Message of His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch
President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
to the distinguished participants in
the International Conference on the theme
“Metropolitan Nicodim: The Way of Church Ministry”
Minsk, 15-16 October 2019
It is with pleasure that I express my warmest greetings to the organizers, relators and participants in the conference promoted by the Saints Methodius and Cyril Christian Educational Center and its Director, Father Sviatoslav Rogalskij.
The theme of the conference is dedicated to the illustrious pastor of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose 90th anniversary of birth occurs this year. Despite his brief life, Metropolitan Nicodim left a legacy that continues to bear fruit within the Orthodox Church, and particularly in relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. He was truly a pioneer of the new relations that emerged in the 1960s between our two Churches. When he was President of the Department for External Church Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, he took the decision – the first to do so among the Orthodox Churches – to send observers to the Second Vatican Council from its very beginning. Under his inspiration, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decided in 1969 to allow a certain communicatio in sacris with the Catholic Church, in particular circumstances.
The foundation of Metropolitan Nicodim’s commitment was undoubtedly his love of Christ, which he nurtured through prayer, and particularly through the Divine Liturgy, for which he held a profound love. Prayer was the wellspring from which stemmed his capacity for openness towards all, without prejudice, but also for the friendship and fraternal relations he cultivated with many, and particularly with diverse representatives of the Catholic Church. I call to mind with fondness that the Metropolitan had dedicated his thesis to Pope John XXIII, a sign of his admiration for the future saint. This friendship was mutual, and an unforgettable memory of him has endured even until today in Rome in the places in which he felt at home, the guest of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and the welcome brother in Christ of many communities, among which the Pontifical Russicum College. During his visits to Rome, the Metropolitan was accompanied by his secretary, the future Patriarch Kirill. As we know, the future Patriarch was much more than a secretary, but rather a disciple, a spiritual son who today follows the footsteps of the Metropolitan.
During my recent visits to Saint Petersburg, I did not fail to gather in prayer before the tomb of the beloved prelate, giving thanks to God for his life and for his precious contribution to the fulfilment of Christ’s prayer: “That all may be one” (Jn 17:21). It is still with sadness that we recall that the young Metropolitan Nicodim died suddenly on the morning of 5 September 1978 in the arms of Pope Albino Luciani during the private audience on the occasion of the inauguration of his pontificate. Pope John Paul I stated: “I assure you that in my life I have never heard such fine words for the Church as those spoken by him”.
I give thanks to the Lord for the opportunity offered by this conference to enable us to draw inspiration once again from a man of God who, united so radically to Christ, was able to demonstrate that the life of service to the Church is always also service to its unity, which has already been accomplished in Christ.
In Christ we abide in his love, as the apostle John tell us: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). In Christ we are already in perfect communion, following the vision of the Church Fathers who affirmed: “The closer we draw to Christ, the closer we draw to one another”.
On the day of his episcopal ordination, Metropolitan Nicodim reflected: “All my knowing life belongs to the Church”. It is precisely this total belonging to the Church that makes of him a luminous example of the work of redemption of Christ, who came to tear down every dividing wall between man and God, between man and man, so that – as Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians – “Through Christ we both may have access in one Spirit to the Father” (cf. Eph 2:14–18).