So Pope Francis, ever controversial, went to Istanbul (not Constantinople, you can't go back to Constantinople, nor Byzantium for that matter) and does two radical things. He prays at mosque along side the Grand Mufti (the ultimate authority on Sunni religious law in a region) of Istanbul, the highest ranking Muslim cleric in the city. The significance of that is surely not lost on anyone, the least of all you dear reader. However, perhaps more significantly, he did something else.
He asked for the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul!
I guess that needs some unpacking, about a millennium's worth to be not at all exact.
Basically both are claimants to a title that purports itself to be the head of all Christians. In 1054, the Bishop of Rome sent an envoy to Constantinople (as it was at the time) denying the claim that the Bishop of Constantinople was the "Ecumenical Patriarch" ("Father of All the Church") and excommunicating the current holder of the title (denying him the holy rites and basically saying he was not a Christian at all.) Upon hearing this the Patriarch did his own counter-excommunicating. While there is some technical matters that could have been worked out here, this led to the formal separation of Eastern and Western Christianity into Orthodoxy and Catholicism. It is called the Great Schism.
In 1965, Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras mutually nullified the historic excommunications as a gesture of goodwill, but it was little more than that. In June 1995, Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople again withdrew the excommunications imposed in the 11th century and celebrated the Eucharist together. In May 1999, John Paul II was the first pope since the Great Schism to visit an Eastern Orthodox country: Romania. Upon greeting John Paul II, the Romanian Patriarch Teoctist stated: "The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity."
What Francis did was a very big deal. He bowed and asked blessings of what is essential his rival. Then he went a step further."I want to assure each one of you gathered here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith," he said.
Not that a simple statement solves all the issues about God, Christ, worship, salvation, and organization; but it is a huge deal.
The act itself, along with a mutual message of peace and dialog not just among Christians but with Muslims as well, is maybe the start of something big.
And you would have missed it because the news wanted to talk about Black Friday sales.