Ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican have improved in recent years, but the time has not come for a historic meeting of their leaders, a senior Russian bishop said on Tuesday.
"Dialog with the Roman Catholic Church has been intensified," said Archbishop Ilarion of Volokolamsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchy's foreign Church relations. "We have been working to resolve problems that hinder a breakthrough in our relations."
He told a news conference it was too early to talk about "an exact date and venue" for a meeting of Russian Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict XVI as their meeting "should still be thoroughly prepared."
Ilarion again cited problems in western Ukraine, where hundreds of Orthodox Churches were handed over to Greek-Catholic parishes after the atheist Soviet regime collapsed in the 1990s.
The Archbishop said the Russian Church expects the Vatican to step in and make up for the loss for Orthodox believers in the region.
Catholic proselytism has been cited by Russian Church officials as the main obstacle to moves to bridge the 1054 schism that divided the Christian Churches and resulted in political and theological differences. The Vatican has denied the proselytism accusations.
However, high-level visits between the Churches have become more frequent under Benedict and Kirill, who took office in February, with both Churches pledging to improve their relations.
Moscow and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations late last year, and Russia will now have an embassy instead of a representative office in the Vatican. The Russian Church and the Holy See both hailed the move as a sign of further improvement in their relations.
The Vatican's representative in Moscow attended Patriarch Kirill's Orthodox Christmas service at Christ the Savior Cathedral last Thursday.
Ilarion said the now late Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Alexy II were to meet in 1997, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute as the sides realized that consensus could not be reached.
MOSCOW, January 12 (RIA Novosti)