There is no doubt about it, the present Pope has already made a big splash in his reaching out to non-Catholic Christians as well as those of other faiths and groups that have felt alienated by the church, such as the gay community. In my blogging and posting on Facebook thus far, I have often remarked on the latest “words of wisdom” spoken and actions done by this Pope and for the most part my reactions have been positive. While I still proceed cautiously, having been brought up in a tradition that was disdainful of both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, with some of its Bible scholars regarding the Pope as a to be head of a one world religious system that would ally itself with the Antichrist before Christ’s return, I have to confess that there is much that he has said and done in areas such as social justice that has touched me deeply.
The recent BBC report titled “Unity call as Pope Francis holds historic talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch” makes fascinating reading. It begins “Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill have called for restored Christian unity between the two churches at historic talks in Cuba. The meeting was the first between a Pope and a Russian Church head since the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity split in the 11th Century. In a joint declaration, they also urged the world to protect Christians from persecution in the Middle East”. The choice of venue is an interesting one with Cuba having many Catholic Christians and yet influenced by Russia, as well as being an unlikely neutral venue.
Those who follow such things (and I do) will be mindful of the split between the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches (encompassing the great majority of the world’s Christians at the time) in the eleventh century over a number of issues that most will not understand. While the Orthodox tradition (unlike the Catholics) have several strands, operating relatively independently, the Russian Orthodox Church is by far the biggest numerically. The ramifications of the split are far reaching, not least at the heart of the issues dividing modern day Ukraine are opposing factions that identify with Catholic and Orthodox Christianity respectively. Given the warm embrace seen and joint accord struck between these two leaders, one might detect signs of hope in a world that is falling apart amidst strives of one sort or another, over which the man in the street would seem to have hardly any control.
There is a lot more to the history of church schism and that which divides Christians than most realize or understand. Regarding this historical meeting and what it means, there is much still to be revealed. We live, as I have often remarked in “interesting” times! We must do what we do and as best we can do it – we can do no more other than put our trust in the Almighty who has, if my understanding is correct, placed great store in “the Church” (the sum total of those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ – from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation) carrying out his purposes (the only ones that would see the world return back onto a correct course). I like to think I have long ago departed from the fundamentalist bigotry that was part of my early religious upbringing, but I am still not a particular fan of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. But I like the bit in the joint declaration that states “We hope our meeting contributes to the re-establishment of this unity wished for by God“. While I may see things somewhat differently to the Pope and the Patriarch, I also wish for that unity and am also confident that Christ will build His Church!