ROME, MARCH 27, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The historic visit to the Vatican of a Greek Orthodox delegation sent by Athens Archbishop Christodoulos has opened a new era of collaboration between the Churches, a Greek prelate says.
The delegation´s March 8-13 visit sought to identify ways of cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox on issues that affect their commitment as believers in Europe.
Both for the delegates as well as for Greek public opinion, the trip has meant a decisive step in the path to reconciliation, a close aide of Archbishop Christodoulos told the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
Shortly after the delegation returned to Greece, Bishop Timotheos of Corfu, one of the delegates who visited Rome, died of a heart attack. His death has delayed discussions within the Greek Orthodox Church on the results of the visit.
The Greek Orthodox mission was led by Metropolitan Panteleimon of Attica, and included three other bishops — Timotheos of Corfu, Ioannis of Thermopylae, and Athanasius of Achaia — and two archimandrites, including the spokesman of the ruling Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church.
“A well-chosen delegation — we had already experienced good collaboration between us and we knew the Vatican as we had studied there in the past as scholarship recipients,” Bishop Athanasius told Avvenire, in an article that appeared today. The bishop represents Archbishop Christodoulos in Brussels.
The purpose of the visit was not theological dialogue — a special commission handles that — but the start of pastoral cooperation between the two Churches on topics of Christian Europe, including the family and bioethics.
“For us, this has been a really interesting experience,” Bishop Athanasius said. “The Church of Rome has made great progress when it comes to addressing the challenges of today´s world, and the dialogue we pursued during the days of our visit has helped us understand that we can learn a lot from what she has already done.”
“On the central topics of dialogue, we have not found differences of position, although, of course, acting in different cultures, we also have different problems,” the Orthodox bishop said. “The most positive aspect is that we have entered a very close phase of collaboration.”
“The atmosphere of confidence that is being established between us is critical from the ecumenical perspective; there is no doubt that our Churches must go forward, as to attain the fullness of unity is in God´s will,” he added. “However, we cannot deny that this is a process, a gift that we, the Orthodox, must also win each day, without ever letting our guard down.”
Asked if Greek society follows its hierarchy on this path, Bishop Athanasius responded that he continues to send out signals in this direction. “This does not mean that we do not have to do everything possible to convince the very last faithful, [the ones] with more doubts,” he said.