By John Sanidopoulos
This past weekend, for the feast of the Apostle Andrew, founder of the Church of Constantinople, Pope Francis of Rome made a historic visit to the Phanar as a sign of mutual love and cooperation in ecumenical dialogue. It was widely covered by the media, while Pope and Patriarch made mutual statements, mutual prayers and mutually signed documents. They even shared a mutual embrace. It is easy for the pious and simple Orthodox faithful to be scandalized by such actions, but we must remember that the Pope and the Patriarch still have mutually exclusive goals that prevent their relationship from ever consummating. That is, their terms of union are mutually exclusive.
Pope Francis made his goals clear a few weeks ago on 5 November 2014, to the General Audience in St. Peter's Square. He said:
"When Jesus chose and called the Apostles, He did not think of them as separate from one another, each one on his own, but together, because they were to stay with Him, united, like a single family. Furthermore, bishops also constitute one single College, gathered around the Pope, who is the guardian and guarantor of this profound communion that was so close to Jesus' heart and to his Apostles' too... No Church is healthy if the faithful, the deacons and the priests are not united to the bishop. This Church, that is not united to the bishop, is a sick Church. Jesus wanted this union of all the faithful with the bishop, including the deacons and priests. And this they do aware that it is precisely in the bishop that the bond is made visible with each Church, with the Apostles and with all other communities, united to their bishops and the Pope in the one Church of the Lord Jesus, that is our Hierarchical Holy Mother Church."
Therefore, according to these words of Pope Francis, the Orthodox Church would qualify as "a sick Church", and the restoration to health of such "a sick Church" (Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant) only takes place by uniting with "the Pope in the one Church of the Lord Jesus", namely the Roman Catholic Church.
Patriarch Bartholomew also made his goals clear a little over a year ago when he met with the Patriarch of Bulgaria at the Phanar on 20 September 2013. In a statement regarding ecumenical dialogue with the heterodox, Patriarch Bartholomew said:
"In regards to the discussions and dialogues between all the Orthodox Churches and the heterodox, they have as an ultimate purpose the fulfillment of the will and command of the Lord: 'That all may be one' (Jn. 17:21). Now they contribute towards societal cooperation and the witness of the truth, and these are aimed at mutual understanding and for the acceptance in time by the heterodox of the one Orthodox faith. We do not aim, as it is written in Bulgaria and elsewhere, towards the creation of a commonly acceptable 'conglomeration' of beliefs. That is, we are not pursuing through the so-called ecumenical movement the acceptance of a 'Christian syncretistic confession', but a deepening in the Orthodox Christian faith and in societal cooperation with those who invoke the name of Christ. Naturally, we do not fear, as Orthodox, who have the fullness of truth, that we will be affected by the views of our heterodox brethren on doctrinal issues. We are simply following the long held ecclesiastical tradition, encapsulated in the advice of Saint John of the Ladder: 'In the case of those who malevolently dispute with us, whether unbelievers or heretics, we should desist after we have twice admonished them. But in the case of those who wish to learn the truth let us never grow weary in well-doing. However, we should use both opportunities for the establishment of our own heart' (Ladder, Step 26:125). Through this strategy we are not betraying Orthodoxy, as criticized, nor do we support ecumenistic concepts, but we proclaim to the heterodox and to all the truth of Orthodoxy."
Therefore, according to Patriarch Bartholomew, the Roman Catholic Church is a heterodox Church that must "in time" accept "the one Orthodox faith" if there is to be union between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
Thus, what we learn is that while there may appear to be signs of betrayal on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarch in regards to his Orthodox beliefs and ecclesiology, especially when we see them praying, embracing and even singing hymns to each other, we must bear in mind that the Pope and the Patriarch do not share mutual goals, which makes union between both confessions impossible. Both desire union, as all Christians should desire union, but such a relationship can only consummate by partaking of the common cup of the Divine Eucharist after a major compromise on the part of either the Pope or the Patriarch, and there are no signs of this being on the horizon.