Any list of the defining moments of Christian history -- if not the history of religion on Planet Earth, period -- would have to include the Great Schism of 1054.
That's the split, of course, between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West and there is hardly anything that you can say about the who, what, when, where, why and how of that schism that will not lead to a millennium or two of debate. It's complicated.
However, it's pretty easy to understand that the Church of Rome and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy are not in full Communion -- with a big "C" -- with one another. The primary symbol, and reality, that demonstrates this is that their clergy cannot celebrate the Eucharist together.
Now, with that prologue, let's flash back to the recent meetings in Istanbul between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Since I am Orthodox, lots of people have asked me what I thought about their latest statements on their desire for full unity, meaning Communion. My question, in response, was: Yes, the pope asked Bartholomew to bless him, but did either man kiss the other man's hand? There was also quite a bit of confusion about the rite they took part in at the Phanar.
This leads me to a, to be blunt, ridiculous report posted on the English site at La Stampa. Wouldn't you assume that editors for something called the "Vatican Insider" would know a little bit of church history?
As one reader said of the key mistake in the English translation of this story:
I would guess this is just another media faux pas... Well, it has to be either way. Either they are mis-stating what really took place liturgically or they are not getting that communion between the two Patriarchs would amount to a statement of intercommunion between the two Churches... The first of its kind in at least 700 years if my Church history is correct. What surprises me is that this is from a Catholic news source, one that you would think "gets religion."
So what happened? This is long, but you need to see the context:
“The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, is communion with the Orthodox Churches,” Pope Francis said in the most important moment of his visit to Turkey. This communion “does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each.”
Underneath the vaults of the Church of St. George, the see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the beauty of the mysteries of the Christian faith permeate through the liturgy celebrated for the feast of the patron saint Andrew, with the traditional rituals of prayers and litanies chanted by the American choir, lights and candles, incense and the sign of the cross.
Words and silence. But what really filled people’s hearts with awe during today’s liturgy at the Phanar, were the words of fraternal charity the Pope and the Patriarch addressed to one another before the congregation. Prophesying full communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the two bishop shepherds, the Successors of St Peter and his brother Andrew become pioneers in showing the People of God the path to follow, step by step.
“The cold love between us has been rekindled,” Bartholomew said, “while our desire to do everything in our capacity so that our communion in the same faith and the same chalice may once again emerge has been galvanized.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch had only words of warmth and friendship for his “brother in Christ Bishop of Senior Rome”. Above all, he acknowledged that Francis “offer[s] to [His] Orthodox brothers and sisters the aspiration that during Your tenure the rapprochement of our two great ancient Churches will continue to be established on the solid foundations of our common tradition.”
Pope Francis and Bartholomew then exchanged the kiss of peace before consecrating the holy gifts of the Eucharist.
Say what? They are praying for communion to be restored in the future and then the pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch were seen "consecrating the holy gifts of the Eucharist"? ...
I emailed the seemingly omnipresent reporter John L. Allen, Jr., and he noted that while the unity talk was fascinating (check his Crux report here) the pope was "merely an observer" at the rite and, yes, he was "outside the Iconostasis at all times." ...
Wouldn't you think that the editors at La Stampa -- let alone the journalists assigned to something called the "Vatican Insider" -- would know the difference between the Eucharist (as in the Mass or the Divine Liturgy) and the prayer rite that is Vespers?
So this just in, for those who read La Stampa and do not read Italian: The Great Schism of 1054 has not been healed.
I have been out all afternoon (several hours at The Washington Post with students) and I am only now getting back to the Internet and my keyboard.
First, I am glad to correct a fact that, due to reading tons of imprecise, conflicting online news coverage of matters liturgical, I had wrong in this post. Changes have been made reflecting input from several sources.
Thus, thank you to the friend who sent me the actual liturgies for the relevant services showing me that there was a Vespers service involving the pope and the ecumenical patriarch and then there was a Divine Liturgy that was attended by the pope -- as an observer -- which was followed by an exchange of blessings, greetings, etc.
So, to readers who sent me media references to the pope serving "alongside" the patriarch in this or that liturgy, that may have been true in the Vespers, but that certainly was not the case with the Divine Liturgy. Otherwise, as was the central point of my post, that would have been international news.
I am also told that no one on our planet should ever trust a word of what La Stampa publishes in English. (This is good to know, speaking as someone raised in Texas who doesn't read Italian.) The English text to which GetReligion readers responded and thus the text that I quoted does say what I quoted it as saying.
Here's hoping that the editors there do believe in corrections.