The unprecedented visit of Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev, the First Hierarch of the MP, to Poland is going to be a historic occasion. The Patriarch will meet with the leading Catholic bishop in Poland, and they’ll jointly promote reconciliation between Russia and Poland. I hope that this noble step will help to dispel at least some of the negative publicity that’s swirled around the Church (and Kirill himself) in recent months. The scandal surrounding Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, as well as several smaller PR sallies against the Church, somewhat overshadowed a much more important fact. Namely, Kirill is, indeed, a very important reformer of our church, who, amongst other things, is seeking to build bridges between Russian Orthodox Christianity and Western churches, primarily with the Catholics.
Formally, the Patriarch is coming to Poland on invitation from Sawa Hrycuniak, the Metropolitan of Warsaw and all Poland, the First Hierarch of the Church of Poland. However, he’ll also meet with Polish President Bronisław Maria Komorowski, Bogdan Michał Borusewicz, the Marshal of the Polish Parliament, and Metropolitan Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemyśl, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference (Catholic). The heads of the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic churches will issue a joint appeal to the Polish and Russian nations, urging them to take steps towards a true reconciliation, healing the wounds of the tumultuous twentieth century. The appeal will also call on both nations to build a common future together.
If everything works out, this will certainly be a historic event, since it’d be the first visit of a Russian Patriarch to Poland, and the first joint statement coming from the heads of the two churches. Moreover, what’s important this time is that the Russian side covered most of distance dividing the two churches. In mid-July, Patriarch Kirill started his “peace crusade” by making a personal small pilgrimage to the burial site of the Polish officers executed on Stalin’s order in 1940 near the village of Katyń in Smolensk Oblast (Western Russia). There, Kirill consecrated a small church dedicated to the Resurrection, devoted to the memory of those victims of Katyn who were Orthodox Christians. This visit, widely covered in the Polish press, somewhat corrected the image of the head of the Russian Orthodox church, who’s currently demonised in the media of many countries, including Poland.
Can there be problems and obstacles to the visit? Of course, there are such obstacles. Furthermore, the problem is not just Polish nationalists, although Monika Olejnik, Poland’s foremost television commentator, already noted in Gazeta Wyborcza that some leaders of the nationalist Law and Order (PiS) Party would view any meeting with the Russian patriarch as “treason”. However, this time, the main problem isn’t PiS and its main anti-Russian voice, Adam Macieriewicz.
Now, the main problem is that the Patriarch is scheduled to make his appeal on the same day, 17 August, when the district court in Khamovniki in Moscow will start reading the verdict in the case of Pussy Riot. The three female members of the group, who called the Patriarch “a bitch” and “God’s excrement” in the Holy of Holies (before the Royal Doors of Russia’s main Orthodox cathedral), were lionised by nearly all Western press. Unfortunately, most Polish media outlets didn’t make an exception. Many of them made the wrong claim that the Russian Orthodox Church, or the Patriarch himself, called for a severe punishment for the perpetrators (which was not the case… in reality, the Church just refused to get involved in the trial on either side). So, the Pussy Riot action, viewed by many Orthodox believers as a provocation, in truth, couldn’t hit harder… the punks not only insulted the Patriarch, they possibly marred the day that was scheduled to become a day of Russo-Polish reconciliation. If the girls get the punishment of three years demanded by the Prokuratura, it could easily unleash a surge of hate against the Patriarch in the foreign media. The only hope of avoiding embarrassment is that reading the verdict would take more than one day. Then, the Patriarch would face the inevitable barrage of questions on the verdict, not on the reconciliation day, but, probably, 1-2 days later. Patriarch Kirill, being a media-friendly figure, almost never refuses to give press conferences or answer questions.
It is especially sad that Pussy Riot’s provocation, made global by some of the Western pop singers with their copy-cat support for Pussy Riot, hit at the time when Patriarch Kirill was possibly preparing to stretch his hand to the head of the Roman Catholic church, a move long awaited by supporters of Christian unity. In July 2012, during a meeting with the visiting Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, widely seen as a preparation to his visit to Catholic Poland, Kirill said that his church and Vatican were linked by a “unity of views on many problems in the sphere of religious guidance and morals”. He called for a joint defence of Christian values by Roman Catholics and Orthodox, along with the world of business, culture, and science. Otherwise, Kirill said, “our modern civilisation will become vulnerable and exposed to attacks”. It already is exposed, unfortunately. The Pussy Riot case proved it to everyone.
10 August 2012
Voice of Russia World Service
Again, one must reiterate that the moral positions of the Church and of the papists are NOT identical… although they’re similar. The two main differences are that the Church is more lenient regarding marriage and artificial birth control, and that Orthodox canons aren’t the same as papist “canon law”. All too many konvertsy interpret the canons with an acerbic and overliteralistic emphasis, destroying the inner meaning of the guidelines. Two main differences separate us from the papists. One is the papacy itself. To restore communion, the papacy would have to renounce all of its errors introduced since 1054… that’s not going to happen, no way, no how. The other obstacle is the legalistic juridical mindset of the papists… that’s not going to change, either.
So, what can we do? We can exchange gestures of sincere friendship… we can stand for the moral right… and we can, at least, not attack one another. More than that isn’t in the cards. I say, “Let’s grasp for what can be realised… let’s throw out all the bloviating ‘ecumenist’ sods who talk big and deliver little”. Unity? That can’t be, without one or the other party becoming what it’s not. Charity? The front gate is unlatched, and the key’s under the mat for all people of good will. Don’t forget to bring the church key and corkscrew, if you will…