Interesting article on the Russian Orthodox and ecumenism

Fr Mark Drews writes in the Catholic Herald:

Whatever the talk of reunifying Ukraine’s splintered Orthodox majority, the reality concerning relations between Catholics and Orthodox is not so edifying. In particular, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGGC), which follows the same Byzantine rite and customs as the Orthodox but is in union with Rome, is in the firing line. The Orthodox have long seen Greek Catholics, to whom they refer by the disparaging term of “uniates”, as a papal Trojan Horse, used by the Vatican to undermine Orthodoxy. Rhetoric about the evils of “uniatism” has traditionally been turned up when the Orthodox have felt insecure and threatened. Last month it reached a paroxysm that was all the more distressing in that it came from a churchman usually seen as being of a relatively irenical disposition.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the spokesman of the Moscow patriarchate for external affairs, is a respected theologian relatively favourable to ecumenical dialogue with western Christians. In April he claimed that “uniatism’ was and is a special project of the Catholic Church, aiming to convert the Orthodox to Catholicism”. He accused Greek Catholics, and thus implicitly the Catholic Church as a whole, of “oppressing the Orthodox clergy in all possible ways” and of launching a “crusade against Orthodoxy”.

The response from the Vatican was predictably muted: Roman ecumenists are patient men, loathe to endanger decades of painfully slow progress in reaction to what might be construed as an intemperate but uncharacteristic outburst. The head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, made a mild response, pleading for the Orthodox to see him and his church as brothers and not enemies. Without over-dramatising, it is worth asking why Hilarion, who must have known that his statement would endanger hard-won improvements in ecumenical relations, chose to make it anyway.

-snip-

In any case, Hilarion might think that there is less to be gained from good relations with the Catholic Church than had been previously hoped. Relations progressed under Benedict. But both Kyrill and Hilarion made it clear that they were sceptical about the prospects of doctrinal consensus, but welcomed the opportunity to construct an alliance with Catholics against secularism and the abandonment of traditional Christian moral values. Pope Francis has shown that he is much less interested in campaigning on these issues than his immediate predecessors. Some Catholics were uneasy about forging an alliance around issues widely identified with a reactionary social agenda; but the change in atmosphere summed up by Pope Francis’s famous “who am I to judge?” line may have cooled the ecumenical ardour of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and propelled them more enthusiastically into Putin’s arms.

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