Why has the "Pilgrim Pope" made his history-making trip to Turkey? What is the real significance of the Pope's meeting with the Patriarch of Greek Orthodoxy? Will the 1,000-yearold breach between Orthodox and Catholics be repaired? When and how will real religious unity be brought about?
Istanbul, Turkey AN AIR of excitement filled the 2,000 spectators at Istanbul Airport. A 200-strong guard of honor stood smartly at attention. A military band awaited tensely the command to begin playing the Pontifical Hymn and the Turkish national anthem. The occasion? A big white bird, a Pan-American 707 called Saint Paul, was just touching down — carrying the world's most influential religious personality — Pope Paul VI — leader of over six hundred million Catholics!
Why Historic Meeting?
Why had the Roman Pontiff come to visit Turkey — a country of about 32 million, with a 98 percent non-Christian, Muslim population? To see the world's next most important religious figure — Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Athenagoras I. There is a reason for this visit with the Patriarch of the Eastern Churches — the first papal visit to Turkey since 711 A.D. Few have grasped the real significance — the far-reaching outcome of this history-making occasion! The greetings at Istanbul's airport began to reveal the purpose. After landing, the Pope's plane taxied up to a prearranged point not far from the waiting assemblage of dignitaries, the honor guard, the international assortment of pressmen and photographers from many countries, plus about 2,000 resident Turks. Then, the door of the Pope's plane opened, and out stepped the Roman Pontiff — resplendent in Pontifical robes of white and scarlet. His scarlet robe was almost dazzling in the brilliant, late-morning sun. The crowd awaiting the Pope's arrival greeted him warmly as he stepped out of the plane, raising both hands in his familiar benediction-like manner. There were no cries of "Viva Papa!" There was no mass hysteria as I had witnessed at Fatima, Portugal. Among the waiting religious dignitaries were the Armenian Patriarch (representing the Armenian Church), the Grand Rabbi of Istanbul (representing the Jews), the Mufti of Istanbul (representing the Muslims), the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Athenagoras I. A number of religious dignitaries of some of the smaller religious communities were also present. The Pope was first greeted by the President and the Prime Minister of Turkey. He then walked along a line of religious and secular dignitaries — greeting each as he shook hands.
Pope Meets Patriarch
But the climax came as he turned and, with outstretched arms (as though greeting a long-lost brother), approached the towering figure of Athenagoras I, Patriarch of the Orthodox Churches. Athenagoras is a very impressive man. His six-foot, six-inch stature made him easily the most commanding figure at the airport. Standing head and shoulders above the others, this elderly Patriarch (he was born in 1886) really looked like a Patriarch — with long, white beard and flowing, jet-black robe. The Pope, who is much shorter, must have felt dwarfed beside this commanding figure! This "kiss-of-peace" ceremony gave the impression that the 1,000-year old schism between Popes and Patriarchs had ended — or was at least about to end. President Sunay of Turkey then welcomed the Pope in Turkish. The Pope's reply, in French, expressed compassion for the victims of the previous Saturday's earthquake centered at Adapazari. Scores had died, as the terrifying shock waves of this awful earthquake struck. Hundreds of buildings were totally demolished, and countless thousands were damaged beyond repair.
Turkey and Vatican Reconciled?
The secular leaders of Turkey welcomed the Pope, but they were not effusive. The Turks (who are 98 percent Muslim) have not forgotten their history. They well know that the Pope's predecessors launched "holy crusades" against their forefathers, the Ottoman Turks. The Fourth Crusade, sent out by Pope Innocent III, actually sacked Constantinople — today called Istanbul — in 1204 A.D. On the morning of Pope Paul's arrival, the Pope and President Sunay spoke of the reconciliation between the Papacy and Turkey. This reconciliation was symbolized by the Vatican's having returned to the Turks, in 1965, a standard captured by the combined Christian forces during the battle of Lepanto in 1571. President Sunay mentioned the "excellent relations already existing between Turkey and the Vatican." The Pope, replying, spoke of the "noble Turkish nation." But why the Pope's history-making trip — at this time? There are a number of reasons. 1 — The Pope wanted to strengthen relations with the Turkish nation. 2 — He hoped to strengthen the hand of Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, in Turkey. Since Dr. Makarios' Greek-dominated government has been established in Cyprus, the Turkish governmental leaders had turned somewhat against the Greek Orthodox Church. The Christian population of Istanbul has decreased from 80,000 to 30,000 in the last few years, due, at least partly, to the Greek-Turkish strife in Cyprus. It is being rumored that the Turkish Government would like to close down for good the Orthodox establishment in Turkey. They feel it is alien to their national interests — that it is totally irrelevant to the modern Turkey established by the progressive Kemal Ataturk. Because of this Turkish attitude, the Pope hoped his visit would help to strengthen the precarious position of the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. He hoped to strengthen Christianity against further Muslim pressure. 3 — Some speculated that a major purpose of the Pope's visit to Turkey was to discuss the matter of the protection of the holy places at Jerusalem. The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches control most of the shrines and other holy places in Jerusalem. So it is believed that the Pope wanted to discuss this matter with Athenagoras and with other religious dignitaries — as well as with the Turkish civil authorities. Remember, Jerusalem is the birthplace of three religious faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Mohammedanism. Jerusalem will become increasingly important to Catholics in the near future. The Papacy will, as previously reported in The PLAIN TRUTH, be moved from Rome to Jerusalem — in the very near future! You will not have long to wait to see this prophecy fulfilled before your very eyes. Bible prophecy is very explicit on this point. Furthermore, according to a recent report in a leading German newspaper, the Third Fatima Message is reported (by inside, informed Vatican sources) to reveal that there will be a terrible World War III, during which (according to this Fatima Vision) both Rome and the Vatican will be destroyed! Could this possibly explain why the Vatican will be moved to Jerusalem?
Main Reason for Visit
4 — The main reason, however, for the Pope going to Turkey was to meet Athenagoras I, often referred to as the Ecumenical Patriarch. But why did Pope Paul VI want to meet Athenagoras? Undoubtedly to strengthen the ecumenical movement. In other words, to help unite all Christians under the banner of the "Prince of Rome"! The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Athenagoras, is known to deplore the schism between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church. He regards the division of Christianity as a terrible blotch — a great scandal! On arrival in Istanbul, Pope Paul went to the Catholic cathedral to pray for "the unity of all who believe in Christ." He asked the many priests, nuns and others present to help him in his quest for unity: "one of the decisive motives for my journey." But why the split in the first place? What holds the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches apart?
Rome Versus Constantinople
It happened about 1,000 years ago! While Christianity — as we know it today — was developing in the early centuries after the death of Christ and His Apostles — many controversies and schisms sprang up. Professing Christians in the larger cities and their lesser sister cities were ruled simply by Bishops (overseers). In the early centuries of "Christianity," the chief Bishops presided over the large churches in five great centers: Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople! The bishops of these five great cities finally came to be called "Patriarchs" — meaning "father rulers." At that time they were all of equal authority — each having absolute authority in his own province. After the historic division of the Roman Empire in 395 A.D., a struggle developed between the Patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople. The struggle concerned which of these two great cities (and their respective Patriarchs) would be chief. After this division, the Patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria gradually began to acknowledge the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Remember that in the time of Constantine — 300 years after Christ's personal ministry — "Christianity" was virtually made the state religion of the Roman Empire — dominated, of course, by the Emperor Constantine. It was he who got all of the leaders of the Church together and decided to make Sunday the official Roman day of worship. This he did at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. But during the following centuries the Roman Empire in the West (at Rome) had weak rulers. The Western Church acquired a much freer hand to do as it pleased. But at the same time the Churches of the East were torn asunder by controversies and were dominated and weakened by the Emperors in the East. The Patriarch at Rome, under these circumstances, became the strongest man in the West and became known as the Pope. Pope Leo I (440-461 A.D.) was regarded by some as the first Pope. He claimed that he was divinely appointed as "Primate of all Bishops." And he successfully won recognition for this claim from Emperor Valentinian III in 445 A.D. Leo proclaimed himself Lord of the Whole Church. He advocated exclusive universal papacy. Pope Leo I persuaded the greatly feared, barbaric Attila the Hun to spare the city of Rome in 452 A.D. In 455 he was also successful in inducing the Vandal, Genseric, to have mercy on Rome. These successes with powerful secular rulers greatly enhanced the powers of the Roman Pope in the eyes of others. But in spite of the Emperor's act of recognizing the Pope as Primate of all Bishops, the Council of Chalcedon (the 4th Ecumenical Council, 451 A.D.) accorded the Patriarch of Constantinople equal prerogatives with the Bishop of Rome. Then, the Roman Empire in the West came to its untimely end in 476 A.D. This left the Popes of Rome completely free from any civil authority. Thereafter they increased in power in the West. Pope Gregory 1 (590-604 A.D.) is generally regarded as the first Pope in the real sense of the word. (Roman Catholics, of course, claim a Peter as their first Pope) Pope Gregory exercised great influence over the Eastern part of the Empire, but he did not claim jurisdiction over the Eastern Church. At that time the Bishop (or Patriarch) of Constantinople called himself "Universal Bishop." Pope Gregory was greatly irritated by this and rejected the title as a "vicious and haughty word" and even refused to allow it to be applied to himself! Pope Nicolas I (858-867 A.D.) decided it was time to take a strong hand in the affairs of the Eastern Church to prove that he was, after all, the Universal Bishop of the Catholic Church.
Pope Excommunicates Patriarch
Nicolas, therefore, proceeded to excommunicate Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in 863 A.D. But Photius merely returned the insult by excommunicating Pope Nicolas. Thereafter the division within the Christian Church continued to widen until 1054 A.D. when the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church broke completely with Rome once and for all. Those excommunications lasted eleven centuries, until Pope Paul VI visited the Patriarch Athenagoras. In a service at St. Esprit they returned to each other the excommunication papers which their predecessors had issued to each other in 863 and 867 A.D. It is interesting to note that for the first six centuries of Christendom, the East had represented the most important part of the Church, and had claimed the allegiance of the majority of Christians. During this period, all Ecumenical Councils had been held either in or near CONSTANTINOPLE, and all proceedings were in the Greek language! When the Popes at Rome began asserting that they should be looked to and implicitly obeyed by all Christians, this proved too much for the Eastern Church to accept. So, the Council of Constantinople (869 A.D.) was the last real Ecumenical Council to be held for many, many centuries. From that time forward the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church held its own Councils, and the Roman Catholic Church did the same. The rift continued to widen. Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303 A.D.) issued his famous Papal Bull, "Unam Sanctam." "We declare, affirm, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary for Salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Pope Pius IX (1846-1878 A.D.) was the Pope who finally declared that the Popes are infallible when speaking officially on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. According to this decree, it was "divinely revealed" that when the Pope speaks "ex cathedra" (from the chair), he is "possessed of infallibility in defining doctrines of faith and morals." The Greek Orthodox Church considers (or at least used to consider) the Pope's decree regarding Papal infallibility as the Papacy's crowning blasphemy! But this is not the only hindrance to Church unity. There are many others.
The Greek Orthodox Church cannot believe in Papal Infallibility and Papal Supremacy. They do not believe in Purgatory or Indulgences. Neither do they believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Orthodox Church does not really believe Peter was ever a Bishop of Rome (they acknowledge he was a Bishop of Antioch). Neither do they believe that only the clergy should drink wine in taking communion. There is much still dividing the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. But Pope Paul VI hopes that it will be possible to heal the 1,000-year old wounds of division separating the Orthodox and Catholic Churches; then he hopes to begin in earnest to woo Protestants to the Catholic fold. But Church unity was a major problem, even in apostolic days. Jude, the brother of Jesus, warned true believers to "earnestly contend for the faith" of the original apostles of Christ (verse 3). "For there are certain men crept in unawares... ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness [license, liberty to do evil]" (verse 4). False teachers or ministers had multiplied rapidly even in the days of the original Apostles of Jesus Christ. "Even now are there many antichrists," lamented the aged Apostle John (I John 2:18)! "Many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). Yes, even in the first century, many false teachers began to appropriate and USE the name of Jesus Christ, but they would not obey Him — would not preach His true Gospel, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God soon to be set up, literally, upon this earth. These false ministers would not preach real repentance — turning away from sin, from breaking the commandments of Almighty God. They taught a system of humanly devised rituals and works derived from pagan custom and tradition — and they labeled it, falsely, "Christian."
Few to Be Saved — Now!
Jesus Christ made it very plain that during this age His true followers (the true Christians) would be few and far between. For this reason, Jesus Christ commanded: "Enter ye in at the strait [difficult] gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13, 14). Yes, Jesus Christ made it very clear that, during this age — when Satan has deceived "the whole world" (Rev. 12:9) — it would be the "many" who would follow, blindly, the broad, popular way — to destruction. He said that it would be only the "few" who would find and follow the way to "life" — during this age (verses 13, 14). Did Jesus Christ know what He was talking about? Did He tell the truth? Are His prophecies still being fulfilled yet today? Certainly! What has happened to bring about such a Babylon of confusion in this world's "Christianity" as we know it today? "Is Christ divided?" (I Cor. 1:13) ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Christ Established One Church
The Word of God proclaims that "God is not the author of CONFUSION, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (I Cor. 14:33). Who, then, is the author of the hundreds of divided, Christian-professing churches? Why do we have over 400 Protestant churches, plus various churches claiming to be Catholic? Why this division, this confusion, this multiplicity of churches? Didn't Jesus Christ say: "I will build my Church"? (Matt. 16:18) Didn't the Founder of the true Church of Jesus Christ pray that the Father would keep that Church united as "one" Church? (John 17:11, 21-23) Did the Father hear and answer that prayer? Absolutely! How has it come about that professing Christians have — during the last two World Wars, as in many previous wars — fought against each other — shot at each other, bombed the cities of fellow Christians — on the opposite side, of course? Does this make sense? Should a true Christian fight against a fellow Christian? Did the early New Testament Christians fight against each other in this world's armies? Is it just possible that Satan is, after all, the author of confusion? Is not he the father of strife and division? The Pope and Patriarch have given each other the "kiss of peace"! They now appear ready to settle their differences! But the fact remains that there are still many doctrinal problems to iron out before there can ever be any real unity between the Orthodox and Roman Catholics! The Pope's pilgrimage to Turkey is just one more step in an endless search for Christian unity!
Christian Unity in Millennium
Can any man really unite all Catholics and Protestants? Will Protestants ever look to Rome for complete guidance in all spiritual matters? Hardly. But Bible prophecy does reveal that CHRIST, at His second coming, will bring unity, peace and harmony. There will be one religion — God's truth! It will take the divine power of Jesus Christ to straighten out this deceived world and to unlearn the pagan superstitions that today masquerade as "Christian." (See Micah 4; Isaiah 2, 9, 11; Zechariah 14 and Rev. 12) God speed that day!