The Ecumenical Patriarch, the titular leader of Orthodox Christians, met recently with Pope Francis in Jerusalem, and said afterward that both agreed to meet in Nicaea (modern Iznik) in 2025. This is potentially huge news, because Nicaea was the site of the first ecumenical council. Neither man is likely to be alive in 2025, so the promise here is largely symbolic. Still, it’s a big deal for East-West relations, if not nearly a big a deal as some of us would like to think.
Before the recent meeting of Bartholomew and Francis, Prof. Adam DeVille, a Byzantine Catholic, wrote a historically rich and theologically informative piece about the theological ground that needs to be covered before anything like re-establishing communion between Orthodox churches and Rome could happen. Excerpt:
It’s obvious that some Orthodox are not willing to move quickly — if at all — toward unity with Catholics, and many Orthodox would first require some reassurances, if not bold action, on several issues, beginning perhaps with the filioque, the clause in the Nicene Creed that proclaims the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Orthodox and Catholic scholars for 20 years now have discussed this issue and agreed that it is not church-dividing, but some Orthodox still feel that the Church in the West lacked the authority to unilaterally alter a creed that was decided upon by the consensus of an ecumenical council, and that the Western Church needs to return to using the creed as it was originally written without the Latin interpolation. Thus, Christians would all together once more process our faith in “the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father.”
Other areas touch on Church discipline and governance. Those teaching Catholic theology in the name of the Church would need to do so in a demonstrably faithful (“orthodox”) way. Those celebrating the Church’s liturgy would need to do so in a way that avoids much of the silliness, the slovenliness and the banality that still afflict Masses today. The Orthodox would want to know that their own system of electing and disciplining bishops would remain free of Roman curial interference. And they would want it clearly understood that their own tradition (which is also the tradition of Eastern Catholics and those Anglican and Lutheran clergy who are now Catholic priests) of ordaining married men to the priesthood would remain untouched, and nobody would be forced to adopt celibacy.
Another area, which few of us have begun seriously to grapple with, touches both doctrine and discipline: marriage. Here, if anywhere, is where ecumenism becomes real for many people living in mixed or irregular marriages.
There’s a lot more in the DeVille piece that makes it must reading for anyone seeking to understand this issue. I am not hopeful that this will happen before the Parousia, but I find these basic steps encouraging.