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Orthodox leader cites chasm

Chicago Tribune News Service

 WASHINGTON —The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians chilled hopes for quick progress on unity with Roman Catholics, saying Tuesday that the eastern and western branches of Christianity continue to grow apart.

"The divergence between us continually increases, and the end point to which our courses are taking us, foreseeably, are indeed different," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said as he received an honorary degree from Georgetown University, a Jesuit school.

The patriarch has long been hailed as a leader in the movement to bring the two faiths closer together.  The citation accompanying his honorary degree characterized Bartholomew's commitment to top-level dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics as "inspiring."

But his speech, billed in advance as an important address that would respond to a 1995 papal encyclical on the subject, emphasized the chasm that remains between the two oldest forms of Christianity.  He said they go deeper than the ancient disagreement about the authority of the Roman pope.

"Assuredly our problem is neither geographical nor one of personal alienation.  Neither is it a problem of organizational structures, nor jurisdictional arrangements," the patriarch said.  "It is something deeper and more substantive.  The manner in which we exist has become ontologically different."

His lengthy, theological explanation of that difference centered on the divergent ways in which western and eastern Christians experience their faith.  He stressed that Orthodox Christians perceive Jesus Christ mystically and with immediacy.

“The Orthodox Christian does not live in a place of theoretical and conceptual conversations, but rather in a place of an essential and empirical lifestyle and reality as confirmed by grace in the heart," Bartholomew said.

The message was all the more noteworthy for the setting in which the patriarch chose to deliver it.  Along with Jesuit officials of Georgetown University, Bartholomew shared the podium with Roman Catholic Cardinal James Hickey of Washington and Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the pope's representative in the United States.

Bartholomew's speech topped off three days of whirlwind activity in Washington, the start of his 16-city, 30-day U.S. tour.

Official dialogue began in the 1960s between the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which has precedence of honor among the highest thrones of Orthodoxy but administrative authority over only a small fraction of the world's estimated 200 million to 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Pope John Paul II has put increasing emphasis on talks with the east in recent years and frequently has mentioned the Orthodox when discussing his hopes that the millennium would usher in a new age of Christian unity.

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