Healing An Ancient Divide

Pope John Paul II committed himself seriously to pursuing the path to unity and his successor, Benedict XVI, has given strong signs early in his pontificate that he intends to follow the same road. His first visit outside of Rome was to Bari, the coastal city in Italy that is a sacred site for Orthodox Christians because the bones of a respected patron, Saint Nicholas, are there. At the church of Saint Nicholas the pope declared: "Precisely here in Bari . . . land of meeting and dialogue with our Christian brothers of the East, I would like to confirm my wish to assume as a fundamental commitment to work with all my energies on the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ."

On the Orthodox side the initiatives to heal this ancient divide came from the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople. In particular the current ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, has invited the pope to visit and has renewed theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.

The ecumenical patriarch has also healed a 1,500-year schism between the Orthodox churches and the Monophysite churches such as the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Armenian churches. This major healing of such an ancient division has been remarkable and is a sign of the shift in perceptions between the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. While Catholic-Orthodox reunion is still a long way off, the Orthodox-Oriental resolution indicates that reconciliation can be achieved. It is a remarkable achievement of the churches.

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