From MICHAEL WILSON in ROME POPE PAUL VI paid a tribute to the Greek Orthodox Church that no Pope in the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church has yet done.
After a Mass in the Sistine Chapel commemorating the 1965 mutual abolition of the excommunications between the two confessions, the Pope took off his mitre, knelt on the marble floor and kissed the foot of Creek Orthodox Metropolitan Menton of Chalcedon.
This gesture of supreme humility came at the end of the near two-hour Mass, celebrated by Pope Paul in the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch's representative and the hierarchy of both churches.
Ile revealed during the Mass that the two churches, split by the excommunications of the 11th century, had agreed to set up a preparatory commission to study the points on which they disagreed.
This announcement of a "breakthrough" on Catholic-Orthodox relations was made simultaneously by Patriarch Dimitrios in St George's Church in Constantinople.
The Patriarch's service commemorating the lifting of the excommunications was attended by Cardinal Corrado Ursi, Archbishop of Naples. representing Pope Paul _ and other Catholic bishops.
Pope Paul spoke at the Mass after Metropolitan Meliton had made a brief discourse and the Patriarch's letter on the occasion had been read.
Seated in front of Michelangelo's masterpiece of the Last Supper, Pope Paul stated that the two churches had now achieved "such a profound communion that little is lacking for reaching the fullness that will authorise joint celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord."
He recalled the day 10 years ago when he had travelled to Istanbul to abrogate jointly the excommunications in the Orthodox Church of St George of the Phanar.
"That is why today our heart is filled with joy . . . the conscience of the Church's faithful saw in this a sign of preparation for regrettable mutual acts and a sign of the desire to build together, in obedience to the Lord, a new era of fraternity which should lead the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches to, God willing, live anew for the greatest good of souls and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in full Communion of the Faith . . . "
The Pope continued: "It is love that has allowed us to be more aware of the deepness of our unity. During recent years we have also seen develop a feeling of common responsibility in the preaching of the Gospel to all men.
"Today, relations between our Churches embark on a new stage with the creation of new instruments of dialogue . . very dear brothers, we bring you the good news that the Orthodox Churches, on the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, have decided to establish a Pan-Orthodox Commission to prepare theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.
"Also that this same Patriarchate of Constantinople has formed its own special commission to dialogue with the Church of Rome. We warmly appreciate this initiative and we declare ourselves fully disposed to do the same from our side so that we may reach full communion . . . "
Pope Paul's final gesture of humility came after the Mass had ended and the procession was forming to leave the Sistine. As he turned after genuflecting at the altar, the Pope removed his tall mitre and knelt at the foot of the Metropolitan. The fourteen cardinals, twenty archbishops and bishops and the entire congregation were taken by surprise. Metropolitan Meliton, as overwhelmed as everyone, tried in his turn, to kneel at the Pope's feet but was stopped. He then kissed the Pontiff's hand.
In his message to the Pope, Patriarch Dimitrios said the Orthodox Church was setting up a theological dialogue commission.
Since Vatican Council II was projected, the Church of Rome has pursued an effort to bridge gaps between the Christian confessions.
Dr Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Church, visited Pope John XXIII in the Vatican in 1960, and Pope Paul VI exchanged a kiss of peace with the former Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras on the !Mount of Olives during his 'visit to the Holy Land In 1964.