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Greek Orthodox to convene summit of monotheistic faiths


In yet another effort by religious leaders to condemn terrorism performed in the name of God, the Greek Orthodox church will convene a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Athens in early September to mark the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

The Vatican, in the person of Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the office for Promoting Christian Unity, has agreed to send a “high-level delegation,” though who exactly will attend has not been decided.

The summit follows a similar pan-religious gathering in Assisi Jan. 24, hosted by John Paul II.

The invitation was presented at the end of an unusual five-day visit by a delegation from the Greek Orthodox church to the Vatican. The six Orthodox officials, made up of two archbishops, two bishops and two archimandrates (the Orthodox equivalent of a monsignor), met with the pope March 11 and had appointments in four Vatican offices.

The summit “will be a step forward for all the monotheistic religions, where we will offer our words for peace,” said Archimandrate Epifanios Ikonomu, spokesperson for the delegation, in an exclusive March 12 interview with NCR.

Ikonomu met with NCR at the Casa Santa Marta, the hotel-like residence inside the Vatican where the Orthodox officials stayed.

The stated goal of the visit was to identify areas of cooperation between the two churches. One outcome is the creation of a scholarship fund to support Orthodox scholars who wish to study in Rome, and Catholics who want to do so in Greece.

The delegation is viewed in Rome as a further sign of a melting of the ice between the two churches after the pope’s May 2001 visit to Athens. On that occasion, John Paul II won over a skeptical Greek public by issuing an apology for past Catholic offenses to the Orthodox.

The Greeks have historically been among the most hostile to the papacy in the Orthodox world, harboring long memories of the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the imposition of Latin Rite Catholicism. (Alleged travesties included a prostitute dancing on the throne of the Orthodox patriarch.)

Greek Orthodoxy also has a strong conservative wing that regards itself as the best means of preserving the apostolic faith, with other branches of Christianity being doctrinally suspect.

Despite the good will after John Paul’s visit, all flashpoints have not disappeared. Ikonomu told NCR, for example, that the Orthodox delegation did not pray together with the pope on this visit. He also denied that an impromptu joint Lord’s Prayer had taken place in Athens during the pope’s trip, as reported by some media at the time.

Ikonomu said that beyond the question of papal primacy, several other doctrinal issues loom. He mentioned the Virgin Mary, the Trinity, and the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Yet it was clear that the Greeks came to Rome to stress cooperation on social and cultural issues, such as the family and social justice.

One sign of this desire for unity was the way Ikonomu minimized the impact of the Vatican’s recent decision to elevate four apostolic administrations in Russia into full-fledged dioceses, a move that has enraged Russian Orthodox officials.

“This is not our problem,” Ikonomu said. “In Greece, Catholic dioceses exist without any difficulty. They don’t engage in proselytism.”

Why the shift in attitude? One pressing incentive for détente is the drafting of the new European charter, a basic law for a united Europe, which does not at present contain any explicit reference to religion.

“Europe has a Christian identity, and we don’t want this to be lost,” Ikonomu said. “We have to act swiftly to promote collaboration on this issue.”

National Catholic Reporter, March 22, 2002