In Russia, Orthodox and Catholics are 'saving unborn children together'
"The protection of life is an issue on which the two Churches completely agree, also in terms of theology."
Orthodox and Catholics in Russia are developing joint initiatives for
the protection of life. International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in
Need (ACN) is promoting the collaboration. ACN’s Russia expert Peter Humeniuk
explains the how and why.
By Eva-Maria Kolmann
The Foreign Office of the Moscow Patriarchate held an international seminar
at the end of January, during which the Orthodox and Catholic churches jointly
addressed the issue of abortion. What was accomplished?
Both Churches share a deep anxiety
in the face of the million-fold killing of unborn children. When Pope Francis
and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow met in Havana one year ago, the protection of
life—besides the persecution of Christians in the Middle East—was one of the
most important issues mentioned in their joint declaration. The Moscow seminar was
thus a direct result of this historic meeting.
The protection of life is an issue
on which the two Churches completely agree, also in terms of theology. This
makes it easy to take joint, concrete steps in the spirit of ecumenism. The
seminar focused on analyzing the situation, but also and particularly on
finding solutions. The seminar was a platform for personal encounters and for an
intense and constructive exchange of experiences. The Catholic Church has vast international
experience on this front and the Orthodox Church can learn from this.
Why is this issue such an important one for the church in Russia at the
Unfortunately, abortion is very
prevalent in Russia. This can be traced back to Soviet times, when many people
considered abortion to be a sort of “normal” form of family planning.
Unfortunately, this mentality is still deeply rooted. The Orthodox Church has
always spoken out against abortion, of course, as did its Catholic sister Church.
But now there is a growing awareness
that concrete deeds and initiatives need to be developed to help the women. On
the whole, the Russian people are beginning to become aware of this problem—if for
no other reason than the low birth rate in Russia, as well as across the
What is the role of ACN?
ACN has already been working for a
quarter of a century to set up a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church. Saint
John Paul II gave our founder Father Werenfried van Straaten this assignment in
1992. The unheard-of sacrifices the Orthodox Church in Russia had to make during
Soviet times had prompted this request.
In the wake of the fall of the Soviet
Union, the Orthodox Church practically had to start at zero again. And that was
the moment to initiate an “ecumenism of solidarity” on all levels to follow the
“ecumenism of the martyrs” that had been lived out by the Christians of various
denominations in the Soviet camps and prisons.
Bear in mind that Vatican II
referred to the Russian Orthodox Church as a “sister Church.” ACN has the
privilege of being able to continue in the role of “bridge builder” and to help
develop and fund joint projects.
Russian baby; ACN photo