Catholic Church: Eastward Expansion

In 1439, the Florence council of Orthodox and Catholic high clergy formally united the two churches separated until then. The Pope felt triumphant. Yet the former Metropolitan turned Catholic Bishop Isidore was nearly torn apart by a crowd of the 'formerly Orthodox' who had no wish to fall into the bosom of the motherly Catholic Church. The Union of the churches fell through scandalously. On February 11, 2002, the Vatican formalised its presence in Russia by establishing a full-fledged Catholic Diocese. A solemn mass was followed by a press release of the Pope John-Paul II himself, concerning the creation in Russia of a 'province of the Roman Catholic Church', according to website. This is how Russia has become just another province of the Vatican.

According to Russian Orthodox clergy, this is nothing if not an openly missionary activity on the part of the Vatican. As Alexei II, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, wrote in his statement that did not take long to follow, 'The establishing in Russia of this church means an actual challenge to Christian Orthodoxy, which has been rooted in this country for many centuries. There has never been anything of this kind in the history of Russia. Moreover, such organisation of the Catholic Church is not typical even for purely Catholic countries where there are no Catholic provinces and whose dioceses are, in fact, governed by metropolitans'.

As goes public consciousness, the idea of 'missionary activities' is usually associated either with islands in Oceania or with redskins visited, in long ago times, by Catholic priests trying to spiritually enlighten savages wallowing in their sinful fallacies. Very often these priests were used for food.

Missionary activities in the country that adopted Christianity over a thousand years ago seem somewhat strange. The last attempt to enlighten Muscovites was made by the Vatican in the 13th century when knights from the orders of Sword Carriers and Teutons were sent to baptise Slavic savages with sword and fire. That time, the forcible 'baptising' was very successfully stopped at the root by a good Christian believer, prince, later canonised St. Alexander Nevsky. Since then, there have been no more papal attempts to bring its version of the teaching of Christ to Russia by force. The Vatican's actions later became more 'politically correct'. These politically correct actions included the Florence Union of the churches, the quest of Dimitry, the pseudo-heir to the throne of Russia, who, by the way, did not at all justify the hopes invested in him by Polish Catholic Priests, and the much later setback the Orthodox Church suffered in Russia during the reign of Peter the Great, the pro-Western tsar. More than during other times, Catholic and other organisations flourished in the Russian Empire under Alexander I, when the majority of Russian aristocrats were under the influence of some ore other mystic teachings. The first and foremost among those was the teaching of Free Masons adhered to by great many Decembrists to be. The 'blessed emperor', however, changed his mind soon enough and banned all such 'non-governmental organisations'.

The following monarchs did not have much patience with Catholicism and allowed papal parishes to preach to churchgoers only if not too far from the western borders of the empire. Of course, while the Russian Orthodox Church was officially married to the state, another treatment of other churches could hardly be expected.

Today is a different time. Church is separated from state and secular powers-that-be of the Russian Federation allow all, be it totalitarian sects, scientologists, or harmless followers of the Society of Krishna Consciousness. Under such circumstances, the decision of the Vatican to create a Catholic diocese in Russia does not seem too farfetched. Indeed, without such entity as a diocese, handling parishioners true to the tradition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not easy at all.

However, remembering the traditions and history, the Vatican acts as 'politically correctly' as possible. Thus, in his statement, Thaddeus Condrusevic, who represents the Pope in Russia, wrote, 'to express our due respect for the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church and their highly respected arch-pastors, the Catholic dioceses in Russia are named after saints and biblical events rather than after the cities where their centres are located'. That is, not to confuse Tikhon, the Archbishop of Novosibirsk and Berdsk, and Joseph Vert, the Archbishop of Novosibirsk, the latter will be referred to as Joseph Vert, the Archbishop of the Hholy Transfiguration. In the meantime, the new stronghold of Catholicism in Russia, Moscow, will be called the Diocese of the Mother of God, probably not without a hinted reference to Russia being the Domain of the Mother of God, according to Russian Orthodox tradition. That the Vatican's move is not just religious but also strictly political is no big secret. The rhetoric of the official statement of Thaddeus Condrusevic, the head of the Catholic Church in Russia, is full of far from original clichйs as goes assuring of 'mutual friendship and cooperation'. Such, for instance, is the expressed hope that 'the latest changes in the structure of the administrative units of the Catholic Church in Russia will be well understood by Russia' public, while serving the country's further progress on the way of democracy and religious freedom'. No doubt, having a dialogue is a good thing, yet there are limits to that. The assuring of friendship and cooperation sounds even stranger in the light of NATO's increasingly obvious eastward expansion.

Of course, at this time, the Russian Orthodox Church can hardly claim being the spiritual leader of the nation. The reasons for this are many, from the fact that over half of our people adhere to other religions to the profound internal crises and contradictions. Yet such an open expansion of Catholicism, the religion that has never been close to the people who have all their lives grown and lived under the influence, if often at the subconscious level, of the cultural and spiritual heritage of Russian Orthodoxy, absolutely must be met with a harsh response not only on the part of the Moscow Patriarchy but also on the part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to Strana.RU, 'The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its regret that the decision of the Pope John-Paul II was made without due consideration of the opinion of Russia's government'. The statement further reads, 'The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommends that the Holy Throne abstain, for the time being, from transforming the administrative entities of the Catholic Church into dioceses and discuss the matter with the Russian Orthodox Church'. Yet the Vatican's decision still stands. The question what may be the further response of the Russian Orthodox Church in need of preventing the outflow of its followers toward the foreign spiritual source remains open.

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Author`s name Editorial Team