Living in the post-Vatican II ecumenical world we Catholics can sometimes get a bit ahead of ourselves when it comes to the potential for unity between Christian churches. This is especially true for our relations with the Orthodox Churches, whose beliefs and practices appear so close to ours (and in many ways are very close to ours). When I mentioned last week that it might take 500 years for Catholic-Orthodox unity to occur, I had a number of people scoff at such pessimism. But the fact remains that unity cannot occur without grassroots support for it, and in many parts of the Eastern Christian world, such support is limited and even nonexistent.
The latest example of this occurred this week as Pope Benedict travels to Cyprus, a majority-Orthodox country. The head of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus had to threaten a number of his fellow bishops with sanctions in order to keep them from boycotting a welcoming ceremony for Pope Benedict. These bishops have labeled the Pope a “heretic,” and their views are not uncommon in Cyprus, where last year protests greeted a Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical gathering.
None of this should discourage us from pursuing reunion with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, however. In fact, it should remind us that reunion will only be an action of the Holy Spirit, because if left in our hands, we will only have a continuation of the division of Babel. We should therefore work and pray (and pray some more!) that all parties might be docile to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to reunite us into one Body in Christ.