An Historic Moment For The Papal Installation Mass
For the first time since at least 1054, and probably earlier than that, the Patriarch of Constantinople will be attending Pope Francis’s Installation Mass tomorrow:
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, left Monday for the Vatican to attend Pope Francis’ installation Mass – the first time a patriarch from the Istanbul-based church is attending a papal investiture since the two branches of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago.
Bartholomew said he was attending the installation Mass to underscore the importance he attaches to “friendly ties” between the churches and reflects expectations that the new pontiff will advance rapprochement efforts that began decades ago.
“It is a gesture to underline relations which have been developing over the recent years and to express my wish that our friendly ties flourish even more during this new era,” Bartholomew told private NTV television in an interview in Istanbul before his departure. “I am very hopeful in this matter.”
In a sign of common bonds between East and West, the Vatican said the Gospel during the installation Mass would be chanted in Greek instead of Latin, the language that will be used for many of the other elements of the ceremony.
The Eastern and Western churches were united until the Great Schism of 1054, a divide precipitated largely by disagreements over the primacy of the pope.
Francis’ predecessor, the now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, had made uniting all Christians and healing the split a priority of his pontificate. A joint committee has been working to mend the rift between the two churches.
Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopoulos, the spokesman for the Istanbul-based Patriarchate, said Bartholomew would become the first Orthodox spiritual leader to attend an investiture since the Schism. The decision to attend the Mass at St Peter’s Square on Tuesday was “the fruit” of the growing dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, he said.
Bartholomew went further to say he would be the first Orthodox spiritual leader to attend an investiture since “at least” before the Schism.
“Even before the churches were divided in 1054, a patriarch from Istanbul did not attend the inauguration,” he explained.
The Patriarch said: “From the first day, (Pope Francis) has won over hearts with his modest demeanor… I felt the wish to go and I am going willingly.”
While the issues between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches remain quite complicated, I don’t think one should dismiss the significance of this event. Bartholomew has been Patriarch since 1991 and in that time he has been seemingly quite receptive to the ecumenical discussions initiated by Pope John Paul II and continued by his successor Pope Benedict XVI. The two great churches of early Christendom split in much the same way that the two halves of the Roman Empire split, mostly over doctrinal issues that seem trivial at this point. In reality, the commonalities between the Catholic and Orthodox faiths are far more numerous than the differences.