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A historic event occurred in December 2006 when the Orthodox archbishop of Greece made a trip to Rome to visit Pope Benedict XVI. This marked a change in attitude between both parties after years of drifting apart.
“The archbishop said his visit offered the opportunity ‘to undertake a new stage on the common path of our Churches to address the problems of the present-day world’” (Zenit).
“‘We come,’ the Orthodox leader said, ‘to visit the eminent theologian and university professor, the assiduous researcher of ancient Greek thought and of the Greek Fathers of the East; but also the visionary of Christian unity and cooperation of religions to ensure the peace of the whole world’” (ibid.).
Pope Benedict’s comments about the meeting were equally positive: “‘Catholics and Orthodox are called to offer their cultural and, above all, their spiritual contribution…They have the duty to defend the Christian roots of the Continent, which have forged it in the course of the centuries, and thus allow Christian tradition to continue manifesting itself and operating with all its forces to safeguard the dignity of the human person, respect of minorities, being careful to avoid a cultural uniformity that would run the risk of losing immense riches of civilization’” (ibid.).
The pope considers the unity of Christianity central to the promotion and future of civilization. In part, this means protecting Europe. The unification of Eastern and Western churches would mean more clout in influencing “Christian” recognition in the upcoming EU constitution.
In our article “The Ecumenical Movement – A Family Reunion?” we discuss steps to unification that began long before the December 2006 meeting. In Vatican II, “Catholic leaders encouraged contact with Protestants, and slightly softened their exclusivist language and their opposition to ‘freedom of conscience’ in matters of religion.” Rome has been quietly modifying some of its doctrines—as has the Greek Orthodox church. Both branches’ teachings have aligned more than most would imagine.
Setting aside a few doctrinal differences, these organizations are nearing the unification both have desired for decades. The potential implications of this unification are profound.