A dialogue with Orthodoxy is effective when we defend together Christian values. However, we are still divided by unhealed wounds of history

At Warsaw University of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, on 28-30 November 2013 there was a conference ‘The future of Christianity in Europe. The role of Churches and nations of Poland and Russia’. Despite scepticism of many participants, it was an unprecedented event. A few years ago there was an unimaginable situation that priests from Moscow patriarchy were sitting next to Polish Catholic bishops and were discussing about what united and what divided them.

‘Today we are calling: Do not look for what divides, but look at what unites!’ –we read in the message to the Russians and Poles published in the end of the conference.

A coalition between churches

During the visit in Poland, the metropolitan Hilarion (considered as the second person after the patriarch in the Russian orthodoxy), often emphasized that bringing the two Churches together is an urgent necessity, because the contemporary world is generating bigger and bigger dangers for Christian values. He mentioned two basic points of the cooperation between the churches. The first of them is the defence of the Christians against destruction in the Middle East, and the second one is the common attitude in moral issues such as abortion, bioethics and traditional family.

There is a much more alarming tone of the message of the patriarch Cyril which he addressed to the participants of the conference. ‘There are appearing legislative initiatives more and more frequently, which are aiming at separating societies from traditional values, there is a moral relativism, people are becoming indifferent to issues of faith, in whole Europe there are undertaken attempts of excluding religion from social life’ – the patriarch of Moscow was justifying the need of cooperation between the Catholics and the Orthodox.

Surely, each of Polish Catholic bishops could sign under these words of the superior of the Russian Church. As long as differences historic and theological animosities divide us, the moral teaching of the Church is practically identical. Looking at one another, we see the same hopes and anxieties, which are so numerous in today’s world. Despite appearances, more unites us than divides. Facing the challenges of the contemporary times, when various ideologies tell us to undermine everything, also God’s law and the natural law, we feel more that we need one another. This closeness is a sign of times – said archbishop Józef Michalik, the chairman of the Polish National Conference.

There is no reconciliation without faith

As long as a dialogue about the defence of Christian values is developing, a shadow on the common relationships is history and lack of understanding sensitivity of another party. Therefore, during historic panels big divergences were visible.

- The truth is not and cannot be the subject of negotiations – emphasized prof. Adam Rotfeld, the co-chairman of the Polish-Russian Group for Difficult Matters. In his opinion, the truth not only never hinders an agreement, but, on contrary – it cleanse them out of falsehoods, hypocrisy and harmful stereotypes. – Not telling a complete truth without understatements or cheating, the reconciliation process cannot be permanent or effective.

Many Polish historians appealed for a full opening Russian archives in order to investigate our difficult past. Interestingly enough, it was supported by historians connected with the patriarchy, because blocking an access to acts hinders them to carry out beatification processes of martyrs of communism. However, there were some voices of complaint from them that in 1918 the young Polish country had not supported ‘The Whites’ in a fight against the Bolsheviks.

For example, speech of a Moscow director of the Russian-Polish Dialogue Centre, Jurija Bondarenko, known from his speeches relativizing Katyń, had a less reconciliation tone. In his opinion, it should not only be said about Stalin’s crimes but also about inconvenient facts in the history of Poland. As an example, he recalled the destruction of the Orthodox church of Aleksander Newski in the 20s of the XX century. However, he did not add that it had been intended mainly for Russian soldiers stationing in Warsaw. Nobody concealed the fact that it is being built as a symbol of the caesarean reign over Poles.

Pope and the patriarch in Cracow?

Polish historians also touched on the issue of the Smoleńsk air crash. – Spontaneous expressions of compassion from millions of the Russians were alleviating the pain caused by this tragedy. Unfortunately, the later course of events: announcement of unilateral report of the Russian commission for investigating the causes of the air crashes MAK, not returning the wreckage of the airplane to the Polish party, although three years passed from the catastrophe, arouse distrust and hinder the process of the Polish-Russian dialogue – emphasized Rotfeld.

The metropolitan of Lublin made a postulate of the common appeal of the both Churches for the return of the wreckage of the airplane. – This decision will contribute to removal of one of the important obstacles on the road of agreement and reconciliation between our nations – emphasized archbishop Stanisław Budzik.

The visit of the delegation of the Russian Church became an occasion to ask the question: when will the patriarch Cyril meet with pope Francis? In response, archbishop Hilarion said that the Orthodox Church does not reject a possibility of the meeting. What is more, a very bad situation of the Christians in the world requires it as soon as possible. In his opinion, the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches must start a close cooperation.

The historical meeting could take place in Poland, for example, during the pilgrimage of Francis in 2016. – I do not reject Cracow as a place of the possible meeting, but I cannot confirm it because we have not discussed it in our negotiations - said archbishop Hilarion.

A historical meeting in Poland?

Bishop Wojciech Polak, the General Secretary of the Polish Episcopate

– How does Bishop judge the conference?

– It is a very important event for us which is a continuation of the message signed by the patriarch Cyril and archbishop Józef Michalik last year.

– Can the Polish delegation expect an invitation for the revisit in Moscow?

– We did not think about it when we were preparing the conference. Especially that we were glad with the news that this meeting had already been being prepared by the metropolitan Hilarion.

– People are still speaking about the meeting of Cyril I with Pope. When is it going to happen?

– For the time being the visit of Pope in Russia is not possible, nor is the visit of the patriarch in Vatican. However, this meeting is already being prepared on the neutral ground.

– And can Poland be this kind of a neutral ground? Can this meeting take place in 2016 during the visit of Pope Francis in Poland?

– We are open. We would really be happy if Poland became a place of the historical meeting.

Interview conducted by Artur Stelmasiak


"Niedziela" 49/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl