Benedict XVI Honored by Eastern Orthodox Hierarchs | Christopher B. Warner | Catholic World Report
Another look at the Constantinople-Rome schism and a way forward for reconciliation
Following the announcement of Benedict XVI’s retirement, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the chief hierarch of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, issued a statement expressing his profound respect and friendship to Benedict. Bartholomew honored Pope Benedict as an eminent theologian and reaffirmed his desire to keep dialogue open between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians “for the union of all.” Benedict and Bartholomew’s friendship has been marked by their common mission to restore Christian culture to Europe. The Russian Orthodox Church issued a similar statement thanking Benedict for his efforts to restore relations between the Vatican and the Moscow patriarchate.
Benedict XVI played an important role in modern efforts to heal the schism between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Dialogue began in 1964 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I went together as pilgrims to Jerusalem. The work of restoring communion was renewed by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Dimitrios I during the 1980s. Between 1980 and 2000 the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church worked to find common ground that would lead to further unity. After a period of interruption, Benedict and Bartholomew reopened the work of the commission in 2007. Pope Benedict signed a joint statement with Patriarch Bartholomew in 2006 that renewed their commitment to building Christian unity and working together for the common good of humanity. Admittedly, progress has been slow—too slow for some critics, but then long histories of contention between alienated peoples take a lot of time to heal, Christian or not. Hasty reconciliation attempts between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox in the past did not prove successful.
Like the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have counterparts who are in full union with the pope, called Eastern Catholics. The Eastern Catholic Churches are part of a long-standing effort to reunite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Unsuccessful reunification attempts took place in Lyon (1274) and in Florence (1438), but the current Eastern Catholic communion was established by the Union of Brest in 1596. At this council the Metropolitan of Kiev (in modern Ukraine) united his church to the Pope of Rome, which is why they are sometimes called “Uniates.” The Ukrainian Catholic Church is the largest of 22 Eastern Catholic Churches, sui iuris, in the world. The Ukrainian Catholics even have a cardinal, Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus Lubomyr Husar, who was papabile at the 2005 papal conclave but is no longer eligible because of his age.