For all of Irinej Gavrilovic’s 80 years, his Serbian Orthodox Church has kept its distance from the Vatican and the pope, maintaining a division whose roots date back a millennium. But only a few days into the job as the 45th Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej has several times repeated an invitation to the Roman Catholic pontiff, hoping that both men could celebrate a significant anniversary in 2013.
It was an expression of hope, not only that the churches could overcome past differences, but also that two men already in their 80s could make plans three years into the future.
On Thursday, Irinej discussed the invitation in a forum that none of his recent predecessors had ever employed, the news conference, amid a give and take with a gaggle of reporters. There he said his church will be glad to welcome Pope Benedict to Serbia in 2013 in a bid to foster dialogue about reconciliation between two largest Christian communities, a millennium after their Great Schism.
The occasion would be the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which will be marked in Serbia’s southern city of Nis, the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Edict promoted religious tolerance and legalised Christianity in the Roman Empire, whose realm extended across the Balkans.
“For what we know, there’s a wish of the Roman Episcopate, the pope, that such a meeting should happen in the city which is the birthplace of an emperor who made such a landmark move,” Irinej said. Though there were no formal contacts between the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate and the Holy See, “such a meeting would be a golden opportunity not only for an ecumenical meeting but also for the renewal of the dialogue. It would be an opportunity to open the issue of the reunification and discussion about that. It would be a long process since many centuries have passed since the split.”