The Patriarch of Moscow Kirill has left for Cuba, this morning. There, he will meet Pope Francis. Cyril I, born Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundjaev on November 20, 1946, is the sixteenth patriarch of Moscow and head of the Russian Orthodox Church since 27 January 2009. The plane with the successor of Alexy II onboard – according to the Russian agency Ria Novosti – has taken off from Moscow’s Vnukovo. There are about one hundred people who accompany Kirill, including 30 journalists and the 20 singers from the Eparchy of the Moscow region.
The meeting between the two religious leaders will take place tomorrow in the Cuban Capital at the International Airport José Martí of Havana where the Pope will stop on his way to Mexico and the Patriarch will pay an official visit. Their conversation is going to last about three hours. It was reported by a source from the Moscow Patriarchate quoted by Interfax. The meeting – according to the source – will start at 14.15 local time and the part open to the public will last 15 minutes. At the end of the event, the Patriarch and the Pope will exchange gifts and sign a joint statement; finally, they will hold a short speech in front of the press before leaving.
The text of the joint statement “was arranged” last night and “were made the latest corrections”. The Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, announced it, stating however, that it will be still possible to change the text of the document during the historic meeting between the leaders of the two main Christian confessions.
For the first time in history, a Pontiff meets a Patriarch of Moscow: the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that it took two years of negotiations to prepare this event and that Cuba was chosen because this place is “neutral”, but significant for both churches, far from the European territories where conflicts between different Christian confessions took place.
The official beginning of the “Orthodox” Church goes back to 1054, after what is known as the great schism in historical sources. From that point on, the only Catholic Roman Church split into two parts. Thus the paths of its eastern and western parts diverged. Whereas the specific history of the Russian Orthodox Church begins with the conversion of Kievan Rus’ in Kiev to Christianity (988). The head office was moved first to Moscow, then, in 1589, it was elevated to patriarchate, replacing Rome in the Pentarchy and sanctioning the split. Tomorrow’s meeting may become the first step towards reunification now sought by many members on both sides.