Christian Unity and the East-West Divide (Part 1)

Interview With Bishop Brian Farrell

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 5, 2006 (Zenit.org).- To avoid an East-West conflict it is necessary for all Christians to unite, says the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.



In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Brian Farrell, who represented the Holy See at the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Brazil, addresses the topic of ecumenism. Part 2 of this interview appears Monday.

Q: A priority of Benedict XVI is to work for Christian unity. What are the specifics of this goal?

Bishop Farrell: It means to serve Christ, who, the night before he died, prayed that his disciples be one, as he and the Father are one. Because of this, the division that exists at present in the Church must be surmounted.

It is a priority of the Church, of the Pope and of all of us, because we cannot consider it as a merely secondary task; it is essential for the Church, which must give witness so that the world will believe. This is what Christ said -- "united so that the world will believe."

Q: The Pope will meet in Turkey in November with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, who has invited him to visit his see. What does this mean from the ecumenical point of view?

Bishop Farrell: For some time, we have had a very positive and very cordial relationship with the ecumenical patriarch.

In a certain sense, it is a gesture of recognition and of fraternal love that the Pope goes to meet him in Constantinople.

The patriarch came to Rome on several occasions to visit Pope John Paul II. Now Benedict XVI goes, as John Paul II also did in the first year of his pontificate.

Q: The present work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is focused on promoting union with the Orthodox churches. What is still lacking to achieve this unity?

Bishop Farrell: There are serious difficulties, the result of 1,000 years of division. One thousand years is a long time. And, over the course of the last thousand years, the East and the West have developed differently, with different perceptions and with different doctrinal formulations.

All these things must be examined as a whole, to show that the differences are few, and what divides us today is almost a psychological perception -- I would say -- cultural, more than a profound theological reason.

However, we do have one specific problem. I am not saying that it is difficult, but it will require an enormous effort on both sides. I am referring to the way of exercising the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

In a certain sense, the Orthodox could recognize him, but the way in which the primacy of Peter has been exercised in the West is not exactly the same as it was exercised in the East during the first millennium. That is why a way must be found.

In his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint," number 95, Pope John Paul II invites Orthodox churches, Catholic theologians and all in general to think of the way in which this primacy may be exercised in an acceptable manner for them, in the service of unity and love.

Q: We witness an East-West division based on the wave of violence staged by the publication of the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. Can the promotion of Christian unity in the East and West be a point of departure for work, so that this division of the world is not extended?

Bishop Farrell: It is certainly necessary that Christians speak and collaborate in only one language. Otherwise, they will be unable to give a common testimony and will not be able to respond to the anxieties of the Muslim world and of the world in general.

Because of this, it is necessary that we Christians make an effort to be more united, so that we are able to participate in the interreligious dialogue, uniting the existing strengths and possibilities, so as to be able to address these problems, which consists in avoiding a conflict of civilizations between East and West.

Q: What is the present state of ecumenism in Europe? Are there results of rapprochement between Christians? In Brazil there are many difficulties among separated brethren …

Bishop Farrell: Ecumenism is not a single reality; it is different in different situations, in different parts of the world.

In Europe, ecumenism is very important, very profound and, theologically, very motivated, because it is in Europe that all these divisions arose, and it is in Europe that work must be done above all on the theological plane, to surmount them.

I cannot speak of Brazil, but what I have seen in the few days that I have been here is that the ecumenical relationship in Brazil is very different from the one we have in Europe.

Here we are talking about recent communities, Pentecostal charismatic and evangelical communities, which come from traditions that are very different from those of the historical Churches; therefore, these new forms of Christian life must still try to find a way and structure that will allow them to enter into serious theological dialogue, on the basis of their beliefs, as occurs between the historical Churches.