Though qualifying that full unity is still in the distant future, leaders from Catholic and Orthodox churches recently indicated that progress is underway in the reunification efforts of the two faith communities.
Reuters reported on Sept. 24 that church heads meeting this week in Vienna concurred that the two traditions – which have been separated since the Great Schism of 1054 – could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Holy Father as head but maintain their individual liturgies, customs and church structures.
Leaders from the International Commission for Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue, a group comprised of around 30 theologians who meet annually, gave comments to reporters in Vienna last Friday, noting the positive advances both churches have made towards full communion.
Archbishop Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in a news conference last week the the two churches “will be able to enrich each other,” adding that the “basic principle of ecumenism is the exchange of gifts.”
“The first step is to tell each other individually how we imagine unity would look like. For the Catholic Church, of course, unity without the Bishop of Rome is unimaginable,” he underscored. “That’s because the issue of the Bishop of Rome is not just an organizational question, but also a theological one. The dialogue about just how this unity should be shaped must be continued intensively. Unity means that we see each other fully as sister churches.”
Archbishop Koch added that he thinks Pope Benedict is “thinking in this direction.”
“He’s said to the Anglicans who want to come back that they would be able to keep their tradition and celebrate their liturgy. So he’s said himself that there should be diversity. That will be the second step. It’s far too early ask each other how we can do this together.”
“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon stressed. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.”
Significant progress has been made in recent years towards reunification as as evidenced by 2007's meeting in Ravenna, Italy, where both churches recognized the Bishop of Rome as the most senior bishop. Positive dialogue was also achieved in last year's meeting in Cyprus.