By ROBERT MOYNIHAN
(Editor’s Note: Robert Moynihan is founder and editor-in-chief of Inside the Vatican magazine. This story first appeared in The Moynihan Report [TheMoynihanReport.com]. It is reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Dr. Moynihan holds a Ph.D. in medieval studies from Yale.)
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“The forum aims to consolidate Christian powers of Europe, first of all, Catholic and Orthodox communities. It will help find a way out from the deep moral and social-political crisis which is growing worse because of the indifference to spiritual aspects of the human nature and society” — Russian Orthodox Archpriest Fyodor Povnyi, superior of the All Saints Memorial Church in Minsk, Belarus, explaining the purpose of the opening in his church of the Fourth Orthodox-Catholic Forum. The forum met from June 2-6.
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This morning, June 2, Minsk, a large, busy city of more than 1 million on the vast plains between Poland and Russia, was shrouded in thick clouds.
“The weather report says the clouds will stay all week,” a young woman at the hotel desk told me, checking her computer. “It’s a pity,” she said, in English. “You will not be able to see the sun at all during your visit to our city.”
But within hours, by mid-afternoon, as the priests and bishops gathering to attend the Fourth Orthodox-Catholic Forum were entering the Russian Orthodox Church of All Saints to light candles from an eternal flame, lit there in memory of all the innocent victims of war (and war has come often to these lands), the sun burned through the forbidding gray clouds, and lit up brightly the church’s golden dome with its warm rays.
Inside the church, the Forum delegates lit candles from one another, after Archpriest Fyodor Povnyi, superior of the church, lit the first candle directly from the flame, in the church crypt.
Those present come from Greece, Cyprus, Georgia, Germany, France, Italy, Slovakia, Serbia, Russia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sweden, Romania, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Poland, Belarus, and the United States — some 20 countries.
The conference is entitled: “Religion and Cultural Pluralism: Challenges for Christian Churches in Europe.”
The conference members were greeted by an aging Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Filaret, the patriarchal exarch emeritus of All Belarus and also emeritus metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev (he is now past 80), and by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the Catholic archbishop of Minsk (formerly and for many years the bishop of the Catholic Church in Moscow, Russia).
The introductory talks included greetings and expressions of hope for productive proceedings from Pope Francis in Rome, from Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople, and from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. (The Orthodox Church in Belarus is part of the Russian Orthodox Church.)
In his brief remarks, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk spoke with some emotion of his profound sorrow over recent events in Ukraine. He repeated his previously expressed desire that members of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches of Ukraine refrain from taking partisan political positions and commit themselves urgently to finding a way to end the violence in that country through building a just peace.
Participants in the forum, meeting for several days of discussions, were scheduled to choose the venue for the 2016 forum. (The Orthodox-Catholic Forum is held every two years; previously it was held in Italy, in Greece, and in Portugal.)
After the late-May pilgrimage to the Holy Land by Pope Francis and his meeting there with Patriarch Bartholomew, this European Catholic-Orthodox Forum takes on additional importance.
“Certainly, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been one of those who prepared, supported, and initiated this series of meetings,” Peter Cardinal Erdo of Budapest told Vatican Radio on June 2. “We are personally grateful to Patriarch Bartholomew and certainly the Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, chairman of the Foreign Relations Section of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and co-chair of the Assembly.”
Regarding Ukraine, Erdo said “the meeting of course is not a political meeting,” but added: “As Christians, we pray for peace.”