Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Karol Wojtyla

We take for granted that much of the facts surrounding the Papacy are known to everybody, albeit in different degrees of detail, but in fact in Orthodox post-Soviet Russia things don't quite happen like that. The Russkaya had only a faint idea of white smoke versus black smoke and plead mercy to my accusations of inexcusable ignorance, on the grounds that information related to religion and Catholicism was strictly filtered in her Moscow youth. Inevitably we discussed the fact that the "exceptionality" of Russia manifested itself this time by being one of the few countries that the Holy Father, while eager to do it, was not able to visit.

Flashback to my Moscow years. A meeting with a very intelligent priest of the Foreign Relations department of the Office of the Primate of the Orthodox Church, with short beard, impeccable acute mind, who had traveled, "incognito", he told me, to Fatima. He talked about an agenda for negotiations and a list of issues to be discussed and cleared by the two Churches before a possible visit by John Paul II could be considered. "Moscow" was accusing "Rome" of trying to "poach" Russians that belonged to the 'canonical territory' of the Russian Orthodox Church. Life was not easy, I remember, for my fellow diplomats from the Holy See.

That brings me to an article I read today by Jaroslav Pelikan, a renowned author on Christian tradition ( former Professor of History at Yale, and a Lutheran who joined the Orthodox Church at age 74). He makes the point that although even in supposedly thorny doctrinaire points the distance between the Oriental and Western Churches is not that great, and despite the willingness and personal engagement of John Paul II, progress in achieving unity had frustrating results. Pelikan almost implies that an window of opportunity has closed, and the chance represented by a Slav Pope was lost.

Maybe it's the other way around. It might be easier for a non-Slav successor of John Paul II to achieve things that are related to the Russian Orthodox Church. At least to visit Moscow..

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