Ukraine Patriarch Urges Catholic, Orthodox Cooperation

In contrast to other local Orthodox churches, the leader of the Ukranian Orthodox Church’s Kiev Patriarchate says that there are no impediments to increased cooperation between Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The comments by Patriarch Filaret serve to highlight the differences amongst Orthodox churches in Russia and Ukraine, which were once united under the Soviet Union. The Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate has accused Catholics of encroaching on its territory and worked to block a visit to Russia by late Pope John Paul II.

“Today the task and mission of Christian churches – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant – is to support moral values and support spirituality and morality in European civilization,” said Filaret in an interview with the Associated Press. “We don’t need to be afraid of Rome, or the Greek Catholics.”

Although Pope Benedict XVI has indicated a desire to heal the division between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, Filaret feels that it is “desirable but today is not realistic.” However, he added that increased cooperation was possible, according to AP.

The leader of the ecumenical World Council of Churches welcomed the comments.

“That the Orthodox churches are feeling confident they can address bigger issues (is an indication of) mending fences,” said the Rev. Samuel Kobia, himself a Methodist pastor.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity said that Filaret “doesn’t speak for the other patriarchs,” according to AP.

In the past, the Russian Orthodox Church has accused the Roman Catholic Church of increasing tensions between the churches by reaching out in Russia. The Vatican says that it is only looking out for its flock there, estimated to be around 600,000 faithful.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II recently welcomed the Pope’s call for Christian unity but said that it would be the Catholic Church that had to take the first steps to improve relations, according to the daily Russian newspaper, Rossikaya Gazeta.

The split in the Ukranian churches comes partly as a result of the unwillingness of the Russian Orthodox patriarchy to give up control of the believers in Ukraine, following the independence of the ex-soviet republic.