Citing the Da Vinci Code as an example, Moscow Patriarch Alexy II lamented the “erosion of Christian identity in Europe” (Pravda, May 30). Alexy added: “We have complete mutual understanding with the Roman Catholic Church on these issues.” Indeed, some wonder if such cultural concerns might drive both Churches to find common ground in order to resist such trends: the current pope’s criticism of liberalism is appreciated in Russian Orthodox circles. For some time already, an influential and still young Russian Bishop, Hilarion Alfeyev (Bishop of Vienna and representative of the Russian Church to the European institutions in Brussels) has been advocating a “strategic alliance” between both churches in order to confront secularism.
In a chapter of a book newly published by the World Council of Churches,Orthodox Witness Today, Hilarion deplores the lack of any common Catholic-Orthodox forum. He would like the official representatives of both Churches “to elaborate a common position on all major social and ethical issues.” According to him, this would strengthen the impact of such positions. He writes that this alliance should form in Europe, since it is the continent most prone to deny its Christian heritage and where secularism takes its most aggressive forms. Moreover, he sees a numerical balance between Catholics and Orthodox in Europe, which is lacking elsewhere.
The head of the Department of External Relations of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Kirill, says that cooperation is “absolutely necessary,” according to an interview published in the magazine Inside the Vatican(May). But he prefers not to speak of an “alliance,” which he sees as being too political a term. Not only secular ideologies, but moral issues, such as the increasing acceptance of abortion, homosexuality, and pornography, might encourage both Churches to cooperate. But observers warn that deep-seated suspicions of the Vatican persist among Orthodox clergy and faithful. All analysts interviewed by Brian Whitmore for a Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty news report (May 29) doubt that there will be a significant breakthrough. Despite what Forum 18‘s Geraldine Fagan describes as “an alliance of convenience,” Russian Orthodox leaders are in no haste to see Benedict XVI visiting Moscow.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer