Society seeks to bridge differences between Catholic, Orthodox churches

I left the contact information on the bottom for the sake of the public interest. NFTU

(North County Times) 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, 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 ongoing dialogue.

“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 congregation.

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

Admission: Free-will collection

Info: (760) 941-5560 or