Constantinople, Jun. 19, 2008 (CWNews.com) - The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople has responded favorably to a suggestion by the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church for a system of "dual unity" in which Byzantine Catholic churches would be in full communion with both Constantinople and Rome.
Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople welcomed the proposal in an interview with the magazine Cyril and Methodius, the RISU news service reports. The acknowledged leader of the Orthodox world suggested that the "dual unity" approach would produce something akin to the situation of the Christian world in the 1st millennium, before the split between Rome and Constantinople.
Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church-- the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches-- had offered the possibility that Byzantine Catholics might seek communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, without giving up their communion with the Holy See. Patriarch Bartholomew expressed distinct interest in the idea, saying that "the mother Church in Constantinople holds the doors open for the return of all her former sons and daughters."
Patriarch Bartholomew acknowledged that a restoration of unity would require study, and important differences would have to be overcome. However, he observed that major steps have already been taken to resolve disagreements-- most importantly the revocation of the mutual decrees of excommunication issued by Rome and Constantinople against each other in 1054.
While Catholic and Orthodox theologians continue their efforts to reach agreement on doctrinal questions, Patriarch Bartholomew said, "the people at the grass roots have to come together again." He pointed to the "dual unity" idea as a possible step toward practical unity.
Cardinal Husar, the Ukrainian Catholic leader, has suggested in the past that the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics of Ukraine should unite under the leadership of a single patriarch. That provocative suggestion is particularly interesting for two reasons.
First, Byzantine Catholics in Ukraine argued for years-- particularly since emerging vigorously from the shadow of Communist repression-- that the Ukrainian Catholic Church should be accorded the status of a patriarchate. Both the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have expressed some sympathy for that suggestion. The Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church is substantially larger than other Catholic churches that are recognized as patriarchates, including the Maronite, Melkite, Chaldean, Syrian, Armenian and Coptic Catholic churches. However, Kiev is not a historical patriarchal see like Antioch or Alexandria. And the recognition of a Ukrainian Catholic patriarchate would be sure to provoke outrage from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has complained frequently and bitterly about the activities of Byzantine Catholics in Ukraine.
Second, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is badly split, with three different groups competing for recognition as leaders of the Byzantine faithful. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church- Kiev Patriarchate is led by Patriarch Filaret, who was once acknowledged by Moscow but broke with the Russian Orthodox Church after Ukraine gained political independence. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church- Moscow Patriarchate retains ties to Russian Orthodoxy. The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, smaller than the other two, has frequently sided with the Kiev patriarchate in efforts to form a single, unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine, independent from Moscow.