That is to say, the Orthodoxwould be delighted for His Holiness of Rome, repudiating what we regard asthe errors attendant on his recent understanding of his ministry, to takeonce again his rightful place as the ranking spiritual leader of theOrthodox Church (a position that the patriarch of Constantinople has heldsince the separation of Rome from Orthodoxy in the 11th century).

To Orthodox Christians, such a "solution" to the problem would seemveryattractive. In fact, however, one fears that it would be no solution at all.Such a weakening of the papacy would be an utter disaster for the RomanCatholic Church as it is currently constituted. To many of us outside thatinstitution, it appears that the single entity holding the Roman CatholicChurch together right now is probably the strong and centralized office ofthe pope.

The Roman Catholic Church for nearly a thousand years has movedtoward ever greater centralized authority, and it is no longer clear thatshe would thrive, or even survive intact, without that authority maintainedat full strength. If Rome did not occasionally censure the heretics inthat church, just who in the world would do it? Can anyone really rememberthe last time a Roman Catholic bishop in the United States called to accounta pro-gay activist priest, or a pro-abortion nun, or a professor in aCatholic college who denied the resurrection? No, take away the centralizeddoctrinal authority of Rome, and the Roman Catholic Church today would bewithout rudder or sail in a raging sea.

If an Orthodox Christian, then, loves his Roman Catholic brothers andsisters, he will not wish for a diminished papacy. Indeed, he will devoutlypray for a very strong papacy. Otherwise he may be failing in properChristian love for those whose spiritual well-being requires this strongpapacy. It is a singular irony that our prayers for an effective and vibrantpapacy,though motivated by a loving concern for our Roman Catholic brethren, wouldhardly seem, on the face of it, to further the healing of our ecclesiasticaldivision. However we got into this mess, only God can get us out.

So, let us Orthodox, by all means, engage in dialogue with Holy Rome.But let us also not deceive ourselves respecting the enormous difficultiesof the task. The reunion of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism seems so utterlyimpossible right now that it will require a great and stupendous miracle,something at least on the scale of water transformed into wine. Then again,you know, the example itself may give us hope.