March 27, 2017, Monday — A Communist Ecumenist?

Zyuganov on the Split between Eastern and Western Christianity

I have been trying to drive home one fundamental point for more than 20 years now, both in the pages of Inside the Vatican magazine, and in the work of the Urbi et Orbi Foundation which seeks to “build bridges” between Greek and Latin Christianity: that we must overcome the ancient divisions in Christianity, and urgently.

That the Christian Church must truly be one, and soon…


This was the wish and vision of my mentor and dissertation advisor, Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale, and he encouraged me to make his wish and vision my own.

In support of this vision, I have repeatedly quoted St. John Paul II, who famously said that the Christian Church must breathe “with two lungs,” meaning both the “eastern lung,” Orthodoxy, and the “western lung,” Roman Catholicism. (Eastern and Western Christianity were divided by the “Great Schism” in 1054 A.D., and have been separated ever since.)

But I could have quoted Jesus himself. Jesus at the Last Supper, just before his arrest and execution, prayed that his disciples, his followers, might always “be one” (“ut unum sint,” in the Latin Vulgate, translated as “(I pray) that they may be one”). And why? In order that “the world might believe.” Jesus saw disunity as an impediment to evangelization, to faith…

This was not the prayer of a follower of Jesus, but of Jesus himself, his desire and hope on the eve of his death.

Throughout the world there is now a growing chorus arising from the “grass roots,” asking the leadership of our Catholic and Orthodox Churches to move more quickly forward to bring about an end to the “Great Schism,” and in so doing to reunite the two great traditions of Christian faith and life which have been separated for nearly 1,000 years.

Today another voice, one of the most unexpected imaginable, is, in a certain sense, being added to this chorus: it is the voice of Gennady Zyuganov.

jpegWho is he? He is the head of Russia’s Communist Party.

Yes, there is still a Communist Party in Russia, 26 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Party once ruled with an iron hand one of the largest empires the world has ever seen. Now it is much less powerful, controlling less than 15% of the vote in most Russian elections.

Zyuganov’s voice is, from a certain perspective, an odd one: a Communist ecumenist?

(Below, Zyuganov with Russian President Vladimir Putin)

jpeg-1Well, he isn’t really calling for Church reunion. It would be a stretch to interpret his words in that way.

But what he is proclaiming with great passion and eloquence is that the division of the Church into East and West, Orthodox and Catholic, has had terrible, devastating historical consequences.

In this sense, we must honor Zyuganov for his analysis, for the Russian Communist is right in his observations on this point: the split between Eastern and Western Christianity has had devastating, terrible consequences, and the healing of that split would lessen or end many of these tragic effects.

Here is a brief report on Zyuganov’s remarks (link):

27 March 2017, 10:00
Origins of West’s hatred of Russia lie in split of Christianity — Zyuganov

Moscow, March 27, Interfax – The Russian Communist Party’s leader Gennady Zyuganov has assessed the West’s attitude towards Russia as centuries-old hatred and said that its origins lie in the split of Christianity into the Western and the Eastern churches.

“We say that for the first time. Listen carefully, hatred of Russia has existed in Europe for centuries, its ideological origins are to be found in the split of Christianity into the Catholic and the Orthodox churches,” Zyuganov said in his report at the 13th joint plenary session of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the Central Commission for Revision and Control.

He recalled that “devotees of Christianity were considered as heathens in the West, and crusaders destroyed and looted the capital of Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, in 1204.”

In addition, for instance, “the Catholic Poland vied for the Russian lands in the 16th century, Polish and other European authors wrote about ‘barbarian savage Russia looking for a cause to invade Europe’,” he said.

“Ivan the Terrible was described only in the blackest colors; all possible atrocities were attributed to him, nevertheless his actions paled in comparison to wrongdoings of all European monarchs of his time,” Zyuganov said.

“But Tsar Ivan’s distorted image has been passed down through centuries, and unveiling of his monument in my birthplace, Oryol, was accompanied by bizarre vicious insults from liberals and all their sycophants hating the Soviet government,” Zyuganov said.

The Communist Party’s plenary session held in Snegiri, Moscow Region, is devoted to the subject of the fight against anti-Sovietism and Russophobia.

Meeting Zyuganov

Now, by chance, I met Zyuganov on one occasion, about 10 years ago.

It was in November of 2008, if my memory does not fail me.

I was traveling with Daniel Schmidt of the Bradley Foundation, and we found ourselves in a large hall near the Kremlin crammed full of exhibits offered by all sorts of Orthodox groups in Russia — publishers, schools, craftsmen, painters. It was a festival of Russian Orthodox culture.

Alexy II was still Russian Orthodox Patriarch, and he and his eventual successor, Metropolitan Kirill, were on the stage with Zyuganov and also Moscow’s then-mayor Yury Luzhkov, and Vladimir Yakunin, then head of Russia’s railways.

After Zyuganov came off the stage, I approached him and introduced myself as an American interested in the history of Russia, especially in Russia’s spiritual history.

He seemed a bit startled by my self-presentation, and yet, as if he thought it worthwhile to take a moment with me, he did show enough patience to exchange a few words with me.

This is what sticks in my mind.

He told me that he and many others had been Communists because “that is what you had to do” during the Soviet time.

But, he said, “deep down and personally, all remained Orthodox Christians.”

Can shared saints overcome old hatreds?

At a time when “fake news” and “half-true news” and “unsubstantiated news” of all sorts, especially about Russia, is being spun across all the major Western media since the election of US President Donald Trump, those words remain with me.

And they are re-emphasized by the words Zyuganov spoke to his Party comrades this week in Russia, saying “the West’s attitude towards Russia” is one of “centuries-old hatred” and that the origins of this hatred “lie in the split of Christianity into the Western and the Eastern Churches.”

Is this true? I do not know. But Zyuganov asserted it, and so, evidently, believes it.

Contrary indications

For its part, the Russian Orthodox Church is showing itself more open to Western Christian traditions than in many past generations.


Indeed, the Russian Orthodox have decided to include more Western saints, like St. Patrick of Ireland, in its own calendar. They are calling St. Patrick “St. Patrick the Enlightener of Ireland.”

Here is a report on this news:

Russian Church will include some more western saints in its calendar (link)

Moscow, March 27, Interfax — The Moscow Patriarchate will continue including names of the saints worshipped in the West in its calendar.

“This process is not completed, it has only started,” head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said on the Church and the World program on the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

As was reported, in early March the Moscow Patriarchate included in its calendar St. Patrick and 15 ancient saints glorified in the countries of Europe before the Church schism of 1054. St. Patrick the Enlightener of Ireland was among them. It was decided that he would be commemorated on March 30.
According to Metropolitan Hilarion, these saints were included on request of the Russian Orthodox dioceses in Western Europe.

“There are also other western saints that I hope will be soon included in the calendar of our Church,” Metropolitan Hilarion said.

He explained that the main criterion for including the name of the saint in the calendar is worship of the saint in a certain locality. Besides, this saint should live before the Church schism of 1054, “as everything that happened afterwards is a separate history of the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.”

The hierarch noted that it was important that the person had not participated in struggle against Orthodoxy “as sometimes happened to certain western religious figures.”

He also said that he would not interpret inclusion of western saints in the Russian Orthodox Church calendar as a step of closing up with Catholics. “I would interpret it as a step of closing up with local Church reality,” the metropolitan said.

And Vatican-Russian Collaboration Sought…

At the same time, the new head of the Vatican Museums, Dr. Barbara Jatta, has recently said she is looking to attract Russian sponsors to collaborate on various projects connected to the Vatican Museums.

Here is a report on this news (link):

Vatican Museums looking to attract Russian sponsors

VATICAN, March 24. /TASS/ Vatican Museums are interested in attracting Russian philanthropists to finance major restoration projects, said Director of Vatican Museums Barbara Jatta in an interview with TASS correspondent.

She went on to explain that regular conservation and preservation works, including those in the Sistine Chapel with paintings by Michelangelo, are paid for by the Vatican. “When it comes to major restoration works, the Vatican Museum has a support group called Patrons of the Arts, which is divided into regional categories for different parts of the world, and we turn to them for sponsorship in implementing a particular project,” Jatta said.

“We have a New York group, a Hong Kong group, a European group. By the way, there is no Russian group among them yet. That would be great if we got a Russian group on our team. TASS can make our invitation known,” she noted, adding that the philanthropic sponsorship system has been in place for 35 years.

The Vatican conducted a series of large restoration works in 2016, including Raphael’s Stanzas, candelabra galleries and geographical maps.

The recent Vatican exhibit at the Tretyakov Gallery was sponsored in part by the Alisher Usmanov Foundation for Art, Science and Sport.

“I won’t even tell you the insurance cost, because those numbers are frightening. When we hold exhibits at that level, we always try to find sponsors, because the museum can’t independently finance projects like that,” the museum director explained.

More on Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk

The visit last week of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk, Belarus, to Washington and New York, in search of upport for the creation of a new Catholic unversity in Minsk went very well.

Kondrusiewicz gave a lecture on March 22 at The Catholic University of America, just next to the National Shrine of the Basilica of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception entitled “Christian Traditions in Belarus and the Proposal to Create a Catholic University in Minsk.

jpeg-2He met with Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington and with Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York.

For those who would like to know more about this project, or who would like to collaborate with or support the project, reply to this email and I will send you further information.

We are now in 100th year since the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima in 1917.

In his talk, Kondrusiewicz said that he had met with Sister Lucia, one of the three shepherd children of Fatima, on three occasions, during his years as the bishop of the Catholics of Moscow, and that Sister Lucia had told him that the consecration of Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart carried out by Pope John Paul II had been done properly and would have its effect — that Russia would return from atheism to Christian faith.

When the head of Russia’s Communist Party begins to speak publicly about how Russia’s profound Christian faith — not its atheism, not its communism — is the source of the hatred of Russia in the West, one must wonder whether we are not on the verge of some great epiphany of grace, against all expectations, against all previsions.

Our Lady said that Russia would “be converted,” and that, through such a conversion, a “period of peace” would be granted to our world.

But perhaps the West also now needs to “be converted” and, in order for the “period of peace” to come, we must end the disunity of our Churches, which has continued now for almost 1,0000 years.

If you would like to travel with me to Russia, Ukraine, Istanbul and Rome in July on our 4th annual Urbi et Orbi Foundation Pilgrimage, please ask for more information by return email.


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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.


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