Reuters blog archive
Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become "sister churches" that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)
The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
"There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches," Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. "If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain." Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue "intensively" so that "we see each other fully as sister churches." (Photo: Pope Benedict XVI (L) with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel, October 18, 2008/Osservatore Romano)
The rapprochement of the Catholic and Orthodox churches must be the slowest "big story" on the religion beat. About 30 theologians meet in a joint Catholic-Orthodox commission about once every year or so to see how far they have come in reassessing Christian history so that the Great Schism can be laid to rest and the two churches can move forward to full communion. These talks produced their first joint declaration back in 1982 and have had ups and downs since then. The push towards unity has clearly gained momentum since Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill took office on February, 2009. The goal is still far off -- hey, they have 1,000 years of division to get over -- but they're getting close enough now that an agreement now looks increasingly possible.
(Photo: Orthodox Christians at Sumela Monastery, 15 August 2010/Umit Bektas)
Europe Papadopolous's grandparents were children when they fled their village in northeast Turkey and settled in Greece almost 90 years ago, yet she still felt she was in exile.
Papadopolous, 45, was one of thousands of Orthodox faithful who journeyed to Sumela Monastery, built into a sheer cliff above the Black Sea forest, on Sunday to attend the first mass here since ethnic Greeks were expelled in 1923.
Turkey has offered citizenship to Orthodox Christian archbishops from abroad to help the next election of the ecumenical patriarch, the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox faithful, officials said. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has quietly led the gesture to the Orthodox, who face a shortage of candidates to succeed Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 70, and serve on the Holy Synod, which administers patriarchate affairs. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I leads the Easter service at the Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, April 4, 2010/Murad Sezer)
Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a Turkish citizen. But the Orthodox community in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, has fallen to some 3,000 from 120,000 a half-century ago, drastically shrinking the pool of potential future patriarchs. There are now only 14 Greek Orthodox archbishops, including Bartholomew, who are Turkish citizens. Bartholomew himself is in good health.
President Dmitry Medvedev warmly welcomed the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians Tuesday, hailing improving ties between Russia's powerful church and its ancestor faith. Relations among the Orthodox have improved after past strains when churches in former Soviet states such as Estonia and Ukraine broke away from the Russian mother church and tried to pledge allegiance to the patriarch in Istanbul.
The silent halls and empty classrooms tended by elderly priests at a former Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off the Istanbul coast belie the crucible the school has become in Muslim Turkey's quest to join the European Union.
The EU has said re-opening Halki seminary, a centre of Orthodox scholarship for more than a century until Turkey closed it down in 1971, is crucial if Ankara is to prove a commitment to human rights and pluralism and advance its membership bid.
Blogging takes time, which I didn't have on Friday after finishing an analysis for the Reuters wire about religion in Turkey posted here. I went to Istanbul to research several religion stories. The main impression I left with was that the prospect for religious policy changes raised by the "post- Islamist" AK Party government in recent years has mostly evaporated. The current political crisis that could end up banning the party and barring Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan from belonging to a political party means the end of any liberalisation. In fact, the steam went out of the reform drive a few years ago after Ankara got the green light to negotiate Turkish membership in the European Union.
Turkey has been a test case for what Islam experts call "post-Islamism," a trend among Muslim political groups that have given up dreams of some kind of Islamic state in favour of more democracy and human rights that include greater religious freedom (here's a useful summary of the concept). The idea that Islamists could turn into "Muslim democrats" (or "latte Islamists"!) without a hidden agenda to introduce Sharia law once in power met with considerable scepticism. But the Erdogan government, which promoted greater freedoms in Turkey as a means to join the European Union rather than to break down secularist controls on religion in the public sphere, seemed to be prove this view. His cautious approach seemed to reflect a long-term policy to make changes gradually. It's too much to say this could be a "model" for other Muslim countries because there are too many aspects specific to Turkey and the limits its powerful secularist elite places on religion in the public sphere. But it could be an important test case for reconciling democracy and religious rights.
You've probably seen on TV how reporters swarm around leaders coming out of closed-door meetings and the politicians step up to deliver their soundbites for the cameras. The Vatican held a big closed-door meeting on Friday and a wave of cardinals -- the "princes of the Church" who rank among the most prominent leaders of Roman Catholicism -- emerged at their lunch break to find a pack of journalists eager to pounce on them with questions. I'm in Rome for a few days and was out there waiting for them in a parking lot between St. Peter's Basilica and the Pope Paul VI Hall where they were meeting. The scene was quite different from those "normal" media scrums.
The session was a rare meeting of cardinals from around the world who are here at the Vatican for a ceremony on Saturday when 23 men "get their red hats," i.e. join the College of Cardinals whose members under 80 years old elect the next pope. They were discussing the Catholic Church's sensitive relations with other Christians -- Orthodox they want to get closer to, Anglicans who are drifting further away, Protestants who are increasingly divided and Pentecostals who are encroaching on their flocks. These sessions presided over by Pope Benedict are supposed to remain confidential. So the men who emerged from the meeting looked and acted like anything but a bunch of politicians hoping to make it on to the evening news.