Geopolitics of Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement


On February 12th, Cuba will hold a historic meeting between the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis. This is the first meeting between the two in history. Important for both Churches, the event will take place in Cuba, where the majority of the population is Catholics, but the country's authorities developed friendly relations with the Russian Orthodox Church. It was specified that the conversation and the signing of a joint declaration would happen at the Airport, not in a cult place. The Patriarch was sent on a pastoral visit to South America, and the Pope – to Mexico.
After the collapse of the atheist regime on historically Russian territory in 1991, the question of a meeting was repeatedly raised, but it was always postponed on different occasions. The reasons for this were the differences between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches. The main difference was the proselytizing activity of Catholics in the canonical territory of the Russian Church and the Vatican neutral-positive attitude towards the seizures of Orthodox churches by the Ukrainian Greek Catholics. The latter phenomenon was acquired in 90 years and was accompanied by massive violations of law and the use of violence against Orthodoxy with the connivance of the Ukrainian state. The main ally of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholics was the Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary formation.

Geopolitics of the Great Schism

The great schism in 1054 between the Orthodoxies and Catholics was caused by a combination of geopolitical and theological reasons. Among them were the Pope’s claims on the primacy of the universal church and the creation in the Western world for its Empire (Carolingian Empire and later the Holy Roman Empire) to challenge the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which considered itself the only heir to the Roman Empire.

The Roman Church itself, because of historical circumstances, was the only organized political force uniting Western Europe in the early middle Ages. This led to the natural strengthening of its political role, and the placement of the Pope’s claims into the dominant position over the secular rulers, including the Holy Roman Emperor, who was anointed to the Pope throne.
In the East, political unity was ensured by state structures of the Empire and the Emperor's figure, in the West; the church hierarchy and the figure of the Pope promoted the beginning of unification. Both the Christendom centers claimed the dominant position as the main heir of the united Roman Empire.

The main theological disagreement was with the Western dogma of the Holy Spirit procession, not only from the Father, but also the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, who was not take into account by the Orthodox (Filioque).

Theological Contradictions

Throughout the subsequent history, the dogmatic and canonical differences between Orthodox and Catholics only increased. The Orthodox rejected the Catholic Pope's primacy dogma, the Pope’s infallibility, the Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception and her bodily ascension, which appeared in the subsequent history of the Roman Church. The Orthodox does not take into account Catholic purgatory teaching and “the saints Supererogation” too.

The Catholics, in turn, rejected the Orthodox teaching on the aerial tollhouse and uncreated energies. The Latins and the Orthodox have significantly different views on asceticism and spiritual life, which affects the different orientation of the Orthodox and Catholic cultures.

These factors were decisive differences between the two civilizations formed on the Christian religious basis: Western Christian (Protestant and Catholic) and Eastern Christian, Byzantine.

Conflict History

The Catholic Church repeatedly was the initiator of persecution and aggression towards the Orthodox countries. The most famous event was the capture and plunder of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. The Catholic Church favored the attraction of the German crusaders on Russian land in XII-XIII centuries. Under Catholic pressure and Rzeczpospolita management, in 1596, in Brest, the so-called "union" was signed, which resulted in great areas, inhabited by Orthodox, being placed under the control of Rome.

During World War II, Croatian Roman Catholic bishops as well as Greek Catholics in Ukraine, blessed acts of genocide against members of other religions, particularly Orthodox Serbs, Ukrainians and Russian.

In view of the mostly negative interactions with the Roman Christians, any attempts to make close the Catholics and Orthodoxy are often considered by the Orthodox people as very suspicious. They suspect a hidden agenda of Catholics to conclude another union, to distort the Orthodox teaching and to establish their domination. There are some concerns prior to the coming meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch.

Russia in Modern Geopolitics of the Catholic Church

Several factors underlie the contemporary geopolitics of the Catholic Church towards Russia. The first of them is a continuation of the old tradition of proselytism, the capture of another canonical space: missionary activity aimed primarily at nominally Orthodox, but not attending Church sermones the majority of the population of Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

The second factor is a special place occupied by Russia in the modern Catholic eschatology. It concerns the so-called “Miracle of Fatima”, Marian apparition, who supposedly was seen by the Portuguese children in 1917 in Fatima. One of the apparitions allegedly said that Russia, before the end of the world, should be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.

The most active supporter of this idea was Pope John Paul II. There is no universal comprehension of the interpretation what is meant by “Consecration of Russia.” Some experts believe that this is a special symbolic act. The Popes, especially Pope Pius XII and John Paul II, have already held actions of this kind. Some people believe that the “Consecration of Russia” means the transition of the country to Catholicism or the recognition of the Pope’s supremacy. There is a third interpretation, which the “Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary” concerns the religious revival in Russia and internal God redemption. Such an interpretation was adhered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, who created a theological commentary on the "Miracle of Fatima" in 2000. Anyway, Russia and Russian religiosity have a particular importance for modern Catholics.

The third factor is the power of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is the largest of the local Orthodox Churches. It is a natural ally of Rome in the protection of traditional Christian values and opposing militant secularism. And the Russian and Roman Church pays special attention to the need to protect the Christians of the Middle East, who suffer from wars and persecution by radical Islamists.

Interest of Russian Church

The Russian Orthodox Church is involved in dialogue with the Catholics on these issues. In addition, it is essential to solve the problem related to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The problem is not only the seizure of Orthodox churches and proselytizing.  The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church also a religious community that serves as a breeding ground for aggressive and anti-Orthodox, Russophobic Ukrainian nationalism. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church clerics and the bishops promote right nationalist and xenophobic ideas, and with the two nations opposing each other more than ever, relations are far from being good right now.

Which West to approach?

The meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch demonstrates the possibility of Russia's rapprochement with the West. But not with liberal, secular, promoting initiatives that are rather anti-Christian. The Roman Church, despite a very strong trend of secularization within the Catholic Church, is the center of conservatism in Europe and the last institute of theMedieval “Christian World” . Russia has recently demonstrated that it is one of the few countries in the continent that defends traditional Christian values. So it is only natural that Russia's rapprochement is with the conservative part of the Western world, where the main authority is the Pope.

The Roman Church is not in the best position at the center of the civilization, which it created. Modern Europe is secular and aimed at absolute relativism. Christianity remains a part of the identity of the population of the southern part of the continent: Italy, Portugal and Spain, but they are beginning to persecute Christians. In other Western countries, the church is placed on the periphery of public life. Repressive methods implant gender ideology and the rules of “tolerance”, even banning Christian symbols and holidays. In these circumstances, European and Western Catholic traditionalists are also interested in an alliance with Russia and the Russian Church.

Alternative to Ecumenism

Militant liberal secularism and radical Islamism are two challenges that the Christian world faces. At the same time, there are serious dogmatic differences, which do not allow the Christians of different denominations to unite into one Church. The Protestant “branch theory” underlies most ecumenist concepts and contradicts Orthodox ecclesiology. The Roman Church cannot reject the dogma of the Pope’s supremacy. Ecumenist disputes only weaken Christian confessions, leading to an increase in internal strife and the suspicion of betraying the purity of the faith of the hierarchy.

At the same time, there is a space of cooperation in the sphere of protection of the common values of Christians and Christianity. It is significant that the Russian Patriarch and the Pope decided to go in this direction. An alternative to the liberal ecumenism, which blurs doctrinal truths important for believers of every denomination, it is not a withdrawal, but the extensive cooperation of conservative Christians who defend their own truth, but understand the importance and protection of the common thing that unites them all. The principle for rapprochement of this kind is the position of Rome and neув ащк its rejection of the claim to domination, leading to a conflict with other Christian denominations. Otherwise, the ambitions of the Church in Rome will only weaken the position of Christianity, but it will become the religion of global minoritiy.