Although there are none officially planned, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II laid down what he sees as “conditions” for the Holy Father to make a future visit to Russia.
According to an Associated Press story, the Russian Patriarch stated that such a visit may only occur if the Vatican renounced its efforts to “expand Rome-affiliated churches in traditional Christian-Orthodox areas.”
The criticism revolves around Eastern-rite Catholic churches which continue to grow in traditionally Orthodox areas.
Patriarch Alexy told the Associated Press that these churches, which have grown since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, “only deepen the divisions between Orthodox and Catholics.”
Despite the tension, the Pope has been active in recent years trying to bridge the divide between the closely related faiths. He has made historic trips to many Orthodox lands throughout the 1990’s and held joint worship with the leader of the Orthodox faith, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Russia, however, home to the greatest number of Orthodox faithful in the world, has remained closed to the Holy Father.
The A.P. reported that the Orthodox Church is angered “by possible moves by the Vatican to give patriarchate status to Greek Catholics, an Eastern Rite church that has expanded into traditionally Orthodox eastern and southern Ukraine.”
According to the A.P., Alexy called this part of “unfriendly activities toward the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Nevertheless, in August, the Holy Father returned to Moscow the icon of Our Lady of Kazan, which he hopes will further reconciliation between the faiths.
Alexy has welcomed such acts as well as the return of the relics of two 4th century Orthodox saints in November by the Vatican as, “signs of readiness” to advance the reconciliation process.