Now it seems the best time for the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow to meet, as the party that used to play the role of a picky girl has become more compliant. In response to the unquestioned desire of the Catholic side to meet, the Moscow Patriarchate always set forth a number of claims. They are well-known and it makes no sense to retell them. The Moscow Patriarchate is unlikely to be unaware that their demands cannot be met at all. However, every further refusal included the ultimatum.
Italian vaticanist Sandro Magister made public the information about a secret preparation to the meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, which shows that the Patriarchate considers this event fairly beneficial right now.
The pontiffs’ desire to meet is understandable. After the Second Vatican Council, the ecumenical dialogue became a priority for the Catholic Church. The news that the Pope will travel to Sweden to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and take part in the Lutheran celebrations was difficult to imagine in the past decades. As we approach that date much doubt was expressed about the possible participation of the Catholic party in such celebrations. So the pope is ready to meet anywhere and with anyone, only “that all may be one.”
Can we state that Patriarch Kirill or his predecessors were guided by the same motivation? Ecumenical dialogue that looked optimistic at the time of the Soviet Union suddenly ended up with the beginning of its collapse. This process revealed its painful dependence on the political configuration of Europe. Reformatting this configuration or, as Putin said, the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century,” had catastrophic impact on the dialogue. This dependence of the ecumenical relations between the Vatican and Moscow from political factors has not received adequate evaluation to date, not least because they have not got rid of these factors by the present.
Such a meeting would be very appropriate for patriarch Kirill now. Against the background of isolation, in which Russia found itself as a result of the occupation of a sovereign state and the apparent support of the Russian leadership of military operations in eastern Ukraine, this kind of meeting could help Moscow Patriarchate “look” somewhat better. From the beginning of the events pertaining to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Patriarch Kirill tried to show his “solidarity” with Pope Francis. Although the latter does not represent the party to the conflict and therefore his words have different connotations (and the official body of the Vatican uses the word “annexed” referring to Crimea, unlike the press-service of the ROC), for an average layman the words of Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis can really sound alike.
The meeting, which may take place in Cuba soon, will take place against the background of Ukrainian events. Sandro Magister stresses in his article that one of the reasons for secrecy of this preparation may be the desire to avoid dissatisfaction of the Ukrainian Catholics who today live in conditions of armed aggression of Russia, which has not been condemned by the Moscow Patriarchate. For Vatican diplomacy, which has always been ready to discuss such a meeting, now it is a good time because the partner is in a less strong position and can be willing to hold negotiations himself. However, what may be the conditions of the Moscow Patriarchate?
During the preparation of the Second Vatican Council, when the negotiations concerning the participation of the Orthodox were held, the Moscow Patriarchate delegation, undoubtedly on the "advice" of the state bodies of the Soviet regime, put forward a condition that the Council avoided criticism of the Soviet Union or communism. Only given such guarantees the Moscow Patriarchate delegation could be present at the Council. It is possible that the current condition may be the requirement to avoid the wording regarding "Ukrainian issue” that may be disadvantageous for Russia. They may request to take some abstract declaration about “peace all over the world”: on the Middle East, terrorism, whatever, but most important is there should be no non-Russian version of events in the occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Under these conditions, I think that the Russian delegation could even forget for a while about the “Uniate issue.” Above all, such a meeting and a statement would have shown the world the “solidarity of two spiritual leaders in the face of global threats.”
Sandro Magister believes that behind the scenes of such a meeting could be the desire of Patriarch Kirill to assert himself as a world spiritual leader. The political ballast currently prevents him from making as a spiritual leader and therefore his figure largely perceived in a doublet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting with the Pope can help the Patriarch clear himself from a too much politicized line of business. This trick can actually come off outside the post-Soviet environment, where the appetites of the political elite are not so overwhelming and therefore the Patriarch’s words sound more inspired and evoke fewer political associations. But in the former empire Patriarch Kirill is hardly willing to switch the politician’s role to that of the confessor. Neither the paradigm of the Moscow Patriarchate with its political-religious theory of the “Russian World,” nor Mr. Putin will let him go into such spiritual depths.