Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, attended the papal installation Mass of Pope Francis I. No Greek Orthodox patriarch has attended a papal installation Mass for almost 1000 years, since 1054 when the split between east and west occurred. The historic ecumenical development is the result of decades of ecumenical dialogue.
The 73-year-old patriarch is the spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox members world-wide. He attended the Mass to emphasize the importance of “friendly ties” between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He also expects Pope Francis to advance ecumenical progress and that friendly relations will flourish with the Catholic Church under Pope Francis. The Orthodox Church sees the pope as first among equals. The Catholic Church teaches that the pope is the supreme head of the church. This still remains as a barrier to unity.
There are reciprocal visits between the Vatican and the Orthodox leaders in their respective sees each year. The patriarch attended the funeral of John Paul II in 2005. Pope Benedict XVI visited Constantinople in 2006 in the interests “mutual understanding and the quest of full unity.” Pope Francis is familiar with Orthodox traditions because he was head of the Argentine Catholic Commission on Eastern Rite Christians, which is part of the Catholic Church but follows Orthodox traditions more closely.
The Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill of Moscow did not attend the inaugural Mass, but sent a delegation instead. Reasons include unresolved differences between the two churches. The Vatican however, believes that a meeting between the pope and the patriarch is “possible” once disputes are sufficiently resolved.
In an ecumenical gesture, part of the installation Mass was conducted in the Greek language.
The presence of Patriarch Bartholomew will go a long way toward healing the breach between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
“All the world wondered after the beast…” Revelation 13:4