Patriarch Bartholomew took another step towards the Union with Rome

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 Nadia Bazuk

On October 21, the three-day visit of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to Rome ended. There he met with Pope Francis, received the title of honorary doctor of philosophy from the Pontifical University of Antonianum, and spoke with the Pope at a meeting of the community of Saint’Egidio. Also, on Wednesday, October 21, a farewell ceremony was held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George in Venice to Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy (Zervos), who passed away on October 16.

As follows from the biography of the deceased, Metropolitan Gennady was a theologian with Catholic education, an ardent supporter of ecumenism and a protege of Patriarch Athenagoras. He spent his entire life, starting in the 1960s, in Italy and devoted himself not only to the development of Orthodoxy there, but also to the maximum rapprochement between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Roman see.

Metropolitan Gennadios had many merits to the Holy See, and cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence in his condolence note spoke highly of his efforts. But the late Metropolitan was not destined to complete his most ambitious and sensational project in this area.

In 2006, Patriarch Bartholomew visited Florence and in the Catholic Basilica of Santa Maria Novella prayed at the tomb of his famous predecessor – Patriarch Joseph II (+ 1439), one of the zealous supporters and organizers of the Union of Florence. It was then that the idea of transferring the remains of Joseph II to Turkey was voiced. “We are grateful,” said Bartholomew, “to all those who decided to return to us our Patriarch, who came here for the sake of a sacred cause: the Union between our sister churches.”

It was expected that in the same year, the remains of Joseph II would be delivered to Turkey by Pope Benedict XVI. Moreover, according to our source at the Fanar, the issue of simultaneously launching the beatification of Joseph II in the Vatican and his canonization at the Fanar had been already discussed. This was to be the beginning of a new rapprochement between Rome and Constantinople. Many of the hierarchs familiar with the plan doubted the need to canonize the first Uniate Patriarch. But, as at the time of the Union of Florence, they were promised that a close friendship with Rome would protect the Mother Church from Turkish pressure.

However, at the same time, there was an unexpected obstacle: the tomb with the famous mosaic in Santa Maria Novella (see photo) was empty. The Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarchate began a joint search for the remains, which took place out of the public eye. With the assistance of an American company, archaeological research was conducted. The question was studied by a commission of scientists at the University of Pisa. Metropolitan Gennadios regularly reported the progress to Patriarch Bartholomew, calling remains the “Holy Relics” (τὰ ιερά λείψανα) and “the sacred body of the late Patriarch” (τό σώμα του ιερόν αοιδίμου Πατριάρχη). And, finally, a sensation: the Catholic Archdiocese dismantled one of the walls of the Basilica, and behind it they found decayed nameless coffins. One of them, presumably, belongs to Joseph II.

Unless the Lord builds a house, those who build it labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). The unexpected death of Metropolitan Gennadios delayed the project. A huge budget was spent on the search, and the identification of the remains requires no less sums of money: neither the Vatican nor the Fanar are yet ready to pay the bill. The Vatican is hesitating: Cardinal Betori in confidential conversations admitted that he doubted the authenticity of the remains. And for the Fanar, after the loss of the churches of Hagia Sophia and Chora it would be useful to win the support of Rome… It can be assumed that the fate of the “relics” of Joseph II was also discussed during the Patriarch Bartholomew’s meeting with Pope. However, the situation is complicated by the conflict with Moscow and problems in Ukraine: there, Orthodoxy is still split, temples of the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine are empty, and the uniatism is growing stronger every year. Against this background, any attempt of the Ecumenical Patriarch to whitewash its uniate predecessor will lead to accusations of philo-Catholicism.

Patriarch Bartholomew is in advanced years, and he does not have much time. There is only one way out: to carry out the identification “by the method” of Empress Helena, who discovered the True Cross. If a sick person gets healed from the “Holy Relics” of Joseph II or the deceased is resurrected, the canonization of the Uniate Patriarch can be considered completed. It is only a pity that Metropolitan Gennadios, who is already facing God’s judgment, will neither see this dawn of the new Union, nor its sad fruits. Just as the heretic Patriarch Joseph II, who died at the first sessions of the false Council, did not see the Union of Florence and the rivers of blood that followed it.

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