06/19/2017, 09.45
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Vatican and Russian orthodox scholars debate history and Ostpolitik

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The conference begins tomorrow and continues until June 21. Joint work was blocked in 2002 over allegations of "proselytism" against the Russian Catholic Church. Change of climate after the meeting between Francis and Kirill in Havana in 2016. Russians prefer to talk about common mission to the world rather than unity of the united Church in the first 10 centuries.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - From tomorrow and for two days until June 21, a convention will be held in Moscow, apparently intended solely for the archivists and academics. At the Institute of Universal History of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 12 Russian historians and 11 historians sent by the Vatican from different universities will discuss the Vatican Ostpolitik, the Soviet Union and the Russian Orthodox Church. Among the Russians, some specialists also represent institutions of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The convention is in fact the continuation of joint work between the historians of the two parties (the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Vatican Academy of History) which began in the 1990s and led to the realization in 1998 of a Symposium on Holy See and Russia from Leo XIII to Pius XI, the proceedings of which were published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana in 2002. Since then, cultural exchanges at this level had practically collapsed due to the worsening of relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican. The accusations of unfair proselytism and competition for Ukrainians "united" to Russian orthodoxy on its "canonical territory" had led to the expulsion of a bishop and Catholic missionaries from Russia in 2002, as well as the winding down of various cultural cooperation projects, which even though they did not cease completely, were reduced to almost nothing.

Even the official theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox has undergone a slowdown and the various sessions of the Joint Commission in recent years have led to the vain search for an understanding at least on ecclesiological perspectives of the early centuries, as evidenced by the document discussed in 2015 on 'Exercise of communion and the value of primacy' in the ancient church. The Russians have always been opposed to this type of research, thinking it is a waste of time: in their opinion, the autocephalous Churches have their own established physiognomy, and the "ecumenical" perspectives of their reunification do not lead to any useful result. It has been deemed preferable to focus on the need to counteract the secularization of the globalized world and the threat of Islamic fundamentalism that provokes persecution of Christians in the Middle East and in various parts of the world, in a coordinated way.

The Cuba meeting between Francis and Kirill

The rigid position of the Patriarchate of Moscow seemed to have led to the impossibility of resuming dialogue on content, but the unexpected encounter between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba in 2016 seems to have given a new impetus to Catholic-Orthodox relations. It is true that the Pancthusian Council of Crete of a year ago, which should in turn revive these projects, was deserted by the Russians in solidarity with other Churches at odds with Constantinople. Yet in this year something has moved: several joint missions have been organized to visit and bring solidarity to the Christians of Iraq and Syria, where the ISIS war is seriously damaging local communities, largely orthodox . This solidarity has been repeated on several occasions by Pope Francis himself, in recent times also in favor of Egyptian Copts, victims of repeated and tragic attacks.

Moreover, the relationship between the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Holy See has clearly improved over the last decade, especially after the death of Pope John Paul II and the choice of Russian Catholics to adopt a policy of great loyalty to the " State" Church of orthodoxy. There is great tensions in Ukraine, with Moscow warning against exercising any control on the choices of Greek Catholics, who in turn complain about the "invasive" politics of the Russians even at the political-ecclesial level. So there are other ways to improve relationships by avoiding the most tense issues, and in this sense, scholars can certainly be useful.

The Moscow convention thus resumes the debate from where it had been interrupted, seeking a common re-reading of the "opening" phase following the Stalinist period, called Ostpolitik in reference to the political choices of the West Germany of Willy Brandt. The term is also applied by press to the Vatican's opening, which began with the Second Vatican Council and continued in a long, fruitful collaboration with personalities such as Cardinal Agostino Casaroli and Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov), ​​the spiritual master of the current patriarch Kirill, who died from a stroke during a private hearing in front of Pope John Paul I in 1978.

The hope is that a half-century of "thaw" can lead to a new season favorable even to our times, if not for the cyclical season. History in fact serves to better understand the past, but also to illuminate the future, provided that someone is willing to listen to it.

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