Rumors and rumors of rumors of an imminent end to over a thousand years of the Great Schism between Catholics and Orthodox have exploded over these past few days. If these rumors are correct then not since the Ecumenical Council of Ferrara-Florence have these great Church’s been so close to unity.
In A.D. 1054 Catholic prelate Humbert and Orthodox prelate Michael Cærularius excommunicated each other. This marks the beginning of the Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church’s.
The years following this a flurry of events accumulated in beginning the healing process that divides Christendom’s two greatest Church’s.
After the rescinding of the excommunications the creation of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue was established to hammer out the the theological and ecclesiological issues that divide both Catholics and Orthodox.
This was followed by the partial concelebration of the Eucharistic liturgy by Pope’s John Paul II and Benedict XVI along with Patriarch’s Bartholomew I and Demetrius I. During the Eucharistic liturgy these two sets of prelates recited the Nicene Creed, without the Filioque clause, which were positive developments towards reconciliation.
All of these events were a very good start until you take into consideration the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church posed the biggest impediment to further progress since they are the largest of the Orthodox autocephalous church’s.
In A.D. 1988 after reemerging from over 70 years of atheistic dictatorship the Russian Orthodox Church finally found itself independent from secular authority. They just began to rejuvenate, regain footing, but were barely able to engage in ecumenism with the Catholic Church.
Because the Russian Orthodox is the largest of the Orthodox church’s, they are one of two primary players involved in reuniting both the Catholic and Orthodox (the other being the Ecumenical Patriarch). This has been an obstinate relationship between the Vatican and Moscow. The Russians were wary of Pope John Paul II’s overtures of unity due to historical disputes between the Catholics and the Orthodox in the Ukraine.
Then the unforeseen happened. In A.D. 2005 Pope Benedict XVI was elected, replacing the good Polish pontiff. Then in February of this year papal-friendly Patriarch Kirill I was elected as the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Together with the elevation of papal-friendly Archbishop Hilarion to chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, opportunities arose for ecumenical engagement.
Which brings us to today.
Two days ago Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register reported that Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, proclaimed that unity can be achieved “within a few months.”
The cause for his exuberance is based on the reconciliation of theological and ecclesiological issues combined with the “real desire for communion“. Which the Vatican certainly possesses.
I must then ask the question, does Moscow desire this as well?
Recent events suggest yes, with Archbishop Hilarion currently visiting to the Vatican in meetings with Walter Cardinal Kasper and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the exuberance by Archbishop Pezzi may be justified.
But I think this exuberance is glossing over to much disagreement.
The Russian Orthodox Church never wanted Pope John Paul II to visit Moscow, even when de facto Russian leader Vladimir Putin offered it. And the Russian Orthodox have yet to show any signs of changing this position with the current Pope Benedict XVI.
I don’t want to put a damper on all this enthusiasm, I am just stating facts. With that I do pray and hope for unity.
There has been significant warming of relations since the installment of Patriarch Kirill I and the Orthodox view Pope Benedict XVI favorably because of his orthodoxy in liturgy and his corresponding actions in correcting many abuses since the Second Vatican Council.
Please may there be fruits from this meeting and an end to this schism.
Saints Peter and Paul pray for us!
For the National Catholic Register article by Edward Pentin click here.
For the Catholic News Agency (C.N.A.) article about Archbishop Hilarion’s visit click here.
The Second Vatican Council produced a decree on ecumenism called Unitatis Redintegratio. For the document click here.