ROME – Less than a month after meeting briefly with Pope Francis in Kazakhstan, one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most senior prelates has said that relations between the two churches are more or less at a standstill.
In an interview with the “Church and Peace” program on Russian television station Russia 24, Metropolitan Anthony Sevryuk of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox Church’s “foreign minister,” said that “currently relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic one, are practically frozen.”
“At this stage I must say that some comments we read and hear not only from the lips of the pope, but also the great part of his aides, absolutely do not contribute to the preparation of a new meeting and our further cooperation,” he said, referring to efforts being made to organize a second meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.
The two met for the first time in Havana, Cuba in 2016, and a second encounter was being prepared in June in Jerusalem, however the Vatican pulled the plug over the diplomatic fallout the meeting would generate following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and Kirill’s staunch support for the war.
Pope Francis and Sevryuk met for a brief 15-minute conversation while the two were in Kazakhstan last month for a congress on world religions, which gathered top-level civil and interfaith leaders from around the world.
Kirill was originally scheduled to attend the event, but at the last minute announced he would not go and sent Sevryuk in his place.
In remarks to journalists after his conversation with the pope, Sevryuk said the possibility of a second meeting was discussed, but that it “must be well prepared,” and potentially accompanied by a joint statement or declaration.
Sevryuk also criticized previous remarks from the pope warning Kirill not to become Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “altar boy,” saying the statement, which was made during a videocall between the two leaders and later revealed by the pope in an interview, were “not useful” for Christian unity.
Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned the violence as “madness” and has called for both sides to demonstrate a willingness to negotiate a ceasefire.
While in the past the pope has at times been critical about arming nations, on his return flight from Kazakhstan he said sending weapons to Ukraine can be “morally acceptable” under certain circumstances.
Francis has also long voiced his desire to visit both Russia and Ukraine in a bid to promote peace efforts; however, in a conversation with members of the Jesuit order in Kazakhstan that was published in Italian Jesuit-run newspaper La Civilta Cattolica last week, he said a visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv would likely not happen anytime soon.
Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, has also repeatedly condemned the war, telling the Vatican’s official information platform Vatican News ahead of the papal visit to Kazakhstan, that “war is never an inescapable event” and is “driven by vainglory, pride, arrogance and greed.”
A heart propelled by these motives, he said, “is a hardened heart, unable to open up to others.”
Speaking to the United Nations general assembly in New York last week, Parolin also condemned Putin’s allusion to nuclear weapons as a defense strategy, calling it a “repugnant threat” that demonstrates the urgency of eliminating all nuclear arms from weapons arsenals around the world.
On Sept. 21, Putin warned that Russia “has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal.”
“It’s not a bluff,” he said during a televised address.
Parolin in his UN speech, which marked the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, said Putin’s threat “illustrates just how close the world has come to the abyss of nuclear war.”
“This looming threat, with devastating implications for all humanity, demonstrates that ‘nuclear weapons are a costly and dangerous liability,’ which undermines international security,” he said.
While in New York, Parolin held a private meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov which the Russian Foreign Ministry said was “productive” and provided an opportunity for the country to explain its reasons for the war in Ukraine.
In a direct appeal to Putin on Sunday, Pope Francis asked the Russian president to stop “this spiral of violence and death,” which he said, “increases the risk of a nuclear escalation, to the point of fearing uncontrollable and catastrophic consequences on the world level.”
He also made a direct appeal to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, asking that he “be open to serious proposals of peace.”
In his comments to Russia 24, Sevryuk also denied the impression that faithful are leaving the Russian Orthodox Church in droves, despite the decision of some Russian Orthodox parishes, such as the one in Amsterdam, to make a formal request switching to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, long seen by Kirill as too indulgent of the West.
He also denied rumors that the Russian Orthodox Church is being suppressed in some countries, saying, “I do not rule out that some unfriendly countries may take some actions to restrict our activities abroad. But, of course, there is no need to talk about any isolation.”
Isolation, he said, means “empty churches, the outflow of believers, the decline of church life.”
He also said that the Russian church has not yet encountered examples of forcible restriction of ministry abroad, “except, perhaps, Latvia,” where the Russian Orthodox community recently seceded from the Moscow Patriarchate’s authority.
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