(TulsaWorld) The mother of all church splits — called the Great Schism by historians — may be healing.
For the first time in the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians came together for two joint prayer services.
“It was incredible, a magnificent service,” Monsignor Patrick Brankin said of the Sunday night vesper service at the Catholic Holy Family Cathedral downtown.
“Some of our people were in tears, not only because of the beauty of the service, but because we were able to pray together like this,” Brankin said.
“What was so wonderful was this was the first time that a Catholic bishop and an Orthodox bishop have met together here to pray like this.”
“It was a joy for us,” said the Rev. Bill Christ, pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, who hosted on Saturday the other joint Orthodox-Catholic vesper service.
“We really appreciated being a part of it.”
The two services were led jointly by Tulsa Bishop Edward J. Slattery and Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, bishop over Greek Orthodox churches in a 13-state area that includes Oklahoma.
“It was magnificent,” Slattery said. “I was very easily drawn to Metropolitan Isaiah. He’s a very easy man to talk to, congenial, lighthearted. We hit it off right away.”
Metropolitan Isaiah said by phone Friday from Denver that the services in Tulsa were a microcosm of what’s going on between
the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
“We want to see a growing relationship between the two churches the two largest Christian organizations in the world,” he said.
“The way the world is going toward secularism, it is imperative that we get together and represent what Christ means to the world. Up until 40 years ago, we weren’t even talking to one another,” he said.
Slattery said he organized the services after seeing the pope do a similar service in Rome last summer with the head of the Orthodox church.
He said the unity of all Christians — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant — is a goal given to the church by Christ himself, who prayed “that they all may be one.”
“The greatest obstacle to the mission of Jesus Christ in the world today is the division between Christians. We’re a scandal to non-Christians when we preach love and peace, and they look at us and see that we’re divided.”
Slattery said divisions in Christianity were responsible for relativism in the world, the belief that there is no objective truth.
Until 1054 A.D., Christians worldwide were part of one fellowship.
In that year, leaders of the Western church in Rome and the Eastern church in Constantinople excommunicated each other, formalizing a split between what is now the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Brankin said the split followed a long period of disintegrating relations.
The two churches faced different problems, had different views of church authority and had theological differences, he said.
All Christians united
Some of the misunderstandings were language-based. The Western church worshiped in Latin; the Eastern church in Greek.
Though the church has remained divided, theologians through history have recognized the ideal that all Christians be united, the Rev. Christ said.
“God does not intend that there be division. Division is bad, period,” he said.
“We go back to the Nicene Creed, which says we believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church,” he said.
The last 40 years have seen a renewed effort to re-establish Catholic-Orthodox unity.
The mutual excommunication was lifted in 1965 by Pope Paul VI and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, head of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Pope John Paul II issued a formal apology to the Orthodox church for the sacking of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 A.D., and the removal of ancient relics, including the remains of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian. He returned the relics to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey.
“Returning the stolen relics significantly impressed the Orthodox that Catholics were serious about their overtures toward us,” the Rev. Christ said.
Catholic-Orthodox relations are improving, but unity will take a long time, he said.
“We’re finding we have a whole lot more in common ground than we thought.
“But it has to happen on a much wider scale. People have to desire it. It must happen with people on a grassroots level,” he said.
Catholics and Orthodox believers agree they are much closer to each other theologically than they are to Protestants.
“There is a unique unity between Catholic and Orthodox churches because both have the exact same faith in the Eucharist and all seven sacraments,” Slattery said. “We have so much in common.”
The two churches agree theologically on the core issue of transubstantiation, that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ during Holy Communion.
East and West
But differences remain.
They differ on the issue of papal authority.
They do not share the communion table.
There are differences in liturgy.
And apart from doctrine, there are differences in culture and mentality, Slattery said.
“The West is more Roman, more practical, more legal, more rational. The East prefers mystery, especially in worship.”
Bill Sherman 581-8398
About 30 A.D. Pentecost; the church begins.
1054 A.D. The Great Schism occurs; Eastern and Western church leaders excommunicate each other.
1204 A.D. Western crusaders sack the Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople and remove relics.
1965 A.D. Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Bartholomew I (Athenagoras, not Bartholomew –ed.) of Constantinople rescind the excommunications.
2000 A.D. Pope John Paul II apologizes for the sacking of Constantinople.
2004 A.D. Pope John Paul II returns relics to the head of the Orthodox church.