History and the End of Schism

Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill

Rumors and rumors of rumors of an imminent end to over a thousand years of the Great Schism between Catholics and Orthodox have exploded over these past few days.  If these rumors are correct then not since the Ecumenical Council of Ferrara-Florence have these great Church’s been so close to unity.

In A.D. 1054 Catholic prelate Humbert and Orthodox prelate Michael Cærularius excommunicated each other.  This marks the beginning of the Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Church’s.

Over a thousand years later in A.D. 1965 Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I rescinded these excommunications in a sign of thawing relations.

The years following this a flurry of events accumulated in beginning the healing process that divides Christendom’s two greatest Church’s.

After the rescinding of the excommunications the creation of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue was established to hammer out the the theological and ecclesiological issues that divide both Catholics and Orthodox.

This was followed by the partial concelebration of the Eucharistic liturgy by Pope’s John Paul II and Benedict XVI along with Patriarch’s Bartholomew I and Demetrius I.  During the Eucharistic liturgy these two sets of prelates recited the Nicene Creed, without the Filioque clause, which were positive developments towards reconciliation.

All of these events were a very good start until you take into consideration the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Russian Orthodox Church posed the biggest impediment to further progress since they are the largest of the Orthodox autocephalous church’s.

In A.D. 1988 after reemerging from over 70 years of atheistic dictatorship the Russian Orthodox Church finally found itself independent from secular authority.  They just began to rejuvenate, regain footing, but were barely able to engage in ecumenism with the Catholic Church.

Because the Russian Orthodox is the largest of the Orthodox church’s, they are one of two primary players involved in reuniting both the Catholic and Orthodox (the other being the Ecumenical Patriarch). This has been an obstinate relationship between the Vatican and Moscow.  The Russians were wary of Pope John Paul II’s overtures of unity due to historical disputes between the Catholics and the Orthodox in the Ukraine.

Then the unforeseen happened.  In A.D. 2005 Pope Benedict XVI was elected, replacing the good Polish pontiff.  Then in February of this year papal-friendly Patriarch Kirill I was elected as the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Together with the elevation of papal-friendly Archbishop Hilarion to chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, opportunities arose for ecumenical engagement.

Which brings us to today.

Two days ago Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register reported that Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Mother of God Archdiocese in Moscow, proclaimed that unity can be achieved “within a few months.”

The cause for his exuberance is based on the reconciliation of theological and ecclesiological issues combined with the “real desire for communion“.  Which the Vatican certainly possesses.

I must then ask the question, does Moscow desire this as well?

Recent events suggest yes, with Archbishop Hilarion currently visiting to the Vatican in meetings with Walter Cardinal Kasper and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the exuberance by Archbishop Pezzi may be justified.

But I think this exuberance is glossing over to much disagreement.

The Russian Orthodox Church never wanted Pope John Paul II to visit Moscow, even when de facto Russian leader Vladimir Putin offered it.  And the Russian Orthodox have yet to show any signs of changing this position with the current Pope Benedict XVI.

I don’t want to put a damper on all this enthusiasm, I am just stating facts.  With that I do pray and hope for unity.

There has been significant warming of relations since the installment of Patriarch Kirill I and the Orthodox view Pope Benedict XVI favorably because of his orthodoxy in liturgy and his corresponding actions in correcting many abuses since the Second Vatican Council.

Outside of malefactors such as the Mount Athos crowd and the Orthodox resentment of the sacking of Constantinople, anything is possible.

Please may there be fruits from this meeting and an end to this schism.

Saints Peter and Paul pray for us!


For the National Catholic Register article by Edward Pentin click here.

For the Catholic News Agency (C.N.A.) article about Archbishop Hilarion’s visit click here.

The Second Vatican Council produced a decree on ecumenism called Unitatis Redintegratio.  For the document click here.

18 Responses to History and the End of Schism

  1. Dale Price says:

    Good post, balancing the hope with realism. One slight correction: Mount Athos contains a solid bloc of hardcore anti-Catholics, perhaps (probably?) even the majority of the monks there. But there are those loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarch who are there, too.

  2. Alan Phipps says:

    This has already been all over the blogosphere in Orthodox circles as well as Catholic – Archbishop Pezzi is clearly expressing naive optimism here. Archbishop Hilarion is indeed visiting Rome, but Pezzi made his announcement before Hilarion even set foot in the eternal city. The other question is what did Pezzi actually say in Italian; perhaps it is a mistranslation.

  3. Tito Edwards says:


    I read Irenaeus posting and my impression was it was all over the Orthodox blogosphere, not necessarily the Catholic blogosphere. Just wanting to be exact.

    I agree that Archbishop Pezzi was overly optimistic, but my thinking is that he’s basing it on previous dialogue with the Orthodox, not a prediction of the Hilarion-Kasper talks.


    I only threw in the “Mount Athos crowd” to represent the many Orthodox that are against any form of ecumenism Patriarch-and-Pope-be-damned.

  4. Alan Phipps says:

    “Just wanting to be exact since you want to make a pointless point.”

    The blog to which I linked is a Catholic/Orthodox blog.
    The story was also on NLM just yesterday. The “pointless point” judgment seems kind of harsh – not sure where that is coming from?? Maybe it didn’t come across in my comment, but my point was that most seem to be taking this with a grain of salt, and rightfully so.

  5. Tito Edwards says:


    I edited that out before you were able to reread it.

    No harm done.

    Posting isn’t the same as talking in person.

    I don’t read the NLM as much as I used to in the past, so I missed that one.

  6. Alan Phipps says:

    Teófilo over at Vivificat also has a good post on the subject from Monday with some interesting points.

  7. Tito Edwards says:


    I didn’t want to bash Archbishop Pezzi, so I tried to be diplomatic concerning his enthusiasm, but I do agree with Teofilo’s assessment on the archbishops exuberance!

  8. TDJ says:

    Thank you for the link to Vivificat!

    With all due respect to Archbishop Pezzi, the expectations he has ignited need to be dowsed with a cold, wet showert of realism.

    In Christ,

  9. c matt says:

    Assuming this somehow goes through, would that mean RCs could fulfill Mass obligations by going to an Orthodox parish (will they still be called RC and Orthodox)? What would the post-schism Church look like?

  10. Daniel C. says:

    c matt,

    I believe you already can fulfill your obligation to go to Mass in an Orthodox parish ONLY IF it is impossible to fulfill that obligation in a Roman Catholic Church (or those in communion–Byzantine, Ukrainian Catholic… ect.) Though, you can not partake in Communion.

  11. Matt McDonald says:

    I believe you already can fulfill your obligation to go to Mass in an Orthodox parish ONLY IF it is impossible to fulfill that obligation in a Roman Catholic Church (or those in communion–Byzantine, Ukrainian Catholic… ect.)

    That’s correct and would change if they were in full communion, you’d be free to assist for any reason and even switch rituals formally (with permission) as is the case with th Uniates now.

    Though, you can not partake in Communion.

    the Catholic Church permits you to receive as long as you defer to the celebrant. As I understand it Orthodox are quite restrictive and will not allow it unless perhaps prior arrangements are made.

  12. Matt is more or less right here. The Catholic Church is more permissive than the Orthodox (any Orthodox is welcome to take our communion, but told to follow the rules of their jurisdiction), and we are told, in various circumstances (not all) that we can take Orthodox communion (though most Orthodox will not give it to Catholics, some will). Then there are some, like the Armenian Orthodox and Catholic, who freely share communion.

  13. Tito Edwards says:

    I like the fact that we are able to partake in some sacraments with the Orthodox under certain conditions.

    Though the Orthodox in America are more receptive to this, do you see this attitude changing for the better in traditional Orthodox lands?

    I am aware of the amount of distrust that many Greeks and Russians share towards Catholics, is this changing as well?

    Just questions because of all of the ecumenical efforts we’ve done since Vatican II, it is the Orthodox that I see real progress in reuniting with more than any other ecclesiastical group (the Orthodox being the only other real Church).

  14. Panagiotis Dimitriadis says:

    Mr. Edwards and friends,

    In your article/commentary you said the following, which needs correction:

    “Outside of malefactors such as the Mount Athos crowd and the Orthodox resentment of the sacking of Constantinople, anything is possible.”

    Webster’s dictionary defines malefactor as:

    “one who does ill toward another”.

    It is unfortunate that such ignorance or malice exists among those roman catholics who respect the Orthodox Church and desire to be united to it. For, the Holy Mountain of Athos is THE ark of true Christian Spiritual Life in the Church, a bastion of true Christian spiritual practice and defender of the Truth of Revelation for over 1000 years. Her life and Saints are the heart of the Orthodox Church in the 2nd millenium. To say that the holy fathers of Athos are intent on doing ill to others or even to the desire for true unity in Christ is an affront to all who love Truth and to all Orthodox Christians. They have been and are today lights to every sincere practitioner of Christian love and without them and their agreement no true union can take place.

    Your ignorance is one of the many obstacles standing in the way of real progress toward unity in Christ. I hope that you will correct your error and take time to learn more about the Garden of the All-Holy Mother of God (as Athos is known).


    Panagiotis Dimitriadis

  15. Matt McDonald says:

    Panagiotis Dimitriadis,

    It is unfortunate that such ignorance or malice exists among those roman catholics who respect the Orthodox Church and desire to be united to it

    We desire the return of ALL Christians to the One Holy Catholic Church. We pray that the Orthodox chuches return in their integrity as particular churches.

    Your pride is one of the many obstacles standing in the way of real progress toward unity in Christ.

  16. Tito Edwards says:

    Panagiotis Dimitriadis,

    I noticed you referred to Catholic with the small “c”, but the Orthodox with the large “O”.

    You need to remove the speck in your own eye before commenting.

    By the way, the ARK is the Virgin Mary carrying Jesus to birth and I referred to the Mount Athos crowd, ie, those like yourself that hold ill-will towards Catholicism in general and unity in particular.

  17. Nancy says:

    Regarding the Unity of The Holy Spirit and the Filioque: If we believe in the UNITY of God, The Father, The Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all that is, seen and unseen AND one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of The Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, ONE IN BEING with The Father…THEN, in order to be a Trinity, The Holy Spirit, The Love Between The Father And The Son, must proceed from The Father AND The Son, to begin with.

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