Rome returns holy relics to Constantinople

Thanks! But beware! There's more to the story...


The relics of two major saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church — St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian — will once again repose in the city of Constantinople where they preached and served as Patriarchs in the 4th century. They were returned by the Roman Catholic Church yesterday during a solemn service at the Vatican in Rome, attended by the current Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholemew, and celebrated by the Pope of Rome, John Paul II. The relics were stolen from Constantinople in 1204 AD by mercenary crusaders. They ended up in Rome where they have been kept in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Both St. John and St. Gregory were famed preachers, theologians and Patriarchs of Constantinople: Gregory from 379 to 381 and St. John from 398 to 404.

St. John Chrysostom, meaning “Golden Mouth,” is considered by theologians to have been the foremost orator and preacher in the Orthodox Church. We and Orthodox Christians throughout the world follow his words as we participate in the Divine Liturgy that bears his name and is celebrated on most Sundays. St. Gregory, an intellectual, theologian and Church leader, is known as the most eloquent voice at the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381 AD), which completed the Nicene Creed as we know it today.

Upon their arrival in Constantinople (known today as Istanbul in Turkey), a Pan-Orthodox service will be celebrated, and the relics will be enshrined in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George.

The return of these precious relics is one step in fulfilling Pope John Paul’s earnest desire to reunite the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches which have been separated and not in communion since 1054 AD. Of course, the kind return of Orthodox property is greatly appreciated. But the stolen relics and other Roman Catholic abuses of Orthodoxy in past centuries are not the point of the separation or its reconciliation.

The Great Schism of 1054, as it is called, was the first major breakaway from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which was the one-and-only Christian body on earth since the Church’s “birthday” on the Feast of Pentecost in the year 33 AD. The Schism was caused by important doctrinal differences which grew up between Eastern and Western Christians and which could not be reconciled. Since then, the gap has grown wider with the introduction of still more new doctrines and innovations in the West — the infallibility of the Pope, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the alteration of the Nicene Creed with the addition of the Filioque and in more modern times, the dramatic secularization caused by the reforms of Vatican II and the growing movement to name the Virgin Mary as a co-redemptrix with Jesus (as if Jesus’ death and resurrection weren’t enough).

If one were cynical (or just alert) one could say that the Vatican is making a brilliant public relations maneuver by shifting the Schism’s cause from doctrine to stolen property. Very few Roman Catholics have been taught basic Church history about the Schism’s doctrinal issues, much less about Orthodox Christianity. Once stolen property has successfully been made the issue, and the stolen property has been returned, we Orthodox will appear as the villains. Still aware of the Schism’s true causes and holding on to Apostolic doctrine—and unwilling to compromise it— we will nevertheless appear to be petty and unforgiving by not leaping at this chance for (false!) reunion and annexation to Roman Catholicism. So be it!

We appreciate the gestures. Now let East and West deal with what really separates us and find a true union!