As a convert from Greek Orthodoxy, I have long been involved in attempting to make more Catholics knowledgeable concerning their Eastern rite brethren as well as the need to multiply prayers and penances for the hoped for reunion of the dissident Eastern Orthodox churches with the See of Peter. The recent visit of Pope John Paul II to Greece and Syria once again highlights the Holy Father’s wishes to transcend the scandals of our centuries-old separation from the 16 or so autocephalous Byzantine Greco-Slav churches which have retained the greatest part of our Catholic doctrinal patrimony. Despite the strident opposition of certain Ultra-Orthodox circles which regard ecumenism with the Catholic Church as “heretical“, it is consoling that many of the Greek and Syrian Orthodox laity responded favorably to the Pope’s visit and to the apology which he gave for the past sins of Catholics which have impeded efforts to restore the perfect communion of the churches in Christ. There has been no question that the highest priority of Pope John Paul II’s Pontificate has been the reunion of the separated Eastern churches with the See of Peter, “head of all the churches of God“.
A plethora of Papal encyclicals and Apostolic Letters have witnessed this Roman Pontiff’s zeal that “the memory of past sins against ecclesial communion may be fully purified and make way for reconciliation and fraternity.” ( General Audience, 5/16,01 after his return from Greece, Syria, and Malta). The following documents witness to his extraordinary zeal in marking out the path of Catholic ecumenism with the East:
- The Apostolic Letter Patres Ecclesiae on the sixteenth centenary of St.Basil.
- The Encyclical Letter Slavorum Apostoli in commemoration of the Eleventh Centenary of the Evangelizing Work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
- Letter for the 1600th Anniversary of the First Council of Constantinople and the 1550th Anniversary of the Council of Ephesus.
- Apostolic Letter Euntes in Mundum on the occasion of the Millenium of the Baptism of Kievan Rus.
- Si fa vicino Apostolic Letter for the 400th Anniversary of the Union of Brest.
- Apostolic Letter Duodecimum Saeculum On the 12th Centenary of the Second Council of Nicaea.
- Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen to mark the Centenary of Orientalium Dignitas of Pope Leo XIII.
- Encyclical Letter Et Unum Sint On Commitment to Ecumenism.
As of this writing Pope John Paul II is preparing to visit Ukraine and later Armenia, stressing as he has always done the Catholic Church’s concern to maintain the theology, spirituality, liturgy, discipline and customs of the Christian East. As he has repeatedly insisted, “the ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is to re-establish full visible unity among all the baptized.” (“Ut UnumSint“, 77). In countless addresses, in conformity with the teaching of Vatican I and II, he has explained clearly the Office of Peter in the Church.
In a recent booklet (now, unfortunately, out of print), I had dedicated its pages to the memory of Madame Swetchine, Vladimir Soloviev, Elizabeth Wolkonsky, Michael-Dimitrevitch Gerbstsoff, Ivan Gagarin,S.J., Barnabite Gregory Schouvaloff, Exarch Leonid Fedorov, Prince Vladimir Ghika, Bishops Isaias Papadopoulos, Helene Iswolsky, Helle Elpiniki Georgiades, and other sons of the Eastern churches whose study of the Church’s history led them to embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith which Christ the Lord had established upon the solidity of the Rock of Peter.
May the Theotokos, and all the Angels and Saints inspire all of us to greater prayer and penance to obtain not only the grace of deeper personal conversion but also that “All May Be One” in Christ the Lord and Lover of Mankind.
Author of Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism