Why are we here? Why are we Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, and Western Catholics members of our chapter of the Society of Saint John Chrysostom?
First, because many of us, from deep within our beings, believe that the unity of the churches will come when the Holy Spirit wills it, and when the ordinary clergy and faithful raise a cry to their leaders for it.
God bless our Popes, Patriarchs, Bishops, and theologians who work on the issues that divide us, many of which are complicated and subtle. But we are here to express our desire and need for unity, and to enable this desire and need to flow forth and encompass all Christians.
While it is true that most Christians don’t have church unity as a priority in their daily lives, we believe that those who do is increasing-soul-by-soul, heart-by-heart, across the world.
And so, we gather regularly to pray together, to eat together, to learn of each other’s beliefs, customs and traditions, and, most of all, to get to know and love each other. When we do this, we believe that we are doing what Jesus asked us to do.
Words of Pope John Paul II on the Division of Christians
In Search of Lost Unity
…What unites us is much greater than what separates us…All of us, in fact, believe in the same Christ…So there is basis for dialogue and for the growth of unity, a growth that should occur at the same rate at which we are able to overcome our divisions-divisions that to a great degree result from the idea that one can have a monopoly on truth.
These divisions are certainly opposed to what Christ had in mind…. But we can also understand how over the centuries contact with different political and cultural climates could have led believers to interpret Christ’s message with varying emphases.
Nevertheless, these different approaches to understanding and living out one’s faith in Christ can, in certain cases be complementary; they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Good will is needed in order to realize how various interpretations and ways of practicing the faith can come together and complement each other. There is also the need to determine where genuine divisions start, the point beyond which the faith is compromised.
…It is necessary…to rid ourselves of stereotypes, of old habits. And above all, it is necessary to recognize the unity that already exists.
…However, no one really believes that the way toward unity is short or free of obstacles. Above all else, much prayer is needed, as well as great commitment to the task of profound conversion…
…Naturally, real unity is not and cannot be the fruit of human forces alone. The true protagonist remains the Holy Spirit, who must determine, even from the human point of view, when the process of unity has developed sufficiently.
When will this happen? It is not easy to predict.
…we need to be more united, more willing to advance along the path toward the unity for which Christ prayed on the eve of His Passion. This unity is enormously precious. In a certain sense, the future of the world is at stake. The future of the Kingdom of God in the world is at stake. Human weaknesses and prejudices cannot destroy God’s plan for the world and for humanity. If we appreciate this, we can look to the future with a certain optimism. We can trust that “the one who began this good work in us will bring it to completion” (cf. Phil I:6)
God’s plans are often inscrutable. Only in the hereafter will it be truly possible to “see” and, therefore, to understand. But would it be possible to have a glimpse even now of the answer to the question that, for centuries, many believers have asked? Why would the Holy Spirit have permitted so many different divisions and enmities among those who claim to be disciples of the same Gospel, disciples of the same Christ?
…In general, the causes and historical development of these divisions are well known. It is legitimate, however to wonder if there is perhaps a metahistorical reason as well.
There are two possible answers to this question. The more negative one would see in these divisions the bitter fruit of sins committed by Christians. The more positive answer is inspired by trust in the One who is capable of bringing forth good even from evil, from human weakness. Could it not be that these divisions have also been a path continually leading the Church to discover the untold wealth contained in Christ’s Gospel and in the redemption accomplished by Christ? Perhaps all this wealth would not have come to light otherwise…
More generally, we can affirm that for human knowledge and human action a certain dialectic is present. Didn’t the Holy Spirit, in His divine “condescendence,” take this into consideration? It is necessary for humanity to achieve unity through plurality, to learn to come together in the one Church, even while presenting a plurality of ways of thinking and acting, of cultures and civilizations. Wouldn’t such a way of looking at things be, in a certain sense, more consonant with the wisdom of God, with His goodness and providence?
Nevertheless, this cannot be a justification for the divisions that continue to deepen! The time must come for the love that unites us to be manifested! Many things lead us to believe that that time is now here, and as a result, the importance of ecumenism for Christianity should be evident. Ecumenism is a response to the exhortation in the First Letter of Peter to “give an explanation [of] the reason for our hope” (cf. I Pt 3:15).
Mutual respect is a prerequisite for authentic ecumenism. …Veritatem facere in caritate (To live the truth in love; cf. Eph 4:15); this is what is always necessary.
-Taken from "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" by
His Holiness John Paul II;
translated from the Italian
by Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee; edited by
Edited by Vittorio Messori; Alfred A. Knopf