Russian Orthodox prayers ring out in Notre Dame Cathedral

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksy II, has taken part in a joint Orthodox and Catholic service in the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. Earlier, the hierarch met French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his first-ever official visit to Fr

The sacred ceremony involved both Orthodox and Catholic priests praying together. Also a portion of the Crown of Thorns, a relic deposited in the Notre Dame Cathedral, was on display.

Earlier, the Patriarch addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He criticised some European countries for putting too much emphasis on human rights, whilst violating Christian moral principles.

Nicolas Sarkozy called the visit of Patriarch Aleksy II a major and tangible sign that the two biggest Christian Churches in the world were on the way to curtailing their differences.

The Patriarch called the ceremony in the Notre Dame a prophetic sign of unity between Christians.

“It is time to co-operate in the face of modern challenges,” he said.

The visit of Patriarch Aleksy II is dedicated to the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in May this year. The two branches were separated after the revolution and the civil war in Russia, when Patriarch Sergius I declared loyalty to the Soviet Union's government.

A special service was held in a Russian Orthodox church in Paris to celebrate the reunification.

“Patriarch Aleksy II has visited several Roman Catholic countries before, including Austria and Hungary. But many believe it is one of his most important visits. Several months ago the Patriarch was invited by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Rene van der Linden. Going to Strasburg and not going to Paris would have been strange,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Deputy Head of the External Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Many believers hope that the visit will pave the way to closer relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. However Aleksy II said earlier that the time for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI has not come yet.

Meanwhile, Andrey Zolotov, the Editor-in-Chief of the Russian Profile magazine, believes the process of bringing the two Churches closer to each other is underway. 
 
“On the one hand, Pope Benedict XVI commends very high respect as a theologian among the Orthodox Christians. On the other hand, we now see a new agenda in the relationship between the two Churches forming. There’ve been several conferences that really moved this relationship forward,” he said.