Cardinal, metropolitan express desire for unity on feast of St. Andrew

BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley's long tradition of visiting Boston's Greek Orthodox Metropolis for their patronal feast day took on an even greater significance this year, as the cardinal was invited to attend the feast day liturgy at the Greek Orthodox of the Annunciation and address the assembled clergy of the Metropolis of Boston.

The cardinal and three deacons from the archdiocese's Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs attended part of the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on the morning of Nov. 30, the feast of St. Andrew, the "First-Called Apostle."

The liturgy included a procession with an image of St. Andrew, and the blessing of bread that was then distributed to those in attendance. Five loaves of bread are a symbol of St. Andrew because, in St. John's Gospel, it was St. Andrew who reported to Jesus that they had only five barley loaves and two fishes to feed the 5,000.

Vito Nicastro, associate director of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, was present for the event, which he said held an "interesting contrast" between continuity and new developments in the relationship between Boston's Catholic and Orthodox communities.

Since 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston have exchanged delegates to participate in celebrating the feast days of their Churches' respective patrons -- St. Peter, patron of Rome, and St. Andrew, patron of Constantinople. This practice mirrors the Holy Father and Ecumenical Patriarch's practice of exchanging delegates or messages on those occasions on the international level, which began in 1979. Nicastro said that, as far as he is aware, Boston is the longest-running local manifestation of this tradition.

However, in past years, the Catholic delegates had only been present for the vigil of St. Andrew's feast day at the Metroplis's chapel in Brookline. This was the first time they attended the main liturgy at the cathedral.

At the conclusion of the liturgy, Metropolitan Methodios offered remarks, in which he spoke about the relationship between St. Andrew and St. Peter. The Gospel of John recounts how St. Andrew told his brother Simon that he had found the Messiah, and brought him to meet Jesus, who then gave him the name Peter.

"The two brothers are united from that moment, not by blood alone, but by something much more significant, the common confession that we have found the Messiah," Metropolitan Methodios said.

He said that St. Andrew's proclamation, "We have found the Messiah," must also be heard today.

"I believe the two brother apostles must again proclaim their confession together. Our Churches, the Catholic and Orthodox, are called to rediscover the common voice of the two apostles," he said.

Delivering remarks in response, Cardinal O'Malley expressed the Catholic community's "deep admiration and affection for the Greek Orthodox community."

Both the cardinal and the metropolitan expressed appreciation for each other's leadership, as well as for their long-standing friendship and mutual commitment to working toward unity between their Churches. In addition to exchanging delegates for so many years, the two also traveled together on a joint Orthodox-Catholic pilgrimage to Rome and Constantinople in September 2007.

Cardinal O'Malley said he is "delighted" whenever people confuse him with Metropolitan Methodios.

"Although we are not twins, we are brothers, and hopefully our closeness will help hasten the day when our churches will be reunited, as they were for the first thousand years of Christianity," the cardinal said.

After the congregation was dismissed, the Orthodox clergy remained in the pews to hear Cardinal O'Malley give a talk, in which he expressed the importance of evangelization and ecumenism. He cited many and various examples of division and dialogue between different religions and denominations.

Cardinal O'Malley said that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was "very excited and very happy" when, for the first time, Orthodox bishops joined them at their plenary session in Baltimore two weeks earlier. He also mentioned that Pope Francis recently announced his intention to visit Cyprus and Greece during the first week of December, during which he was to meet with the Orthodox archbishops of Cyprus and Athens.

Looking forward to the year 2,054, a thousand years since the Great Schism, "wouldn't it be wonderful if that division healed before then?" Cardinal O'Malley said.

He shared a story he heard from fellow Franciscan friars about missionaries in Papua New Guinea. The natives' lives were "transformed" by the Gospel, but they were confused when they encountered a group of Lutheran natives and learned about the divisions within Christianity.

"I think that we can learn a lot from these people who are seeing the Gospel for the first time and are excited to be disciples of Jesus Christ. They were disappointed and scandalized. They unmasked our complacency and our complicity in the divisions in Christianity," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He said he prayed "that the Spirit will fill our hearts with that newness of the Gospel that will lead us to reject the sad divisions of the past so that we might be one as Jesus said."

"Let us pray that these divisions will be healed so that together, we can announce, 'We have seen the Lamb of God. We have found the Messiah,'" Cardinal O'Malley said.

Following the cardinal's address, Metropolitan Methodios presented him with an icon of the Annunciation, and Cardinal O'Malley gave him an image of St. Andrew.

The Orthodox and Catholic clergy then went to the hall downstairs for a lunch prepared by the Metropolis of Boston Philoptochos, an Orthodox women's ministry. Nicastro said he observed the Orthodox clergy and Catholic deacons asking each other about their ministries, exchanging contact information, and making plans to meet again.

He said there is "an integration that goes all the way down to the most local level."

"There is something that happens when they see and experience that the Lord they have been following so long is actually inside this other person and this other Church. It's a magnet. It motivates and embodies the entire commitment towards unity," he said.