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Relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church

For his part, Pope John Paul II repeatedly called for a resumption of the dialogue as the only way to resolve the outstanding issues, most notably when receiving delegations from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, especially on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul each June. He and Patriarch Teoctist of Romania called for a resumption of the dialogue in the Common Declaration they signed during the Patriarch’s visit to Rome on October 12, 2002. The Pope also took some unilateral measures to express his esteem for the Orthodox, including the return of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God to the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2004, the return of the relics of Saints John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzan to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in November 2004, and the turning over of a church in Rome to the local Greek Orthodox community in June 2004. Perhaps most importantly, the Pope’s visit to Athens in May 2001 provided an opportunity to improve relations with the Orthodox Church of Greece and to ask forgiveness for the injustices of the past. Exchanges of lower-level delegations with the Church of Greece took place later, as well as a similar exchange with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Pope’s visit to Bulgaria in 2002 included encounters with Orthodox church leaders. Taken together, these events increased the sense of trust among the Orthodox regarding the intentions of the Catholic Church towards them.

On the Orthodox side, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew vigorously advocated a resumption of the dialogue. In the years following the Emmitsburg meeting, the Ecumenical Patriarchate sent a delegation to visit the various autocephalous Orthodox churches to discuss ways of restarting the dialogue. The discussions these delegations had with high-ranking Orthodox hierarchs led to a consensus that the issue of uniatism could not be resolved without addressing the underlying theological questions, especially relating to primacy in the Church and the Petrine Ministry. Thus there was general agreement among the Orthodox that the commission needed to return to its theological agenda, always keeping in mind that uniatism would still be addressed again at a later stage.

All this served as preparation for the Ninth Plenary Session of the international dialogue, which finally took place in Belgrade from September 18 to 25, 2006, hosted by the Serbian Orthodox Church. This meeting was a crucial turning point in the dialogue’s history.

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