Troy — An “agreed statement” on the role of the Roman pontiff in the Universal Church could be issued in about three years, one of the key members of the Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue said during a visit to the Detroit area.
While cautioning about “not expecting rapid results,” Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia said Feb. 17 there is hope Orthodox and Catholic Christians would “grow together gradually into unity.”
Metropolitan Kallistos, a retired Oxford University professor and widely respected theologian, was in the area to speak to local Greek Orthodox parishes and clergy on various topics, and to address some 300 members of the Catholic faith at Sacred Heart Major Seminary last Saturday on the ongoing Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue.
He made his prediction of progress in Orthodox-Catholic relations during a press conference at the offices of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Detroit in Troy (the metropolis is a multi-diocese administrative district within the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, with a territory stretching from western New York state to Arkansas).
The Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue, which resumed in 2006, having considered matters of doctrine and sacraments, in 2008 produced an agreed statement on the primacy of the pope.
It “is now coming down to the central issue, which is basically the question of understanding the place of the pope,” Metropolitan Kallistos said, explaining that, while the Orthodox representatives have accepted the principle of primacy, questions remain to be resolved about how that primacy is to be exercised outside the Western Church, he elaborated.
The metropolitan said the participants in the dialogue have been examining the historical record concerning how the Roman pontiff’s role was understood in the days of the undivided Church, before increasing strains between East and West culminated in the eventual break in 1054 A.D.
“Catholics have not the right to ask us more, but the Orthodox have not the right to offer less (than was the ancient understanding of the pope’s role),” Metropolitan Kallistos said.
He said there was a kind of “loose timetable” that envisions a working document being produced within the next year or two, leading to an agreed statement in about three years.
Whether that agreed statement will be fully embraced by the various Orthodox Churches throughout the world — Russian, Bulgarian, Romainan, Ukrainian, etc. — is another matter, Metropolitan Kallistos said, but he also said he was encouraged by the lack of any vocal opposition to the 2008 statement on the basic principle of the pope’s primacy among the world’s bishops.
For the past several years, Metropolitan Kallistos has been one of a group of three high-ranking Orthodox officials who have had lunch once a year with Pope Benedict XVI, whom he praised for being so firmly rooted in tradition.
But while high-level talks among representatives of the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are one approach to restoring Christian unity, there is also much that can be done at a lower levels, the metropolitan said, suggesting such measures as contacts between Catholic and Orthodox parishes and one-year exchange experiences for seminarians.
He said he believes, as the late Belgian Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens (1904-96) once said, “that if we are to unite, we must love one another, and if we are to love one another, we must first get to know one another.”
And there is probably no place better suited for such a process to take place than the United States, he continued, because the Orthodox here have long historical roots and are largely integrated into American society. In most other Western countries, the Orthodox are mostly recent immigrants, while few Orthodox countries have a large Catholic presence.
Metopolitan Nicholas, who heads the Greek Orthodox Detroit Metropolis, said such local ecumenism is taking place here, with Archbishop Allen Vigneron having taken part in Orthodox Vespers services, and the Archdiocese of Detroit having extended similar invitations to himself.
Michael Hovey, coordinator for Ecumenical and interfaith Relations for the archdiocese, pointed out that since 2001 there has been a group called An Orthodox/Catholic Witness in Metropolitan Detroit that has sponsored a programs exploring the Orthodox and Catholic approaches to a variety of issues.
Metropolitan Kallistos, an Englishman who converted to Orthodoxy in 1958, gained an international reputation while still a layman named Timothy Ware as author of “The Orthodox Church” in 1963.
He was ordained to the priesthood as an Orthodox monk in 1966, receiving the religious name Kallistos, and made titular bishop of Dilkleia in 2001. He was elevated to metropolitan in 2007.
Among his best known books written under his religious name is “The Orthodox Way” (1995). From 1966-2001 he was Spaulding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford.