Since a schism 1,000 years ago divided Christianity, Rome and Orthodoxy have both claimed to be the true Church. Now, they have moved to reconcile, but both must face up to mistakes they made and acknowledge their shortcomings.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says there is hope for a second meeting with Pope Francis. In an interview, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk told RIA Novosti that he hopes the next encounter will take place in the coming year.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been an incredibly powerful force in Eastern Christianity. Its liturgy, prayerfulness, icons, and monastic life have helped to maintain the faith in a tumultuous world.
Nevertheless, the Russian Church has faced a series of foreign and domestic challenges over its long history. It suffered a painful schism in the sixteenth century and came under government control during the communist era.
Today, the Russian Orthodox Church is a large and vibrant part of the global Eastern Orthodox church, with over 165 million members. It is the largest and wealthiest of 14 autocephalous churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox church.
A historic meeting is scheduled between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill next week in Havana. It will mark the first time the leaders have met since a schism 1,000 years ago divided Christianity.
The theology of the Russian orthodox church and the pope differs in three fundamental ways. These differences are based on the way in which each church understands church organization and structure, as well as a few other details.
In the Catholic church, the head of the visible Church is called the pope and he has plenipotentiary authority over the bishops of all the world. He is also the only one to have received all of the apostles’ grace-filled rights and privileges, and he is infallible in his teaching on matters of faith.
While these three elements are present in the Orthodox church, they are not emphasized in the same ways. Instead, the Eastern churches emphasize that all the apostles were equal in dignity, authority and grace.
Historically, this is the main difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. However, today there is less controversy over these issues than in the past. Moreover, the theology of these two church traditions has much in common.
The Russian orthodox church and the pope are not in full communion because of disagreement over doctrines. They disagree about the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, elements of Trinitarian teaching, the Immaculate Conception, purgatory and other doctrinal issues.
The Churches also differ on the date of Easter, the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, the portrayal of Christ as a lamb and the ordination of married men. Nevertheless, these differences do not detract from the faith and fellowship of Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Historically, the Catholic Church held seven ecumenical councils (325-787) to define its beliefs and to establish bonds of communion between Churches in different parts of the world. This was done with the help of the Bishop of Rome.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has a conciliar model of the church wherein unity is a result of the common faith and communion in the sacraments. They do not recognize the authority of the Bishop of Rome over all Christian Christians but rather consider him equal to other bishops though with a primacy of honor.
The Russian Orthodox Church, like many other Eastern churches, has had a long tradition of evangelism. It has travelled widely in the world and is a strong presence among peoples who do not have any faith.
In Russia, a number of Protestant churches have set up missionary structures. They have been involved in mass mission efforts and have spent a great deal of money.
Similarly, the Roman Catholic church has also been a force in the country. It has set up five temporary administrative divisions in Russia and now it is preparing to establish a diocese.
It is this diocese, however, that has sparked the ire of the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church sees proselytism as a serious allegation and, according to Keston Institute reporter Geraldine Fagan, the Orthodox are angry that the Roman Catholic church is trying to win Russian members of the Orthodox church over to the Catholic church.