Unity - the essence of Christianity

Artur Stelmasiak

Hard times lie ahead Christianity in Europe. When lay environments, secularism and other religions influence this continent more and more, ecumenism seems to be a special challenge to Christianity. 'There is a growing need for Christian unity', thinks Bishop Tadeusz Pikus, President of the Polish Bishops' Council for Ecumenism.
One can see an urgent need for revival of Christianity in Europe. Both in the West and in the East the need for evangelisation and common testimony is growing. The Orthodox hierarch Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, wants to meet the present urgent challenges by proposing Catholic-Orthodox collaboration. According to him this covenant of both Churches is to defend Christianity against various opponents and threats such as contemporary secularism, laicism, nihilism or Islamic influence. 'Christianity should present one stand in many issues', says Bishop Tadeusz Pikus.
The Third Ecumenical European Assembly was initiated to work out a common Christian position, and within the framework of the Assembly ca. 150 delegates from various Churches and Christian denominations in Europe met in Rome in January 2006. 'At the graves of St Peter and St Paul a pilgrimage began to call for ecumenical initiatives in all countries of our continent', stresses Bishop Pikus, Polish delegate for the Ecumenical European Assembly. The most important stage of this pilgrimage will be the final meeting in Sibiu, Romania, on 4-9 September 2007, with 2,500 expected participants from all over Europe. The theme for the meeting is 'The light of Christ shines upon us. Hope for renewal and unity in Europe'. 'The aim of this ecumenical meeting is to bring about spiritual renewal and to build Europe's unity. I think that nowadays religious and spiritual life of Europe, which is slowly dying out, should be 'revived', Bishop Pikus emphasised.

Ecumenism is a must

Involvement in ecumenism has been strongly justified and powerfully motivated in our faith. 'Why should all Christians be one?' Bishop Pikus asks a rhetorical question and answers, 'This is the will of God'. 'Doing this will should be the most important motif of our ecumenical activities. Unfortunately, we often forget about that.' 'God's will is the causal motif and the intentional motif is salvation', Bishop Pikus adds.
Doing God's will, which aims at man's salvation (salvation of the world) is our most important Christian mission. This is the mission of the Church that constitutes as if the tool and sacrament of inner unity of man with God and brothers. 'That's why, division among Christians is a scandal. We do not fulfil this fundamental calling, the President of the Bishops' Council for Ecumenism thinks. 'We do not listen to Christ's words carefully enough. Before his passion and death he prayed 'may they all be one'. To disturb Christian unity and to be divided means to commit sin. And that's why our hearts must undergo conversion on the way of the great sacrament of penance and reconciliation; prayer, dialogue and collaboration are indispensable.

Closer to Orthodox Church

Observing all the ecumenical steps that the Holy Father Benedict XVI made last year one can see that he is very much concerned about the dialogue with the Orthodox Church. One of the important ecumenical events was the meeting between Benedict XVI and the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and the reissue of the sessions of the theological commission of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Orthodox Church after a six-year break.
From the point of view of the doctrine the Orthodox Church is closest to the Catholic Church. Therefore, the vision of unity between the Church of the West and the Church of the East is real and close. However, one of the basic controversial issues between both Churches is the different understanding of the primacy of the Pope. The Orthodox theologians will be willing to accept the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St Peter, as the first among equals (primus inter pares) but without any jurisdiction of supreme authority. The Catholic Church realises that it is only him that has preserved the ministry of Apostle Peter in the person of the Bishop of Rome among all Churches and Christian Communities. It also realises that Jesus Christ, the only Builder of the Church, made Peter the sign and foundation of ecclesiastical unity. With the power and the authority without which such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the communion of all the Churches. For this reason, he is the first servant of unity. 'At present Benedict XVI, like John Paul II, suggests that theologians of all Churches and Christian Communities should seek such forms of exercising the primacy by the means of which the service of love and reconciliation, which both parties recognise, will be possible to perform', Bishop Pikus explains.

Ecumenical task of St Peter

The Holy Father's involvement in restoring Christian unity is unique and that results from the primacy of Peter. 'After his resurrection Christ entrusted to Peter all believers saying the words, 'feed my sheep'. Therefore, Peter's Successor carries personal responsibility for the condition of the Church. However, shepherding of the Successor of Peter should be done in communion. When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops. They constitute the apostolic College. The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in 'keeping watch', like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches. Then all particular Churches remain in full unity because all Shepherds are in unity with Peter, which means unity with Christ. Therefore, fulfilling his function the Bishop of Rome is not only responsible for unity among Catholics but for all 'sheep', i.e. all Christians', Bishop Pikus explains.
In his encyclical 'Ut unum sint' John Paul II appealed to all Churches and Christian Communities to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation 'I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek-together, of course-the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned'.

"Niedziela" 2/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl