Tomorrow, for the first time in history, a Roman Catholic pontiff and the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet face to face. According to the joint press release of the Holy See and of the Patriarchate of Moscow:
The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.
The meeting is scheduled to last about two hours. Cuba’s President Raúl Castro will join the two religious leaders during the exchange of gifts.
Why are they meeting?
According to Vatican Insider, Metropolitan Hilarion said in a recent press conference that the historic meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope “had been in the making for about 20 years” but was speeded up by the “Christian genocide” being caused by terrorists. In the face of what is going on and is “causing concern” to both Churches, the two spiritual leaders simply “had to meet.”
Vladimir Legoida, head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations and the Mass Media, said the meeting is called for by the need to exert joint efforts in giving help to Christian communities in the Middle East countries.
Although many problems in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church remain unresolved, the protection of Christians in the Middle East against the genocide is a challenge that requires urgent united efforts.…The exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa countries is a catastrophe for the whole world.
Why are they meeting in Cuba?
Cuba was reportedly chosen because it’s a “neutral territory” and a place where “Christianity is developing.”
Why have the leaders of each church never met before?
Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches split and broke communion in the 11th century. The reason for the East–West Schism (sometimes referred to as the Great Schism) is complicated, but as George T. Dennis, professor of history at Catholic University of America, explains:
The eleventh-century reform in the Western Church called for the strengthening of papal authority, which caused the church to become more autocratic and centralized. Basing his claims on his succession from St. Peter, the pope asserted his direct jurisdiction over the entire church, East as well as West.
The Byzantines, on the other hand, viewed their church in the context of the imperial system; their sources of law and unity were the ecumenical councils and the emperor, whom God had placed over all things, spiritual and temporal. They believed that the Eastern churches had always enjoyed autonomy of governance, and they rejected papal claims to absolute rule. But neither side was really listening to the other.
In addition, since the ninth century, theological controversy had focused on the procession of the Holy Spirit. In the life of the Trinity, does the Spirit proceed from the Father only, or from the Father and from the Son (Filioque in Latin)? The Western church, concerned about resurgent Arianism, had, almost inadvertently, added the word to the Nicene Creed, claiming that it made more precise a teaching already in the creed. The Greeks objected to the unilateral addition to the creed, and they strongly disagreed with the theological proposition involved, which seemed to them to diminish the individual properties of the three Persons in the Trinity. In 1439 Greek and Latin theologians at the Council of Florence, after debating the issue for over a year, arrived at a compromise that, while reasonable, has not proven fully satisfactory.