Interview with the church expert Lunkin, the director of the Institute for Religion and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences, about the Russian Orthodox patriarch - By Oliver Hinz (KNA)
Moscow (kath.net / KNA)
A year ago, on January 27th, 2009, the new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Cyril I was elected, succeeding the late Alexis II. The Director of the Institute for Religion and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Roman Lunkin, talks with the Katholischen Nachrichten-Agentur ("Catholic News Agency (KNA)") on changes in the official relationships between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church and the attitude towards religiously mixed Ukraine.
KNA: Mr. Lunkin, what are the differences between the understanding of the office of Patriarch between Cyril I and his predecessor, Alexis II?
Lunkin: Patriarch Alexy II was very mild and conservative. He allowed the bishops and priests a lot of freedom - there was no strict centralization. He supported the idea of national and cultural Orthodoxy in Russia. Patriarch Cyril I is a brilliantly talented figure. He is an advocate of a strong church with a centralized structure like the Catholic Church, and a close relationship between Church and State.
Cyril I wants a non-democratic, orthodox state, which protects the Church in financial and social issues. Formally, the Moscow Patriarchate is independent, but in reality the church is much more dependent on the State. It is impossible to implement the initiatives of Cyril I without the government assistance from Kremlin officials.
KNA: To you, has the relationship between the Russian Orthodox, under Cyril I and the Catholic Church improved?
Lunkin: Those in charge of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Patriarch Cyril I himself say that the relationships between the two churches are increasingly intense. Cyril I and Foreign Ministry Director Archbishop Hilarion have similar opinions on secularization and the consequences of pluralism and liberalism in Europe and the USA.
But this development of relations with the Vatican does not change the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Russian Catholics. These are set by the Moscow Patriarchate under pressure. Cyril I does not allow the conversion of Orthodox believers to Catholicism in Russia. The Patriarchate does not recognize the Catholics of the Byzantine Rite.
KNA: Do you believe that Cyril I and Pope Benedict XVI will meet?
Lunkin: I would very much like for Cyril I and Pope Benedict XVI to meet. This is one of the goals of his church strategy. The Moscow Patriarchate has in mind the triumphant encounter of two traditional and conservative churches of the two cultures - the Western European and Russian. The meeting will happen when the Vatican formally guarantees that Orthodox believers will not be converted in Russia, and the Vatican meets halfway in admitting the mistakes made in western Ukraine.
Cyril I will visit the Ukraine again this year, and I think he will try to visit every year. Then, maybe, the Vatican will develop with the Moscow Patriarchate a common position on Ukraine.