It was the year 1054 in which Christianity became divided -- and it has remained divided to the present day -- as a result of the Great Schism. Christianity at that time was split into two major branches -- Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Although this split of Christianity has lasted nearly a thousand years, there were signs of optimism this past week that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches might soon unite, following several days of meetings in Vienna, Austria of the Joint Theological Commission for Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
The major topic discussed on the first day of the meetings by the members of the Commission dealt with the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope)in the first millenium. The Commission members have agreed that for Christian unity to occur, both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches must recognize the Roman Pope as their titular head, while, at the same time, retaining their individual church structures, liturgy, and customs that developed since the Great Schism. Indeed, this is good news for the establishment of Christian unity.
When I think about it, I find the implementation of this agreement to be very similar to the rules governing the Greek Catholic Church, as it currently exists in several Eastern European nations. The Greek Catholic Church permits its worshipers -- often referred to as Catholics of the Eastern Rite -- to attend church services that are contingent on the Eastern Orthodox faith, even though these worshipers come under the jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome. In fact, priests of the Greek Catholic Church are allowed to be married, but priests of the Roman Catholic Church must remain celibate.
In the final analysis, the Commission for Dialogue has established a reasonable and solid foundation -- one that seems to be fair for both Catholic and Orthodox Churches -- but it will undoubtedly take some time for the Pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and other ecclesiastical hierarchs to scrutinize it and refine it before it will be implemented.
For the first time in nearly 1,000 years, almost miraculously, Catholic and Orthodox Christians can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- the light of Christ that will indeed unite them into one Christian Church.