John Paul II
Relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church
In May 1999, John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from his Beatitude Teoctist, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. This was the first time a Pope had visited a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the Great Schism, the event that separated Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Roman Catholicism, conventionally dated to the year 1054. On his arrival, the Patriarch as well as the President of Romania, Emil Constantinescu, greeted the Pope. The Patriarch stated, "The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity."
On May 9, the Pope and the Patriarch each attended a worship service conducted by the other (an Orthodox Liturgy and a Catholic Mass, respectively). A crowd of hundreds of thousands of people turned up to attend the worship services, which were held in the open air. The Pope told the crowd, "I am here among you pushed only by the desire of authentic unity. Not long ago it was unthinkable that the bishop of Rome could visit his brothers and sisters in the faith who live in Romania. Today, after a long winter of suffering and persecution, we can finally exchange the kiss of peace and together praise the Lord." A large part of Romania's Orthodox population has shown itself warm to the idea of Christian reunification.
Two years later, in 2001, John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Greece in 1291 years. The visit was controversial, and the Pontiff was met with protests and snubbed by Eastern Orthodox leaders, none of whom met his arrival.
In Athens, the Pope met with Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. After a private 30-minute meeting, the two spoke publicly. Christodoulos read a list of "13 offences" of the Roman Catholic Church against the Orthodox Church since the Great Schism, including the pillaging of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204. He also bemoaned the lack of any apology from the Roman Catholic Church, saying that "until now, there has not been heard a single request for pardon" for the "maniacal crusaders of the 13th century."
The Pope responded by saying, "For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us forgiveness," to which Christodoulos immediately applauded. John Paul also said that the sacking of Constantinople was a source of "deep regret" for Catholics.
Later, John Paul and Christodoulos met on a spot where Saint Paul had once preached to Athenian Christians. They issued a "common declaration," saying, "We shall do everything in our power, so that the Christian roots of Europe and its Christian soul may be preserved. ... We condemn all recourse to violence, proselytism and fanaticism, in the name of religion." The two leaders then said the Lord's Prayer together, breaking an Orthodox taboo against praying with Catholics.
However, during the visit the Pope avoided any mention of Cyprus, still a source of tension between the two faiths.
John Paul II visited other heavily Orthodox areas such as Ukraine, despite lack of welcome at times, and he said that an end to the Schism was one of his fondest wishes.
With regard to the relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church, Pope John Paul II could not escape the controversy of the involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime of World War II. He beatified Aloysius Stepinac in 1998, the Croatian war-time archbishop of Zagreb, a move seen negatively by those who believe that he was an active collaborator with the Ustaše fascist regime. On June 22, 2003, he visited Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a city inhabited by many Catholics before the 1992-1995 war, but since then predominantly Orthodox. He held a Mass at the Petrićevac monastery, a place of considerable controversy and distress, both during the World War II and during the Yugoslav wars.
The Pope had also been saying during the entire pontificate that one of his greatest dreams was to visit Russia, which never actually happened. He had made several attempts to solve the problems which arose during centuries between the Roman Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church, like giving back the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in August 2004. However, the Orthodox side was not that enthusiastic, giving statements like: "The question of the visit of the Pope in Russia is not connected by the journalists with the problems between the Churches, which are now unreal to solve, but with giving back one of many sacred things, which were illegally stolen from Russia." (Vsevolod Chaplin). There were also statements saying that the icon which was returned was one of four copies made of the original icon, which is still in an unknown location.
Orthodox Perspectives on his life and work
- Holding on to all that humanity can mean - Thomas Hopko, International Herald Tribune Monday, April 18, 2005 (Alternate link)
- The Great Unifier: Pope John Paul II - Jaroslav Pelikan, NY Times (Original link)
- Russian Orthodox Official Hopeful for a Prompt Beatification: A Great Pope, Bishop Hilarion Says of John Paul II - Zenit News, April 5, 2005
- Memories of the Pope - Jeffery A. Johnson (A parishioner of St. Thomas Antiochian Orthodox Church, Sioux City, Iowa)