Reason #7: Because there is hope of unity.
"I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose." - 1 Corinthians 1:10
"So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." - Matthew 5:23-24
During my life I have investigated and embraced many different religions and philosophies, including Atheism, in my search for the truth. In all of them I have witnessed, from time to time, self-righteousness and hypocrisy raise their ugly heads - no more so than in me. So, when I was first exposed to the original Christian Church through the teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy - I saw, for the first time, the honest face of "fallen" humanity; the gritty reality of men and women who admitted their shortcomings openly and worshipped with a timeless authenticity that took my breath away. I went through a year as a Catechumen ("Student of the Mysteries") and earnestly studied Eastern Orthodox teachings and was received as a convert on Palm Sunday (Western Easter) in 2006.
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE
During my studies I learned a lot about the "Great Schism" that had divided the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church in 1054. Which, I believe, ultimately led to the so-called "Reformation" of the 16th century. This was Martin Luther's attempt to restore the Church to her original teachings. This in turn ultimately resulted in the proliferation over time of over 30,000 different versions of the Protestantism - all, for the most part, attempting to restore the Church to the "Original."
I believe that once the question of church authority was challenged through the spirit of self-righteousness combined with the temptation of political power - the door was open for the truth to descend into a personal preference, or a matter of democratic opinion. This process has ultimately resulted in the development of reformed religion, which includes Islam; all claiming to be the restoration of the truth, as originally intended by God.
I have neither the knowledge nor the right platform in this blog to go into all the contentions and disputes that caused the division between the Christian East and West - if you're interested in seeing perspectives from both sides I'd recommend that you put aside a long bad weather weekend and spend some quality time with Google!!!
COME TOGETHER, OVER ME
Let me sum up my thoughts by stating that I had originally sided with the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint that the Roman Catholics had broken away from their Eastern Orthodox brethren. But, over the years, as I've studied the matter, and more importantly, focused on the efforts that have been made on both sides to resolve the differences - I've come to the conclusion that although both sides had exhibited poor judgement and irrational actions, and did not ultimately honor the traditions that they both claimed to equally uphold; with regard to making effort for reconciliation - which is the TRUE Christian way, it is the Roman Catholic Church that is responding, albeit slowly, to the call for unity.
This opinion, together with the fact that the Roman Catholic Church already considered me, as a Chrismated (confirmed) Orthodox Christian, to be in communion, was a significant reason for my conversion to Catholicism in 2008.
TAKING IT BACK
December 7th, 1965 was the date that Pope Paul VI, the Patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church, joined his voice with Bishop Athenagoras I, the Patriarch of Constantinople and, in an act of reconciliation issued the proclamation below, reversing the mutual excommunications that their ancient predecessors had issued in 1054!
"Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I give thanks in the Holy Spirit to God, the author and finisher of all good works, for enabling them to meet once again in the holy city of Rome in order to pray together with the Bishops of the Synod of the Roman Catholic Church and with the faithful people of this city, to greet one another with a kiss of peace, and to converse together in a spirit of charity and brotherly frankness.While recognizing that there is still a long way to go on the road toward the unity of all Christians and that between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church there still remain points to clarify and obstacles to surmount before attaining that unity in the profession of faith necessary for re-establishing full communion, they rejoice in the fact that their meeting was able to contribute to their Churches rediscovering themselves still more as sister Churches.In the prayers they offered, in their public statements and in their private conversation, the Pope and the Patriarch wished to emphasize their conviction that an essential element in the restoration of full communion between the Roman Catholic Church on the one side and the Orthodox Church on the other, is to be found within the framework of the renewal of the Church and of Christians in fidelity to the traditions of the Fathers and to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit Who remains always with the Church.They recognize that the true dialogue of charity, which should be at the basis of all relations between themselves and between their Churches, must be rooted in total fidelity to the one Lord Jesus Christ and in mutual respect for each one's traditions. Every element which can strengthen the bonds of charity, of communion, and of common action is a cause for spiritual rejoicing and should be promoted; anything which can harm this charity, communion and common action is to be eliminated with the grace of God and the creative strength of the Holy Spirit.Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I are convinced that the dialogue of charity between their Churches must bear fruits of a cooperation which would not be self-seeking, in the field of common action at the pastoral, social and intellectual levels, with mutual respect for each one's fidelity to his own Church. They desire that regular and profound contacts may be maintained between Catholic and Orthodox pastors for the good of their faithful. The Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are ready to study concrete ways of solving pastoral problems, especially those connected with marriages between Catholics and Orthodox. They hope for better cooperation in works of charity, in aid to refugees and those who are suffering and in the promotion of justice and peace in the world.In order to prepare fruitful contacts between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the Pope and the Patriarch give their blessing and pastoral support to all efforts for cooperation between Catholic and Orthodox scholars in the fields of historical studies, of studies in the traditions of the Churches, of patristics, of liturgy and of a presentation of the Gospel which corresponds at one and the same time with the authentic message of the Lord and with the needs and hopes of today's world. The spirit which should inspire these efforts is one of loyalty to truth and of mutual understanding, with an effective desire to avoid the bitterness of the past and every kind of spiritual or intellectual domination.Paul VI and Athenagoras I remind government authorities and all the world's peoples of the thirst for peace and justice which lies in the hearts of all men. In the name of the Lord, they implore them to seek out every means to promote this peace and this justice in all countries of the world."
Before, and since that time, other efforts of reconciliation have been made; mostly initiated by various Popes.
- Pope John XXIII had presided over the council of Vatican II in 1962 - 1964, which softened its position on the addition of the filoque as part of the Creed.
- Pope John XXIII also demonstrated a spirit of brotherhood, self-criticism, and re-examination throughout the deliberations of Vatican II. He chose not to invoke the doctrine of Papal Infallibility that the Orthodox hold as a contention. Papal Infallibility has actually been seldom practiced in the history of the Church.
- Pope John Paul II & Pope Benedict XVI have both recited the Creed without the filoque in public worship, and have therefore sanctioned the change.
- Bartholomew I, an acknowledged spiritual head of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians attended Pope Francis' installation Mass in Rome. This is the first time a patriarch from the East has attended a papal investiture since the schism of 1054!
- The Roman Catholic Church has opened their doors for converts through their active and well organized RCIA programs. Most Roman Catholic Churches are welcoming inquiry and offer introductory programs for all who are interested.
Meanwhile, on the Eastern Orthodox side of the equation, there are rampant long-term disagreements amongst their own jurisdictions; the Greek Orthodox have differences with the Russian Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox have disputes with the Greek Orthodox, etc. Attempts at Orthodox unity have stalled many, many times. They have been unable to unite within their own church; how is it going to be possible for them to achieve unity with any other Christians?
Becoming a convert in an Orthodox Church is still often a tough journey.
Despite the existence of Orthodoxy in America for some time now, many Parishes are exclusively ethnic, and it is hard to determine what is a (capital "T") Tradition of the Church, verses a (small "t") tradition of the cultural heritage. Some of the more modern Parishes, usually made up of a high percentage of converts, are welcoming and offer introductory classes - but many are like "closed" communities that still perhaps view all outsiders as strangers that can't be trusted.
An Eastern Orthodox Christian is welcome in a Roman Catholic Church - even able to partake of communion. The reverse is unfortunately not true.
Eastern Orthodox worship is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and without a doubt, the most authentic re-presentation of the ancient timeless liturgy - and my Catholic faith allows and enables me to continue that practice if I choose.
Nothing would please me more than the re-uniting of the Eastern and Western Church, together with the return of all the faithful Protestants; to see One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church again.