Ecumenism: A Brotherly Dispute

by Gjergji Evangjeli


On November 30, Pope Francis will be attending Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul on the occasion of the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, which will be presided over by Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Every year, the Vatican sends a delegation to the Feast, St. Andrew being the founder of the See of Constantinople, the First See in the Eastern Church, which is usually reciprocated with a delegation sent to the Vatican for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It has been a very long time, however, since the Pope has been present at the Cathedral in Istanbul for the Feast of St. Andrew (likely, the last time that happened the city was named Constantinople and the cathedral was Hagia Sofia). It had also been a very long time since the Patriarch of Constantinople has been present at the Pope’s installation Mass, until it happened when Pope Francis was installed. Most of all, for far too long, exchanges between these two heads of the kind witnessed on March 20, 2013, where the Pontiff called the Patriarch “my brother Andrew” and the Patriarch responded by calling him, “my big brother Peter” have been far too scarce. Now, however, all these things have either happened or will happen very soon. Times are changing and they are changing for the better.

Perhaps the biggest irony of the separation between the Eastern and Western Churches is the fact that Sts. Peter and Andrew were brothers. The Schism in 1054 was not the first time Rome and Constantinople had been at odds and, like the previous times, everyone expected that the divide would be quickly overcome. Sadly, due to factors not altogether theological, the 1054 split has lasted for close to a millennium. Sadly, 2054 is approaching fast, and East and West remain divided. In this context, reading John 17:20-23 is especially painful. “… that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn. 17:23)

The twentieth century has, likely correctly, been regarded as the worst century in human history. Today, the world lives in the wake of two horrendous world wars, the brutality of various communist regimes, and the decline of faith. All these things have left deep and horrific wounds on both the East and the West, wounds which we thought would heal with time, but which we now can see desperately need to be treated by a physician. Negligence, complacency, and emptiness—the trademark of post-modern thought—is quickly seeping into culture, both in the East and in the West, as the world races to become a place rife with what Nietzsche called “the last man.” The twenty-first century and those who live during it are tasked with redressing the vast darkness of the twentieth century.

But who can break this darkness? This darkness is not merely human. Sure, its physical agents were and are humans, but this darkness comes from hell. Who can be so powerful as to stand up to it? Only One, the One who already conquered hell. There is only One Physician that can heal our festering wounds. For this purpose, all those who love Christ must unite under one banner and show a completely united front against evil.

During the first three centuries, the Church of Christ suffered sporadic but brutal persecutions, and for a very good reason. The Roman dream was to extend Rome outward, to create a Roman world, but conquests before and after AD 33 did not get the Romans even close to fulfilling their dream. A single event in Jerusalem in AD 33, transcended anything that the Romans could have ever even hoped for. St. Paul changed the popular slogan Caesar kyrios to Christos kyrios, a move that had as much political as theological profundity. Where the might of Rome failed, the meekness of Christ succeeded; it created, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,” (1 Ptr. 2:9) a new, distinct, and supernatural nation with Her supernatural ruler. The Church on earth is the mark of that nation. In contemplating why it was that, by AD 313, 10% of the Roman Empire turned Christian (with the rest to follow shortly), the fact that the Roman dream was fulfilled and transcended by Christ is as good a reason as any.

Today more than ever, the Christian East and the Christian West need to reclaim that victory. Today more than ever East and West need to come together and, reunited as brothers, strive to put an end to the physical and spiritual destruction that is rampant in the East and in the West alike. The healing of the fracture between East and West would be a significant sign to our fallen and bruised world. It would be the realization of the sincere hopes of many Orthodox and Catholic believers and it would be a sign to all concerned that the Church of Christ, despite some supposedly enlightened thinkers telling us otherwise, is thriving today as She always has and will continue to thrive until the ending of the world.

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