my buddy john karkazis of the panepistemiou aegeo views the pope's visit as a latter day gambit by the holy see to devour the shrunken orthodox church into the bigger belly of the vatican. the current pope, as every single other pope since the 4th century, thrives on the hope of uniting christianity! quite a few councils have convened to bring about a reunion of orthodox and catholic christianity since the great schism over the filioque issue, namely, whether the spritus sancti proceeds from both god the father and jesus the son, or just from the father.
the last, and possibliy saddest, of all those councils convened in firenze in 1439. after long debates, mostly left over from two previous councils in italy, the issue was almost resolved, constantinopolis even agreed to concede the primacy of the pope and the latins promised military aid to byzantium besieged by the ottomans. however, although the byzantine emperor favored the aggreement drawn in firenze, the orthodox bishops and the people, already hating the catholics for their two century rampage and pillage of the eastern lands during the last crusade that ended in constantinopolis, had little trust left in store for the latins: "better the turk's turban than the pope's tiara"...
no trouble reading between the lines of history: the byzantine church buckled before Eugene IV, the then pope, because its true leader was not the patriarch but the emperor himself. his throne threatened terminally by turks, he turned to the latins and was promised the backing he asked for in return for the concessions. however, by then the emperor had already lost the support of his own people and the clergy and the deal fell through.
in fact, it is naive to assume that christianity was divided because of an essentially unresolvable issue of whether it is the father alone that generates the holy spirit or the father and the son together. back when constantine was erecting his oriental despotic eastern roman empire he needed to appropriate religion to legitimate his own total power. he hardly could afford to appeal to another authority, namely, the pope, to ask divine approval for his politics.
meanwhile, if europe eventually evolved into a secular, lay form of christianity, it was because from the start, divine and worldly power was effectively divided between the holy see and the princes scattered over the continent, jealously protecting their authority within their fiefs. there never emerged a comprehensive total power in feudal europe comparable to the mediterranean empires that could centralize authority, and appropriate the papacy into schemes of holy justification. the closest was spain of the habsburgs, a quasi-oriental state. and such was its abuse of jesus's teaching that in the lay mind, the atrocities of the spanish inquisition are still blamed on the much more lenient catholic inquisition practiced by the holy see.
oh... do i hear someone say "what about carolus magnus, the holy roman empire of the germans?"who am i to contradict voltaire "it is not holy, it is not roman and it certainly is not an empire"...
pope benedictus the 16 does unequivocally desire to unite the christian churches under the holy see, a very legitimate wish for the leader of the largest religious population and organization in the world. however, if eugene 4 could not pry orthodoxy from the claws of the ottomans, there seems to be no his current german successor can sway o kyrio bartholomeos 1 over the way of the vatican when turkey has come to the verge of admitting, if not accepting and incorporating, the presence (not existence, please!) of the orthodox church.