Rome-Etchmiadzin Ties Continue to Warm

Ecumenical Progress Advances, Even If Moscow Patriarch Isn´t Supportive

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ETCHMIADZIN, Armenia, SEPT. 26, 2001 ( John Paul II´s unprecedented stay at the residence of a non-Catholic patriarch here is a sign that Catholicos Karekin II has committed himself to follow the path of unity with Rome that was opened by his predecessor.

The Catholicos, as the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church is called, even tried to organize an ecumenical «family meeting» of sorts between the highest leaders of the Christian Churches.

The Orthodox patriarch of Moscow didn´t accept the idea, however. Patriarch Alexy II was displeased by the importance accorded to the papal visit in Armenia, and suggested that it be more low-key, the Italian newspaper Avvenire reported today.

That rejection hasn´t stopped the Armenian welcome for John Paul II.

In the strict sense, the Armenian Church does not belong to the Orthodox world, although it is one of the oldest Eastern Churches. It separated from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon of 451, long before the Orthodox Churches did.

The dispute of 451 centered on definition of the nature of Christ. Over the years the Armenian Church was accused of Monophysitism — the false idea that Christ had only one nature.

In fact, the accusations were the result of an historical error, as highlighted in the Joint Declaration signed by John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I in 1996. The declaration states: «Christ is the Word of God made flesh, perfect God in his divinity, perfect man in his humanity.»

And while the Churches remain divided over the issue of papal primacy, this hasn´t impeded rapprochement.

Ecumenical progress has gone forward without the need for joint commissions for theological dialogue between Armenians and Catholics, as has been the case with Orthodoxy. A key ingredient to the progress of dialogue has been the personal friendship between the leaders of the two Churches, which is now continuing with Karekin II.

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