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Leonid Bershidsky

Pope Francis Handed Putin a Diplomatic Victory

The meeting between the pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church benefited only Moscow.
Historic meeting.

Historic meeting.

Photographer: GREGORIO BORGIA/AFP/Getty Images

Russia's state-owned media covered the first-ever meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, as a historic event. The official news agency, TASS, even ran a real-time blow-by-blow account. The meeting's value wasn't in any ecclesiastical breakthrough: The Pope, probably inadvertently, played a part in a Kremlin propaganda gambit.

The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches parted ways in the Great Schism of 1054 over some theological and ecclesiastical differences. It's not a major concern for the faithful of both churches today whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from just the Father (as the Orthodox teaching goes) or from the Father and the Son (as the Catholics hold). Whether or not Purgatory exists (Catholics believe in it, Orthodox Christians don't) is contentious, but the issue doesn't prevent the churches from accepting each other as legitimate parts of the Christian tradition and even, in some cases, performing rites that involve members of both.