ROME – According to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, only religion can stop terrorism, while his right-hand man has declared that unity with the Catholic Church is essentially impossible because of historical “contradictions” between Rome and Moscow, including over the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity.
“I do not see any other grounds for argument capable of disarming the ideological basis of radicalism and terrorism, other than a religious one,” Kirill said.
He also called on believers to turn the tables on those who use religious teachings to incite violence.
“If radicals appeal to religious truths and use religious ideas for motivating extremist actions, then only religion itself can overturn all of this,” he insisted. “Only religious organizations can address their faithful to help them understand the falsehood of the very preaching carried out by extremists, to become aware of the danger it presents to both people’s spiritual state and their physical existence.”
According to the remarks made available in English by the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill also said that extremists “are often inspired by false interpretations of religious doctrines or justify their radicalism by the need to satisfy the God.”
Kirill’s words came during an interview with a local TV station during the second day of his April 28-30 visit to Albania, a country of 2.9 million people known for its religious tolerance. Orthodox Christians make up seven percent of the population, behind the 10 percent who are Catholic and the majority Muslims who account for 56 percent, according to a 2011 census.
Asked about the interference of religion in politics, Kirill said the two are not “two sides of the same coins,” because politicians and religious leaders move in different spheres.
However, he said, “it’s my deep conviction that the church has the right to make a moral evaluation of a particular policy, particular political leaders precisely with the aim to safeguard people including their own faithful against the political actions which can inflict a spiritual or material damage on them.”
On the same day, April 29, Metropolitan Hilarion gave an interview to Russia 24 TV, saying that unity with the Catholic Church is practically impossible because, even though “the foundations of our faith are the same, and the symbol of faith is almost identical, Catholics have another conception of the procession of the Holy Spirit.”
Debates over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or the Father and Son together have long marked one of the theological fault lines between Eastern and Western Christianity, expressed in the famous Filioque clause in the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed.
According to AsiaNews, Hilarion allegedly said that during the last millennium, in which the two churches have been divided, “many contradictions and misunderstandings accumulated.”
He also described himself as skeptical regarding recent statements made by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who said that the union between the two branches of Christianity is inevitable.
Pope Francis and Kirill met in Havana in February 2016, making history, and the two have held at least one phone conversation since, over the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
The same issue – anti-Christian violence in Iraq and Syria – might bring the two together again on July 7 in the southern Italian city of Bari, a popular pilgrimage destination for many Eastern Christians because the relics of St. Nicholas, venerated by Catholics and Orthodox alike, are kept there.
The Vatican announced Francis’s intention to visit Bari “for a day of reflection and prayer on the dramatic situation of the Middle East that afflicts so many brothers and sisters of the faith” in a statement released on April 25.
The statement also said that the pontiff wants to invite the “head of the Christian churches and communities in the region” to the event.
Asked by journalists at the time of the announcement if this includes Kirill, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke didn’t deny it was a possibility.