On Friday, Feb. 19, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, recently met in Cuba to address the rift between the churches. This is a significant and historical event for both traditions, because there has been a separation between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church for almost 1,000 years, since the Great Schism.
The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that the separation happened in 1054 “when Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael I excommunicated each other.” The main reason for the rift stemmed from disagreements over papal leadership. The Russian Church has leaders called patriarchs. At the time, there was one pope and four eastern patriarchs. The pope believed he should have majority control over the patriarchs; however, the four patriarchs thought the pope’s power should only extend to Western Christians. Other issues between the two churches involved public worship and jurisdiction. The Russian Church and the Catholic Church have tried to reconcile the rift numerous times through meetings, but attempts to repair the relationship have been unsuccesssful.
On Feb. 19, the leaders had a two-hour discussion that resulted in an agreement that the churches will encourage their members to repair the schism. According to the Washington Post, “the 30-point statement signed by the two leaders pledges new areas of cooperation for the long-estranged churches to protect Christians in conflict zones while affirming a shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.” This meeting was a voluntary team effort, and both leaders were looking to address the issue from a holistic perspective. The Washington Post notes that Patriarch Kirill commented that both churches want “to help Christians all over the world.” The newspaper also notes that Pope Francis stated, “we spoke as brothers.” Various intentional issues were discussed, such as Syrian civil war and North Africa war, with plans to aid countries in war. Both leaders revealed that they want to repair the Great Schism and other Christian rifts, but the full details of the entire conversations have not been revealed.
The meeting was historic and may be a stepping-stone for both churches to repair their 1,000-year rift. Christians leader from both traditions are hopeful that the continued efforts toward reconciliation will reinvogorate both bodies of believers.
Sources: Countrystudies.us, Washingtonpost.com, Britannica.com