Russian Patriarch responds to Pope’s gesture, insists on “respect” for Orthodox territories

The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II sent a letter to Pope John Paul II thanking him for the handing over of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan back to the Russian Orthodox Church, and insisting that the Catholic Church “respects” the Russian Orthodox territories.

The icon was handed over by Cardinal Walter Kasper at the end of the celebration of Mass in the Kremlin on August 28, the Feast of the most glorious Dormition of Mary in the Orthodox calendar.

“The transfer of this holy icon brought over by your envoys is seen by the Plenitude of the Russian Orthodox Church as both an act of the restoration of justice and an act of good will on the part of Your Holiness,” said the Patriarch.

The Patriarch said that the Pope’s decision to hand over the icon “points to the sincere desire to overcome the difficulties existing in relations between our two Churches,” and prayed that it might help overcome the suffering of the Church in the 20th century.

“The veneration of the Mother of God as "the zealous intercessor for the Christian race" - the veneration common to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches - brings us back to the times of the Early Church when there were no divisions between East and West so visible, regretfully, in our days,” he continued.

The Patriarch mentioned the desire of the Russian Orthodox Church to maintain a relationship of “sincere cooperation,” and said that the transfer of the icon is a “step in the right direction” towards settling problems between the two Churches.

He concluded by saying that “openness in relations among Christians of various confessions presupposes respect for one another, knowledge of their common history and sensitivity in carrying out any actions in territories where other Christian tradition has existed for centuries.”

The term “sensitivity in carrying out actions in territories where other Christian tradition has existed for centuries,” is a demand, politely put, that the Catholic Church cease to evangelize in Russia, an activity which the Russian Orthodox hierarchy considers an aggressive form of proselytism.

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