If Christians walk together, as the two disciples of Emmaus did, they will be accompanied by Christ, who will support, motivate and complete their journey.” —Pope Francis, to young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, who were visiting Rome in recent days.

    Letter #55, 2023 Thursday, February 23: Orthodox    

    Today in Rome, Pope Francis received a group of Orthodox priests and monks who have been visiting Rome.

    The Pope had a serious cold, and so could not read his remarks.

    But he spoke quite beautifully about the process of Christian dialogue, as a kind of pilgrimage which we must all enter upon, if we wish to walk toward Christ, and with Christ, in this beautiful but fallen world.

    For many years, our non-profit organization, Urbi et Orbi (publisher of Inside the Vatican magazine), has desired to “build bridges” of understanding and trust between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

    Part of that effort has been to “walk the walk”… to actually go and visit the Orthodox in their countries… to visit their monasteries… to venerate their icons, like the icon of Our Blessed Mother of Kazan (which had left the country at the time of the Soviet Revolution in 1918, and which we helped to return to Kazan in 2004, after more than 80 years absence)… and to learn from those we met about their experience of the Communist time, and all that they suffered for, and now were hoping for. For this reason, we visited Ukraine and Russia and Turkey (the Phanar in Istanbul, where Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew resides) more than 20 times in the 23 years since an initial trip in 1999, when the Catholic cathedral of Moscow was reopened and reconsecrated by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.

    This was our reason for organizing concerts — including the one mentioned in my email of yesterday, in Rome in November of 2013, in honor of Pope Francis, where the main singer was a Russian Orthodox soprano, Svetlana Kasyan, after which Kasyan and her husband Leonid Sevastianov met the Pope and then, in the following years, met him seven more times, as they became friends —because we felt music was a space of possible unity, non-polemical, a place of reflection and common experience, a kind of antechamber to overcoming ancient differences.

    We also collaborated with the Vatican office which works for Christian unity, and seven years ago contributed to the launch of a program of exchanges in which Catholic seminarians and priests would visit Orthodox countries and Orthodox priests and monks would visit Rome, as a kind of “getting to know you” exercise which, we hoped, would someday “bear fruit” in more fraternal, friendly relations between our Churches, on the long journey toward the overcoming of centuries of division and suspicion between brother Christians.

        I therefore recommend to you a reading of these remarks by Pope Francis, who on this occasion expresses well the longing of the heart of all Christians for unity in Christ. —RM

    P.S. If you would like to support this work, we do need support, as you may imagine. Here is a link to our donation page. Thank you in advance.

    Young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches visiting the offices of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity in the Vatican on February 20 (Photo credit: Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity link)

    Audience with young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Speech of the Holy Father (link)

    (Holy See Press Office)

    Note from the Press Office: The Holy Father Francis received in audience this morning the young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Due to a severe cold, the Holy Father did not deliver his prepared speech, but handed over the text, which we publish here:

    Speech of the Holy Father 

    Thursday, February 23, 2023

    Dear brothers,

    I greet you with joy in the Lord. I am pleased to welcome you to the third edition of this beautiful initiative of visits to Rome by young priests and monks of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. You are welcome!

    This year you have come here at the beginning of Lent, a journey that Christians follow in preparation for Christ’s Easter, the heart of our faith.

    Another journey comes to mind: the one that two disciples took together with the Risen One precisely on Easter day (cf. Lk 24:13-35).

    That path to Emmaus can in a certain sense symbolize the ecumenical journey of Christians towards full communion.

    In fact, I see points in common between the two journeys, three elements that I would like to share with you today.

    The first is that, if Christians walk together, as the two disciples of Emmaus did, they will be accompanied by Christ, who will support, motivate and complete their journey.

    In fact, Jesus joins those two shocked and disoriented disciples along the road; he approaches them incognito, traveling with them.

    Then the journey becomes a pilgrimage.

    Of course, sadness and self-absorption prevented their eyes from recognizing him (cf. v. 16); similarly discouragement and self-referentiality prevent Christians of different confessions from seeing what unites them, from recognizing the One who unites them.

    So, as believers we must believe that the more we walk together, the more we will be mysteriously accompanied by Christ, because unity is a common pilgrimage.

    The Evangelist says that those two disciples “conversed with each other about everything that had happened,” “they conversed and argued together” (vv. 14-15).

    This is the second element, dialogue: dialogue of charity, dialogue of truth, dialogue of life, to take up the three typologies indicated by the Ecumenical Handbook of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

    The dialogue of the Emmaus pilgrims leads to dialogue with Jesus, who becomes its exegete; on the basis of their conversations, Christ speaks to their hearts, reawakens them, makes them burn by explaining in all the Scriptures what refers to Him (cf. v. 27).

    This shows us that dialogue between Christians is based on the Word of God, which the Lord Jesus makes us understand with the light of his Spirit.

    Wander together and dialogue; we come to the third element: the Evangelist explains that when the disciples approached Emmaus, Jesus “acted as if he were going to go further” (v. 28).

    The Lord does not impose his presence, but the disciples beg him to stay: “Stay with us because it is getting dark and the day is almost at sunset” (v. 29).

    They longed to be together with Christ.

    They didn’t go to their own homes, but they wanted to prolong the company with Jesus and with each other, they prayed to him, they insisted.

    Here is the third element: one must desire unity with prayer, with all one’s heart and strength, insistently, without tiring.

    Because, if the desire for unity is extinguished, walking and talking is not enough: everything becomes something due and formal.

    If, on the other hand, desire pushes us to open the doors to Christ together with our brother, everything changes.

    Scripture reminds us that Jesus does not break bread with the renunciate and disunited disciples; he is up to them to invite him, welcome him, desire him together.

    This is perhaps what Christians of various confessions lack most today: an ardent desire for unity, which comes before partisan interests.

    Dear brothers, unity is pilgrimage, unity is dialogue, unity is desire.

    If we live these three dimensions in the ecumenical journey, then, like those disciples, we will come to recognize Christ together at the breaking of the bread and we will benefit from communion with him at the same Eucharistic table (cf. vv. 30-31). And, just as the two from Emmaus ran back to Jerusalem to recount with joy and amazement what they had experienced, so we too will be able to give credible witness to the Crucified and Risen One, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Dear brothers, you have traveled to come here. Thank you for that. In your pilgrimage to Rome, I hope you can feel the living presence of the Risen One, that our communion grows in fraternal dialogue, that an ardent desire for unity is renewed in each one.

    The Lord bless you and the Mother of God protect you. I ask you to convey my greetings to your Bishops and to your Churches. Some of you come from troubled Syria; I would like to express a particular closeness to that dear people, tried not only by the war, but also by the earthquake which, as in Turkey, has caused so many victims and terrible devastation. Faced with the suffering of so many innocent children, women, mothers, families, I hope that everything possible will be done for the people, that there are no reasons or sanctions that hinder the urgent and necessary aid to the population.

    Dear brothers, I thank you and I bring you in prayer; I ask you, please, not to forget me by turning to the Lord. If you like it, we can now pray the Our Father together, each in their own language.

    Metropolitan John of Dubna: “We walk in the blood of our new Martyrs” (link)

    Doxologia Info News

    February 20, 2023

    The belligerent position of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and of Patriarch Kirill, who clearly supported Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, is causing misunderstanding and regret in the Orthodox world. However, few people decide to openly condemn the behavior of the Kremlin-linked clergy – with the exception of the primates of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Radio Liberty presents readers with an interview with Metropolitan John of Dubna, head of the Orthodox Church of the Russian tradition in Western Europe, whose parishes are mainly located in France and Switzerland.

    Dear Monsignor Jean, Russia has been fighting against Ukraine for almost 9 years; after February 24, 2022, this war is now being waged on a large scale. With whom has the Orthodox Church of the Russian Tradition been connected in Western Europe all this time?

    Metropolitan Jean: Our Archdiocese was founded in 1921 by the Russian Church. Now it unites believers of various ethnic origins, among whom there are many Ukrainians and Russians. It was impossible to imagine a war between Russia and Ukraine. After all, they not only have a common border, but many residents of these countries are united by history, Orthodox faith, cultural customs and family ties.

    When the Russian Federation brutally attacked Ukraine on February 24 last year, it caused confusion and horror in people’s hearts. On the same day, we called on parishes and believers to maintain unity and to pray for all the victims of this tragedy, for the rapid restoration of peace in Ukraine. Millions of people fled to the West to escape war. We helped them in the field, collected and sent several trucks with humanitarian aid: medicines, clothes, basic necessities. The church choirs gave concerts for the refugees. And it all is continuing to happen.

    The war of Russia against Ukraine is compared by its cruelty to the Second World War; the Russian army is accused of genocide in Ukraine. Are there parallels with the crimes of the Nazis?

    I must admit with regret that the gravity of the crimes of Russia encourages one to compare this war against Ukraine to the Second World War. By attacking Ukraine, Russia condemned the Ukrainian people to great suffering. Ukraine’s infrastructure, small villages and big cities, like Mariupol, are being destroyed. Witness accounts, frightening photos of Boutcha, and other Ukrainian places tell about the atrocities of the Russian army. Russian propaganda denies the obvious, but constantly repeats the idea about the need to revive the “Russian world.” But Russia has no right to declare sovereign countries to be “the Russian world” and dictate its will to them just on the grounds that it wants it so badly. This is unacceptable. Because Ukraine is the Ukrainian world, Poland is the Polish world, and so on. And then Russia resorted to aggression, attacked Ukraine, as Hitler once attacked Poland.

    What amounts to the genocide of the Ukrainians was proclaimed as necessary to replace them with the “Russian world.” The crime of genocide is one of the most serious on the international list of war crimes. The deportation of the peaceful Ukrainian population deep within Russia for the purpose of assimilation, and the stealing of children in order to forcibly make them “Russian,” is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Russia has broken many international laws. And I believe she will be brought to justice for this.

    How do you assess the position taken by Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church with regard to Russia’s war against Ukraine?

    The position of Patriarch Kirill has been revealed gradually. It pains me to say that in the beginning there was complete silence, no one said anything at a high level in the church in defense of peace and against war. The silence was followed by the justification for war. On March 6, Sunday of Forgiveness, the Patriarch addressed believers at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. He said in his sermon: there is an excuse for a bloody and aggressive war, it is a “metaphysical competition” in the name of the “right to stand on the right side of the world…”

    And from this terrible sermon, it turns out that the necessity of Russia’s war against Ukraine is supposedly revealed by the “light of Christ, by the Gospel.” In no case will I agree with such a reading of the Gospel. In my deepest conviction, the mission of the Church – the “good shepherd” – is to be a peacemaker. In an open letter on behalf of believers in our Archdiocese, I begged Patriarch Kirill to ask the Russian authorities to end the monstrous and senseless war against Ukraine as soon as possible.

    But the war continues, although Vladimir Putin is not the same as all of Russia. I dare to assume that Patriarch Kirill is not the whole Russian Orthodox Church either. What do you think?

    I agree, Putin is not all of Russia. It took us more than a day for the troubles we are experiencing today to occur. The international isolation of Russia and the bloody war against Ukraine were the result of Putin’s regime. In order to create appropriate moods and an “official picture of the world” among the people, information in Russia is received under the strict control of the authorities. Television, radio, and the press plant in people’s heads the ideas of “perestroika of the ‘Russian world’” and the revival of a “mythical Russia” – the Soviet Union. The mood of unconditional loyalty is also well-defined in the Russian Orthodox Church. It is bittersweet for me to realize that a significant portion of the clergy succumbed to this disastrous trend, and those who spoke out against the war were immediately banned. I think many priests view the “resurrection of the Soviet Union” differently, but support Patriarch Kirill, or keep quiet, apparently out of fear. There is something terrible in this strange “regeneration of the USSR,” isn’t there? I was deeply touched by Orthodox journalist Sergius Chapnin’s appeal to the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, in which he begs them to resist lies, to stop justifying war, to call everyone to a just peace.

    It also follows from the speeches of Patriarch Kirill, as well as the speeches of President Putin, that Russia has launched a war to protect itself from LGBT ideology and the decaying West. What is your opinion on the patriarch’s arguments in this regard?

    I doubt that Russia is an appropriate country to teach moral lessons to others. Not to mention the more than difficult and tragic legacy and difficult parallels of today: let’s take a look at least at modern abortion statistics – it makes Russia a European leader in this. There are problems here… it is also the attitude towards vulnerable groups of the population, such as LGBT… With this terminology, I would prefer to be more careful. However, yes, you are right about this, including this being broadcast from Moscow as a reason to take Russia to war.

    Today I read on the Internet that yesterday, in a single day, a thousand Russian soldiers were killed. The death of a human life is a terrible disaster, and here are tens of thousands! What young men hear before going to the front: “You will be saved if you are killed for defending the vision of Russia, which brings ‘morality’ and ‘good words’ to the West, your sins will be forgiven! Additionally, soldiers are urged to fight the ‘decadent West’ to ‘save the ‘Russian world.’ Something like this can be heard among suicide bombers in radical Islamic movements, but it is unacceptable and unheard of to hear this from the mouth of the church patriarch.

    Here we must clearly define that European countries are secular and democratic states. Humanity has been heading there for a long time; democracy allows everyone to be themselves. However, if we talk about “marriage for everyone,” then personally, I see something funny about it. Because so far it has not yet happened that homosexual unions produce offspring. To conceive a new life, you still need a union of two different sexes. That’s marriage, from my point of view. However, we have no right to force people to live differently than they want.

    History remembers forcing people to live against their will, for example, in concentration camps. The Third Reich did it under the banner of National Socialism. Putin’s Russia uses its own interpretation of “Christian morality” for these purposes, while many Russians are atheists, profess Islam or other religions. A simplified and one-sided view of such complex issues does not bode well. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – those two states ended badly.

    I wrote a letter to Patriarch Cyril: “The happiness, all the love that the Western world felt for Russia, you hurt them, because now the Russia that we love, the Russia that fed us, that gave us fine writers and spirituality, this Russia has fallen from our eyes… It is no longer Russia. It is an attempt to resurrect another entity, Soviet Russia. Now that we have a tragic vision of Russia, we are afraid that this new Russia will self-destruct and crumble in its return to the Soviet spirit, as is now being observed.

    How do the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine affect relations between Christian churches?

    I think that Patriarch Cyril made a great strategic, political and ecclesial error, because in the end he found himself on the sidelines of the Christian Church. When our archdiocese united with the Russian Orthodox Church three and a half years ago, we were able to have a dialogue. And now we see that the behavior of the patriarchal throne is politicized. The churches found themselves in a very difficult situation, because calling on Patriarch Kirill means taking risks now.

    We must always strive to be realistic, and even more so in this tragic time, as soldiers and civilians are dying every day. It is not very easy to keep in touch with Russia now, with the Patriarchate of Moscow. Our archdiocese should strictly follow the canons of the church, but at the same time not confuse the policy of Russia with the policy of the Patriarch of All Russia. We are obliged to constantly keep our distance, helping, participating in helping, those who suffer from war.

    We have instructions not to concelebrate with other churches, especially the Patriarch of Constantinople. Relations between the Orthodox churches have also become more complicated; we can even say that ecumenical relations have deteriorated – Catholics and Protestants see that the Russian Orthodox Church has a very politicized patriarch. Moscow declares unity, but in fact destroys it. On May 27, 2022, the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared its full independence and independence of the PM Russian Orthodox Church. It’s very sad.

    What is your position on the future relationship of your Archdiocese with the Russian Orthodox Church, which openly supports Russia’s war against Ukraine? Can the Archdiocese of Western European parishes of Russian tradition be part of the Russian Orthodox Church?

    The relations of our Archdiocese with the Russian Orthodox Church are canonical; the bishop celebrates in relation to the Synod, and not with a specific person. The 2019 decision restored the unity of the Archdiocese of Western European parishes of Russian tradition with the Russian Orthodox Church. And it is hoped that all members of the Holy Synod do not share the Patriarch’s one-sided view on Russia’s war against Ukraine; even if they don’t say it openly, maybe they mean it. So we stay with the synod and do not engage in politics in our diocese – it is unacceptable to use the spirit for political purposes. We are not engaged in politics in our Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Paris. But we pray for peace, pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters attacked by Russia, help them as much as we can and keep in touch with the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    The church is called to be a peacemaker and end wars. What is already being done – in particular, by your archdiocese – and what else needs to be done to heal the wounds of those who are suffering?

    The mission of the church should be a mission of peace. Unfortunately, we have seen that the peace mission is not close to the Moscow Patriarchate. We pleaded with Patriarch Kirill to ask the civil authorities to take steps to achieve peace as soon as possible. Unfortunately, he himself was involved in the war process; it was sad to see him in green “military” outfits calling on believers to sacrifice themselves. For what? To seize land or repress the Ukrainians? Is this the mission of the church? For me, it is a big question and a source of inner suffering when the church calls for war, even for “metaphysical” reasons. The mess is that each of us is waging a “metaphysical war” against our own passions.

    And Russia is waging a real war against Ukraine – there is violence, torture, death, human suffering, all the human passions that war triggers.

    And this happens after the many sacrifices confessors made in Soviet times, during the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. You know, we have always bowed to this sacrifice, the holiness of the church that was born in the Soviet period, and now this holiness is being destroyed by collusion with power, which is so similar to the Soviet one that killed millions of people. We have millions of confessors. I say: we walk in the blood of our new Martyrs.

    The Blood of the Martyrs calls for peace, for love between nations. Ukrainians have already suffered a lot in Soviet times from famine, the “Holodomor,” from concentration camps, from wars. Many peoples suffered during the Soviet era. And now it repeats itself. How to heal wounds? The situation of the Moscow Patriarchate is tragic. Wounds can only be healed through humility. But who has the humility to heal the deep wounds caused by war? War always breeds cruelty and hatred. Now the Russians are killing the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians are defending themselves and killing the Russians… What can reconcile them and heal their wounds? It will take a long time, and above all, it takes a lot of compassion on both sides.

    I think the only thing that will help heal deep military wounds is a return to previous borders, as recommended by the United Nations. And then maybe the wounds will gradually heal. It will take several generations. On February 24, 2022, a period of hatred and violence began between two close peoples, who became enemies like the biblical brothers Abel and Cain.

    Marina Okhrimovskaya – editor-in-chief of the “Switzerland for All” website, in particular for Radio Liberty

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