11 February 2016

"You call me and I'll go"

About an hour ago, as I write these words, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) arrived in Cuba. Tomorrow he's scheduled to meet with the bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, in a room at José Martí International Airport. Kirill and Francis are expected to spend a substantial part of their time in private and unscripted talks centering, at least initially, around the difficult situation of Christians of all confessions in the greater Middle East.

The spark for this meeting may have come from Francis, who told reporters back in November 2014 that he had promised Kirill, "I'll go wherever you want. You call me and I'll go." When they and their staffs realized that Kirill's plans to visit South America and Francis's plans to visit Mexico meant that their paths could cross in Havana, a plan emerged ... although exactly when it emerged (revealed only a week ago) isn't clear.

What is clear: this is a historic meeting. The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is the largest section of the global Eastern Orthodox family, and its head has never even once met with the head of the Roman Catholic Church in all the centuries their constituencies have been on this planet together. Instead, Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches, often allied with secular rulers, have poached from each other's flocks and properties over the centuries. Any number of historians from each side can tell you exactly why the other side is the main culprit. And the current conflicts in Ukraine have added to these grievances.

Do we Quakers have a stake in this meeting? After all, aren't we supposed to be a radical departure from the male-dominated, authoritarian, ceremonial cultures that the Catholic and Orthodox both seem to represent? (Are any of us ever likely to get the kind of reception from the President of Cuba that Kirill received today?) Why should we care?
  • First of all, we've been asked to care. As fellow believers, we've been asked by both Francis and Kirill to pray "fervently" for the success of these meetings. Maybe that should be enough right there.
  • Second, many of our neighbors are in these men's pastoral care. Even for those of us outside their jurisdiction, that ought to give some weight to their meeting tomorrow, and to their request for our prayer. A successful meeting could be a direct blessing to many millions of members of the body of Christ, including countless thousands who are trying to carry their cross in areas of crisis where we Friends are few and far between.
  • Finally, whatever we think of the advantages and defects of their organizations, these men are in positions of leadership and influence. Caution and rigidity can be found in the middle management of both hierarchies. However we feel about the power and influence they wield or ought to wield, Francis and Kirill are just men, and are just as much in need of Holy Spirit guidance as any of us. Let's pray that the freedom that Francis had in saying "you call me and I'll go" will still be in the air as they meet.
  • Friday addition: I affirm Friends' distinctives in upholding a low-overhead vision of church, but we are not without our own myths about ourselves! 
Some Kirill-Francis-Havana links:

Russian sources.
A Ukrainian Catholic take.
National Catholic Reporter.
America: The National Catholic Review.
Cardinal Koch (Vatican Radio).
The cynics' version.

Nazi oppression and the cruelties of world war created some miraculous meetings of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant disciples at the grassroots. In his talk, "Beyond Fear: The Therapeutic Role of Saints," Jim Forest reminds us of two examples: Mother Maria Skobtsova ("the one Orthodox saint of modern times who is on the calendar of the Catholic Church in France") and the White Rose resistance group in Germany.

Today's other big news: an interdisciplinary (and likely interconfessional as well!) team known as the LIGO Scientific Collaboration announced that their equipment apparently detected the gravitational waves that Albert Einstein predicted but doubted would ever be found. If verified, LIGO methods will open up incredible new possibilities for astronomy and cosmology, helping us to investigate space-time beyond current limitations of visibility, distance, and even primordial time.

The Internet is happily swamped with reports of today's announcement, accompanied by many creative attempts to explain things to nonscientists like me. Here is one from space.com. I'd love to think that humanity would take a moment to share these scientists' delight and put our earthly squabbles into perspective.

Seems well-timed in light of LIGO: George Fox Evangelical Seminary is organizing a seminar in the planetarium at Portland, Oregon's outstanding science museum, OMSI, on February 19: "In Love with God's Two Books: Coming to Faith and Wonder through Scripture and Science." (Thanks to Paul Almquist for the link.)

"Creation waits with eager longing..." Epistle of the 2016 World Plenary of the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

Quaker Voluntary Service invites applicants to serve in the 2017-2017 program year.

Ian Paul: Can the Church of England 'agree to disagree' on sexuality without becoming theologically incoherent?

Another grim week for the civil-society sector in Russia: Internet defenders. Agora. Golos. (Golos background.)

My first contributions to Atlas Obscura: Gennett Walk of Fame. Levi Coffin House.

Even if you're a pope or a patriarch ... when the Lord gets ready, you've got to move.

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