After many hundreds of years of tension between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches there are recent signs that relations are on the mend, especially with the Russian Orthodox (see report page 4).
This progress contrasts with the growing problems with Anglicanism where acceptance of women and "gay" bishops has all but scuttled prospects of closer Church unity between Catholics and Anglicans.
Together, Catholics and Orthodox make up a large proportion of the world's Christians and there are almost limitless possibilities for constructive initiatives to counter the march of militant secularism even if progress towards Church unity will be inevitably slow.
Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, during recent meetings at the Vatican with Benedict XVI and Cardinal Kasper, set the tone for improved relations. He said there are many reasons for Catholics and Orthodox to co-operate in "our de-Christianised world" and "it is time to move past divisions and competition and exist in solidarity and mutual love."
Archbishop Alfreyev, who has been Chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate since last March, expressed his high esteem for Benedict, who, he said, is much appreciated in the Russian Orthodox Church, adding that he hoped the Pope and Patriarch Kirill could meet soon. It has since been suggested that a meeting might be arranged on neutral territory such as Cyprus.
Cardinal Kasper was also upbeat about the talks: "We have spoken of the exchange of priests, of theologians, and of all that which might help to improve relations and also to overcome the prejudices and resistance that exist in Russia against the Catholic Church and ecumenism; however, little by little, we can also overcome this."
On 17 September, Archbishop Alfeyev attended afternoon prayer with the Sant'Egidio Community whom he thanked for their "contribution to dialogue" while drawing their attention to the common challenge represented by "a de-Christianised world," dominated by "consumerism, hedonism, practical materialism and moral relativism."
Michael Gilchrist: Editor (email available on request).