AWESOME ecumenical news

If you read here regularly (and my thanks to both of you!) you might remember that I spent a little time looking at the ecumenical reactions to Benedict XVI’s abdication. First I combined the reactions of a Lutheran, Russian and Greek Orthodox prelates and the leader of the Bruderhof (in the anabaptist tradition), and noted how remarkably positive they were, especially when compared to the venom dripping from some Catholic fangs. Then we looked at the official statement from Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (the Orthodox ‘pope’ to put it very crudely and loosely) who wrote in unprecedented warm terms about Benedict, including this wonderful jewel:

We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all.

It seemed to signal that Benedict had furthered ecumenism much more than he was credited with by most commentators, and I hoped aloud that his successor could continue to build on this authentic and strong ecumenical foundation. Then Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, even more remarkably given the Russian Orthodox mistrust of the Roman Church, wrote in terms barely less fulsome, and he ventured to declare a hope:

I sincerely hope what developed during your active participation, a good trusting relationship between the Orthodox and the Catholics, will continue to grow with your successor.

BenedictBartholomewSo, imagine my stunned gaping when I saw a comment from the Restless Pilgrim alerting me to the fact that it has been announced that Patriarch Bartholomew will attend Pope Francis’ Mass of inauguration on Tuesday. This is BIG news. For the first time since the Great Schism began in 1054 the Patriarch of Constantinople, the acknowledged leading prelate among the Orthodox, will attend the enthronement of a pope. This is so immensely important I am speechless.

As discussed in an earlier post, the major obstacles to reunion between the Orthodox and Catholic communions of Churches are not essentially theological, though they certainly exist, but ecclesiological: the role of papal primacy in practice (for the Orthodox accept the principle already). While a brother priest among the Orthodox is not quite so upbeat about the theological differences, he highlights as the primary issue for now the need for mutual forgiveness between the two Churches before any theological reconciliation can be effected. Common worship is the sublimest forum for reconciliation and after almost 1000 years it seems to be upon us.

Benedict XVI has sown ecumenical seed of great richness; the opportunity now arises for Pope Francis to reap the harvest. Only God can give the growth of course, so let us pray for this encounter in worship on Tuesday. As the world grows ever more hostile to Christianity, the ancient churches should rightly seek to reconcile and confirm each other in Christian faith.

And if Patriarch Kirill will find it in his heart to come also next Tuesday, then I will renounce coffee till I die. This is so important that it is worthy of sacrifices that hurt. But for now, I will take what I can get. And Patriarch Bartholomew’s announcement is great gain indeed for us all. For now, I think I need a sherry…

17 thoughts on “AWESOME ecumenical news

  1. I…no coffee? Until your earthly death?! Domne…think of your brethren! 😉

    More seriously, I’m inspired by your post. Let’s hope and pray it may transpire.

    (Oh and I read regularly too! I’ll be happy with my ‘No. 3’ status)


    1. Good point, but I can be bearable to the brethren (just) on tea alone.

      Thank you for reading me, though I think you might already be #2. 😉

      Oh, pray we must. God can do marvels if we ask for them.

      Peace upon you!


      1. From someone definitely NOT number 1 or 2!! Although I do read you regularly
        I find it slightly concerning that Pope Francis began by setting aside tradition. He did not wear the red mozetta, he did not chant the blessing & (it is rumoured) he will not wear the red shoes. I wonder what else traditional he will seek to change? He even had to be handed the stole to wear for the blessing & took it off immediately after. It was obvious that the Papal MC was not impressed


      2. LOL – hello David!

        Try not to get too worried about +Francis’ liturgical choices thus far. We must let him settle in. He is obviously very much his own man, and maybe he is resisting any appearance of being liturgically ‘railroaded’. Of course there must also be a sense of disorientation at acceding to such a position. The red shoes are not quite so traditional as other elements. Let’s check back in 6 months and see how things stand.

        And let’s pray for him!



  2. Well, not actually the first time Bartholomew has worshipped with a Pope (remember 29 June 2008), but certainly the first time a Patriarch of Constantinople has attended the enthronement of a new Pope, which in a way is even more remarkable, since the Mass on Tuesday will mark the inauguration of Pope Francis’s Petrine ministry – a ministry which has been the subject of such fraught controversy between our Churches. Awesome is right; and how wonderful that Pope Benedict is still alive to enjoy it!


    1. No – I forgot all about June 2008, but I was rather overwhelmed with other things back then! I shall amend accordingly, thank you.

      While we are being accurate (no bad thing) Tuesday is the FORMAL inauguration, is it not? Francis became Pope with full power as soon as he consented to election.

      Somehow I have to secure footage of that Mass. I cannot wait for Francis and Bartholomew to exchange the kiss of peace!


    1. Thank you for your links! I am brimming with hope now. There is no done-deal, naturally, but gestures like this breed others. Like the forgiveness you highlight.

      I’m happy to have you as my Orthodox point of reference.

      Blessings upon you.


  3. Salve Pater,

    Yes, I know it’s very late, but I hope my posting a comment does not constitute an infringement of the Grand Silence. (In any case, I presume Father has long since gone to bed.)

    This is astounding news (and I read it here first). The Ecumenical Patriarch himself will actually attend the inaugural Mass of the Pope ?? I can only thank God, and wait (impatiently) to see the moment for myself.

    This is very definitely a legacy of Benedict XVI. Truly, he has sown the seeds. We must not forget the historic meeting of Paul VI and the then Patriarch, Athenagoras, and the removal of the mutual anathemas. That was a truly historic moment. It may have seemed merely a gesture at the time, but it was a ground breaking event. Yes, years have passed, and perhaps years will pass, but the harvest will be truly great.

    The position of the Russian Orthodox seems to me more difficult. Admittedly, things may have softened a little since the end of the Soviet empire. I never thought to see a thaw between Moscow and Constaninople, but then I saw the television pictures of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, in Moscow. Was he at both the funeral of Alexius II, and the enthronement of Kirill I ? I can’t remember. However, partly as a result of the end of the Soviet Union, there is an ongoing dispute between the Patriarchate of Moscow and other autocephalous Churches (I am thinking, for example, of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church). Inevitably, this will affect relations with Rome. Moscow will always remain suspicious of anything they see as foreign prosyletising. I am thinking here of the refounding of the Catholic diocese of Moscow under John Paul II. Under these circumstances, the attendance of Patriarch Kirill himself would be a miracle. (Yes, I know, miracles do happen ! )

    I commented on an earlier post that these were extraordinary times, but I did not realise how extraordinary they would be. I feel sure Pope Francis I is the man to reap this harvest.

    Father, you must not renounce your cofffee ! Think of your brethren. For myself, I live alone, but I am scarcely human until after my morning coffee. If this be the will of God, (and I am sure it is,) then it will happen – in God’s good time – and I doubt He will require one of his priests to make such a sacrifice !

    Yes, I know what time it is, but being a (very) decadent layman, I think I will pour myself another Cointreau before bed !

    Pax et bonum



    1. In bed I was!

      You were right to remind us of Paul VI’s work. He, and John Paul II (the Church must breathe with both lungs!), set the stage for the papacy of Benedict XVI, in whom the Orthodox could discern a pastor and theologian after their own hearts. Pope builds on pope. As it should be.

      Russia is a tougher proposition, but the amazingly warm words from Kirill and Hilarion give me hope. As Fr Gregory says in his blog, no progress can be made until we all forgive each other the mutual wrongs committed. Russia may be getting closer than we think to accepting the same. But my caffeine regime looks safe enough… for now.

      Cointreau indeed! How the other half live….



  4. I wanted to ask a doctrinal question. Just how do Orthodox understand theologically the primacy of the Roman Church?

    As Catholics of course, we do not only accept the doctrine of Papal Primacy – because of course, that can be read in so many different ways (primus inter pares, primacy of honour, etc), but we hold and believe in the doctrine of Papal Supremacy (not just primacy).

    The Pope is the Supreme Bishop/Pontiff. The Church of Rome has supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction over all the daughter Churches. My understanding is that this very much different from concept proposed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. This distinction is important and we should not sugarcoat the truth – that all Patriarchs and all Bishops are “catholicos” only because they are in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The then Cardinal Ratzinger pretty much says that – he holds that the universal church supercedes and come first, both historically and theologically, before the local church.


    1. That is a big question, Justin, and must wait a few days! I addressed it en passant in one of my posts. From what I remember, the Petrine primacy is not disputed by the East. In practice they readily had recourse to the Pope as a court of final appeal. They acknowledged that an ecumenical council could not be valid without the pope’s confirmation of it.

      For now, I would hazard to say that the Orthodox could probably acknowledge the papacy’s supreme authority. However they have difficulty with the way that has been expressed at times in the life of the western Church. Jurisdiction need not involve the degree of control that the papacy exercises in the West. Even now, for example, Eastern Catholic Churches elect their bishops and then petition the pope for confirmation of the election. Otherwise the pope seems to interfere very little in the life of these Churches. My prayer is that the Orthodox, who share the same liturgical tradition and practice as the Eastern Catholics, might see in these uniate Churches a model for themselves. The uniates are seen as a stumbling block. But if communion were restored, the uniates and the Orthodox need not be separate any longer.

      More when I can!


      1. Thanks for this. I look forward to more of your thoughts on this – perhaps after some reports emerge from the meeting with other Christian leaders.

        I do wonder though whether the Orthodox practice of choosing their bishops, and the bishop having very little oversight from a central authority could possibly work in the Church with some of the bishops, and a large proportion of the laity who do not just disagree with but are actively hostile to revealed truth. Regardless of the perceived or real ineffeciencies of the Roman curia – I am glad for their existence and would even welcome more rather than less involvement – in particular the Congregation of Bishops, CDW, and the CDF!


      2. I suspect that our system of appointment is not quite ni danger yet. Moreover, informed commentators say that precisely the congregations you mention – CDW, CDF, Bishops – are the ones that function best and have few problems. It is some of the smaller dicastries, and of course, the office of the Secretary of State. In these latter we might find some slimming down about to happen.


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