Pope Preparing for a Catholic-Orthodox Reunion
Pope Francis concluded a five-day trip to Greece and Cyprus on December 6, where he met with the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches.
On the first leg of Francis’s trip, he was greeted by Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos ii. The two made their way to the Cathedral of Saint Barnabas for a meeting with the synod, a body of bishops somewhat equivalent to the Catholic College of Cardinals.
Chrysostomos spoke about much of his country’s conflict with Northern Cyprus. In 1974, the Turkish military invaded the island. They created a puppet state in the north populated by ethnic Turks and expelled Greek Cypriots to the south of the country. The archbishop said Turkey “sequestered 38 percent of our fatherland with the force of arms, expelled its inhabitants,” and “profaned and demolished the sanctuaries of the Lord.” He said that “Turkey has developed a plan of ethnic cleansing in our Cyprus.”
Chrysostomos then issued a plea to Francis: “We want to have your active support in this, our holy and just struggle.” He said he made a similar appeal in 2010 to Pope Benedict xvi. “We wait with impatience also for your help, for the protection and respect of our cultural patrimony … that are today violated by Turkey,” he said.
He also applauded “the dialogue that is underway between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Catholic Church in Rome, and we pray for its success.” The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the ceremonial head of Orthodox Christians worldwide.
Francis may not have been listening attentively. Video footage from Chrysostomos’s speech shows him apparently struggling to stay awake. But when it was his turn to speak, the pope had plenty to say.
“We have a common apostolic origin: Paul traversed Cyprus and went on to Rome. We are thus heirs of the same apostolic zeal, and a single path joins us—that of the gospel,” he said. “I like to see us advancing on that same path, seeking ever greater fraternity and full unity.” Francis told the synod that the Catholic Church feels “the need to walk more closely alongside you, dear brethren, who, through your experience of synodality, can truly help us.” He said Catholics desired to “rediscover the synodal dimension essential to being church.”
Pope Francis is a vocal advocate for a Catholic-Orthodox reconciliation. This kind of talk from him is nothing new. But Francis seemed to suggest, in the path to unity, Vatican City is willing to compromise. His language was vague. But claiming Catholicism could learn from Orthodoxy may imply some sort of give-and-take.
Francis also had much to say about the archbishop’s comments on Turkey. “I wish to assure you of my own prayer and closeness and that of the Catholic Church in the most troubling problems that beset you and in the best and boldest hopes that spur you on,” he said. “Your sorrows and your joys are also ours; we sense them as our own.”
Whether the Vatican will actually do anything remains to be seen. But that an Orthodox Church would call for the pope’s support against the Turks is significant. Both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy historically have been at odds with Islam, but that doesn’t mean they were good friends with each other. Take, for example, the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century. It started with Catholic crusaders trying to put the ousted Byzantine emperor back on his throne. The goal was to enlist the Byzantines in the war against the Arabs. It ended with the crusaders sacking and looting Constantinople. The crusaders dissolved the Byzantine Empire and created a Catholic puppet state in its place. The Orthodox world wouldn’t forget that assault for centuries.
Yet today, we have an Orthodox leader willing to overlook such a historical wrong.
After his stay in Cyprus, Francis traveled to Greece. He first met with Greek Orthodox leaders on December 4. Then he had a one-on-one meeting with Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos ii, head of the Church of Greece, at the apostolic nunciature (Vatican embassy) on December 5.
Francis and Ieronymos got along well. Ieronymos called Francis “our most holy brother of Rome.” Francis called the archbishop “my beloved brother.” He wrote: “I thank him for his fraternal goodness, his meekness, his patience. May the Lord give us the grace to continue together our path of brotherhood and peace.”
The pope gave another vague statement apologizing for crimes Catholics committed against Orthodox Christians: “Shamefully, patriarch—I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church—actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion.” (As a side note, the pope got Ieronymos’s rank wrong. He is an archbishop, not a patriarch.)
The Roman Catholic archbishop of Athens, Theodoros Kontidis, said the pope’s visit was a moment to remember the unity of Christians, “especially between Catholics and Orthodox.” “We are the same faith with the same traditions,” he said. “We have to try again and again and never give up.”
Not everybody was happy with the pope’s visit. An Orthodox priest catching sight of Francis shouted at him, “Pope, you are a heretic!” The Greek Holy Synod also didn’t welcome the pope as warmly as its Cypriot counterpart did.
Pope Francis is already close with the patriarch of Constantinople, the closest thing the Orthodox Church has to one “leader.” The latest trip shows he is also cultivating close relationships with other Orthodox leaders. Pope Francis is sowing the seeds for reconciliation between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
One reliable source says that Rome and Constantinople will reunite. It’s a source that both Catholic and Orthodox Christians claim as their heritage. The Holy Bible.
“Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate” (Isaiah 47:1). A woman is used as biblical symbolism for a church (Ephesians 5:22-23, 32; 2 Corinthians 11:2). This “woman” is a “daughter of Babylon.” Babylon was the political and spiritual capital of the ancient world. This church fulfills a similar role in the modern day.
Isaiah 47:5 calls this woman “The lady of kingdoms.” She has enough power to rule from her own throne. The Trumpet identifies this woman as the Roman Catholic Church.
Now notice verse 8: “Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children.” If the Catholic Church is the mother, then who would be the children? The churches that have left her authority long ago and have since grown up, churches like the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The November 1963 Plain Truth made this prediction based on prophecies like Isaiah 47:
The final—albeit short-lived—triumph of Catholicism is recorded in literally dozens of Bible prophecies. Right now—whether we want to believe it or not—the stage is being set for the greatest revolution in religion the world has witnessed. … The mighty problem of achieving unity is twofold. First, it involves reconciliation of the Orthodox Schism that officially commenced in 1054 and divided the churches in the East …. Second, it involves restoration to the Roman Communion all Protestantism which developed from 1517 onward.
This may have seemed unlikely in 1963. But today, we’re seeing leaders of the Orthodox world openly speaking about unity with the Catholic Church. We’re seeing the leader of the Church of Cyprus pleading with the pope to help them against the Turks. We’re seeing the starting point of this “greatest revolution in religion the world has witnessed.”
To learn more about the Bible-based predictions made by the Plain Truth and its editor in chief, Herbert W. Armstrong, please request a free copy of our booklet He Was Right. Chapter 3, “Returning to the Fold,” is especially relevant regarding Catholic and Orthodox reunion.