Russia’s Orthodox Church dismissed talk of union between Orthodox and Catholic Churches but it confirmed earlier in the week that a meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis is possible.
Bishop Hilarion, the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, said that the schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism has existed for centuries and there are fundamental dogmatic differences between the two churches.
“No one talks about the union of the two Churches because the divisions have existed for a long time, many contradictions have accumulated, they have been living independently for almost ten centuries,” he said, adding “There is no talk of union, but there can be discussions to finally end the state of rivalry, of competition, of hostility, which has existed for many centuries.”
Hilarion, who is in effect the diplomatic envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that he would meet Pope Francis in late December.
“I expect to congratulate him on his 85th birthday on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, as well as to discuss with him a broad range of issues regarding bilateral relations between our churches,” he noted.
“Among these issues is a possible meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Neither the venue nor the date of this meeting has been determined for now,” Hilarion added.
Pope Francis told a news conference onboard a plane as he was returning from a mission trip to Greece and Cyprus that he might meet with Patriarch Kirill in the near future.
Francis apologizes on behalf of Catholics for the Schism
During his visit to Greece, Francis apologized for the ways Catholics have contributed to division with Orthodox Christians during a meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens.
“Shamefully, patriarch — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion,” the pope told Ieronymos II, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece.
“In this way, we let fruitfulness be compromised by division,” Francis added. “History makes its weight felt, and here, today, I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics.”
The Schism that divides Orthodox and Catholics
The East–West Schism that occurred in 1054 represents one of the most significant, and tragic, events in the history of Christianity. Eastern and Western Christians had a history of differences and disagreements, some dating back to the earliest days of Christianity, and the root of what later became the Great Schism was not only theological but cultural as well.
The most important theological difference occurred over various questions regarding the nature of the Holy Spirit and the adding of the Filioque clause onto the Nicene Creed. One of the main ecclesiastical issues was the question of papal supremacy over all other bishops.
Other points of difference were related to various liturgical, ritual, and disciplinary customs and practices, which in themselves still do not pose insurmountable problems to unity.