The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will be present for the installation mass for Pope Francis on Tuesday. This is the first time an Ecumenical Patriarch has been present for this Catholic mass since the Great Schism of 1054, when the Eastern and Western Church cut ties with one another.
In an interview with a television network in Istanbul, Turkey, Bartholomew explained that the decision to attend was a gesture to showcase improving relations between the two Ancient Churches.
"It is a gesture to underline relations which have been developing over the recent years and to express my wish that our friendly ties flourish even more during this new era," said Bartholomew.
Other faith leaders, including other Orthodox Church officials, are expected as well. Metropolitan Tikhon, the head of the Orthodox Church in America, will be present. The Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch will be sending his envoy.
Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky, chairman of the Department of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations for The Orthodox Church in America, told The Christian Post that the attendance was "a significant gesture."
Fr. Kishkovsky's cool diplomacy probably rightly touches the limits of reasonable optimism, but who wants to be reasonable when the irrational optimism is boundless? It is hard not to be hopeful that such a substantial gesture is not the beginning of a quickening toward communion, toward the greatest stride toward Christian unity since...well since Christians started fracturing in earnest in the fourth century. Can you imagine the implications of the Catholics and Orthodox reestablishing communion? Neither can I. Of course, Kishkovsky is probably right when he says that union is "not in prospect at this time," but I confess I have never wanted a priest to be so wrong since the sixth century condemnation of Origen's doctrine of apocatastasis.