Again, almost incomprehensible just a few short years ago. Highlight: “The common objective: the “new evangelization” of Europe. A delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church visits the Vatican, which publishes an anthology of the patriarch’s writings. A meeting between Kirill and Benedict XVI keeps getting closer.”
by Sandro Magister Chiesa Espresso
ROME, May 24, 2010 – Benedict XVI will soon create a new “pontifical council” expressly dedicated to the “new evangelization.” Not for mission countries where the congregation “de propaganda fide” is already at work. But for the countries of ancient Christian tradition that are today in danger of losing the faith.
Pope Joseph Ratzinger wants to link his pontificate to this initiative. And this was the main topic that he discussed one morning in the spring of 2009, at Castel Gandolfo, with four prominent cardinals he had called for consultation: Camillo Ruini, Angelo Bagnasco, Christoph Schönborn, and Angelo Scola, the last being the most resolute in promoting the institution of the new office.
Meanwhile, one great ally has already united with the pope from outside of the Catholic Church, in this enterprise of a new evangelization.
This great ally is the Russian Orthodox Church.
On the afternoon of Thursday, May 20, immediately before the concert given for Benedict XVI by the patriarchate of Moscow began in the audience hall, the president of the department of external relations for the patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (in the photo), said exactly this to the pope: that the Catholic Church will not be alone in the new evangelization of dechristianized Europe, because it will have at its side the Russian Orthodox Church, “no longer a competitor, but an ally.”
The positive relationship that has been established between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Rome is one of the most stunning achievements of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. It is also stunning for its rapidity. In fact, it’s enough to look back just one decade to note the chill that dominated between the two Churches.
To a question from www.chiesa on the factors that led to this extraordinary change, Metropolitan Hilarion responded by indicating three of these.
The first factor, he said, is the person of the new pope. A pope who receives “the positive regard of the whole of the Russian Orthodox world,” even though this is pervaded by age-old anti-Roman sentiments.
The second factor is the common view of the challenge posed to both Churches by the dechristianization of countries that in the past were the heart of Christendom.
And the third reason is their mutual embrace of the grand Christian tradition, as the great highway of the new evangelization.
To the question about a meeting – the first in history – between the heads of the two Churches of Rome and Moscow, Hilarion replied that “this is a desire, a hope, and we must work to make it happen.” He added that a few obstacles will have to be smoothed over first, above all the disagreements between the two Churches in Ukraine, but he said that he is confident that the meeting will take place soon: “not between just any patriarch and pope, but between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict.”
One proof of how much closer the positions of the heads of the two Churches have become is given by two books published just a few months apart, and without precedent in history.
The first was published last December by the patriarchate of Moscow, and presents in Russian and Italian the main writings by Ratzinger on Europe, before and after his election as pope, with an extensive introduction written by Metropolitan Hilarion.
The second, released a few days ago, is published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana and collects writings by Kirill before and after his nomination as patriarch, on the dignity of man and the rights of the person, with an introduction by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture.
A selection from Hilarion’s introduction to the first volume was presented by www.chiesa back when it was published. And an extract of a text by Kirill from the second volume is reproduced below.
Both the publications were promoted by an international association based in Rome: “Sofia: Idea Russa, Idea d’Europa.” The association has produced an Italian-Russian academy, “Sapientia et Scientia,” inaugurated last May 20 in the context of the “Days of Russian culture and spirituality” held in Rome by a delegation of the patriarchate of Moscow guided by Metropolitan Hilarion.
The Days had two culminating moments. The first on May 19, on the premises of the new Russian Orthodox church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, built a few years ago in Rome, a short distance from the Vatican. There Metropolitan Hilarion, Archbishop Ravasi, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, discussed the issue “Orthodox and Catholics in Europe today. The Christian roots and common cultural patrimony of East and West.”
The second important moment was the concert given for the pope on May 20 by Patriarch Kirill I. Compositions by great Russian musicians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, like Mussorgskij and Rimski-Korsakov, ?ajkovskij andRachmaninov, were performed. Commenting on them at the end of the concert, Benedict XVI emphasized “the close, original connection between Russian music and liturgical singing.” A connection that is also fully visible in the evocative “Canto dell’Ascensione,” a symphony for choir and orchestra in five parts composed by Metropolitan Hilarion, performed at the same concert and highly appreciated by the public and the pope.
In his message, Patriarch Kirill recalled that in Russia, “during the years of persecution, when the majority of the population had no access to sacred music, these works, together with the masterpieces of Russian literature and the figurative arts, contributed to bringing the proclamation of the Gospel, proposing to the secular world ideals of the highest moral and spiritual caliber.”
And Benedict XVI, in his final speech, remarked on how in the musical compositions performed, “there is already realized the encounter, the dialogue, the synergy between East and West, as also between tradition and modernity.” A dialogue that is all the more urgent in order to let Europe breathe again with “two lungs” and restore to it the awareness of its Christian roots.
Both Benedict XVI and Metropolitan Hilarion are utterly convinced that Christian art is also a vehicle of evangelization and a leaven of unity between the Churches.
Before arriving in Rome to meet with the pope, Hilarion stopped in Ravenna, Milan, Turin, and Bologna. The first of these cities was the capital of the Eastern Christian empire in Italy, and its basilicas are a marvelous testimony to this. In his conference on May 19, Hilarion said that he had admired in the mosaics of Ravenna “the splendor of a Church in harmony, not yet wounded by the division between East and West.” And he added: “If this harmony was real for our ancestors, it can be real for us as well. If we are not able to recreate the harmony evoked by the mosaics of Ravenna, the blame will be ours alone.”
The following is an extract from the first of the texts by Patriarch Kirill collected in the volume published in recent days by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Another part of this text was published in the May 17-18, 2010 issue of “L’Osservatore Romano.”
The original, in Russian, was published in the February 16-17, 2000 issue of the “Nezavisimaja Gazeta”