Kurt Cardinal Koch


Saints Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute of Post–Graduate Studies
Moscow, February 12, 2019



Eminence, Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters,
Dear friends,


It is a particular joy for me to celebrate today in Moscow this third anniversary of the historic meeting between His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia that took place on February 12, 2016 in Havana. First of all, I would like to thank His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion for his kind invitation to commemorate this event for the first time in Russia, here at the Saints Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute of Post–Graduate Studies, of which he is the Rector. This Institute has indeed become under the impetus of His Eminence not only a remarkable place for teaching and research in the theological sphere, but also a privileged platform for the relations between our Churches in the academic field. I would also like to thank the Pontifical Academy for Life, and in particular its President, His Excellency Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, for suggesting the idea of the theme of our conference and for participating in the organization of this event.

With the hindsight of three years, we see better how much the meeting we are celebrating today has opened a new chapter in the relationship between our churches. The translation of the relics of St. Nicholas to Moscow and St. Petersburg was a historic event that involved millions of faithful in the rapprochement between our Churches. Reciprocal visits have intensified, such as, for the first time, the official visit to Moscow in 2017 of a Secretary of State of the Holy See, but also, at a more modest level, the annual summer courses prepared in collaboration with the Saints Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute enabling young priests to gain great mutual understanding of our Churches. The organization of new cultural projects, such as the joint exhibitions of the Vatican Museums and the Tretyakov Gallery, have also attracted thousands of visitors and have embodied this new spirit. These are but a few examples of the bonds that are gradually being woven between our Churches to mend, thread after thread, the torn tunic of Christ.

One of the important fruits of the February 12, 2016 meeting is the annual joint commemoration of this event, which is an opportunity to publicly celebrate the rapprochement of our churches and to reflect on the witness that we have committed to give together, as stated the Joint declaration: “In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary” (No.7).

After the celebration of this anniversary in Fribourg in 2017 and in Vienna in 2018, we are here for the first time in Russia to commemorate this event. The Vienna meeting was particularly dedicated to the question of Christians in the Middle East. This year our meeting is dedicated to the question of the defence of life, and more particularly to the issue of the end of life, or so–called “euthanasia”, a theme mentioned in the joint statement of 12 February 2016 (No.21) .

The question of the end of earthly life has always been a challenge for humanity, given that man it is the only creature conscious of its mortal condition. This challenge presents itself in a new form today due to advances in medical knowledge and technology. In modern societies, death usually occurs at the hospital, and is often the result of a medical decision, whether it is the termination of treatment or the non–initiation of treatment. These developments raise the question of the meaning of suffering for Christians, of what we understand by “dignity”, of knowing whether what is good for the body is always at the service of the integral good of the person.

The Catholic Church reflected very early on this question. Already in 1957, Pius XII in a speech delivered before an international assembly of 500 doctors gathered in Rome, pronounced both in favor of palliative care and against all aggressive treatment.[1] In 1980, these positions were included and developed in an important document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the “Iura et Bona”Declaration on euthanasia[2] and on observing a right and proportionate therapeutic use of analgesic drugs. This document lays down the principle of “due proportion in the use of remedies” for which it provides application criteria.

These different principles have been clearly summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which recalls the main principles concerning euthanasia. The Catechism first recalls the morally unacceptable character of euthanasia: “an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator”. The Catechism points out that “The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded” (2277).

The second principle is the refusal of any “over–zealous” treatment: “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over–zealous’ treatment”. Indeed, in this case “one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted”. The text points out that “The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected” (2278).

The third principle is the obligation of ordinary care: “Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted”. Extending this principle, the Catechism encourages palliative care, even though it may shorten a person’s life: “The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable”. Palliative care “is a special form of disinterested charity”.

As can be seen, these three principles require an acute sense of discernment to apply the principle of proportion between the use of a therapy and the physical, moral and spiritual state of the patient. It is in this sense of discernment before the question of the end of life that Pope Francis recently recalled: “In the complexity resulting from the influence of these various factors on clinical practice, but also on medical culture in general, the supreme commandment of responsible closeness, must be kept uppermost in mind, as we see clearly from the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25–37). (…) And even if we know that we cannot always guarantee healing or a cure, we can and must always care for the living, without ourselves shortening their life, but also without futilely resisting their death”.[3]

The principles and statements I have just mentioned are those of the Catholic Church, but the beliefs on which they rest seem to me to be absolutely common with those of the Russian Orthodox Church. In support of this I would cite the statements of the Basis of the Social Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted by the Council of Moscow of 2000, which propose a remarkable reflection on this subject. The chapter on euthanasia affirms in particular: “The Orthodox understanding of an honourable death includes preparation for the mortal end, which is considered to be a spiritually significant stage in the life of a person. A patient surrounded with Christian care can experience in the last days of his life on earth a grace–giving change brought about by a new reflection on his journey and penitent anticipation of eternity. For the relatives of a dying man and for medical workers, an opportunity to nurse him becomes an opportunity to serve the Lord Himself. For according to the Saviour’s word, ‘inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me’ (Mt. 25:40)” (XII, 8).

It is with these brief reflections that I would like to leave it to specialists to deal more expertly with the theme that brings us together. Concluding, I would like to turn to the Mother of God, protector of all the departed, using the final invocation of the Joint Declarationissued on the historic occasion in 2016: “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her, so that they may be reunited, in God’s own time, in the peace and harmony of the one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and indivisible Trinity!” (§30).


[1].  Pius XII, Address of February 24, 1957: AAS 49 (1957), p.147.

[2].  Iura et bona, Declaration on Euthanasia, AAS 72, 1 (1980) 542−552; Documenta 38. Available at:

[3]. Message of Pope Francis to the participants in the European Regional Meeting of the World Medical Association, Vatican, 7 November 2017; available at: