Orthodox leader cites chasm
By STEVE KLOEHN
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
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,"
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
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.