At the conclusion of the Joint International Commission which took place in the Italian town of Chieti
The president of Sophia has been a member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches since 2005. The 14th plenary session of the commission took place in Chieti from September 15 to 22.
What is the aim of this commission?
The commission was established in 2005 to reignite the theological dialogue that began in the complex situation that arose after the Second Vatican Council. In 2007 a highly important document was signed in Ravenna in which the Catholic and Orthodox Church agreed that synodality (journeying together with the people of God) and primacy (understood as a service to unity) are two interdependent dimensions of church life. These two are found at all levels: at the local level, at the level of communion between churches at the regional level and at the level of the universal church.
During the meeting in Ravenna, the Patriarch of Moscow left before the conclusion. This time, instead, he also signed the final document, entitled, "Synodality And Primacy During The First Millennium. Towards a common understanding in service to the unity of the church".
Yes, in 2007 the Patriarch of Moscow had abandoned the session at the very beginning of the work, but the reasons were not related to the dialogue itself, but rather to issues related to the Orthodox world. So the Ravenna document does not bear his signature. This time, however, he participated actively and is a signatory. On the other hand, the more recent document, the one approved in Chieti, was not been signed by the Patriarch of Georgia.
The Pope is expected to visit Georgia on the 30th of next September. There are reports of demonstrations against his visit. What do you think are the reservations of the Georgians?
In the Orthodox world – just like in some aspects in the Catholic world - there is a fringe minority opposing ecumenical dialogue. The Church of Georgia is particularly affected by these internal difficulties. This is why the Georgian delegation did not sign the document. It is not so much for the notion of the document itself, rather for the possible repercussions on the unity within the Georgian Orthodox Church on approval of this document.
Some problems had already emerged at the Pan-Orthodox Synod held last June in Crete. Was this difficulty discussed in Chieti?
No, the delegations of the Orthodox Churches, intentionally, did not make reference to the Pan-Orthodox Synod and its issues. However, the deeply shared vision of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew has left a positive impact. Among the manifestations of this relationship, I recall their visit to Lesbos and their participation in the dialogue session on the day commemorating the Assisi meeting. I also remember the meeting held in Cuba between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis as a sign of good relations between the two Churches.
What were the most significant conclusions of the Chieti meeting?
The greatest gain of this document – building on what had already been agreed at Ravenna – is the fact that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church theologically recognize that during the first Christian millennium the bishop of Rome exercised a ministry of unity on the level of the universal Church and that this did not involve direct jurisdiction over the churches of the East. This ecclesiological situation serves as a major inspirational model important to establish the fullness of unity in the third Christian millennium.
The Catholic Church has already made some steps in opening up itself in this sense. Can you highlight some of these?
The opening up towards the orthodox world was marked by the repeal of the reciprocal excommunications between the Orthodox and Catholic Church, by Pope Paul VI and by Patriarch Athenagoras. It continued through the meetings, first in Jerusalem and later in Constantinople of the patriarchs. It achieved its deepest expression when, in the encyclical Ut unum sint Saint John Paul II declared that the ministry of the primacy of the bishop of Rome - to which the Catholic Church is strongly linked – today requires a revision of the terms of its practice. Pope Benedict XVI, as cardinal, repeatedly said the situation of the church in the first millennium would provide a necessary basis for the reestablishment of full unity.
You are also a member of the Study Committee for the Diaconate of women. Would a possible introduction of such nature in the Church of Rome hinder the dialogue with our Eastern brethren?
Not at all. The female diaconate has been studied thoroughly for several decades in the Orthodox Churches; it is considered a traditional practice, therefore there would not be any problem.