A leading bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church said that Pope Benedict's papacy has been the occasion of a "positive dynamic" in relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox.

"He is a prominent theologian, who is well versed in the tradition of the Orthodox Church while having the sensitivity that makes it possible for him to build relations with Orthodox Church on (a) due level," Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said Feb. 11.

"Relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have acquired positive dynamic after his ascension to the See of Rome."

On Monday, Pope Benedict announced his decision to resign from his papal duties, effective Feb. 28.

The Holy Father cited concerns of advancing age and declining strength, saying that for these reasons, he is unable to "adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

Metropolitan Hilarion is chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external church relations. He noted that the office of the Roman Pontiff "presupposes active work" and "is not a ceremonial office."

"The Pope Benedict XVI's decision to leave his office in the present situation may be seen as an act of personal courage and humbleness."

He expressed gratitude for the Pope's "understanding of the problems which impede the full normalization of Orthodox-Catholic relations, especially in such regions as western Ukraine."

Metropolitan Hilarion said his meetings with Pope Benedict are memorable, and noted the pontiff's thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and "his desire to solve together the problems arising in our relations."

He praised the Pope's staunch opposition to the "dictatorship of relativism" and said that his "traditionalism and conservatism...are of credit for millions of Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who seek to preserve traditional Christian spiritual and moral values."

"It remains only to hope that his successor will continue walking along the same path and that Orthodox-Catholic relations will continue developing progressively for the common good of the whole Christendom."