By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published May 14, 2009
For the first millennium of Christianity there was one Church. Even though the unity of the Church during our first 1,000 years was repeatedly threatened by heresy, political intrigue and the inevitable sinful behavior of men and women, there remained only one Church. Then in 1054 a coalition of political factors, cultural extremism and theological differences caused that unity to be torn asunder. The Great Schism separated the Western Church and the Eastern Church, and we have lived with that sad division for all the second 1,000 years of Christian history.
While throughout the centuries there have been many efforts to heal the schism, it remains as a great sorrow and a source of scandal for all Christians. Increasingly during the past 50 years, the Popes and the Ecumenical Patriarchs have reached out to one another in fraternally sensitive and hopeful ways. The leaders of both the Western Church and the Eastern Church have shown a great interest and desire to heal the brokenness that still disfigures the Church that Christ founded. There is a spirit of hope that we are drawing closer to one another and that we soon may see the day when that reconciliation will come to full blossom. It will not be easy since there are still many unresolved matters that touch upon the highly complex historical and serious theological differences that distinguish these two great ecclesial communities. But we are hopeful that we are moving toward one another in love, in truth and with mutual respect.
Orthodox and Catholics here in the Atlanta community shared in the hope and prayer for Christian unity last Wednesday evening as we gathered during the Year of St. Paul which both of our Churches are currently observing. My venerable brother, His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of the Metropolis of Atlanta, accompanied by a good number of his priests and a generous outpouring of his faithful, came to Christ the King Cathedral to share in a prayer service honoring St. Paul and asking the Lord to heal the divisions that separate our Churches. Metropolitan Alexios has long been a devoted friend of his Catholic neighbors and a staunch supporter of the ecumenical dialogue that may one day bring our churches into formal unity.
So many of the people who participated in the evening spoke of their great delight that such an event had taken place. Several people indicated that they enjoyed both an Orthodox and a Catholic heritage as children of mixed marriages or people who were themselves in a mixed marriage. A number asked when a future such gathering might take place so that the bonds that unite us can be strengthened once again. The choirs from both communities shared in the musical heritage that reflected each communion. The readings and prayers that we used honored St. Paul, the great missionary Apostle, and reminded us all of the common heritage that we shared in those first 1,000 years of Christian history.
I would like to thank all of those who designed and prepared this wonderful event and all those who shared in it. Our own beloved priests came, along with so many of their parishioners, that together our Cathedral was nearly filled with Catholic and Orthodox Christians who asked the Holy Spirit to hasten the day when we will once again be a single Church and give to the world the witness of love, unity and faith for which Christ Himself prayed on the night before He died for us all.