Is the thousand-year-old breach between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches a little closer to being mended?
Given the history of suspicion, hostility, political game-playing and theological intransigence that has marked the process so far, it seems unlikely. But after a significant meeting between theologians from the two sides, there are signs that change is in the wind.
The 14th Plenary Session of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church met in Chieti, Italy, and has just completed its work.
What’s significant is that it has approved a common document on a key cause of the division between the Churches. Its title is unpromising – Synodality and Primacy during the First Millennium: Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church – but it deals with an issue of supreme importance: who’s in charge? According to Roman Catholics, it’s the pope; according to the Orthodox, he may be first among equals but he has no authority over patriarchs of the other Churches. So the question of how the pope’s office was seen in the formative years of the Christian Church, before the Great Schism that divided East and West in 1054, is absolutely crucial.
The Chieta document is a working paper that will go back to the Churches for discussion and – possibly, in time – approval. It follows a previous version approved at a meeting in Ravenna in 2007, which established that – with different nuances between Eastern and Western understandings of the word – the primacy of the Bishop of Rome was accepted by all Christians. But on that occasion the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church walked out before discussions had even begun and were not party to the final agreement. Now, however, they are. Read More
This is only the beginning of the next stage of the journey, and faithful Bible readers should look at this as signs of the impending doom and even darker days.
A lot is happening and it is happening too fast for us to take time to adjust.