Last week, the religious news world lit up with excitement when AsiaNews announced a celebration of the Council of Nicaea on its 1700th anniversary in 2025. Filled with ecumenical overtones, the press release focused on a joint celebration that will include the Pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This report came at the heels of the notable meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem, which celebrated the anniversary of the 1964 mutual lifting of excommunications by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I (resulting in the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965). Here’s the full text about the 2025 event.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – On his return from Jerusalem , where he met with Pope Francis at the Holy Sepulchre, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, has revealed an important appointment for unity between Catholics and Orthodox: a gathering at Nicaea in 2025, where the first real ecumenical council of the undivided Church was celebrated.
Speaking exclusively with AsiaNews, Bartholomew says that together with Pope Francis “we agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries , the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated.”
The Council of Nicaea (now Iznik, 130 km south- east of Istanbul) , brought together more than 300 bishops from East and West in 325 and is considered the first true ecumenical council. It was there that the formula of the Creed was decided, similar to the one recited during the liturgy today, saying that Jesus “is co-substantial to the Father,”to counter the Aryan ideology.
Francis and Bartolomew met to mark 50 years since the embrace between Paul VI and Athenagoras. The 1964 meeting broke a centuries old silence between the Christian East and the West, with all the socio-political consequences that have arisen, and from which Europe still suffers.
The meeting at the Holy Sepulchre has revitalized dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox , two Christian visions that despite their differences, have a common vision of the sacraments and apostolic tradition.
“The dialogue for unity between Catholics and Orthodox – Bartholomew tellsAsiaNews – will start again from Jerusalem. In this city, in the autumn , a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission will be held hosted by the Greek -Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III . It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy.”
“Jerusalem – continues Bartholomew – is the place, the land of the dialogue between God and man, the place where the Logos of God was incarnated. Our predecessors Paul VI and Athenagoras have chosen this place to break a silence that lasted centuries between the two sister Churches.”
“I walked with my brother Francis in the Holy Land not with the fears of Luke and Cleopas on their way to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24: 13-35), but inspired by a living hope which we learn from our Lord.”
Nicaea 2025 holds tremendous implications for ecumenical relations between the two largest Christian communions in the world. Ever since 1054, the Church has been split, first between East and West. Now, there is a possibility for healing. No doubt the Twitter savvy will be tweeting #Nicaea2025 in eleven years (if there will be tweeting after a decade).
However, before my fellow Christians of a more traditionalist persuasion get too fired up, they must remember that this is not an ecumenical council itself. There is no heresy at stake. There is no summons from an emperor. Indeed, unless there is a very distinct order of business, Nicaea 2025 could possibly become a tremendous photo-shoot, with little effective action aside from some high-profile handshakes.
We must keep in mind that there is still much theological plaque that church leaders need to deal with in order to achieve a some kind of organic unity. First of all, the East and West have different views of sin and the Trinity. This fundamental disagreement comes in part to the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers on the East and St. Augustine of Hippo on the West. Moreover, both communions have the “OTC syndrome.” The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the exclusive “One True Church (TM)”; both are going to have to admit “We have been wrong for centuries” in order to have actual union. This takes no small amount of humility and may even open the door to the legitimacy of other communions and denominations. However, the more difficult issues may arise at the grassroots and in the local pulpits of the two communions. While Rome has developed and fallen in love with the concept of papal infallibility, outspoken critiques of “western rationalism” have become a homiletical staple in Orthodox circles.
The respective bishops have a tremendous responsibility on their hands. The result of Nicaea 2025 can be symbolic yet anemic, possibly disastrous, or just maybe (through the act of kind Providence) a chance to reunite Christ’s discordant flock with the bond of truth. Now that would be ecumenism worth talking about.