Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox rapprochement

Pope John Paul II’s muted visit to Turkey provided a marked contrast to the cheering crowds of his previous trips abroad. As much as possible, Turkish authorities turned the late November visit into a nonevent. But the long-term significance of what the pontiff called “my first ecumencial voyage” may be greater.

By meeting with Dimitrios I, the ecumenical patriarch of the Orthodox Church, John Paul launched the second phase in a process of reconciliation begun in 1964. The meeting then of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in Jerusalem had ended nine centuries of total estrangement between the two branches of the church. A year later the mutual excommunications of the Great Schism in 1054 were rescinded.

Now that most of the bitterness has been buried, the theological differences must be dealt with. By going to Istanbul on the feast of Saint Andrew (elder brother of Peter and patron of the church of Constantinople) John Paul stressed his commitment to this dialogue.

Issues dividing the world’s 700 million Roman Catholics and the estimated 100 million within Eastern Orthodoxy are less than those separating them both from Protestantism, but still are formidable. During the Pope’s visit, Dimitrios announced formation of a 28-member joint theological commission to work at resolving them.

Among issues the commission will face at a first meeting expected this spring:

• The Nicene Creed formulation. The Orthodox cling to what they hold is the original wording, in which the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” Catholics add the words “and the Son.”

• Divorce. Catholics do not permit divorce. The Orthodox do on grounds of adultery.

• The papacy. The Orthodox are prepared to ...

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