George Weigel has a piece on Catholic Exchange which suggests that the divide between the Catholics and the Orthodox may be much wider than we care to admit. In support of this claim he relates the reaction of the monasteries of Mount Athos to the way in which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople received the Pope on his visit to Turkey in December. Way too warm and fuzzy for the folks on Mount Athos. From the Weigel column:
Why? Because, the monks complained, “the Pope was received as though he were the canonical bishop of Rome.” There were other complaints, but that was the first listed in a statement released last December 30 by the Assembly of Representatives and Superiors of the twenty monasteries: Why was Bartholomew treating Benedict as though the latter were, in fact, the bishop of Rome?
Well, if we can’t agree on that, we do have, as Jim Lovell told Mission Control, a problem.
I suspect that the problem goes even deeper than that. I have a Greek Orthodox friend who sends his children to Catholic school. Some time back I suggested that maybe in our lifetimes we could be one big happy family again. He gave me a look that suggested “why in heavens name would we want that?” It was an eye opener for me. Identity through separation. Weigel hits on this too:
Yet this Athonite intransigence reflects a hard truth about Catholic-Orthodox relations after a millennium of division: namely, that, for many Orthodox Christians, the statement “I am not in communion with the Bishop of Rome” has become an integral part of the statement, “I am an Orthodox Christian.”
I have suspected for sometime that Christian unity will not come about through ecumenical committees, joint statements of faith, or any such thing. Rather, I think it is more likely that Christian unity will be the result of the Christian/Catholic response to some extraordinary biblical comeuppance. Only then will all Christians see the need and the value of the Church of Rome. One flock, one shepherd.