Dr Adam deVille, at his blog Eastern Christian Books, raises the question of rethinking Eucharistic discipline between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, from the perspectives of two Orthodox authors: historian Antoine Arjakovsky, and philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.
As I said in my review in Logos (vol. 49 ), Arjakovsky is someone who knows how to be at once faithfully Orthodox and fully ecumenical, not a common combination today, alas. In his essay “On Eucharistic Hospitality” [in Church, Culture, and Identity: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the Modern World (UCU Press, 2007), 231pp.], Arjakovsky proposes that the ban on eucharistic hospitality between Catholics and Orthodox be re-examined and changed where possible. I confess that prior to reading this essay, I was in favor of maintaining the traditional position, but after reading and considering the Arjakovsky’s arguments, I have changed my mind and can now see why eucharistic sharing between Catholics and Orthodox would be beneficial and could very well be justified. Arjakovsky is aware that some, perhaps most, of his fellow Orthodox will not agree with him, but he does cite as support the considered thought of such important figures as Olivier Clément and the Armenian Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, who in 1993 argued in favor of eucharistic sharing.
Perhaps the strongest argument Arjakovsky advances for revising the traditional ban on eucharistic sharing among Catholics and Orthodox is that first put forward by Nikos Nissiotis in 1968. To the usual argument that one cannot share the Eucharist because one is not fully united on each and every detail of each and every doctrine, Nissiotis retorted that such an argument is historically unsupportable (divisions in the early Church did not prevent eucharistic sharing in most instances) and, moreover, is currently belied by the fact that certain Orthodox Churches, who do enjoy a unity of faith on doctrinal questions, nonetheless do not practice eucharistic hospitality among themselves. Michael Plekon in his preface to this volume, and Arjakovsky in his antepenultimate essay “Porto Alegre’s Redefinition of Ecumenism and the Transformation of Orthodoxy,” both note that at a recent WCC gathering in Porto Alegere, the Orthodox were unable to come together to concelebrate the Eucharist, instead having two separate liturgies of the Moscow and Ecumenical patriarchs. How can these Churches turn around and maintain that doctrinal agreements are the sine qua non for eucharistic hospitality when plainly they are not among the Orthodox themselves, whose lack of eucharistic sharing must be explained by other reasons?
Nissiotis additionally notes that such an argument flies in the face of very traditional eucharistic theology and spirituality, which holds that the Eucharist is the medicine of immortality, the means of the healing of body and soul, the gift of the Divine Physician who binds all wounds and makes all whole. The Eucharist, according to Nissiotis, is not merely the fruit of unity but “also the God-given means of maintaining unity and of healing divisions if this unity is at stake or if the appropriate conditions for restoring it exist.” If that is the case, how much sense does it make to deny this most vital of all medicines to the most evangelically destructive of all diseases, viz., Christian disunity?
Such questions acquire even greater force when one considers the arguments of another Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart. In his “The Myth of Schism,” Hart asks pointedly: “not how we can possibly discover the doctrinal and theological resources that would enable or justify reunion, but howe we can possibly discover the doctrinal and theological resources that could justify or indeed make certain our division. This is not a moral question–how do we dare remain disunited?–but purely a canonical one: are we sure that we are? For, if not, then our division is simply sin, a habit of desire and thought that feeds upon nothing but its own perverse passions and immanent logic, a fiction of the will, and obedience to a lie.” Hart’s essay is in Francesca Aran Murphy and Christopher Asprey, eds., Ecumenism Today: the Universal Church in the 21st Century (Ashgate, 2008), viii+222pp.
Hart argues that the so-called East-West Schism no longer exists, if it ever did. Hence he can ask: are we really sure that we are really and truly divided? He’s not being flippant, either, but notes the serious canonical questions in support of his position: first, it was a “local” issue insofar as it was 2 hierarchs (Cardinal Humbert and Patriarch Cerulerius) excommunicating each other, not formally confecting a division between two churches. Second, there is extensive evidence of communicatio in sacris down through the ages, including into the 20th century. Third, the mutual liftings, in 1965, of the excommunications by the pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch should have resolved any lingering question. In the end, then, Catholics and Orthodox are (to use a Freudian heuristic) divided on a manifest level, but not at a latent level. And if that is so–and I think it is–then there is nothing to stop each from sharing the Eucharist with the other. One of the reasons Florence failed was that it did not have the people onside. Perhaps it is time for the people to push the hierarchs towards finally healing this division, and to do so by simply disregarding any sacramental-eucharistic distinction between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and instead receiving the sacraments in both. This is what I would call the Lev Gillet solution, and I think Orthodox and Catholics who are serious about unity should start availing themselves of this whenever and wherever possible. In a rebarbative world we can no longer afford the luxury of division.