The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow has given a remarkably upbeat assessment of relations with the Orthodox Church, saying unity between Catholics and Orthodox could be achieved “within a few months.”
In an interview today in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi said the miracle of reunification “is possible, indeed it has never been so close.” The archbishop added that Catholic-Orthodox reunification, the end of the historic schism that has divided them for a millennium, and spiritual communion between the two churches “could happen soon, also within a few months.”
“Basically we were united for a thousand years,” Archbishop Pezzi said. “Then for another thousand we were divided. Now the path to rapprochement is at its peak, and the third millennium of the Church could begin as a sign of unity.” He said there were “no formal obstacles” but that “everything depends on a real desire for communion.”
On the part of the Catholic Church, he added, “the desire is very much alive.”
Archbishop Pezzi, 49, whose proper title is Metropolitan Archbishop of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, said that now there are “no real obstacles” on the path towards full communion and reunification. On issues of modernity, Catholics and Orthodox Christians feel the same way, he said: “Nothing separates us on bioethics, the family, and the protection of life.”
Also on matters of doctrine, the two churches are essentially in agreement. “There remains the question of papal primacy,” Archbishop Pezzi acknowledged, “and this will be a concern at the next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Commission. But to me, it doesn’t seem impossible to reach an agreement.”
Prospects for union with the Orthodox have increased markedly in recent years with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, whose work as a theologian in greatly admired in Orthodox circles. Benedict is also without the burden of the difficult political history between Poland and Russia, which hindered Polish Pope John Paul II from making as much progress as he would have liked regarding Catholic-Orthodox unity.
Relations have also been greatly helped by the election of Patriarch Kirill I earlier this year as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is by far the largest of the national churches in the Orthodox Church. As the former head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external relations, Kirill met Benedict on several occasions before and after he became Pope, and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch is well acquainted with the Roman Curia and with Catholicism.