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Monday, January 23, 2006
Catholics to attend Orthodox service


WORCESTER— Local Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians share a point of pride because serious attempts to bring about dialogue between the two major traditions began here in the 1960s with meetings between the Catholic Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church in America.

The tradition will continue at 10 a.m. Sunday when Metropolitan Methodios of Boston and the Rev. Dean N. Paleologos, dean of St. Spyridon Cathedral, welcome Catholic Bishop Robert J. McManus to the annual service of the Feast of the Three Great Hierarchs at the Russell Street cathedral.

Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, who have been called an Earthly Trinity, are celebrated and venerated in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic traditions as fathers of the Christian church and ecumenical teachers.

All Roman Catholics have been invited to join their bishop at the service.

“The Jesus prayer that’s that ‘all may be one…that the world may believe’ highlights Christ’s will for all who claim the title Christian,” said Dean Stamoulis, newly elected president of the St. Spyridon parish council. “While there are differences in Christian belief and practice, it is equally true that both Orthodox and Roman Catholics share a common faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of the world.”

He said an invitation to area Catholics to come to St. Spyridon visibly proclaims “our unity in Christ.”

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches arrived in Central Massachusetts with the waves of immigration. The Catholic Diocese of Worcester has 126 parishes in the region, while the Orthodox churches have a dozen churches. The two traditions represent a large number of Christians in Central Massachusetts.

Both traditions arose beginning 2,000 years ago in parts of the world generally dominated or controlled by the Roman Empire. The Eastern churches served Christians in the eastern empire, while Christians in the West were under jurisdiction of the pope in Rome. Disagreements arose over the centuries over a number of issues, and the two traditions divided in what is called The Great Schism of 1054.

The attempts at greater cooperation and dialogue began in 1964 with an historical meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, which was facilitated by Archbishop Iakovos, who was also spiritual leader of the Central Massachusetts Orthodox Christians. They removed the mutual anathemas — formal bans or excommunication — against each other which helped ease centuries of pain and division.

Bishop Flanagan followed by implementing decrees of the Pope for unity, and with Archbishop Iakovos, also a strong proponent of better ties between the churches, started the Orthodox and Catholic dialogue in Worcester.

A historic meeting was held at St. Spyridon in 1965, when a series of meetings were held between theologians and church people from Orthodox and Catholic traditions. Archbishop Iakovos represented the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops Ecumenical Commission, while Bishop Flanagan served as chairman of the American bishops subcommittee on Orthodox relations.

“It is with great joy that Metropolitan Methodios and I are joined on Sunday by his Excellency Bishop McManus,” Rev. Paleologos said. “By welcoming Bishop McManus we pray for continued peace and mutual respect for the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faith.”

Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the Catholic diocese, said although the bishop is away on vacation, he expects to return for this event. “He is honored to be invited and to participate,” he said.

Mr. Delisle noted that Pope Benedict XVI has continued the process started by the previous popes and is also working toward better relations with the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Relations further improved on Nov. 27, 2004, when Pope John Paul II, responding to a request from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, returned relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian that were taken from Constantinople in 1204 by mercenary crusaders and ended up in Rome, where they were kept in St. Peter’s Basilica. The relics were returned to their original resting place and were enshrined in the Ecumenical Patriarchate Cathedral of St. George in Constantinople, which is now called Istanbul.

In Greek Orthodox parishes, including St. Spyridon, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs is combined with a celebration of Greek Letters. This usually includes special events which are dedicated to preservations and promulgation of Orthodox Christianity and Hellenic education.

According to Christine Andrianopoulos, communications director for St. Spyridon, the Three Hierarchs “were great men of letters who were not only defenders of Orthodox Christianity, but great intellectual giants and supporters of Greek learning.”

The celebration of Greek Letters in an important part of the feast day and will be hosted by Nikoloas Tzoumbas, principal of the St. Spyridon Greek School and a scholar, the Greek School Teachers and the PTA.

Guests will include Flora Vekarides, president of the Greek Teachers Association of the Metropolis of Boston, which was established in 1934, and other board members. Among those also attending this ceremony will be Georgios Vlikides, who heads of the Department of Greek Education of the Greek Consulate of New York City, and Ekaterini Economou, representing the Greek Consulate General in Boston.

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