The meeting will be the first between a pope and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch in history.
CHR Comment: Western reporters tend to describe the meeting of Francis and Kirill as a potential first step toward reunification between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. This is a poor assessment of what is actually taking place. The pope and the patriarch both hold authority on behalf of large church bodies. It seems very unlikely that one leader would submit his church body to the authority of the other, which would be the necessary outcome of any reunification according to the doctrine and practice of these hierarchical churches. When one reads deeper into the article, one sees that the leaders are meeting to discuss a common interest: the problem of persecution in Asia and perhaps also to discuss grievances. Nevertheless, this is a precedent setting meeting.
An ecumenical expectation that Roman Catholics and Russian Orthodox Christians will soon reunite into a common church body does not begin to understand the complex history, doctrine, and practice of the two churches. Although a few Asian-based church bodies have reunited with Rome, they did so at moments of desperate need when persecution was threatening to wipe them out. The Russian Orthodox are not in that position at all given their large numbers and their interconnections with the Russian government, which went through painful transitions from the time of the tsars, the Communists, and now the Russian-style representative government that exists today. If anything, the Russian Orthodox Church is on its strongest political footing since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.