Exactly 200 years after the French and 400 years after the Polish armies occupied Moscow and were subsequently chased from Russian territory, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia visited Poland. There he met with his flock and, more importantly, with the president of the Polish Roman Catholic Bishops conference Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemyśl. In Warsaw they signed a common “pastoral” declaration calling for “dialogue, restoration of mutual trust and for rapprochement between the Russian and Polish nations in face of common Christian responsibility and the need to solve the same problems today.”
The pastoral declaration of 17 August 2012 expressed not only the desire to burry ancient enmities, but put forward future collaboration as well: the battle against secularism, liberalism and atheism. This fight was summarised by Patriarch Kirill in an address following the signing of the declaration: “The Message states that in our days the peoples of Russia and Poland have encountered the erosion of moral principles based on God’s commandments, the propaganda of abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions, and rejection of Christian moral values. We are also witnesses to the struggle for driving not only religious symbols but also faith itself and morality away from public space.”
This idea of an Orthodox-Catholic struggle against modern evils is not new. It has been actively promoted by the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk in the last decade. Hilarion, who is now the second in command at the Moscow Patriarchate, often criticised secularism in Western Europe and emphasised common action.
Also Patriarch Kirill demonstrated growing assertiveness when he discussed historic relations between Poland and Russia, which have always been antagonistic. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church pointed at the most recent past. He mentioned the murder of some 20,000 Polish army officers in Katyn (1940) and the communist repression in Poland after World War II (1948-1989). Both were ordered by Russian dictator Josip Stalin, from whom the Russian Orthodox Church, thus Kirill, suffered greatly as well. The Polish-Russian war of 1612 and the invasion of Russia by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Summer of 1812 were not only symbolically present. The Patriarch himself referred to 1612 as an example of Polish-Russian hostility. Could it be that these implicit and explicit references to fruitless military expeditions against Russia indicated Russian defiance as well?
Although the reconciliation between nations is a highlight of Patriarch Kirill’s Church policy, it must be clear that such a policy could not exist without the blessing of the highest secular power in Russia, President Vladimir Putin. Just as Putin did not allow Pope John Paul II to travel to Russia, undoubtedly he has the final say about when and where the Patriarch will travel.
So, looking at the larger geopolitical and religious picture from a Russian perspective, it might well be that this interdenominational meeting serves more earthly goals as well. Polish politicians have been criticising for example Kremlin policies towards Georgia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow Belarus. Furthermore, Poland has always been a loyal supporter of the foreign policy of the United States. In 2008, one year before the project was more or less abandoned, Poland signed a treaty allowing the US to base interceptor missiles on its territory. Improving relations with Warsaw, criticism might cease and the allegiances to NATO, European Union and US may weaken. In the meantime, becoming more and more isolated, neighbouring Ukraine is being pulled back into the Russian sphere of influence.
By the way, Ukraine is of great interest to the Russian Orthodox Church itself. There, traditionally, the majority of its believers, churches and monasteries were located. In 1989/1991, a large portion thereof turned away from Moscow and joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (an Orthodox Church loyal to Rome) or other breakaway Orthodox Churches. From the Roman Catholic side this approach between Moscow and Warsaw might indicate a disinterest for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II referred to it as a bridge between Eastern and Western Christianity, but since his death in 2005 this notion seems to have disappeared. The signing of the common declaration on 17 August signals that both the Roman Catholic Church of Poland and the Russian Orthodox Church can well do without this intermediary, for whom both Churches feel little sympathy or none at all. (Read the post Church Fiction about the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.)
On 17 August 2012 as well a Moscow court convicted three members of the pop group Pussy Riot, who had mounted a protest against Russia’s President Putin in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Hopefully, the Polish Roman Catholic Church will not want take this kind of legal action as an example but rather adopt love than fear to win the hearts of the people in the fight for Christian values and religious liberty. Here it is important to stress that, fortunately, the Polish Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate enjoys considerable freedom. The Roman Catholic Church in Russia, however, is severely limited in its activities. Already several years ago it timidly closed down its nationwide website. (FH)
Illustration: 17 August 2012: signing of the pastoral declaration by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and the president of the Polish Roman Catholic Bishops conference Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemyś (www.mospat.ru).
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