- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2007

One of the few meetings between Roman Catholic and Orthodox laity is taking place this week at the Pope John Paul II Center in Northeast.

The topic of discussion for the yearly Orientale Lumen conference was icons, the painted images that helped lead to the Orthodox-Catholic split of 1054.

About 90 theologians and clergy attended plenary sessions, prayer services and meditation yesterday. Although the two worldwide denominations differ substantially on their views of the pope, they share a common devotion to the Virgin Mary. A standing prayer to Mary, known as the Akathist, is one of the rites the two groups are sharing for the Orientale Lumen conference, which ends tomorrow.

“All I am doing is helping people meet each other,” said conference organizer Jack Figel. A goal of the conference is to “understand each other’s perspectives and hope for eventual church unity. Even when the official dialogues had had some difficulties, we have been able to keep going.”

Pope Benedict XVI and his direct predecessor, John Paul II, have worked to mend the nearly 1,000-year rift between Christianity’s Eastern and Western branches. John Paul visited the Middle East in 2001 and Benedict traveled to Turkey in November and met with top Orthodox prelates.

“There seems to be a warming between Catholics and Orthodox and our conference is part of that dialogue,” Mr. Figel said. “Ever since the split there have been efforts to unite the church, some good, some not so good, but there has been a renewed effort since Vatican II.”

One of the most prominent Catholic authorities on Orthodoxy and Eastern liturgical studies spoke yesterday morning about icons and church unity.

“There is only one church above and below and that’s the communion of saints,” said Archimandrite Robert Taft, a Jesuit scholar and teacher at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. “That’s a common theme in Byzantine literature as well as the Roman creed.”

The Rev. James M. Karepin, of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said he hopes the churches will be able to reunite.

“We have so much in common; our expression of faith is like theirs, our liturgy is like theirs,” Father Karepin said. “When you get to know one another, it breaks down walls.

“Constantinople is our mother, Rome is our sister. In terms of communion, we are estranged from our mother but you can see the family resemblance in our faith.”

The majority of those attending the Washington gathering were Roman Catholics from the East Coast. A similar Orientale Lumen gathering last month in Istanbul was titled “Liturgical Worship of the Eastern Church.” Another Orientale Lumen gathering on “Expressions of Our Faith” is scheduled for Monday through June 28 in San Diego.

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