By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published May 29, 2014 | En Español
For almost five years now, Greek Orthodox and Catholic faithful in the Atlanta community have been gathering every six months to pray together for a healing of the historical breaches of charity and ecclesial unity that continue to hold our two communities hostages to our past. My beloved brother Metropolitan Alexios and I have been assisted and perhaps even guided by Father George Tsahakis and Father Paul Burke in arranging these meetings; we have been buoyed by the generous support of so many of our devoted Orthodox and Catholic people. Our prayers over these years have been thematic, touching on teachings that unite us in heritage and hope.
We gather in local Catholic and Orthodox churches as we listen to the Word of God that we share, to insightful reflections offered by chosen presenters and to the music that represents our individual traditions. Our most recent assembly was held on Tuesday, May 20, at the very beginning of the week that Francis and Bartholomew made their own journeys to Jerusalem. Our Atlanta gathering was a modest preparation for the great meeting that marked the 50th anniversary of a similar journey that Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras made, which launched the modern ecumenical prayer for our reunion in Christ.
Across the globe this past week the media was focused on that meeting as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Roman Pontiff Pope Francis gathered for a moving expression of their shared prayer for charity and unity. They had to have the support of scores of assistants to plan carefully for their encounter—their own Fathers George and Paul—whose tasks were so much more complicated than those that we face here in Atlanta. The memories of the violent conflicts that have marked the thousand-year breach between our churches have to be handled with great care. Every detail of this commemorative meeting had to be prudently ordered so that the emphasis of the meeting was on the fraternal devotion of these two courageous church leaders and not on some slight or mistake in protocol.
Ecumenical dialogue is exceedingly delicate work since it opens us to the errors and the misunderstandings of the past and also to the unyielding pursuit of ecumenism which is so critical to our future and the unity for which we long and for which the Lord Jesus Himself prayed. The challenges that we face are significant, but not insurmountable, if we humbly rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
The fracture of our churches remains a scandal before the world and a huge obstacle to the work of evangelization. Young adults, in particular, who frequently may find most religious organizations antiquated, often view the violence that is so often identified with religious institutions and doctrines yet another reason not to take organized religions very seriously. The ancient hatreds that too often erupt into brutality stand as a great barrier for people of our generation to accept the teachings, practices and customs of the world’s great religions. They often think that these global institutions cannot be taken seriously as they maim and slaughter each other often in the name of religious purity.
The gathering of Catholic and Orthodox faithful in Atlanta or Jerusalem, who embrace each other as sisters and brothers and who humbly confess our desire for charity, unity and peace, are a great countersign to the hatred and intolerance that are too often identified with religious beliefs.
Paul and Athenagoras, Bartholomew and Francis, and Alexios and Wilton must continue to invite our people to embrace in hope, confident that the Holy Spirit will heal our divisions and restore the unity that our human sinfulness and frailty has ruptured in the Church of Christ.