Orthodox Heads Meet With Russian President

Leaders from the Orthodox Christian Church met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today as a part of the Moscow Patriarchate's recent campaign to improve its ecumenical relations.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the symbolic leader of the global Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, the world's largest Orthodox body, met with Medvedev at the Kremlin on Tuesday.

During the meeting, the Russian premier stressed that his government, "highly appreciates the constructive and substantive dialogue that has developed between the Church and the state in recent years."

"A lot of changes have taken place recently. And I am very pleased that you will be able to see these favorable changes in the life of the country and the dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state," Medvedev told Bartholomew, according to Interfax news.

"Very complex tasks facing our state and the world as a whole, in light of the economic crisis, can be tackled only through this dialogue," he said. "That is why we highly value the constructive and full-fledged dialogue we have had with the Russian Orthodox Church in recent years."

Bartholomew in turn welcomed the "prospering cooperation" between the Russian Church and the government, saying that the two institutions are "writing a new chapter in history."

Medvedev also expressed confidence that Bartholomew's visit to Russia, which the president called a "landmark" event, will "contribute to the strengthening of bilateral relations between the Russian and Constantinople orthodox churches."

Kirill also hailed Bartholomew's visit as one of "great importance for bilateral relations."

"We, local Orthodox Churches, are part of one Church," Kirill said. "There is only one Orthodox Church, but Orthodox believers in each country have their specific problems. Therefore, their leaders must meet more often and exchange their pastoral experience."

Tuesday's meeting is the latest in a recent string of ecumenical efforts put forth by Kirill, who observers say is committed to changing the competitive role of the Russian Orthodox Church as established under the Soviet Union.

"Bad relations with Constantinople and bad relations with Rome were a mandatory condition of Soviet church ideology," historian Andrei Zubov told Ecumenical News International. "The Moscow Patriarchate was restored in its day by Stalin in 1943 with the goal of counteracting the Vatican and Constantinople as centres of Christianity not controlled by the Soviet regime."

"Two generations of Russian bishops and Russian theologians were raised with this psychological heritage," Zubov continued. "So what is happening now is namely the overcoming of the Soviet, KGB heritage, the Soviet control of the church … This is the restoration of normal, natural relations between the churches after the unnatural relations of the Soviet period."

Last Thursday, Kirill presented Pope Benedict XVI with a special concert of Russian classical music as a gift for his 83rd birthday and fifth anniversary of his pontificate.

Russian Orthodox officials have expressed hope that Benedict and Kirill will be able to meet in person soon – a feat that Pope John Paul II and Kirill's predecessor, Patriarch Alexei II, were not able to accomplish.

Bartholomew's 10-day visit to Moscow began on Saturday as an exchange visit for Kirill's trip to Istanbul last July.

The two patriarchs celebrated Pentecost together, which Kirill stressed as being a feast of unity.

"In raising up praise to God with one heart in different languages, we are once again reliving the miracle of Pentecost," Kirill said, according to the New York Times.

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