VATICAN CITY – A common understanding of the role the bishop of Rome played in the united Christianity of the first millennium is essential for resolving the question of the primacy of the pope in a united church, Pope Benedict XVI said.
The pope met June 27 with Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Bishop Athenagoras of Sinope, who serves as the assistant metropolitan of Belgium, and Deacon Ioakim Billis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The three Greek Orthodox represented Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the evening prayer service closing the year of St. Paul June 28 and at the pope’s Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul June 29.
Meeting the delegation privately before the festivities began, the pope said the year of St. Paul was a year “of prayer, of reflection and of exchanging gestures of communion between Rome and Constantinople.”
The pope said the joint activities were the best way to honor St. Paul, who urged Christians “’to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace,’ teaching us that there is ‘only one body and one spirit.’“
The participation of the Orthodox delegation in the late-June liturgies “reminds us of our common commitment to the search for full communion,” Pope Benedict said.
“You already know this, but I am pleased to confirm today that the Catholic Church intends to contribute in every way to making it possible to re-establish full communion in response to Christ’s will for his disciples,” he said.
Pope Benedict said the international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue commission would meet in October in Cyprus “to face a theme crucial for relations between the East and West, that is the ‘role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of the church in the first millennium.’“
Ecumenical experts believe agreement on how the pope, the bishop of Rome, exercised his ministry before Christianity split into East and West is essential for discovering the way the papacy could be exercised in the church if Catholics and Orthodox successfully reunite.
“I want the participants in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue to know that my prayers accompany them and that this dialogue has the complete support of the Catholic Church,” Pope Benedict told the Orthodox delegation.
“With all my heart, I hope that the misunderstandings and tensions encountered by the Orthodox delegates during the last plenary session of the commission have been overcome in fraternal love so that this dialogue will be more broadly representative of Orthodoxy,” the pope said.
At the last plenary gathering, held in Italy in 2007, the Russian Orthodox delegation walked out to protest the presence of a delegation from the Estonian Orthodox Church, recognized as autonomous by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople but not by the Russian Orthodox Church.