Dating an orthodox seminarian
While Vatican diplomacy was seeking a new relationship with Warsaw Pact states, on the assumption that these countries would remain under Communist control well into the 21st century, three default positions were being set at the Vatican’s ecumenical shop, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: the key to the quest for Christian unity is the relationship between Catholicism and Orthodoxy; the key to the complex Orthodox world is Russian Orthodoxy; therefore, every effort must be bent to maintain cordial relations with the Moscow Patriarchate. They help explain why Vatican diplomacy has been, in the main, reticent to the point of quiescence about the return to brutal authoritarianism in Putin’s Russia; about Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea; and about Russia’s role in the chronic, low-grade warfare in the Donbas region of southern and eastern Ukraine.
These defaults also help explain why the Vatican has not reached out to the largest and liveliest of the four contending Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Kyivan Patriarchate, for the Vatican insists on maintaining its links to the Ukrainian jurisdiction linked to Russia, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate. First, the very existence, and indeed the enormous religious and institutional vitality, of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a living reminder of the wickedness of the Lviv Sobor of 1946 and Russian Orthodoxy’s complicity in this act of repression: and that reminder “complicates” Vatican relations with the Russian Orthodox leadership, which continues to insist, often quite aggressively, that what was done in 1946 was the return of a wayward church to the Orthodox fold.
And while Pope Francis has assured the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of his support for their independence and his admiration for their vital role in building civil society in Ukraine, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State too often seem to regard the UGCC as a complicating factor in Catholic–Russian Orthodox relations. And second, because the UGCC, which has worked cooperatively with several of the Orthodox jurisdictions in Ukraine since the Maidan revolution of dignity in 2013–14, challenges the Moscow Patriarchate’s claim to be the sole, legitimate expression of Christianity in the , the “Russian world,” which, by the reckoning of both Patriarch Kirill and President Putin, includes Ukraine.
As it happens, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the UGCC, and Bishop Borys Gudziak, who chairs the UGCC’s external-affairs department, welcome the Francis–Kirill meeting.
The pope will also know that, should the communiqué he and Kirill will issue in Havana include anything that can be portrayed as acknowledging the Russian claim that the Lviv Sobor of 1946 was legitimate (which means that today’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is illegitimate), the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches will be deeply offended and its capacity to maintain its independence in today’s Ukraine will be undercut, at a moment in Ukraine’s turbulent contemporary history when President Petro Poroshenko may be tempted, once again, to press for a single Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdiction as a kind of “national” church.
The pope will be aware of the fragility of Russian Orthodoxy in Russia, where church attendance on Sunday in the cities is minuscule, despite Putin’s considerable investment in re-creating Russian Orthodox structures damaged or destroyed under Communism.
The UGCC’s bishops and those of its clergy who refused to accept their “reunion” with Moscow were murdered or shipped off to the Gulag, where the majority died; the UGCC’s institutions (which had been safe-deposit boxes of Ukrainian national identity and aspiration) were destroyed or turned over to the Russian Orthodox; and for the next four and a half decades, the UGCC was the largest underground religious body in the world, conducting religious services in forests and educating its priests clandestinely.
Pope John XXIII, seeking to open a conversation that would permit Russian Orthodox observers to attend the Second Vatican Council, received Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s son-in-law in private audience, exchanged greetings with Khrushchev himself on the pope’s eightieth birthday in 1961, and ended the anti-Communist rhetoric that had characterized Vatican commentary on world affairs during the pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII.
Meetings between Rome and Moscow ought to be “routine,” Bishop Gudziak told me.
Both he and Major Archbishop Shevchuk would be “delighted,” he said, if this first meeting would lead to a regular exchange between the pope and the patriarch of Moscow, of the sort that takes place with other Orthodox leaders.
, Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow, in Cuba on February 12 is, paradoxically, both a Big Deal and something that ought to have become routine by now.