A Step Toward Unity with Orthodox Church

By Peter Anderson – On Friday, February 12, 2016, an important milestone was passed in the long road to restoring unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which have been separated since their tragic division in 1054. In the very unlikely location of the airport in Havana, Cuba, Pope Francis met for several hours with Patriarch Kirill, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church headquartered in Moscow. It was the first time in history that a meeting had occurred between the head of the Catholic Church and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Since 1964 the successive Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople have met with various popes including Pope Francis. However, because the centuries-long animosities against Catholics are stronger in the more conservative Russian Orthodox Church, a meeting between a pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church was not possible until this historic meeting in Havana.

Christian Life Reviving in Russia

Russia is, of course, an important part of the message of Fatima. After 1917, Christians in Russia suffered a persecution that was greater than the persecution of all Christians by the Romans. In 1937 alone, 85,300 clergymen and church workers were executed by Soviet secret police. Because “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians,” the Russian Orthodox Church has experienced a great revival since the fall of communism. The Russian Orthodox Church now includes more than half of all Orthodox Christians in the world. In a sense, this resurrection of Christian life in Russia is part of the victory of Our Lady of Fatima.

In seeking to establish Christian unity, the Vatican is not seeking to absorb the Russian Orthodox Church, but rather to establish “Eucharistic communion” between Catholics and Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox Church has its own beautiful liturgy and tradition which should not be lost. Instead, the hope is to restore the relationship that existed in the first millennium where the churches of East and West were able to share the Body and Blood of Our Lord together.

Kazan Icon – A Most Precious Gift

This is the revered icon of the Mother of God of Kazan that Pope John Paul II is returning to Russia. (Photo courtesy of the Vatican) (Aug. 24, 2004)

This is the revered icon of the Mother of God of Kazan that Pope John Paul II returned to Russia. (Photo courtesy of the Vatican) (Aug. 24, 2004)

The meeting in Havana fulfills the dream of Pope Saint John Paul II. In 1993 the Blue Army gave to St. John Paul its beautiful Kazan icon which the Blue Army had kept in its Byzantine chapel at Fatima. The Holy Father kept this icon in his personal apartment for eleven years and prayed before it each day for Russia. The original Kazan icon, revealed to a 12-year-old girl by Our Lady in 1579, had been destroyed by thieves who stole it from the Orthodox cathedral in Kazan, Russia in 1904. However, the Blue Army’s ancient Kazan icon was the most beautiful of all of the many copies of the icon and had been smuggled out of Russia during the communist persecution. It is said that this icon became the Pope’s most precious possession. Saint John Paul had a great hope that he could go to Russia and personally give this icon as a gift to the Orthodox patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Because of Orthodox – Catholic tensions, this was never possible. Instead, the Holy Father gave the icon to two cardinals who traveled to Moscow and gave it to the Orthodox patriarch on the feast of the Assumption 2004. The Blue Army’s icon was then taken to Kazan, Russia, where it became the replacement for the original icon that was destroyed in 1904.

At the start of the Havana meeting, Patriarch Kirill gave to Pope Francis a gift. It was a beautiful gold reproduction of the Kazan icon. During the meeting, the Pope and the Patriarch signed a common declaration. The final paragraph of this declaration reads:

With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God.” May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!

 

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