The task of restoring that unity, however, poses many real challenges. The visit of Pope John Paul II in 1999 raised fears in Romania, and also in Russia, that the pope was meddling in internal Orthodox affairs, supporting an independent Romanian Orthodox Church that wanted to separate from the influence of the Moscow patriarchate. Others interpreted the pope's visit as part of a push by Rome to get back property that belonged to the Romanian Catholic Church. The property had been confiscated by the Russians under the reign of Joseph Stalin and given to the Romanian Orthodox Church that was united with the Moscow patriarchate. Many others saw it as an honest gesture on the part of the pope to promote the unity of the churches.
Pope Benedict XVI continued the ecumenical efforts of his predecessors. In November 2005 he accepted an invitation from
the Orthodox metropolitans who attended his inauguration as pope to visit the Phanar district of Istanbul, the seat of the patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in Turkey. He thus follows in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI, who visited Phanar in July 1967, and Pope John Paul II, who visited in 1979, the year after he became pope. In December 2006, Archbishop Christo-doulos, archbishop of Athens, visited the pope. It was the first official visit to the Vatican by a leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. These repeated pushes for dialogue and unity inflame the hopes of many Catholic and Orthodox believers. Still, a knowledge of the history of the relations between the Eastern and Western Churches and a knowledge of the structures and traditions helps put into perspective the challenging complexities that any such attempts at unity must face.
In 2008, Pope Benedict visited the United States, where his visit was expected to be controversial. This was because of the sexual scandals that caused great distress to Catholics in the United States and because of the opposition of the pope to the United States-led invasion of Iraq. In the end, as with his later visit in August to the World Youth Congress in Australia, Pope Benedict managed to develop strong relationships without compromising his position. He condemned outright the sexual abuse of children that was the cause of the scandals, and stood firm on his opposition to the war in Iraq.
CATHOLICISM AND ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY: BASIC BELIEFS AND PRACTICES
Both the Catholic and Orthodox churches greatly value doctrine, which is a set of beliefs that describes the community's experience of God's revelation and salvation. They hold that these beliefs are ultimately derived from the Bible as it has been interpreted through church councils, the teachings of the ancient fathers of the church, and short statements of belief called creeds (such as the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed). For Catholics and Orthodox Christians tradition provides the authoritative interpretation of scripture. The two central doctrines, or beliefs, of Christianity are the following truths, which are affirmed in all the creeds accepted by the Catholic and Orthodox churches:
• the belief that although there is only one God, there are three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in God;
Christian pilgrims of various denominations gathered close to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Good Friday. They are taking part in the Stations of the Cross, recalling Christ's final journey through Jerusalem on the day of his crucifixion.
• the belief that the Son of God became human.
God thus was incarnated, meaning that he took on human flesh or became human in the person of Jesus Christ. The first belief—the belief in the Holy Trinity—was revealed by Christ, who spoke of his father and promised the apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit. In his life and teachings, in the miracles that he worked, and in his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ was revealed to his disciples as divine. Jesus thus taught his disciples to experience God as threefold, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The disciples prayed to each as God, because they recognized that the three are united in being and are one God.
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