|Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
Archdiocese of Palermo and All Italy
Chiesa Autocefala Ortodossa Ucraina
Arcidiocesi di Palermo e di tutta l'Italia
Relations with Other Faiths
In the spirit of ecumenism and fellowship, we are often asked about our
rapport with other religious confessions present in Sicily. In practice,
the primary mission of the Holy Orthodox Church is propagation of the Word
of God, and living that Word daily as Christians. "Ecumenism"
is not our primary mission. That said, here is a brief socio-historical
outline regarding the position of the Orthodox Church in Sicily and some
Today, with the influx of immigrants from northern Africa, Sicily has seen an increase in the Muslim presence. There are rather few Muslims in Sicily who are native Italians. In many Arab (and predominantly Muslim) countries, particularly in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church has existed alongside Islam for many centuries --usually peacefully. The two Faiths are completely separate theologically, sharing few precepts in common, but there need not be antipathy between them.
Today, except for a small number of immigrants and resident foreigners, there are very few Jews in Sicily, Italy's largest Jewish communities being found in Rome, Florence and Venice. Traditionally, the Jews, like the Muslims, have coexisted peacefully alongside the Orthodox.
Byzantine Rite Roman Catholics
Today, the Byzantine Catholics in Sicily sometimes claim to be Orthodox. In fact, their main church (the medieval Martorana in central Palermo), though decorated with splendid mosaic icons and considered as "Orthodox" during Norman rule early in the twelfth century, was given to the Diocese of Piana degli Albanesi only a few decades ago. The diocese of the Albanian Catholics in Sicily has no direct historical continuity from the island's medieval Orthodox community.
Latin Rite Roman Catholics
Naturally, the Orthodox Church seeks a good rapport with other Christian denominations. The concordat signed in 1984 between the Vatican and the Italian Republic established Italy as a secular state with no official religion, though in many Italian quarters a strong Catholic influence remains. Today, a minority of Italians are practising Catholics. For the Catholic hierarchy, the Orthodox pose a historical and theological challenge because, while the Protestant churches obviously broke away from the Roman Church, the Orthodox Church has existed since the very inception of Christianity, flourishing in Greece, the Holy Land and eastern Europe long after the Schism. Thus Orthodox orders (i.e. episcopal consecrations and sacraments) are recognised as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church, though Catholic canon law is of no concern to the Orthodox themselves. One might expect the Orthodox and Catholic churches to be fairly close, and in some countries they co-exist well in a spirit of friendship, but in Italy --sadly-- this is far from the case.
The Catholic hierarchy in Sicily (even the Cardinal Archbishop of Palermo) often disparage the Orthodox clergy. While the Byzantine Rite Catholics (see above) occasionally --and inaccurately-- claim to be the "true Orthodox in Sicily," their Latin Rite brethren sometimes attempt to arrogate to themselves the "right" to decide (one wonders for whom) who is canonically or "genuinely" Orthodox. Often, they favour one Orthodox jurisdiction (typically Constantinople) over another. "Divide et impera" seems to be their approach, though in practice it is rarely successful.
This unofficial but prevalent Italian Catholic perspective reflects longstanding attitudes and a peculiar ethnocentric view that "all Italians should be Catholic." Such a position ignores Sicily's multicultural (and multi-faith) history while embracing certain nationalist (and even quasi-Fascist) ideas which overlook the fact that Italy's oldest religious congregation is not Catholic or even Orthodox, but Jewish. It also runs contrary to the principle of free practice of religion guaranteed under Italian law.
Understandably, in view of this most unfortunate situation, the Achdiocese of Italy of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church does not participate in "ecumenical" (inter-faith) activities sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo.
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