Russian Orthodox number two to meet pope Thursday

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A top clergyman from the Russian Orthodox Church will meet Pope Benedict XVI this week, after separate talks with Vatican officials to promote Christian unity, media reported Tuesday.

Metropolitan Ilarion, responsible for the Moscow patriarchy's external relations, will meet the pope Thursday at his residence near Rome, Radio Vatican said.

Ilarion was also scheduled to meet Wednesday with representatives from a Vatican council tasked with promoting greater unity within the Christian faith.

The meeting with Benedict XVI will be his third with the head of the Roman Catholic Church since he became the second-highest ranking official at the Moscow Church.

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been tense for centuries, and were again strained by Orthodox accusations of Catholics proselytizing in post-Soviet Russia.

But since Patriarch Kirill took charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009, there have been signs of improvement.

There has also been speculation that the pope and Kirill may meet, but many issues still stand in the way of bridging the split, which dates from 1054.

© 2011 AFP

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