Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met in Jerusalem, to commemorate the meeting of Pope Paul IV and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago. The Ecumenical Patriarch (confirmed by the Vatican) mentioned that in this meeting the bishops want to move forward in ecumenical relations and decided to plan some form of meeting/gathering on the 1700 anniversary of the first Ecumenical council at Nicaea in Nicaea, now Iznik. This is Kind of astounding.
In our various denominational crises, we can forget that really the last 70 years has been an incredible time for those seeking to move beyond the divisions and parochialism of the various Christian denominations. We almost take the meeting of a Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch as common place. Dialog between Christian denominations happens regularly. Certainly, there are still lines drawn in the sand, and I’m sure a number of both Roman Catholics and Orthodox are speaking of the apostasy of either the Pope or Ecumenical Patriarch, or both. However, if we focus on these negatives we fail to see the signs of hope and the possible work of the Spirit.
It’s hard to say what this meeting planned for 2025 in Nicaea will be, but in it is a fruit of seeking to meet one another across our divides, to seek to be the Church. We could make to much and to little of the Pope’s and Patriarch’s meeting and of this announcement.
For Ecclesial Longings and the Priestly Goth this all points that for the church the future and the past must collide. Also, there’s nothing pure about the commemoration of Nicaea. And there are plenty of Christians who, even if they may want to affirm the creed from that council, find that moment and Constantine’s embrace of the Church and intervention in the Arian controversy to be highly problematic to say the least. Yet, I say that if we want to understand Christian faith in a concrete and ecclesial sort of way, reflecting on the truth and complexity of the first ecumenical council is needed.
Christianity as a religion can have many interpretations stemming from the person of Jesus of Nazareth, bringing together all these interpretations and faiths that are called Christian probably isn’t a possibility. But when we begin to talk about the Church as Body of Christ, which is a transcendent, sacramental and mystical reality in time and history, this gives us a lens to focus our interpretation of Christianity. In this focus, what I call ecclesial longing, I believe there is possibility for unity. In this focus and longing is seeking in the other Christian and in one self that sign that we are members of the same body. The faith of the Body of Christ, the Church was expressed at Nicaea in 325. While Arian faith is Christian it was shown not to be the faith of the Body of Christ.
In the least in this invitation to celebrate and remember the Council of Nicaea, we have the opportunity to think the difference between the mind of Christ and the Church and mere Christian opinions. So along with Sam Rocha, I see this planned gathering in 2025 at Nicaea tingling with possibility. In the midst of our denominational and cultural crisis, I see this as laden with hope.