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Russian church in “positive dialogue” with Vatican
By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian Orthodox Church has established a “positive dialogue” with the Catholic Church but obstacles remain to a reconciliation between the two faiths, Russia’s Patriarch Alexiy II said on Tuesday.

Both the Vatican and the Russian church say they are open to an historic meeting between the patriarch and Pope Benedict, a step that would send a signal that the churches, split since the Great Schism of 1054, are drawing closer.

But there has been no indication when such a meeting might take place and relations are strained by Russian accusations the Vatican is trying to win converts in parts of the former Soviet Union where Orthodoxy is the dominant faith.

“Recently a positive dialogue is being conducted with the Roman Catholic Church on a whole series of pressing contemporary questions,” the Russian patriarch said in an address to the Synod of Bishops, which takes place every four years.

“At the same time, problems remain on the agenda for our bilateral relations with the Roman Catholic Church which demand real solutions,” he said in a text of his speech posted on the synod’s Internet site

“Among them is the question of missionary activity of Catholics in traditionally Orthodox Russian lands and countries of the (ex-Soviet) Commonwealth of Independent States.”


The Vatican denies proselytizing in ex-Soviet states. A proposal for Pope Benedict to visit Belarus, a state with close ties to Russia and a large Orthodox community, is likely to be an important test of relations between Rome and Moscow.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko issued an invitation for the pontiff to visit earlier this month, and the Vatican said it supported the idea. The Russian Orthodox Church has not yet expressed its view on the proposal.

No Pope has ever visited Russia.

The patriarch used his speech to the Synod to slap down a rebel group of ultra-conservative Orthodox bishops, who have spoken out against building ties with other Christian faiths and campaigned for a return to a stricter form of worship.

“In effect we have encountered the problem of an almost open confrontation,” said Alexiy II.

“My duty as patriarch requires me to remind all and everyone: discussion of difficult issues in the life of the church … should not put temptation in the hearts of believers, push well-wishers away from the church and allow those who wish it ill to gloat.”

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)