Is Christ divided? This question from the First Letter to the Corinthians is addressed in this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25). The fact that 2,000 years after Jesus’ work on earth Christians are not united is a burden for all believers, said Cardinal Kurt Koch, the head of the Vatican dicastery for ecumenism, in an interview with Vatican Radio.
“The theme of the Week of Prayer is, in my opinion, a great challenge: Of course Christ cannot be divided. That was true also of his body, yet nevertheless we [Christians] have many divisions and separations in history. The provocative question posed by this year’s Week of Prayer must once again be the fundamental question of ecumenism, for these divisions are not in keeping with the will of Christ. We absolutely must overcome this.”
The President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has always been disappointed by this state of affairs.
“Even as a child I was always moved by the fact that in the Passion account the Romans divided up among themselves everything that Jesus had, except his seamless garment. They wanted to leave it whole. This seamless garment has thus become throughout history the sign of the Church’s unity. I was then especially upset by the fact that we Christians have done what not even the Roman soldiers did: we have torn this seamless garment to pieces. Now we have a lot of work ahead of us, putting this garment back together.”
The Pope is expected to speak about ecumenism this Wednesday[, January 22,] at his General Audience and at Evening Prayer in the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls. Cardinal Koch himself traveled to Eastern Europe [several times last year] and met with representatives of Orthodoxy in Ukraine [in June] and in Romania and Russia [in December].
“We have to distinguish here between the dialogue of charity—that is, the relations of friendship and fellowship—and the theological dialogue. Since 2010, unfortunately, we have not had a plenary session of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Commission. Right now we are preparing for the next meeting in Serbia this Fall. Now, at any rate, something has happened that makes this dialogue a bit more difficult. The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate has issued a document on the question of the primacy [which even questions traditional notions about the primacy of the Patriarch of Constantinople among Orthodox hierarchs.] It takes a position with regard to the dialogue that actually is being conducted [by the Catholic Church] with all Orthodox Churches. So now we must once again look for a pathway forward in this Commission.”
Still, though, other Orthodox Metropolitans have made public statements about this document, and so this unilateral move of Moscow can be considered as a stimulus, Koch added. At any rate such developments show how “divided” Orthodoxy is. Koch said that therefore he hopes and prays that the Orthodox Sister Churches soon will conduct a pan-Orthodox Council, so as to strengthen unity among them.
Then there is the dialogue with the ecclesial communities of the Reformation, which currently are preparing for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in three years. The Swiss Cardinal remarked:
“The Reformation is a many-sided phenomenon and has very different faces. Here I am thinking of the Reformation in Switzerland, which was something quite different from the one in Germany. The Reformation in the northern countries was again quite a different matter, because there the princes determined the ecclesial allegiance. Bringing all that under the general heading “Reformation 2017” is not all that simple. At any rate, last Fall a preparatory congress was held in Zürich.”
The texts for the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared this year by a Canadian group made up of representatives of various Churches and ecclesial communities. The texts consist of meditations and resources that can be used for ecumenical prayer services.
[Interviewer: Mario Galgano. Translated from German by Michael J. Miller]
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