The dialogue of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches began in Ravenna in 2007 where a road map for process towards full unity was signed. The Ravenna document, of great importance, is based on the ecclesiology of the first millennium, when the two churches were in full communion, although even then differences arose from time to time.
The Ravenna document was not signed by the Russian Orthodox Church, which withdrew over differences with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on the question of the Church in Estonia. But these days it was involved in the work. Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople confirmed two days ago that "engaging in dialogue is our duty and obligation. Dialogue is a road of no return".
The issue of dialogue is the theme of an in depth interview that the Metropolitan of Pergamon, John Zizoulas, gave to Cypriot journalist Aris Viketos. Zizoulas is Co-chairman - along with the card. Walter Kasper - of the Joint Commission, an eminent theologian and a charismatic figure, as well as a strong supporter of dialogue.
In ecumenical circles it is said that with this interview Zizoulas is sending an important signal to certain areas of the Orthodox world. They, although a minority, are loudly contesting the dialogue, because they themselves are victims of a traditionalist narcissism bordering on infallibility. The interview also criticizes certain sectors of the Catholic Church who impose a disproportionate dogmatic rationalism, and who want nothing to change.
With acuity, the same Zizoulas, commenting to AsiaNews on the situation of the "Christian world" of today, said: "The Christian world today has many bishops, a few theologians and even less ecclesiological knowledge”.
Dialogue and the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Returning to the interview, Zizoulas immediately clarifies that "the decision to participate in dialogue with the Catholic Church was 'unanimously’ made by all Orthodox churches. Therefore inveighing against dialogue, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and my person is unfair. All Orthodox churches were in agreement on the importance of dialogue and the fact that it must continue".
"The Ecumenical Patriarchate – he continues - as in all other Orthodox matters, has only a coordinating role and we, like the other members of the Commission, are the engaged executors, according to our own conscience, of the mandate that was assigned to us. We are open to criticism because we are not infallible, just as our critics are not infallible. Those who do not want dialogue, are opposed to the common will of all Orthodox Churches. "
Regarding the positions of the monks of Mount Athos – staunchly opposed to dialogue - the Metropolitan of Pergamon is explicit: "I respect their opinion and their feelings on matters of faith. But why should they have the monopoly of truth on matters of faith? Are the other leaders of the churches perhaps lacking this sensitivity? All the faithful of the Church have the right to express their thoughts. But all opinions should be subject to scrutiny of the synods. If the great Father of the Church St. Basil put his opinion to the judgement of synods, we can do no less!".
The monks of Mount Athos and some conservative sectors of the Orthodox world accuse the Ecumenical Patriarchate of yielding to Rome on the question of Petrine primacy. Called upon to answer this question, Zizoulas says, "to the monks, whom I consider no less infallible than my own modest self, I would like to reply that the question of primacy is an ecclesiological one. And ecclesiology as we know, is part of dogma, part of faith. When we dialogue on this issue, we look at our own dogmatic divergence. There is no intention of neglecting other matters of dogma ... Quite simply, our experience has shown us that we must first agree on basic issues of' ecclesiology, because the question of primacy has been fatal and tragic in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox world. "
"The Ravenna text - continues Zizoulas - is very important, but unfortunately it has not received due attention and disclosure. It was agreed that the primacy at any level it is exercised, should be understood in its synodal character. This is what the Orthodox Church maintains and applies and it has its roots in the 34th Apostolic Canon ... The Orthodox Church also has its primus, but they can not decide without the synod, nor the synod without them. This focal point was accepted at the Ravenna meeting, although it does not agree with [the concept of] the primate, as monarch. The second point of the Ravenna document is that the primate is linked to the concept of the pentarchy of the patriarchates . This was true during the first millennium, and this should apply even if the remaining assumptions of the first millennium will retain their validity. Which is why their [the monks of Mount Athos] opposition to dialogue is incomprehensible. We all have to accept [these findings] and where the pope accepts the canonical structure of the Church as it was configured in the first millennium, we should all be happy ... The Ravenna text adopts the basic principles of the Church of the first millennium".
Regarding the Uniate question and the resulting differences that emerged with the Catholic Church, the Metropolitan of Pergamon responds that the Uniate question "has never ceased to be a serious issue for us Orthodox. There has been much discussion in the context of dialogue and we agree with the Catholic Church not to take uniatism as a model towards unity and not to use it as a model of proselytism. The Uniate issue will be taken into account when the issue of the primacy in the 2nd millennium is addressed, when in fact the phenomenon was born".
Asked whether ecumenism is a heresy, Zizoulas replied: "In defining someone as a heretic, one must consider if that person rejects the principles endorsed by ecumenical synods. Among those Orthodox participating in the ecumenical dialogue I have not found any deviation from the principles of faith. Moreover knowing how to dialogue with those who oppose your beliefs does not make you a heretic. Ecumenical dialogue has nothing to hide and our journey is still a long one".
On the prospects of dialogue, Zizoulas concludes by saying: "History is guided by God. Those who proclaim that the Church's unity is impossible, are trying to take the place of God. Who are we to predetermine the future? We are called to tirelessly work so we all may be one. If we do not enact this, or we do so at the expense of the faith of our fathers, then we will be called to answer to God. The final outcome is in His hands. He will find a way to see His will is done, so we may all be one. We simply have to work for unity".
 The Church of the first millennium was administered by 5 Patriarchs: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch. Rome held primacy.