Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders bless icon as olivebranch
- From: JHForest <mailto:JHForest@...>
November 30, 2006 (SF Chronicle)
Churches work to bridge 1,000-year global divide
Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders bless icon as olive branch
by Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders in San Francisco came together
Wednesday night to bless a religious icon, and, in the process, helped
heal a 1,000-year-old global divide.
Rooted in part in a centuries-old theological dispute, the brother
churches have often operated in isolation from each other, a split that
has played out from Istanbul to San Francisco.
Before Wednesday, no archbishop of San Francisco is known to have
participated in a service exclusively with a Greek Orthodox metropolitan,
the equivalent of an archbishop. Both churches have been working for years
to remedy their longtime tensions.
The joint blessing and dedication of the icon -- a 2-foot by 3-foot
colorful mosaic of glass, semi-precious jewels and gold depicting the
Virgin Mary and Jesus -- came as Pope Benedict visits Turkey, where his
primary goal is to meet and build ties in Istanbul with the Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of an estimated 270 million
Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world. Greek Orthodox are part of
"We're the spiritual children of our mother churches," said the Rev.
Michael Pappas, the pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in San
Francisco, where the event was held. Speaking before Wednesday's service,
Pappas said the local leaders' actions were "a reflection of what is
happening in Constantinople," referring to the ancient name of Istanbul.
Pappas believes the San Francisco service was the only one of its kind
anywhere in the United States that joined a Catholic archbishop with a
Greek Orthodox metropolitan.
"This is, after all, what Jesus instructed his disciples to do at the last
supper," Archbishop George Niederauer said in an interview before the
service. "That his followers be one, just as he and the father are one. We
are trying to respond to that from our own perspective."
It hasn't always been that simple.
Eastern Orthodox Churches and Roman Catholics claim their lineage to
Andrew and Peter, blood brothers who were also apostles of Jesus.
The two churches were once one. But in 1054, there was a schism between
Rome and Constantinople. A primary difference between the Eastern Orthodox
Church involved how to refer to the relationship between the Christian
trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
"What drove a wedge in the 11th century was this theological division,"
said the Rev. James Bretzke, professor and chair of the Theology and
Religious Studies Department at the University of San Francisco. "But it
was also a power struggle about who was going to be the big authority.
Now, in the last millennium, we've grown apart. We have very little shared
"It's the weight of that 1,000 years of being apart that is the biggest
hurdle to union," Bretzke said.
Beginning with the papacy of John XXIII in 1958, the Roman Catholic Church
sought to build stronger ties with the Eastern Orthodox. That has
continued for decades with various visits and gestures, such as Benedict's
visit and the joint blessing of the icon in San Francisco.
There are still hurdles. The churches do not share communion with each
other, arguably the most sacred Christian ritual.
Neither Niederauer nor Pappas could come up with a reason why the two
churches hadn't put on a joint event before Wednesday. But everyone saw
the service with Niederauer and Metropolitan Gerasimos as a step forward.
"Symbolism is very important in any church, and I think it's especially
important in the Orthodox church and the Catholic church," Bretzke said.
"Someone else might say, 'big deal.' But in fact, in these circles, it is
a big deal. They're being pro-active. They're trying to take steps.
They're not waiting to sit back and wait for the Second Coming."
E-mail Matthai Chakko Kuruvila at mkuruvila@....
Copyright 2006 SF Chronicle
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