Society seeks to bridge differences between Catholic, Orthodox churches
By JIM TRAGESER - Staff Writer | Thursday, January 1, 2009 6:54 PM PST
Modern Christians are used to a world in which there is a seemingly
never-ending supply of branches of the faith.
While the Protestant Reformation unleashed a splintering of the
Christian Church that continues today with hundreds or more Christian
denominations, it was not the first major crack in the unity of
Christendom: The Great Schism in 1054 resulted in separate Catholic
and Orthodox churches, mostly divided between Western Europe
(Catholic) and Eastern Europe (Orthodox).
And while it's true that earlier churches claiming to be Christian
were expelled from the larger community of Christianity (most notably
the Gnostics) in the earliest days of the church, it was the Great
Schism that led to a world in which describing oneself as a
"Christian" is generally not enough to fully explain one's faith to others.
More than a millennium after the Great Schism, Orthodox Christians
and Catholics are working not only at the highest levels in Rome and
Istanbul to try to heal the divide between two churches that trace
their common history to the apostles of Jesus, but are also doing so
at the local level.
At 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Margaret Catholic Church in Oceanside, CA
the regional chapter of the Society of St. John Chrysostom is hosting
a presentation on what obstacles remain to reunification of Catholic
and Orthodox churches. The Rev. Ramon Merlos, from Our Lady of Kazan
Patriarchal Orthodox Church in San Diego, and the Rev. John
Monastero, a Catholic priest from Anaheim, will lead the presentation
and a question-and-answer session afterward.
The Rev. George Morelli, who is head of pastoral counseling for the
Antiochian Orthodox Church's North American archdiocese, is president
of the Southern California Chapter of the Society of St. John
Chrysostom, an organization originally founded in England seven
decades ago to foster discussion between Catholics and Orthodox
Christians. (It is named after a fourth century archbishop of
Constantinople, who is one of the most admired of saints in both the
Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches.)
Morelli said the local chapter was founded about 3 1/2 years ago out
of a desire by local Catholics and Orthodox Christians to have an
"We had a very active group of individuals who are very focused on
this issue and wanted to make sure that we remained cohesive and put
on our own programs," he said recently by phone from his Carlsbad
office. "We formed a Western regional association with the blessing
of the national group."
Morelli, who assists the pastor at St. George's Antiochian Orthodox
Church in San Diego in addition to his duties with the archdiocese,
said the society's purpose is to let Catholics and Orthodox
Christians get to know one another ---- pointing out that animosity
between adherents of the two churches have become deeply entrenched
in places such as the former Yugoslavia, where religion and national
identity are closely intertwined.
"The Society of St. John Chrysostom is a grass-roots organization,"
Morelli said. "It has no official standing in the Church. It has
always been agreed, especially lately, that we need a grass-roots
organization so the people can get to know one another."
Morelli agreed that San Diego and Riverside counties may be a hotbed
of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenicism because of the large number of both
Orthodox Christians and Eastern-rite Catholics in the region.
While most people associate the Catholic Church with Roman
Catholicism (which has dozens of parishes in the area), globally
there are more than 20 regional churches that recognize the pope's
authority. Commonly referred to as "Eastern rite Churches," these
include the Byzantine Catholic, Melkite Catholic and Syriac Catholic
rites, all which have active congregations in the area.
On the Orthodox side, there are Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox and
Patriarchal (Russian) Orthodox congregations in San Diego and
Southwest Riverside counties, in addition to the Antiochian Orthodox
Morelli also pointed out that while the Eastern-rite Catholic
churches acknowledge the pope's authority, they share a liturgy and
other traditions with the Eastern Orthodox churches. Many
Eastern-rite Catholic churches allow married men to become priests,
for instance, and use leavened bread for the Eucharist rather than
the wafers used in the Roman rite.
Morelli said while the chapter is titled Southern California, most of
the membership is from San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties. Any
Catholic or Orthodox Christian who is a member in good standing with
a church in communion with either Rome or the Orthodox community is
eligible to join. There are about 40 active members, mostly lay
Catholic and Orthodox (Morelli said there are only three clergy
members in the local chapter). Every other month features a
presentation on a different topic, and there is a quarterly newsletter.
"It's been such a success ---- we don't really know what church you
come from," Morelli said of the effort to have Orthodox Christians
and Catholics get to know each other on an individual basis.
While official dialogue between the Catholic pope and his Orthodox
counterparts, the patriarchs, continues on a full healing of the
Great Schism, Morelli said events like Saturday's are an important
part of the ecumenical process.
"If you look at Christ's priestly prayer in the Gospel of John at the
Last Supper, both the East and West apostolic churches realize this
division is a scandal, and it does not witness Christ. In the first
millennium, we were one church ---- and even though we may have had
some differences in practices, we agreed on the basic teachings of Christ."
"Impediments to Unity: Catholics and Orthodox, What Divides Us?"
When: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday
Where: St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church, 4300 Oceanside Blvd., Oceanside, CA
Admission: Free-will collection
Info: (760) 941-5560 or oceanside4christ.com