September 19, 2014

Letter #100: Moscow Visits Rome

Monday, November 25, 2013 — Moscow Visits Rome 

Two Romes have fallen, the third stands firm  —  a fourth there will not be.”—Attributed to the Russian Orthodox monk, Filofei, in about 1515 A.D. Filofei, Abbott of a monastery near Pskov, Russia, developed an explanation of this “message,” and submitted it to the Grand Prince of Moscow, Vasilii III (for the complete text of this explanation, see below). Filofei argued that Rome, the original seat of Christianity, had fallen because of corruption and heresy. Constantinople had been given over to the infidel Turks in 1453 because its people had failed to practice true Christianity. Moscow, having succeeded Kiev as the center of Russian Orthodoxy, was therefore the logical successor to the first two “Romes” as the center of true Christianity. Filofei further argued that no fourth “Rome” would ever arise, thus Moscow must carry on the true Christian faith, and the Grand Prince of Muscovy must take on the role of Defender of the Faith.
An Historic Meeting

 

 

Pope Francis this afternoon in Rome received Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is increasingly positioning himself as a defender of the embattled Christians of the Middle East, for about 35 minutes of private talks in the Apostolic Palace.

 

Two main points were at the center of the talks, according to a Vatican press communique released after the meeting: the situation of the Catholic Church in Russia, and the grave situation of civil war in Syria.

 

 

Here is the official Vatican communique on the meeting.
Communique of the Holy See Press Office: Audience of the Holy Father Granted to the President of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin
In the afternoon of Monday 25 November 2013, the President of the Russian Federation, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Putin, was received in audience by the Holy Father Francis. Mr. Putin subsequently went on to meet with the Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations, and the Parties focused on various questions of common interest, especially in relation to the life of the Catholic community in Russia, revealing the fundamental contribution of Christianity in society. In this context, mention was made of the critical situation faced by Christians in some regions of the world, as well as the defence of and promotion of values regarding the dignity of the person, and the protection of human life and the family.

Furthermore, special attention was paid to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and the grave situation in Syria, with reference to which President Putin expressed thanks for the letter addressed to him by the Holy Father on the occasion of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg. Emphasis was placed on the urgency of the need to bring an end to the violence and to ensure necessary humanitarian assistance for the population, as well as to promote concrete initiatives for a peaceful solution to the conflict, favouring negotiation and involving the various ethnic and religious groups, recognising their essential role in society.

 

From this communique, we know that the two men gave “special attention” to the “grave situation in Syria.” Pope Francis on September 7 called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace to avoid the possible outbreak of a wider war in Syria, and a wider war has not broken out, but the situation remains violent and unsettled.

 

Therefore, the two men placed “emphasis” on “the urgency of the need to bring an end to the violence” and “to ensure necessary humanitarian assistance for the population.”

 

 

The preferred means to bring about the end to violence: “negotiation” which involves “the various ethnic and religious groups” now pitted against one another in civil strife.

 

But this was not all that happened at the meeting.

 

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Exchange of Gifts: An Icon of Mary at the Center of the Meeting

 

What else happened at this meeting, the first between Francis and the Russian leader?

 

The two men exchanged gifts, as is customary. And that exchange placed an icon of the Virgin Mary at the center of this first meeting between the Russian president and the Pope of Rome.

 

During the exchange of gifts, Putin showed off his religious side, blessing himself and reverently kissing an icon of the Virgin Mary that he gave to Pope Francis.

 

Francis gave Putin a ceramic mosaic of the Vatican gardens.

 

Putin presented Francis with an image of the icon of the Madonna of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of all religious icons for the Russian Orthodox faithful.
After they exchanged the gifts, Putin asked Francis if he liked the icon he had received, and Francis said he did.

 

Putin then crossed himself and kissed the image. Francis followed suit.
The Argentine Pope has a profound devotion to the Virgin Mary. He visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the morning after his election, and there he prayed before an icon of the Madonna and child known as the “salus Populi Romani.” So his devotion to Marian icons is well attested.

 

Does this mean that relations between Rome and Moscow — and between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, divided since 1054 — are now on a new level of warmth?

 

It is too early to say. But certainly one more important step has been taken…

 

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The Issue of Ukraine

 

The deeper background for this meeting involves a number of evolving “policy positions” where cultural, religious, political and economic interests intersect.

 

“Putin does not quite style himself as a Christian emperor, but in at least two ways he has been seeking recently to present himself as a sort of moral guardian and policeman with international standing: as an upholder of socially conservative values, especially over homosexuality, and as an advocate of peace, and in particular the welfare of vulnerable Christian minorities, in the Middle East,” the Economist of London wrote today in its coverage of the historic meeting. “Russia’s claim to be using its influence constructively in the Middle East was enhanced, in many people’s eyes, by the deal it brokered to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and hence avert American air-strikes on that country. Whatever the consequences for the region as a whole, Russia’s intervention certainly boosted its claim to be protecting the region’s ancient Christian minorities.”

 

So, in this sense, Rome may be seeing in Putin a possible interlocutor, if not a full-fledged ally, in the current “culture war” over “gender” and family issues, and in the effort to defend the ever-diminishing presence of Christians in the Middle East.

 

A key “flashpoint” in this delicate diplomatic rapprochement is Ukraine.

 

Pope Francis has a great appreciation for Ukraine’s “Uniate” or “Greek-Catholic” Church. These Catholics uses eastern liturgical rites, similar to those used by the Orthodox, but they accept the authority of the papacy. A relatively little know fact: the current head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, 43, served in the pontiff’s native Argentina, in Buenos Aires. (On January 14, 2009, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Eparchy of Santa María del Patrocinio en Buenos Aires and consecrated bishop on April 7, 2009, by Archbishop Ihor Vozniak. On April 10, 2010, he was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the same diocese. In addition to Ukrainian and Spanish, he knows Polish, Russian, English, Italian, Greek, Latin and Old Slavonic.)
Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church sees Ukraine as part of its “canonical territory” and brands the “Uniates” as “defectors” from Orthodoxy.

 

So when might Pope Francis visit Russia, to return the visit of President Putin to Rome? Only when ecclesiastical peace comes to Ukraine

 

Just a few days ago, prior to Putin’s visit, Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill hosted an influential Catholic archbishop in Moscow: Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan.

 

“We live in an epoch when many of our historic differences should stop playing the critical role they have played in relations between our Churches,” Kirill said during their meeting, RIA Novosti reported.

 

Putin says he is a man of faith, and he has made an overt effort to show his close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.

 

Putin regularly makes public appearances at Russian Orthodox services on major holidays, and he has said he has read the Bible and even keeps a copy on his plane. Putin formed a friendship with late Patriarch Alexy II and is close to the current head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who is a strong political ally.

 

Last week, Putin paid a visit to Kirill on his 67th birthday at Christ the Savior Cathedral, presenting him with a lacquer box adorned with a picture of the Assumption Cathedral of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, along with a bouquet of white roses.

 

Pope Francis, as head of a state (Vatican City State) as well as a faith, is also concerned ex ufficio with world politics.

 

Prior to the Group of 20 summit in early September, Francis implored Putin to seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis along with other world leaders.

 

“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution [in Syria],” Pope Francis wrote in his letter to Putin.

 

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There are only about 700,000 Catholics in Russia, accounting for about 0.5 percent of the population.

 

In the 1940s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the seizure of Eastern Catholic churches, mostly in the Ukraine, and granted the property to the Russian Orthodox Church. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the early 1990s, Catholics took back more than 500 churches, mostly in western Ukraine.

 

The Patriarch and the Pope have never met because of the dispute over these properties, which still simmers today.
On November 12, Pope Francis received in the Vatican the “foreign minister” of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

 

After the meeting, Hilarion spoke of the possibility of a meeting between Pope and Patriarch. “We are not yet ready to say when and where such a meeting may occur, but we are ready to prepare and work for such a meeting,” he said.

The Vatican and Russia established full diplomatic relations in 2009.

It has just been announced the the US intends to downgrade slightly its own embassy to the Vatican, closing its separate Embassy to the Holy See on the Aventine Hill and moving that embassy into an annex of the American Embassy to Italy on the via Veneto…

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Interestingly, it was just this morning that Pope Francis met in St. Peter’s Basilica with some 3,000 pilgrims from… the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine and Belarus.

The pilgrims celebrated a liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of St. Josaphat, patron saint of the reunion of Catholics and Orthodox. (His feast day is November 12, but today was the 50th anniversary of the transfer of his relics to St. Peter’s, to the altar of St. Basil the Great, near the tomb of St. Peter.)

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, celebrated along with the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis came into the Basilica, and delivered a discourse.
“Blessed Father. Beloved by all Ukrainians, Pope Francis!” said Shevchuk, when Francis joined the service.

The enthusiasm from Shevchuk was evident as he greeted Pope Francis in the Pope’s native language, Spanish.

The Pope spoke about how St. Josaphat is an example of the communion of saints.

“The memory of this martyred saint speaks to us about the communion of saints, of the communion of life between all of the people who belong to Christ,” the Pope said.

The Pope added that the best way to honor St. Josaphat is to love and serve towards the unity of the Church. He called on Ukrainians to build stronger relationships with other Churches.

“I hope that the deep communion that you wish to strengthen each day within the Catholic Church, will help you build bridges of fraternity also with other Churches and ecclesiastical communities in Ukrainian land, and wherever your communities are present.”

St. Josaphat was a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishop from the 17th Century, beatified by the Catholic Church in 1643, and canonized by Pius IX in 1867.
Here is a link to some images from today’s encounter between the Pope and the Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

 

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The Document
And here is the complete text of the document, from about 1515, which speaks of the role of Russia and of the Russian leader (at that time, the Tsar) as the defender of Christians:
To you who have been selected to rule, by the highest, the all-powerful and almighty hand of God, by Whose will all rulers on earth govern and Whom all great people praise and about Whom the powerful write the truth, [I address these words] to you, the illustrious sovereign, Grand Prince [of Muscovy], occupier of the high throne, the Orthodox Christian Tsar and lord of all, the administrator of all Holy Churches of God and of the Holy Universal and Apostolic Church and of the Church of the Holy Mother of God, that has made such honest and illustrious progress that it has been enabled to triumph over the Church of Rome as well as over the Church of Constantinople.

Heresy caused the downfall of old Rome. The Turks used their axes to shatter the doors of all churches of the Second Rome, the city of Constantinople. Now [in Moscow], the new Third Rome, the Holy Ecumenical Apostolic Church of your sovereign state shines brighter than the sun in the universal Orthodox Christian faith throughout the world. Pious Tsar! Let [people of] your state know that all states of the Orthodox faith have now merged into one, your state. You are the only true Christian ruler under the sky!

Tsar! As long as you hold that position, be mindful always of God. Fear God who has bestowed so much on you. Do not rely on gold, wealth, or glory! All of that is collected here and it will remain here on earth. Tsar! Remember the Blissful who held the scepter in His hand and the imperial crown on His head and said: “Do not turn your heart to wealth that is running away from you.” The wise Solomon said: “Wealth and gold are valued not when they are hidden, but when people offer help to those in need. . . .” Tsar! During your rule remember [an additional] two commandments. . . . [The first is]: Do not violate the order which was chosen by your great predecessor [Emperor] Constantine, the beatific Vladimir, the great and God-selected Iaroslav, and all other blissful and saintly [rulers] from whom you have descended. [And second]: Tsar! Do not harm the Holy churches of God and honest monasteries. [Do not expropriate] that which has been given to God in return for eternal blessing of the memory of a family. The Fifth Great and Holy Ecumenical Council issued a very strict injunction [against such action]. . . .

Now I beg you and beg you again, please remember what I have said. For God’s sake, please also remember that now all [Orthodox] Christian kingdoms have merged into your tsardom. Henceforth we can expect only one kingdom to come. That kingdom is eternal. I have written this because, admiring you as I do, I have appealed and have prayed to God that He may bless you. Change your stinginess to generosity and your inclemency to kindness. Comfort those who cry and moan day and night. Protect the innocent from their tormentors.

I repeat here what I have written above. Pious Tsar! Listen and remember that all Christian kingdoms have now merged into one, your [tsardom]. Two Romes have fallen. The third stand s[firm]. And there will not be a fourth. No one will replace your Christian tsardom. . . .

Source: Filofei, “Filofei’s Concept of the ‘Third Rome’,” in Basil Dmytryshyn, ed. and trans., Medieval Russia, A Source Book: 850-1700, Fourth Edition (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 2000), pp. 259-61.

 

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Editor’s Note: I wanted to thank the “Founding Members” of our “Urbi et Orbi Foundation,” aimed at working to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox. We seek further support. –Robert Moynihan

 

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Please Consider Reading This New Book on Pope Francis

 

Entitled Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope from the Americas, this new book on Pope Francis by Robert Moynihan, the author of these letters, was released on April 30 by Random House.

 

Pray for Me is geared toward those who would like to accompany Pope Francis on his journey of faith in the months and years ahead.

 

Here are links where you can order the book:

1. Amazon

2. Barnes and Noble

 

You may also call our toll-free number at 1-800-789-9494 in the US.

 

Please consider ordering this book if you enjoy this newsletter. It would be much appreciated.

 

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Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” –St. John of the Cross

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