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Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue as Witness

Interview With Bishop Agathangelos of Fanarion

ROME, DEC. 18, 2006 (Zenit) - The theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches "can give witness of Christ," says a Greek Orthodox prelate.

Bishop Agathangelos of Fanarion is director general of the Apostoliki Diaconia, which in the Greek Orthodox Church is in charge of the missions, the formation of seminarians and publishing.

Last spring Bishop Agathangelos came to visit Rome with a Greek-Orthodox delegation, to get to know better the tradition and culture of the Catholic Church.

According to the bishop, it is important to discover everything that united the two Churches in the first millennium, when they were not yet divided, to get to know and listen to each other. He shared his views in this interview.

Q: What do you think of the relations between the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church?

Bishop Agathangelos: John Paul II's visit to Greece in 2001 was decisive in the improvement of relations between our Churches. In the Areopagus, the Pope met with Christodoulos, the archbishop of Athens and All Greece.

In the years after the visit, that is, since I have headed Apostoliki Diaconia, we have come closer in our relations with the Catholic Church, especially with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

One of the fruits of our collaboration is the preparation of a facsimile of the ancient and richly decorated manuscript "Menologium of Basil II" on the lives of the saints, which is kept in the Vatican Library. It is a most important work because it was made after the iconoclast period. This manuscript marks a turning point in the history of the Church of the East, which again begins to venerate icons and discovers the importance of beauty.

On the occasion of the manuscript's publication, we invited the librarian of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, to Athens, who brought greetings on behalf of Benedict XVI. On that occasion, Archbishop Christodoulos was invited to visit the Vatican.

Last year we offered, through the Apostolic Nunciature in Athens, scholarships to 30 Catholics so that they could visit our country, learn the language, get to know our culture and Orthodox tradition. In this way, Catholics could draw near the "other part" of the Church with which we "were one" for 1,000 years.

Q: Can the Greek Orthodox Church serve as example for the other Orthodox Churches of ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church?

Bishop Agathangelos: I think that every man of good will can discover the meaning of such dialogue and learn to dialogue.

Collaboration between the Churches cannot be compared to relations between states. This collaboration has many aspects and one of these is the visits which make it possible to overcome prejudices.

It is something that is very important, especially now, when we are beginning the new stage of dialogue between our Churches. I want to underline a fact: many Churches and patriarchates -- the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarchate of Alexandria, of Jerusalem, Church of Cyprus, of Albania -- collaborate with us and appoint Greek professors of theology for the ecumenical contacts.

Q: The Catholic Church is very concerned about the way certain things are going in the European Union, especially in the promotion of the new vision of man and the family, which contradicts Christian anthropology. Does the Orthodox Church share this concern?

Bishop Agathangelos: We have the same fears that you do. We see with sadness that Europe, especially Western Europe, is abandoning Christianity. Politicians do not recognize the identity of our continent which is the fruit of our history and cannot be denied. It is a grave problem therefore which we must address cooperating among ourselves.

Q: But how can one convince the politicians of the European Union to give up the policies that attack the family if certain Protestant churches recognize homosexual unions?

Bishop Agathangelos: That is why the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Church is so important. Very many things unite us: common tradition, theology, apostolic succession, opinions on bioethics, human rights, peace in the world.

For 1,000 years, we have lived together, for 1,000 consecutive years we were separated. In the course of history there were dramatic moments, we often felt wounded, but this does not mean that today we cannot live like brothers.

Q: In what way can our Churches oppose jointly the anti-Christian policies and the process of secularization of the Western world?

Bishop Agathangelos: I wish to make only one reflection. Our theological dialogue can give witness of Christ. Today people who are searching for the truth ask us: Why are you divided? How can we convince our faithful of the love of Christ if we are divided?

Q: You have already met with Benedict XVI.

Bishop Agathangelos: For me, it was very important to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and hear his words personally. After the visit, we left strengthened in spirit to work still more for the reunification of our Churches. These are our human plans. But if we have good intentions and open hearts, God will bless us: The history of the world and of the Church are in his hands.

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