A recent meeting between the Pope and a high ranking bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church has raised talk of a possible reunion between the two largest Christian Churches. No one would rejoice more than I at a reunion between these two great Churches. However, I would argue that a reunion now would be a potentially terrible thing.
Why do I say that? Because it could easily be the Council of Florence all over again. In the 15th century, bishops from both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches met to discuss a reunion of the estranged Churches. And miraculously, a reunion actually occurred, which led to much celebration and rejoicing in the West. So why aren’t we united today? Because in the East, some bishops and monks, led by Mark of Ephesus (who was the only bishop in attendance at the Council who did not sign off on the decrees), preached against the reunion, claiming that it was a capitulation of the East to Western “heretical” theology. In the end, the people of the East rejected the Council and the schism remained in effect.
It is easy to blame Mark of Ephesus for the disastrous aftermath of the Council of Florence. But the truth is that the groundwork had not been laid in the East for reunion, and thus Mark’s rejection of the Council was widely supported at the grass-roots level. I think the same would be true of any attempts at a corporate reunion today. Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has promoted the importance of reunion with the East, and most Catholics agree with this, but this is not the case in the East, especially in Russia. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, there is no drive at the grass-roots level in Russia to reunite with Rome. Thus, if a formal reunion were to somehow take place, I think we’d see the same results as we did after the Council of Florence: the grass-roots in the East would reject the reunion and the bishops who supported it would be ousted. Relations between the Churches would then be worse than before the “reunion” took place.
But I think the Pope as well as Russian Orthodox officials realize this fact. That is why no reunion will be happening anytime soon; it will take a long time to lay the groundwork throughout both Churches so that when corporate reunion does come (pray God!), it will be accepted joyfully by all.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius, pray for us!