Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Reconciliation: The mark of a true Christian

Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras - St. Peter's Basilica
On December 7, 1965, a remarkable event took place: Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras, jointly issued a Declaration of Reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the eastern Orthodox churches under the authority of the Patriarch. What was extraordinary was that this was achieved with all the weight of historical grudges still existing... either man could have come with a list of demands of the other; but this would not have been reconciliation, but submission. Christians do not submit to each other, but to Christ. 

A beautiful story from 1964 tells us of Patriarch Athenagoras' reply to a journalist's question as to the reason for his visit to Jerusalem: Athenagoras' reply was: "To say 'Good Morning' to my beloved brother the Pope. You must remember that it is five hundred years since we have spoken to each other!" 

Since they are certain that they express the common desire for justice and the unanimous sentiment of charity which moves the faithful, and since they recall the command of the Lord: "If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brethren has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go first be reconciled to your brother" (Matt. 5:23-24), Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I with his synod, in common agreement, declare that:

They regret the offensive words, the reproaches without foundation, and the reprehensible gestures which... likewise regret and remove both from memory and from the midst of the Church the sentences of excommunication which followed these events, the memory of which has influenced actions up to our day and has hindered closer relations in charity; and they commit these excommunications to oblivion.

This document - about a 1000 years overdue - demonstrated to the world that hatred, the bearing of ill-will and suspicion can be cast aside. Our Blessed Saviour himself demonstrated this in the Garden of Gethsemane, before Pilate and on the Cross.  We too, in our own small ways, can follow Jesus and reconcile with our brothers. As Advent approaches and a new Year begins, what a way to begin by holding out our hand to our brother. He may not take it; so many refused the hand of Our Lord - yet, he held it out, and, when they refused - he asked his Father to forgive them. 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians, 13).


Freyr said...

Actually Rome has been on fairly good terms with the Ecumenical Patriarch. In 1995 Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I concelebrated the Eucharist together. The Russian Orthodox are another matter entirely. The Russians are quick to point out that Ecumenical Patriarch is not an Eastern Orthodox pope. Continuing tensions between Moscow and Rome are a source of concern. There is much resentment over the elevation of apostolic administrations to full dioceses and difficulty over uniate churches. In light of this, the recent Declaration of Reconciliation between the Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholics is perhaps a greater achievement.

Barona said...

From the Tarnow diocese website for those who can read Polish. I notice that the diocesan bishop's letter begins with each Pole and Russian sees the other as a brother and a friend... referring to the Reconciliation communique. Further down, the bishop develops the theme of forgiveness from the Our Father... I will see if an English translation of the original communique is available; if not, I will translate the key parts and we can post it.