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Professor Brings Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches Together


Healing an 800-Year-Old Wound

Fordham professor assists in a historic step toward reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches.

A Fordham professor played a key role in closing the centuries-old schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches. George Demacopoulos, Ph.D., professor of theology, helped bridge the divide by facilitating the return of the treasured Greek Orthodox relics that disappeared from Constantinople, now Istanbul, when Christian Crusaders invaded the city in 1204. He accompanied Vatican officials to Istanbul to participate in the ceremonial return of the relics.

“The return of the relics will begin to erase some of the bad blood that exists between the two churches,” said Demacopoulos, referring to the 11th-century split into Eastern and Western Christianity, mainly over the growing power of the papacy. “It will help to remove some of the acrimony, which will be necessary for addressing future theological questions.”

Demacopoulos was asked by the Orthodox Church to document where the relics of patriarch Saints John Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen, “two of the most important church fathers in Orthodox tradition,” were located. He found that they were in St. Peter’s Basilica, in Vatican City, and wrote a request on behalf of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to have them returned to Istanbul. Pope John Paul II agreed.

“This is a high point of friendship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches,” a Patriarchate official said in a press release. “This is truly historic.”

Bartholomew I traveled to Rome, where John Paul II handed over the relics of the two saints on Nov. 27 at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica. Demacopoulos and Vatican officials then traveled back to Istanbul for a ceremony on Nov. 30 in St. George’s Cathedral, where the Patriarch installed the relics of the two saints.

“My role is only a by-product of Fordham’s commitment to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox relationship,” said Demacopoulos, who added that Fordham has the only theology department in the country with two faculty members (himself and Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology) who are graduates of an Orthodox Seminary. “Fordham has historically been a place of cooperation between [the two religions], and this sets up Fordham to be the logical foundation for further improvement.”

Bartholomew I and John Paul II have both emphasized reconciliation between the two churches. During a visit to Greece in 2001, the Pope offered an apology long sought by the Orthodox Church for Roman Catholic involvement in the raid of Constantinople 800 years ago.

— John Blakeley

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