Last Sunday, I read the statement of the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Commission on Christian Unity. There wasn’t much that surprised me in the document. After all, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches aren’t separated by doctrine all that much, even after a millennium of separation. (It might make you wonder why the Protestant Churches have grown so far from the Catholic church in less than half the time. Hint: apostolic succession.)
The one thing that really stuck with me, though, was their joint statement on the primacy of the Bishop of Rome:
Further, they [Catholics and Orthodox] agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos , a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.
Both sides accept that this split should not be; and both sides accept that unity under a Bishop of Rome with primacy is the way things should be. While they do acknowledge that there is disagreement on what that primacy entails (apparently the Orthodox believe it is a primacy of honor, while we Catholics believes there is an administrative and legal primacy as well), I still think this is an amazing statement for the Orthodox to make. They are simply acknowledging that they should be in union with Rome and that unity with Rome is a mark of a Christian Church. The more I think about it, the more amazed I am. Amazed and excited, since this brings us closer to a unity which Christ prayed that we should have. (John 17:11)