In an unprecedented move, Catholic and Orthodox representatives have proposed concrete steps for real unity between the churches.
The 24 members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation (which includes the U.S. and Canada) concluded a three-day meeting in Washington on Oct. 2 and issued two statements.
The first statement proposes how the Bishop of Rome would function in a reunited Church. The second statement works toward a common date for Easter so that the Resurrection of our Lord can be proclaimed with one voice.
The “root obstacle” to unity is the Bishop of Rome, the first statement acknowledges. “Despite disagreement on the place of the bishop of Rome in the worldwide cohesion of Christianity, however, it seems to us obvious that what we share, as Orthodox and Catholic Christians, significantly overshadows our differences.”
The ‘filioque,’ which the West added to the Nicene Creed to affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father ‘and the Son,’ would be dropped. All would use the profession of faith agreed upon at Nicea.
All members of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches would be able to receive the sacraments of all the Churches. Clergy would be able to concelebrate.
The role of the Bishop of Rome would be renewed and reformed. “In accord with the teaching of both Vatican councils, the bishop of Rome would be understood by all as having authority only within a synodal/collegial context: as member as well as head of the college of bishops, as senior patriarch among the primates of the Churches, and as servant of universal communion.”
Much of the centralism of the Roman Catholic Church developed only in the last century or so. Earlier traditions and practices would be retrieved. “The Roman curia’s relationship to local bishops and episcopal conferences in the Latin Church would become less centralized: bishops, for instance, would have more control over the agenda and the final documents of synods, and the selection of bishops would again normally become a local process.”
The second statement proposes a common date for Easter/Pascha. Computation would be based on the decrees of Nicea, determining the Equinox from the meridian of Jerusalem. “We have witnessed the growth of secularism and the global effects of tyranny and war. More than ever, there is a need for a unified Christian proclamation and a witness of the core of our common faith: the Resurrection of Our Lord.”
The dialogue was chaired by Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh and Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans. The statements do not speak on behalf of either Church, but are offered to the leadership of the Churches for their consideration.