Gates of Hell Shake as Prophetic Pope Seeks the Blessing of a Humble Patriarch
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At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew embraced one another as brothers, and friends. Then, the successor of Peter bowed his head and sought a blessing from his brother in the Lord, Patriarch Bartholomew. Like much of what Francis does, the request for a blessing from Patriarch Bartholomew was prophetic. It also reflected the humility of this servant of the servants of God. However, I suggest it may be much more. It may point toward a tectonic plate shift in the history of Christianity.
I pray that this prophetic action of Pope Francis - humbly seeking the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew - hastens the healing of the divisions which separate the Church of Jesus Christ. I believe it shook the gates of hell. May it now release the power of the Holy Spirit and unleash a new missionary age of the Church.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis gave another one of those plane interviews on December 1, 2014. It was given on his return from a pastoral visit to Turkey. Among the several characteristically frank comments he gave to the Press, he addressed the time that he spent with Patriarch Bartholomew.
Francis returned to a theme he now regularly addresses, what he calls an "ecumenism of blood".
Francis explained to the Press:
"Our martyrs are crying out: we are one. This is what the ecumenism of the blood is. We must follow this path courageously and carry on moving forward.If we wait for theologians to reach an agreement, that day will never come!"
This theme was also echoed by the Patriarch during this historic visit. At the Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul, the Patriarch said:
"We no longer have the luxury of isolated action. The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom."
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew embraced one another as brothers, and friends. Then, the successor of Peter bowed his head and sought a blessing from his brother in the Lord, Patriarch Bartholomew.
Like much of what Francis does, the request of this blessing from Patriarch Bartholomew was prophetic. It also reflected the humility of this servant of the servants of God. However, I suggest it may be much more. It may point toward a tectonic plate shift in the history of Christianity.
The full communion of Eastern and Western Christianity has been a common theme in my writing for many years and for many reasons. Primarily, because I believe that it reflects the Heart of the Lord. The Prayer of Jesus, May they Be One (John 17:21) echoes in this new missionary age. It moves the Heart of a Loving Father.
I believe it will be answered - and the time soon approaches. I also believe it will unleash an extraordinary grace from the Holy Spirit for a new missionary age of Christianity.
The Christian Church proclaims that, in and through Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, authentic unity with God the Father - and with one another - is the plan of God for the entire human race. The Church is the way toward that unity. Yet, she is divided within.
Both Orthodox and Catholic Christians should want to walk and work toward that unity - and not fear it. The image often used of two lungs breathing together is a prophetic one, used frequently in both Church communions. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches need one another.
The Church is meant to become the home of the whole human race. For the Church to most fruitfully engage in the redemptive mission of Jesus in this Third Christian Millennium, she must be one. It was not the plan of the Lord that Christians be separated. It is His Plan that the Church be restored to full communion.
The Prayer of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" - may be answered in our day. (John 17:21)
For the First Millennium of Christianity, the Christian Church was undivided. There was legitimate diversity of expression reflecting the beauty and universality of the Gospel. Yet, there was clear ortho-doxy and ortho-praxy, right doctrine and right practice. This can occur again in the Third Millennium of Christianity.
The language regularly used by both Bartholomew and Francis reflects the kind of language which can help to build a framework for full communion. It is laced with humility, informed by mutual respect and fueled by the hope of legitimate diversity within full communion.
The revision of ecclesial governance which is being encouraged by Francis reflects a movement toward a synodal approach within the Catholic Church. This points toward real possibilities of ecclesial structures which could promote this goal. It is something the Orthodox Church is watching quite closely.
There is a phrase which was used by Saint John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict when referring to the full communion of Eastern and Western Christianity. They spoke of the two lungs of the Church breathing together again.
Francis also uses the phrase.
It is particularly poignant, considering his own unique life story. This is the Pope who actually lost a lung as a young man and now breathes with one lung. He understands the limitations this brings.
Pope Francis has a deep love for the Eastern Churches and the Eastern Church Liturgy. As a teenager growing up in Argentina, he served the Divine Liturgy of the East. Eastern Christian worship and spirituality had a profound impact on his spiritual formation.
He was given a special responsibility during his episcopal service in Argentina for caring for the Eastern Catholics. Many commentators noted that at the Liturgy of his installation, the Gospel passage of the Liturgy was proclaimed in Greek.
How fitting it would be if he goes down in Church history as the Pope who served when the two lungs of the Church beginning to breathe together again.
The Church is not some-thing but Some-One. The Church is the Body of Jesus Christ. He is the Head of His Church and He is not divided. For the Church to continue his redemptive mission most effectively, she must be one. It was not the Lord's plan that she be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion.
What will help most to stem the tide of the descent into godless ideologies of every sort - and turn the world toward Jesus Christ and His Church? What will help most to strengthen the Christian Church to face - with the required heroism - the rising tide of militant Jihadists?
I believe it is full communion between Eastern and Western Christianity!
The two lungs of Christ's Church can breathe together again in the Third millennium - as they did in the First Millennium. That breath is the breath of the Holy Spirit. That breath will also fuel a new missionary age of the Church of Jesus Christ.
There is a growing recognition that there is more that joins theologically faithful Catholic Christians and theologically faithful Orthodox Christians than that which separates us.
The cultural decline of the West cries out for our collaboration in Christ. Our mutual recognition of the challenges we face has moved us toward a mutual respect. It is also helping to pave the way toward restored communion.
The blood of the martyrs flowing in the lands which were once the home of the undivided Christian Church, is having an extraordinary impact.
Whether that blood is Orthodox or Catholic matters little. It is red. It is Christian. It cries out to heaven. As the Second Century Church Father Tertullian so clearly proclaimed, that blood "is the seed of the Church."
A restored communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Church is a task which must be taken up by both Western and Eastern Christians - without triumphalism of any kind. In the history of our division, there is plenty of room for repentance all around.
The real question of this moment in Church history is whether time will be become a tutor or remain a tyrant. Good theologians and truly holy Church leaders can help to hasten our full communion. However, we all have a role to play in this historic movement. Will we respond?
I pray that this prophetic action of Pope Francis - humbly seeking the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew - hastens the healing of the divisions which separate the Church of Jesus Christ.
I believe it shook the gates of hell.
May it now release the power of the Holy Spirit and unleash a new missionary age of the Church.
Deacon Keith A. Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties. He has long been active at the intersection of faith, values and culture and was recently appointed Special Counsel to Liberty Counsel. He is also the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online.
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