Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow may have gotten a little ahead of himself in his comments on Catholic-Orthodox unity, given in a recent interview which we reported on here. However, his hopeful tone, and his conviction that progress is being made towards unity, are well founded.
The Vatican is taking a more measured line than the Catholic archbishop of Moscow, and is stressing that, as well as resolving outstanding theological problems, plenty of trust still needs to be built up between the two Churches before unity can be considered. However, it concedes that clear progress is being made.
If proof were needed of this improvement, one need look no further than a speech given by Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, effectively the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign minister, at this evening’s prayers at the Sant’Egidio community in Rome.
Archbishop Hilarion, 43, is on a five-day visit to Rome, and will be received by Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow in private audience. Like Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, he is new to his position, and also in common with the patriarch, he has many built up many friends in Rome thanks to his previous position (Archbishop Hilarion was formerly the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to Europe and took over from Kirill the role of “foreign minister” following Kirill’s election this year as Patriarch).
Below is the speech Archbishop Hilarion gave this evening in flawless Italian. Note I didn’t have the official text, so this is a rough translation. I’ve highlighted the parts in bold that I thought were particularly poignant.
Dear brothers and sisters of the community of Sant’Egidio,
It is with great joy that I have come this evening to be among you.
I am happy to be close to you once again and especially to see you once again, my friends Professor Andrea Riccardi and Bishop Vincenzo Paglia. I greet with joy the bishops who are present and I greet with love all of you who have come tonight to this church. Through you I would like to greet the whole community of Sant’Egidio throughout the world.
I would like to transmit to you the blessings and greetings of His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. In his name, and also from myself and all of us who are present with you, I would like to tell you of the esteem and love that we have for your community. We esteem your love towards the poor, we treasure your work towards them and also those in need; the actions that you do in this city and in other cities to give food to the homeless, and the care which all the community of Sant’Egidio has for those who are on the margins of society.
With this commitment of yours, with this Christian ministry towards the poor, you practice the Gospel. In life, man suffers, and it’s here you find the face of the Lord. Through serving all the poor, you serve Him who said that what you do to each of my little brothers, you do to me.
We have great admiration for your contribution to dialogue, especially that between Christians those of different religions. And we are especially pleased and happy with the relationship of understanding and mutual esteem that has been established between your community and our Russian Orthodox Church.
We live in a de-Christianized world, in a time that some define—mistakenly—as post-Christian. Contemporary society, with its practical materialism and moral relativism, is a challenge to us all. The future of humanity depends on our response, as Christians, to this challenge, and maybe even whether life continues on our planet. It is a common challenge and also our answer must be common. Only together can we put forward all the spiritual and moral value of the Christian faith; only together can we offer our Christian vision for the family, only together can we affirm our concept of social justice, of a more equal distribution of goods.
These moral values are traditional because they have been affirmed by Christians for 20 centuries and have formed our cultural and European civilization. They are, at the same time, very new and modern, because the Gospel of Jesus is eternally new and modern. With this common challenge, the contemporary world challenges us, and we Christians must be together. It’s time to pass from confrontation to solidarity, mutual respect, and esteem. I would say without hesitating that we must pass to mutual love, living out Jesus’s commandment to love one another. As Jesus said, all will know you are disciples of mine if you have love for the other. This is what our preaching demands and it can be effective, it can be convincing, also in our contemporary world, if we are able to live this mutual love among us as Christians.
With these sentiments, I thank you once again for having invited us and I repeat to you my joy of being here tonight. And in order to express concretely our fraternal love for all the community of Sant’Egidio, I would like to give you this Russian icon of Our Lady.
I pray to the Mother of God to bless you all, and to protect and support you always in your commitment to love the Lord, serving every neighbor, and especially the poor and the disadvantaged.