Often you tell the Orthodox how puzzled you are that we do not seem to have forgiven you for some of the offenses of long ago. We, in turn, are puzzled by such charges. What makes you think so? As you cannot read our hearts, our usual conclusion it that this accusation is made to duck the theological issues that are the real cause of our division.
But just now, I think that conclusion on the part of the Orthodox may not be entirely justified. From following several dialogues, I now think perhaps we really do, genuinely, give you the impression we are clinging to centuries-old grievances.
The two that seem to be mentioned most often are the sack of Constantinople way back in 1204 and the 75-year subjugation to Catholicism that was imposed thereafter; and the whole problem of what we call the Uniates and you call the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Union of Brest also happened rather long ago, 1595-1596. It's history, folks!
So why are these two items still sticking points today? Didn't Pope John Paul II apologize for the sack of Constantinople and other unspecified wrongs? And are we so unreasonable as to expect the Eastern Catholics to go out of existence or something? Why do these wrongs from the dim past keep coming up again and again?
Fair enough. I can tell you why. It isn't because of history; that is dead and gone. It's because we feel the salt still being rubbed into the wounds up to today. It's the present situation resulting from the history that needs correcting if reunion is to happen.
The sack of Constantinople still rankles because the popes refuse to apologize for it. No, what Pope John Paul II said was not an apology. He did not ask our forgiveness, only God's. That's not the way it is done. He stated his reason a couple of sentences later, observing that only God can judge. Perfectly true, of course, but aren't Christians still supposed to seek forgiveness from each other? As long as the Vatican refuses, we remained leary of the present day attitude and here-and-now intentions toward us. These misgivings are further exacerbated by the sly wording that asserted rule over us:
"For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him,"
Because if if we are the brothers and sisters of the "sons and daughters of the Catholic Church", whose children does that make us?
The then Archbishop of Greece fell for this for the moment, applauding enthusiastically. Too late everyone realized he had been tricked; and we think to deal with him that way was ugly.
The sincereity of any futue apology would be more credible if the loot were returned. All of it, or at least as much as you still have, which is considerable. Not just an icon here and some relics there.
So it's not that we haven't forgiven, but the display of more recent as well as current attitudes toward us in this matter is distressing and must be overcome if there is to be a reunion between us.
As for the Eastern Catholics, what has bothered us all these centuries is that they have been used as substitutes for genuine Orthodoxy, which we again regard as a form of trickery. Furthermore, they have always been charged with the mission to convert the Orthodox. More recently, the Vatican's language has softened, speaking of their being an ecumenical "bridge" between us, but that's just euphemism. The way you can tell it is euphemism is, Rome well knows these Eastern Catholics have always been for us the opposite, have always been a thorn in our sides. They can never be a "bridge".
How do we think this problem ought to be solved? First, the pope could tell the Eastern Rite adherents to make up their minds which "lung of the Church", or which sister of the "sister churches" they want to be. Do you want to be Catholic? May God and the pope bless you. Do you want to be real instead of pretend Orthodox? May God and the pope bless you, and tell you so. Second, with reunion in sight, the pope should de-commission the Eastern Catholics; I mean make it clear to them that their mission is no longer to subvert Orthodoxy.
You do want to unite with us, don't you, rather than try to destroy us? The obstacle is, right now we can't be so sure.