For the first time in history, the Pope and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church have met. This is especially significant for the leaders of largest Christian denomination and the largest Orthodox denomination, respectively, as it shows a warming of relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are the first in history to meet since the split between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches a thousand years ago, having met in Havana, Cuba earlier today.
The Russian Orthodox Church, and Kirill especially, are known for hardline, strictly-Orthodox tenants. It has been sarcastically noted that the only way Patriarch Kirill would come in union to the Catholic Church and under the Pope’s authority would be if he were offered the position himself. Kirill is a staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin and his controversial policies, calling him a “miracle of God” in 2012.
Similarly, the Russian Orthodox Church has been less than welcoming to Ukrainian Catholics – those who are liturgically and culturally Orthodox, yet theologically Catholic and follow the Pope. With the Ukrainian crisis continuing to engulf the region, Russian Orthodox officials have accused Catholics of continuing to rupture the nation.
All of this is within the last few years. Prior, during the reign of Pope John Paul II (r. 1978-2005), the strain was just as bad. A Polish Catholic pope leading the Christian world against a post-Soviet Orthodox world? There’s a clear victor there.
However, despite all this controversy, these two leaders have met with a focus of Christian persecution in the Middle East. A common goal that both Pope and Patriarch can agree on. Here is the full text of their Joint Declaration.
In the video below, Father Stefano Caprio, an expert in Russian studies, gives a great summary of not only the tension between the Churches, but also what this could mean for the future.