Expected under John Paul II; hoped for with Benedict XVI, it has taken time to realize. Catholics and Orthodox face the same challenges of persecution and relativism. Orthodox nationalism, backed by Putin, causes some reticence. The Middle East crisis and risk of Russia’s isolation fosters collaboration.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The long wait is finally over: on February 12th the Third Rome reconciled with the First Rome, to save the Second, the persecuted Churches of the East. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow wanted to take advantage of Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico, to mark in Cuba a historic step that he has no intention of leaving to his eventual successor. Become patriarch of the
Kirill (Gundjaev), who became Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church seven years ago, began preparing for this event in the 1970’s. As a young monk, and then young bishop of the last phase of the Soviet era, he was catapulted into the world of political and ecclesiastical diplomacy by his mentor, the Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad who had astonished the world by being present, as the only Orthodox bishop, at the opening of Vatican Council II. He then joined the other representatives of the various patriarchates of the East, to take part in the terrific ecumenical season that saw the Russians lead the Christian world to a new level of mutual understanding, in the audacious Ostpolitik that brought together the enemies of the Cold War.
That phase ended, in a sense, with Nikodim’s death on September 3, 1978 in the arms of Pope John Paul I, elected for only three days and who, in turn, passed away a few days later. The thirty year old Kirill became bishop that year and led the Metropolitan on that last trip, well understanding the mission which was entrusted by the mysterious divine plan: to go back to that meeting as the star of a new era for Christianity.
This destiny has been fulfilled today, with the Universal Church of the East and West facing a real litmus test: the great offensive of Islamic radicalism and other forces of evil, to the extreme secularization and the loss of ' historic identity of Christianity. This demands a new beginning of the Gospel proclamation or it will result in the definitive marginalization of Christians to twenty-first century catacombs.
The Patriarch of Moscow feels the full weight of this apocalyptic challenge upon himself and perceives in the unusual personality of Pope Francis a similar tension, a desire for re-establishment of the lost faith that propels the souls of those whom the Holy Spirit put in charge of the largest churches in the Christian world today.
The meeting between the two leaders of the First and Third Rome was a step away from being made almost 20 years ago, at the Assembly of European Churches in Graz in 1997, when the Patriarch Alexy II had agreed to meet with Pope John Paul II in the Austrian land. The historical context was very different: the Russian Church in the nineties was still suffering from the embarrassment of having to free itself from the past of collaborating with the late Soviet regime, and feared the widespread proselytizing by Western Churches and sects on its territory.
The refusal of the Polish Pope was the beginning of a new awareness of Russian Orthodoxy, that he would not be servant of the Pope who defeated communism, laying the foundations for Putin's Orthodox nationalist pride which has risen from the ashes of Yeltsin revolution. Since then, the Moscow Patriarchate has unfailingly repeated its grievances towards Catholics, guilty of proselytism and anti-uniatism, and Kirill himself became an advocate of opposition to close relations with the West, standing up as the prophet of the new Russia, the only salvation a wayward world devoid of its Christian soul.
Yet when at last the parable of the young bishop and metropolitan of the Soviet school, in January 2009, ended with the conquest of the coveted patriarchal throne, it became clear that, if such a meeting between the two would take place, it could only be under Patriarch Kirill. Moreover, as Metropolitan and Foreign Minister of the Russian Church, Kirill had come to Rome in 2006 to embrace the Pope Benedict XVI, as a theologian and teacher of wisdom who had also provided the Orthodox with great arguments of opposition to contemporary relativism.
It was impossible to imagine a rapprochement under Ratzinger, chiefly because Kirill did not want to appear to the disciple of a Pontiff who was so obviously his theological and political superior, while in Bergoglio providence could not have made a better choice: a non-European Pope without doctrinal pretensions, of great and open pastoral humility, just like John XXIII, the friend of Nikodim, head of an uncertain and divided Catholicism.
The Patriarch of Moscow, as a friend of Cuba with the scent of Soviet Communism emanating from presidential cigars, will be well situated to appear the master of the situation, calling the Argentine Pope, in turn son of the popular religion of the land, and ally of a new universal Christian rebirth.
In statements to the press issued by Metropolitan Hilarion, Kirill's heir in patriarchal diplomacy, these eschatological intentions have been unequivocally spoken: the Moscow Patriarchate wants 2016 to become the year that marks a watershed in the persecution of Christians around the world, and this is why the Russian Church - in the words of Metropolitan - has decided to put in brackets aside the motives for the rift with Catholics, who also remain intact as the division of the Uniates in Ukraine, to unite in defense of the faith in all countries. Do not forget that in June this year all the Orthodox Churches will meet in Crete, in a Council of epochal importance, in which the Russian Church will be great protagonist. The Third Rome will make sure of its favors with the first, before it settles accounts with the Second.
There are also good reasons of political expediency in the face of ongoing Ukrainian conflict, in which the Moscow Patriarchate has everything to lose, and does not want to leave at the mercy of nationalist extremism. Added to this is the deep economic crisis in Russia itself, prostrate by plummeting oil prices and by Western sanctions.
There is no doubt that Putin himself, in turn, having recently visited Pope Francis, is in great need of western banks to avoid being strangled by the embrace of China and economic irrelevance. Especially as the weakness in the markets is matched by the hegemonic pretension of Russia in the Middle East, which does not want to give into America or Europe, or much less hated Turkey, at any price: it is in those very lands that the Russians future is being played out. The protection of Christians in Syria and Iraq from Isis is a smoke screen and the perfect setting for the new Holy Alliance with Catholics, in turn, eager to find in the outskirts of the world the opportunity to announce the era of a new Christianity, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.