Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople and Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church, seeking to overcome decades of tension, have met Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in the Kremlin - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.
On the same day, 25 May 2010, Kirill and Istanbul-based Bartholomeos held talks at the Russian church leader's residence in a writers' colony outside Moscow.
The meeting with Medvedev was not originally on the schedule published on the Moscow Patriarchate's Web site for the first full official visit to Russia by Batholomeos since 1993. He had also attended the funeral of Moscow Patriarch Alexei II in December 2008.
A transcript of the public portions of the meeting, before a private lunch, was posted on the Kremlin Web site, www.kremlin.ru, and a video placed on the Moscow Patriarchate's official site, www.patriarchia.ru.
President Medvedev called Bartholomeos' visit "a very important event, and, undoubtedly, it contributes to the strengthening of the dialogue that has always existed between the two sister churches".
Medvedev and Bartholomeos also spoke of the importance of Church-State relations.
"Russia has undergone a lot of changes in recent years, to which we have all been living witnesses," said Medvedev. "You will be able to see those beneficial and favourable - in my view - changes in our country's life and in the life of our society, and in the dialogue that exists in our nation between the Russian Orthodox Church and the State."
The Russian Orthodox Church is the world's largest Orthodox church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is often regarded as being the most important symbolically, but Moscow has chafed when the Istanbul-based Patriarch of Constantinople has been described as an Orthodox equivalent of a Roman Catholic pope.
Bartholomeos, who arrived in Moscow on 22 May and has concelebrated two feast day liturgies with Kirill, praised the Kremlin's relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.
"We, as the mother church, are happy to see the good relations of cooperation existing between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church," said Bartholomeos. "The Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church leadership are writing a new chapter of history. The Russian society is firmly establishing itself based on its traditional moral values and Christian ideals."
The two patriarchs and the Russian president were photographed on a Kremlin rooftop overlooking its historic cathedrals. Kirill and his aides later held bilateral talks with Bartholomeos and his delegation at the Russian patriarch's residence in Peredelkino, a writer's colony near Moscow.
The Moscow Patriarchate's press service reported on 26 May that the talks "touched in particular on questions connected to preparations for a Pan-Orthodox council, inter-Christian dialogue, the organisation of pastoral care of Russian-speaking believers in Turkey and the development of Orthodox pilgrimages to the Christian holy sites of ancient Byzantium".
The press service did not mention whether jurisdictional tensions in Ukraine, where some would like the Orthodox church to be independent of Moscow and under Constantinople, were a subject of discussion.
At a visit to the Danilov Monastery, the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate, on 26 May, Patriarch Bartholomeos asked the monks to pray for the reopening by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of a 19th-century theological school that was closed by Turkish authorities in 1971.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]