The meeting in Moscow of Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece and Patriarch Alexios of Russia

by Grigoris Kalokairinos

(“Kathimerini”, May 13, 2001)

The visit paid by Archbishop Christodoulos to the Church of Russia had two objectives: first, to establish the Greek Primate as an intermediary between Rome and Moscow and, second, to advance relations between the Greek and Russian Churches. The results of the first objective cannot, of course, be evaluated now, for the very simple reason that they are not directly visible. The Pope has, via Archbishop Christodoulos, established a bridge between himself and Patriarch Alexios, and is waiting expectantly. The initial response of the Russian Primate was marked by reservations. Alexios saw the good intentions expressed by the Vatican as lacking in substance since, as he said, the Pontiff was asking for forgiveness for events that occurred centuries ago, while in Russia and the Ukraine the Roman Catholics vandalise Orthodox churches and the Uniate churches continue to proselytise: “we want action, not just words”, said the Russian Patriarch. It has therefore been made clear to the Pope that, while the intervention of Archbishop Christodoulos can be a positive step towards establishing communications between Rome and Moscow, it will not open the door to a papal visit to the Ukraine in the summer, a visit which the Pope is anxious to make but to which Russian Church is opposed.

Archbishop Christodoulos’ second objective was to achieve closer relations with Moscow, so that the two churches could appear jointly as the primary forces in the Orthodox world.

The Russian Church has historically shown itself to be unwilling to see the Greek Church raised to this level, and has for centuries claimed sole omnipotence. However, it was de facto obliged to receive the Archbishop of Athens as of equal rank, since he holds the “keys of Europe” that Patriarch Alexios so desperately needs.

Their talks thus included joint programmes and projects that will be implemented by the European public purse, to which only the Greek Church, as the official church of a member state of the EU, has access…

[…] Nor did Christodoulos and Alexios stop there. Ambitious leaders both of them, they went so far as to talk about an “ecclesiastical United Nations” that would intervene to find solutions to problems that international political organisations had failed to resolve. Their goal, in other words, is a supreme ecclesiastical organisation that would transcend secular institutions and intervene directly in broader socio-political matters anywhere in the world.

This was apparently on their agenda for discussion, but it was not made clear whether (if it comes into being) it would be an Orthodox or an inter-Christian organisation including the Roman Catholic and all the other Christian churches. Of more immediate interest is the report of an agreement between the Russian and the Greek churches by which the latter will represent the former in Brussels, at the centre of the European scene: although the Patriarchate of Moscow already has an office in the heartland of the European Union, the fact that Russia is not a member of the EU precludes its Church from autonomous representation in the European space. Thus the Patriarch and the Russian metropolitans are orientating themselves towards representation via Athens, which of course Archbishop Christodoulos is all in favour of, since this would present him to the European Union as the effective leader of more than 100 million Orthodox Christians rather than of 10 million Greeks. This turn of events is regarded with some scepticism in Brussels, which is why the experts are studying all the pros and cons of such a move, in an attempt to assess all the parameters in order to avoid problems in the future. It is said, indeed, that the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are going to be consulted in the matter, so as to avoid political entanglement in a matter that has a pronounced religious and social aspect in addition to its political and economic dimensions.

In closing, it is worth noting that the Archbishop of Athens intends to visit other Orthodox countries, for the same purpose. These visits will be scheduled immediately after the election of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, which, it is said, he regards as very important for the success of his objectives.


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