Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna and Austria, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to the European Union, is once again urging a Roman Catholic-Orthodox alliance to combat secularism, liberalism and relativism in Europe — and lands outside it. “The social and ethical teachings of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are extremely close, in many cases practically identical,” Bishop Hilarion said. “Why, then, should we not be able to reveal our unity on all these major issues urbi et orbi?”
Since the election of Pope Benedict XVI, we’ve seen a renewed energy in Catholic-Orthodox relations. One of the late Pope John Paul II’s fervent hopes was for the First Millenium church to once again breathe “with two lungs.” News reports indicate that Benedict, who has expressed a need to heal the split, may visit Istanbul next year and meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
In his call for greater cooperation, Bishop Hilarion did not gloss over the problems that separate the two churches. From the Orthodox point of view, one of the chief stumbling blocks to reconciliation is Uniatism, or Roman Catholic proselytizing in historical Orthodox lands such as Russia and the Ukraine. These tensions still surface today. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, say they have every right to expand into communities where their faithful live.
The conflict over Uniatism won’t be solved anytime soon. But Bishop Hilarion is rightly looking to those issues where Catholics and Orthodox can make common cause. Imagine what future generations will make of us if, while waging an internecine turf battle, the secularists eventually have their way.
As Bishop Hilarion points out, the clock is running:
Today, as never before, we need a united Christian voice in Europe which is rapidly secularized and dechristianized. It is not a Unia that we need, nor a second Council of Ferrara-Florence. We need a strategic alliance, and we need it hic et nunc. In twenty, thirty or forty years it may simply be too late. The ultimate goal of visible unity must not disappear from our horizon, but we should not hope for its speedy achievement. On the other hand, nothing should prevent us from uniting our efforts in order to defend Christian tradition, without waiting for the restoration of full unity between the two lungs of European Christianity.