WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — The head of the Russian Orthodox Church and the president of the Polish Catholic bishops’ conference signed a joint message Aug. 17 urging Poles and Russians to set aside centuries of anger and prejudice and work together to maintain their countries’ Christian identities.
The signing of the reconciliation “Message to the Nations of Poland and Russia” was the key moment of the first-ever visit of a Russian Orthodox patriarch to modern Poland.
“We enter a path of honest dialogue in the hope that it will heal the wounds of the past, facilitate our overcoming mutual prejudice and misunderstanding and strengthen us in our pursuit of reconciliation,” said the message signed by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, president of the Polish bishops’ conference.
The signing ceremony was broadcast live on Polish television.
Polish Catholic and Russian Orthodox officials had been preparing the statement for more than two years in an effort to overcome historical grudges between the two nations and long-standing tensions between the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Polish Catholic Church.
A long history of battles over territory became more complicated during World War II when Poland was invaded by both Germany and Russia. After the war, Poland came under the influence of the Soviet Union. Under communism, the Catholic and Orthodox churches were subject to government pressure, with the minority Orthodox in Poland and minority Catholics in Russia suffering particularly harsh treatment.
The reconciliation message said, “Sin, which is the principal source of all divisions, human frailty, individual and collective egoism as well as political pressure, led to mutual alienation, overt hostility and even struggle between our nations.
“Similar circumstances had earlier led to the dissolution of the original Christian unity. Division and schism, alien to Christ’s will, were a major scandal; therefore we redouble efforts to bring our churches and nations closer to each other and to become more credible witnesses to the Gospel in the contemporary world,” it said.
With the religious and political freedom that came with the fall of communism in the early 1990s, Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Michalik said, the churches set out on a path of renewal, but still must face the effects of decades of official atheism and the growing secularism of modern societies.
Christianity “exerted a decisive impact on the identity, spirituality and culture of our peoples and of the entire Europe,” the two leaders said, and maintaining the Christian faith is essential for the countries’ future.
The churches and their faithful must make “every effort so that the social life and culture of our nations not be stripped of principal moral values, the cornerstone of a viable peaceful future,” the message said.
The patriarch and the archbishop expressed particular concern about “the promotion of abortion, euthanasia and same-sex relations,” as well as attempts to remove religious symbols from public places.
“In the name of the future of our nations we call for the respect and protection of the life of each and every human being from the moment of conception until natural death. We believe not only terrorism and armed conflict, but also abortion and euthanasia to be grave sins against life and a disgrace to contemporary civilization,” the church leaders’ message said.
While Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Michalik said they recognized the autonomy of church and state, they encouraged cooperation to protect the family, promote education and assist the poor.
The family, based on a permanent bond between a man and woman, “is a sound foundation of all societies. As an institution founded by God, the family warrants respect and protection as it is the cradle of life, a wholesome place of development, a guarantee of social stability, and a sign of hope for society,” they said.