In 1054 A.D., the Western and Eastern Churches excommunicated one another, a schism that was further sealed in anger as the West destroyed the Eastern Church’s capital, Constantinople, during the fourth crusade. In 1965, 911 years later, the Pope of the West and the Patriarch of the East have given the Church a glimmer of hope for remembering its unity. It is never too late for reconciliation, but it is never too early either. The following is the text read simultaneously by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in both Rome and Istanbul on December 7, 1965:
“1. Grateful to God, who mercifully favored them with a fraternal meeting at those holy places where the mystery of salvation was accomplished through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and where the Church was born through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I have not lost sight of the determination each then felt to omit nothing thereafter which charity might inspire and which could facilitate the development of the fraternal relations thus taken up between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Constantinople. They are persuaded that in acting this way, they are responding to the call of that divine grace which today is leading the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, as well as all Christians, to overcome their differences in order to be again “one” as the Lord Jesus asked of His Father for them.
“2. Among the obstacles along the road of the development of these fraternal relations of confidence and esteem, there is the memory of the decisions, actions and painful incidents which in 1054 resulted in the sentence of excommunication leveled against the Patriarch Michael Cerularius and two other persons by the legate of the Roman See under the leadership of Cardinal Humbertus, legates who then became the object of a similar sentence pronounced by the patriarch and the Synod of Constantinople.
“3. One cannot pretend that these events were not what they were during this very troubled period of history. Today, however, they have been judged more fairly and serenely. Thus it is important to recognize the excesses which accompanied them and later led to consequences which, insofar as we can judge, went much further than their authors had intended and foreseen. They had directed their censures against the persons concerned and not the Churches. These censures were not intended to break ecclesiastical communion between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople.
“4. 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:
“A. They regret the offensive words, the reproaches without foundation, and the reprehensible gestures which, on both sides, have marked or accompanied the sad events of this period.
“B. They 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.
“C. Finally, they deplore the preceding and later vexing events which, under the influence of various factors—among which, lack of understanding and mutual trust—eventually led to the effective rupture of ecclesiastical communion.
“5. Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I with his synod realize that this gesture of justice and mutual pardon is not sufficient to end both old and more recent differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
“Through the action of the Holy Spirit those differences will be overcome through cleansing of hearts, through regret for historical wrongs, and through an efficacious determination to arrive at a common understanding and expression of the faith of the Apostles and its demands.
“They hope, nevertheless, that this act will be pleasing to God, who is prompt to pardon us when we pardon each other. They hope that the whole Christian world, especially the entire Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will appreciate this gesture as an expression of a sincere desire shared in common for reconciliation, and as an invitation to follow out in a spirit of trust, esteem and mutual charity the dialogue which, with Gods help, will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God, in that full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church.”
I offer a prayer for our Church; I hope you will join me in echoing these words:
May God grant forgiveness to the Church for its pridefulness and arrogance in our divisiveness against one another.
May God give us a spirit of humble conversation as we dialogue with one another about theology. May God give us his Spirit through humility.
May we remember that the way of God is peace. May God give us his Spirit of peace.
May God forgive the Church for the blood that has stained our hands in the divisiveness of our pridefulness throughout history. May God grant the Church his holy love for all through his Spirit.
May God forgive the Church for its selfish quest for political power. May we remember that the only power of the Church comes through the breath of the Spirit, purposed for a mission of holy love, with Christ as our leader.
May God give Protestants humility in recognizing the great faith in Christ that our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters have. May God grant us the wisdom to see the catholicity of the Christian faith (and may God grant Protestants the wisdom to not be so afraid of the word “catholic”). May God grant Protestants the ability to see ourselves in light of the global, catholic, universal Church.
May we remember the words of one our earliest, unifying, and catholic creeds:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
(The Nicene Creed, affirmed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., and re-affirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.)
May we have the wisdom to learn from our history.
May we behave as if we truly understand what means to live in the Anno Domini.
May we seek our example for unity in the unity of love that is found in you, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May we never stop seeking being restored to you through your Spirit.
May you give us hope to be the Church you have called us to be.