In 1503 the monk Filofei counted three Romes–the one in Italy that degenerated, the one in Byzantium that fell to the Turks, and the one in Russia “that shines like the sun to the ends of the earth.” A fourth, he added, will never be.

And the first one better not try for a comeback. When the Vatican announced its intention to create four new dioceses to serve Russia’s 1.3 million Roman Catholics, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church called it “a challenge to Orthodoxy.” The Synod accused the Roman church of missionary zeal, “seeking to have as its congregation the Russian people, which is culturally, spiritually and historically” Orthodox. A meeting between Patriarch Aleksy II and Pope John Paul II, and therefore a papal trip to Russia, would be indefinitely delayed.

The government’s reaction was predictably orthodox. The Foreign Ministry said the Roman Church should have consulted and taken Orthodox opinion into account. The Duma called on the government to deny visas to Vatican officials. One Muslim leader, the Supreme Mufti of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Russia, accused the Roman church of “a deliberate provocation.” Which, of course, in a way it was.