While the press coverage of this speech is focusing on Benedict XVI's call for a unified moral front with the Orthodox Churches, the following passages should be of greater interest to our readers.
...I willingly repeat in this setting what I have said elsewhere: among Christian Churches and communities, it is undoubtedly the Orthodox who are theologically closest to us; Catholics and Orthodox have maintained the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church; in this sense we are all the early Church that is still present and new. And so we dare to hope, even if humanly speaking constantly new difficulties arise, that the day may still be not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together (cf. Light of the World. A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 86).
With interest and sympathy the Catholic Church – and I personally – follow the development of Orthodox communities in Western Europe, which in recent decades have grown remarkably. In Germany today, as I have learned, there are approximately 1.6 million Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians. They have become a constitutive part of society that helps bring alive the treasury of the Christian cultures and the Christian faith of Europe. I welcome the increase of pan-Orthodox cooperation, which has made significant progress in recent years. The founding of Orthodox Episcopal Conferences in places where the Orthodox Churches exist in the Diaspora – of which you spoke to us – is an expression of the consolidation of intra-Orthodox relations. I am pleased that this step has been taken in Germany in the past year. May the work of these Episcopal Conferences strengthen the bond between the Orthodox Churches and hasten the progress of efforts to establish a pan-Orthodox council.
Since the time when I was a professor in Bonn and especially while I was Archbishop of Munich and Freising, I have come to know and love Orthodoxy more and more through my personal friendships with representatives of the Orthodox Churches. At that time the Joint Commission of the German Bishops’ Conference and the Orthodox Church also began its work. Since then, through its texts on pastoral and practical questions, it has furthered mutual understanding and contributed to the consolidation and further development of Catholic-Orthodox relations in Germany.
Equally important is the ongoing work to clarify theological differences, because the resolution of these questions is indispensable for restoration of the full unity that we hope and pray for. We know that above all it is the question of primacy that we must continue patiently and humbly struggling to understand aright. In this regard, I think that the ideas put forward by Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (no. 95) on the distinction between the nature and form of the exercise of primacy can yield further fruitful discussion points.
September 24, 2011