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Abbot Nicholas, on Holy Resurrection Monastery’s Practical Ecumenism blog, continues his thoughts on Pope Benedict’s “Reform of the Reform” here and here.  We discussed the first part of Abbot Nicholas’s thoughts here.

(Pictured above: The dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral, Petrograd)

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I’m continuing my reflection on Cardinal Ratzinger’s (as he then was) 2000 book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy Cardinal Ratzinger is not only speaking of ‘image’ in the narrow sense of an icon. He is including in this understanding all Christian sacred symbolism, all liturgical action, including space and time and also sacred music. Celebration of the eucharistic prayer ad orientem or ad populumwould be included in this discussion of the image or the symbolic. Ratzinger says that we need sacred space and sacred time, mediating symbols so that precisely through the image, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. Surely, it is to heaven, to the Father that the eucharistic prayer is addressed. This symbolism has a long history in all the Apostolic Churches. It is always the Risen Christ, even His image on the Cross to whom the community looks as the true Oriens.

Cardinal Ratzinger asks: “Is this theology of the icon, as developed in the East, true? Is it valid for us (in the West)? Or is it just a peculiarity of the Christian East?” (p. 124.)

He goes on to say that the West in the first millennium emphasized, almost exclusively, the pedagogical function of the image. This is born out in such great Western Church Fathers as St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The so-called Libri Carolini, as well as the synods of Frankfurt (794) and Paris (824), came out against the poorly understood Seventh Ecumenical Council. This was partly due to faulty translations of the Greek text of the Council’s decrees into Latin. But the problem went deeper, touching on the theological function of symbols which in turn speaks to their anthropological function. In the East, the defeat of iconoclasm was the triumph of a vision of human life materially linked with the Divine through the Incarnation. Ratzinger certainly does not claim that the West rejected this vision—indeed it did not. It was not rejected, because it was not fully understood.

One suspects that the full consequences of this disconnect did not emerge for centuries, as long as it was submerged beneath the obvious similarities between the art of Christians on both sides of the Latin/Greek divide. At least until the thirteenth century the fundamental orientations of iconography remained essentially the same in East and West. But the Renaissance did something quite new. “Sacred art” now became merely “religious art.”

Now we see the development of the aesthetic in the modern sense, the vision of a beauty that no longer points beyond itself but is content in the end with itself, the beauty of the appearing thing. (p. 129).

Ratzinger sees Baroque art, in its Christian form, as an attempt to recapture the sacred. However, it is here that we see most clearly the ancient tendency of the West to regard art and symbols as pedagogical tools.

In line with the tradition of the West the Council [of Trent] again emphasized the didactic and pedagogical character of art, but as a fresh start toward interior renewal, it led once more to a new kind of seeing that comes from and returns within. (Ibid.)

In short, what was missing from the western Baroque was precisely its iconic, which is to say liturgical function. Religious art did not seek to effect union between humanity and divinity, but merely to encourage, or describe, the inner experience of a highly individualized spirituality. Baroque art was capable of an intense emotionality (Ratzinger speaks of it as an “alleluia in visual form”, p. 130), but it was not itself a sacrament making possible the participation of human emotion—indeed, any aspect of human experience—in divine reality. We have here the old problem that the West, especially after Augustine, could never quite overcome: how can material creatures participate in immaterial life? The Baroque is, in many ways, the traditional Western solution expressed in a new way: we participate in God’s life through an inward adjustment of our emotional and intellectual capacities. We feel, we think like God, but we cannot be gods. And this means the world we inhabit, however beautifully it might reflect, by analogy, divine power, cannot be drawn up with us into divinized life.

Here, I have to inject my own observation that this problem that I have called “Western” penetrated deeply into the Greek, Arabic, Slavic and Balkan churches of this same period. The adoption by Orthodox Churches of Baroque styles of visual and musical art is well known. However, it would not be true to say that the more ancient, patristic view of the image as sacrament was entirely lost. The forms changed, and to some extent this inevitably obscured the theology of image, but not entirely. Icons retained their specifically liturgical function. Instrumental music was never accepted in the East. However powerful the enticements of Counter-Reformation Catholic vitality, the Orthodox retained an instinctive sense that art was more than a way of seeing within, but rather pointed outwards, beyond itself to the divine heart of reality itself.

By the time of the Enlightenment an impoverished view of the image deprived the Church of a stronger defense against the secularization of cultural and intellectual life. This in turn was the foundation for a fully developed “iconoclasm.”

The Enlightenment pushed faith into a kind of intellectual and even social ghetto. Contemporary culture turned away from the faith and trod another path, so that faith took flight in historicism, the copying of the past, or else attempt at compromise or lost itself in resignation or cultural abstinence. The last of these led to a new iconoclasm, which has frequently been regarded as virtually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. (p. 130.)

In the end the “new iconoclasm” of which Ratzinger speaks is not simply the abandonment of images, although it may at times involve this. Sometimes the kind of iconoclasm to which he refers could even take place within an explosion of images in a quantitative sense (as may be seen in many places in the 19th century, for example, with the embrace of kitsch). What matters is not so much the number of images and other symbols, nor even their form, but rather the theological and anthropological vision that determines how they are seen and experienced, either solely as expressions of individual spirituality or as means of communion. Cardinal Ratzinger says:

The Church in the West does not need to disown the specific path she has followed since about the thirteenth century. But she must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the east, coming to some kind of conclusion in 1551 at the council of Moscow. Nevertheless, she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her. (pp. 133-4.)

In any discussion involving the broad generalizations of “West” and “East” there is often the danger of making out distinctions in expression to amount to differences in faith. In ecumenical, or anti-ecumenical, polemics this danger is often eagerly embraced. I would hate to think that my reflections, and still less Ratzinger’s thought on which they are based, should seem to fall into the category of polemic.

The basic faith of the universal Church is, and has always been, that Jesus Christ unites in Himself all things in heaven and on earth (cf Ephesians 1:10). This is a fact, the fact of the Incarnation, and it forms the irreducible content of Christian hope. There are certain consequences of this faith in terms of the way in which Christians have access to the Incarnation as a historical and trans-historical fact: notably the sacraments, of which the Church herself is the first. This basic theological truth, and the practice it enlivens, form the common patrimony of the Eastern and Western Churches. It unites at the deepest level.

What divides, or at least distinguishes East and West, then, is not so much a matter of faith or practice, but of ways of explaining this faith and practice. What really divides us, then, is theological language.

I think that this is at least what Ratzinger thinks (and I certainly agree with him). What he is seeking to do in The Spirit of the Liturgy is not to make Roman Catholics adopt oriental icons or liturgical forms. Not at all! What he is trying to do is point out something that Roman Catholics already know is missing from their theological language, including their non-verbal, their iconic, language. The fact that they can sense that it is missing is a sign that they belong to the ancient Church, not that they are excluded from it. What Ratzinger sees in the Seventh Ecumenical Council is a way of giving back to Catholics something they have always known, but have never been able to completely express within the parameters and limitations of their own theological discourse. He seeks to give them a language to help explain what they have always tried to see within the “way of seeing” that is sometimes revealed, sometimes obscured, in the symbolic arrangement of their worship and devotional lives.

In short, it is not only Eastern Christians who are convinced that, in Christ, heaven and earth are mingled together (as one of the hymn writers of the Byzantine tradition puts it). Western Catholics believe this also. They know it; it informs their attitude to the world, to nature, to care for the poor, to the construction of Christian community, to the role of natural law and in so many other different aspects of the genius of the Roman Catholic tradition. What Ratzinger wants to do is strengthen this tradition by introducing, or re-introducing to it, a way of seeing that it will recognize with joy, because it already corresponds to its deepest insights and longings.

This is ecumenical work at the highest level. I am deeply grateful for it.

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by Fr Thomas Hopko

From Orthodox Christians for Accountability

Orthodox Christians devoted to accountability are surely aware that accountability in behavior cannot be separated from accountability in understanding since practice (praxis) is necessarily connected to vision (theoreia).

This conviction inspires me, given the present state of things, to raise the following question: Is it possible that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council about the ministry of bishops in the Roman Catholic Church is now being taught and practiced in an adapted and altered form in our Orthodox churches today?

Let me explain why I raise such a question.

According to the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican I and the Council of Trent, bishops are not organically connected to the specific dioceses in which they serve. They rather have their episcopal position and power by virtue of their personal sacramental consecration as bishops. They are, so to speak, considered to be bishops in their own right, and not in virtue of their ministries as heads and overseers of actually existing ecclesial communities to which they belong. As such, they can be moved about from church to church, and even function in bureaucratic positions with titles of sees that no longer exist and therefore without being the leading member of any particular church, and without having any flock at all.

In this teaching and practice, bishops are not elected by the people of their dioceses and confirmed by all the bishops of the regional church to which they belong who, as brother bishops, affirm their election by first examining their faith and behavior, and then, when all is found to be acceptable, by consecrating them through the “laying on of hands.” They are rather appointed directly by the Pope of Rome. While their validity as bishops derives from their sacramental consecration, their legitimacy as bishops derives from their communion with the Pope, and their submission to him.

Together with the Pope, and under his immediate direction, and in obedience to his unique authority considered to derive directly from God (whatever “politicking” may have produced him by vote of the qualified bishops in the college of cardinals, all Vatican-appointed men with titular pastorates of churches in the diocese of Rome), the bishops as consecrated individuals corporately form a “college” (collegium) that governs the universal catholic Church. And, as just noted, they do so by virtue of their union with the See of Rome and in submission to its bishop who is believed to be the unique “successor of Peter” and “vicar of Christ” and “supreme pontiff of the Church” who possesses direct and immediate episcopal authority and jurisdiction over every member of the universal church, including all the other bishops, and who also possesses the authority to speak infallibly on matters of faith and morals when speaking from the chair of Peter (ex cathedra Petri) not from the consensus of the Church (ex consensu ecclesiae) but rather in, by and from himself (ex sese).

In this understanding, the bishops of a regional Roman Catholic Church like, for example, the RCC of the United States or the RCC of Canada, may for practical purposes form a local “episcopal assembly”. In the United States such an assembly exists. It is called The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This conference elects its president and officers. It hires its employees and operates its offices. It organizes and coordinates certain ecclesial activities. It makes statements about church teachings and policies. It represents the Catholic Church in public life. And it leads and represents the regional Catholic Church as a whole, i.e. as a federation of Catholic archdioceses and dioceses in the USA. But this assembly of bishops has no ecclesial or ecclesiastical status whatsoever. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, it is not essential to the Church’s being and it need not exist. As the saying goes, it may be established for the church’s “well being” (bene esse) while being not at all necessary to the church’s “very being” (esse). It is not a canonical body. It is not an episcopal synod. It has no official place or status in the Church’s essential structure. It surely does not govern a self-governing church in communion with all other self-governing churches. It exists and operates exclusively under the direction of the Pope of Rome and the Vatican’s curial officers who are appointed by the Pope and answerable to him alone.

[Those interested in this subject should read the decrees of Vatican II, especially the decree on the constitution of the Church called Lumen Gentium. They may also read John O’Malley’s book recently published by Harvard University Press called "What Happened at Vatican II" And on the relationship between the RCC “episcopal assembly” in the US and the Vatican, Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s memoir published by Eerdmans entitled "A Pilgrim in an Pilgrim Church" is especially instructive and illuminating.]

The Orthodox Church, of course, has no infallible Pope who exercises direct and immediate episcopal jurisdiction over all the Church’s members in the world, including the other bishops. It has no bishop of any see that can speak in any way binding on all the faithful in matters of faith and morals. It has no curia. It has no magisterium. It has no college of cardinals. It has no international advisory council of bishops from around the world. It has no “ecumenical council”, or a council of any kind, that can be considered authoritative, still less infallible, before its decisions are taken and are universally accepted – or perhaps rejected — by all the churches that recognize each other as Orthodox.

According to traditional Orthodoxy, using the celebrated third century formula of St. Cyprian of Carthage in his controversy with the bishop of Rome, Christ’s Church knows no “bishop of bishops” (episcopus episcoporum). The “episcopate is one” (episcopatus unus est) and all of the Church’s bishops hold the same episcopal authority and exercise the same episcopal service “in solidarity” (in solidum) with each other. The holy hieromartyr also teaches that the bishop of every church who makes St. Peter’s confession of faith and receives the Holy Spirit with the authority of “binding and loosing”, sits on the “seat of Peter” (cathedra Petri.) And St. Cyprian also holds, as proven by his famous letter 69, that the bishop in his own church does nothing by himself, but acts in everything in harmony with the church’s “common council” to which, as a member and head of the church, he is accountable for everything he says and does.

These convictions, formulated so clearly and so well by St. Cyprian, are proclaimed and defended by all Orthodox doctrines and canons through the centuries. They are also demonstrated in Orthodox liturgy, including the rites of election and consecration of bishops. The Orthodox Church unequivocally rejects the teachings of Vatican Council I about the special position, prerogatives and powers of the Bishop of Rome. And today the Orthodox Church, it seems to me, should also reject the explanation of Vatican II about how bishops function in the Church, and how they and their churches are to relate to each other, including even to autocephalous churches and their primates.

So what might a version of the Vatican II doctrine about bishops look like in the Orthodox Church?

It might be that Orthodox “episcopal assemblies” will be established and organized not by an “apostolic see” with special powers, but by common agreement of the synods and primates of the world’s autocephalous churches. These “episcopal assemblies” will come into being in regions where no common autocephalous Orthodox church, with its synod of bishops headed by its episcopal primate, exists. The bishops of the autocephalous churches that are virtually all “national” or “ethnic” in character will control their bishops and dioceses in these regions even when the majority of their members are no longer of the ethnicity or nationality of the autocephalous church to which they belong. The names of the primates of the autocephalous churches will be raised in the liturgies of the churches that belong to them in the given region, either in all the churches, or just by the bishops, or just by the local primates. The synods of the autocephalous church will appoint the bishops and organize their dioceses in the region, or will at least confirm or reject local elections and decisions. And then, all the bishops in the regions belonging to different autocephalous churches will together form an “episcopal assembly” under the joint direction and corporate guidance of the autocephalous churches to which they belong led by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Thus the autocephalous churches will act together as a kind of “corporate Orthodox papacy” governing the regional episcopal assemblies whose actions will be subject to their review, revision and even ultimate rejection if they consider that to be necessary.

In this understanding, the regional “episcopal assemblies” will, for example, be allowed, and even encouraged, to undertake common missionary, educational and philanthropic activities, and to represent Orthodoxy in social and governmental activities. They may also be allowed to organize their dioceses as they see fit, and to care for all legal, fiduciary and financial matters as they decide. But only the synods of bishops of the autocephalous churches under the direction of their primates will ultimately approve or disapprove their activities. Only they will have authentic synodical status and genuine canonical authority. The local, regional assemblies of bishops will have none at all. They will not elect their own officers, but will be structured according to the order of the autocephalous churches. In the United States this would mean Constantinople would be first, then Antioch, the Moscow, etc. They will remain subject to the universal “collegium” in which they are included by virtue of their membership in the given autocephalous churches to which they belong. Thus the regional “episcopal assembly” will exist and operate solely within the areas and conditions that the universal “collegium” allows them. They will not elect their own bishops, at least not without approval subject to certain conditions of the autocephalous churches to which they belong. And they will certainly not be self-governing “sister churches” equal to and identical with all the others, however much it may be claimed that this is the ultimate goal of their existence.

Given the origin and history of the Orthodox ecclesiastical “jurisdictions” in North America, and given the behavior of the autocephalous churches, and given the activities to date of the United States Episcopal Assembly and the relationship of its “member jurisdictions” to the old world patriarchates from which they originate, one can only hope that what we are now experiencing is not the working out of an “Orthodoxized” version of the Vatican II doctrine. Time will tell as the process goes on. And what will surely be told as time goes by is how our Orthodox bishops in North America and throughout the world understand themselves, and their episcopal service in their own churches, and their relationship to each other in their local regions, and their relationship to all the Orthodox Churches that make up Christ’s holy Church in the world as a whole.

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko
Dean Emeritus
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

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From the blog of Holy Resurrection Monastery, Valyermo, CA, a traditional Byzantine monastic community under the omophorion of Bishop John Michael (Botean), Eparch of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton, OH.

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Abbot Nicholas has been re-reading Joseph Ratzinger (now, of course, Pope Benedict XVI) in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. He’s going to post some reflections on his reading over the coming weeks.

Here are some very general thoughts.

No decision of the Second Vatican Council has been as dramatic, as contentious and as influential in the practice of the Faith, or lack of, as the changes brought about in the liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass and through this, the general liturgical life of the Church. Many believe that getting this right is the most significant work for the Church and will have the greatest and most important results in resolving some of the greatest crises the Church is facing. There is much evidence to suggest that Benedict XVI is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of this position. When the liturgical life of the Church is authentic, everything else in the Faith will also become authentic. As an Eastern Christian, it is perhaps not surprising that I wholeheartedly agree with Pope Benedict in this matter.

Unfortunately many Catholics even so-called liturgical experts, lack a clear formulated theology of liturgy to under-gird the externals of liturgical celebrations. This is very unfortunate. As long as there are no agreed and secure theological foundations for the liturgy, the politicized, liturgical wars will continue reflecting the present Culture Wars in Western Societies. Whether the Mass is in Latin or the Vernacular seems to be the main dividing line for most Roman Catholics but, of course, it is not as simple as this, although this is certainly one of the issues. A correct English translation from the Latin and the use of sacral as opposed to a more horizontal language is another political fight that is currently taking place, not to mention the controversial arguments regarding so called gender-inclusive language.

Benedict XVI speaks of authentic liturgical reform according to the hermeneutic of continuity, of course, he believes the whole of the Second Vatican Council needs to be interpreted in this way. But, at least, with respect to liturgy, how far back in history do we need to go to make repairs where this break in continuity has taken place. For many Catholics, this break took place at Vatican II especially in the area of liturgy. This is why the ordinary form of the mass and the extraordinary form of the mass is such an important ideological battle ground for so many Catholics. For others the break happened at Trent. However, for Pope Benedict the break takes place long before then. Benedict XVI believes the Western Church never fully understood and therefore never fully received the Seventh Ecumenical Council and it is for this reason that a sound liturgical theology has not developed in the West. Basically, Joseph Ratzinger believes the West’s liturgical theology is semi-iconoclastic and sometimes, perhaps in the present close to fully-blown iconoclasm.

We speak of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church having the first Seven Ecumenical Councils in common but perhaps a lot more work needs to be done in this area to agree on a common and definitive understanding of the Orthodox victory over iconoclasm. I am very surprised that the Catholic-Orthodox International and American Theological Dialogues have never explicitly discussed this issue. Pope Benedict certainly believes a new iconoclasm is infecting the Western Church.

To be continued.

 

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Hailed for Peacemaker Spirit
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ZALAU, Romania, JULY 7, 2010 (Zenit.org) – Greek Catholics celebrated on July 4 their first Mass in 62 years in the parish church of Bocsa, with what was described as a “festive and moving” atmosphere.
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The Bosca parish is unique because, thanks to an agreement between Orthodox and Greek-Catholics, it will be shared between the two Churches.
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The parish has been hailed as an example of conflict resolution between the two Churches, often at odds over patrimonial issues in former Soviet countries.
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The Bocsa parish was confiscated by the Communist authorities in 1948 and given to the Orthodox Church, after the forced abolition of the Greek-Catholic Church. Catholics went underground until legalization was regained. Pope John Paul II re-established their hierarchy in 1990.
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Since then, the Greek-Catholic community has worked legally for the devolution of confiscated churches (some 2,600 properties), whereas the Orthodox requested that the new balance of faithful be kept in mind, given that the Greek-Catholics have decreased significantly in numbers over the last decades.
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In the specific case of Bocsa, the Greek-Catholic community asked the Orthodox to return the parish, or to seek an alternative over the use of the church.
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The case was taken to court, while the Greek-Catholics continued to propose an agreement. At the beginning of 2010 the court decided in favor of the Greek-Catholics, though they continued to offer an agreement to the Orthodox.
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The court proceeded last July 1 with the execution of the sentence, returning the church to the Catholics. A few hours later, the Orthodox accepted the proposal of an agreement, which was subsequently signed before the judicial authorities of Salaj.
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Now both communities have committed themselves to share the use of the church with different timetables.
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The first Greek-Catholic Mass was celebrated at 9 a.m. last Sunday. It was presided over by Father Valer Parau, dean of the Greek-Catholic Church of Zalau.
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Father Valer insisted on forgiveness “to be able to heal wounds,” the Romanian Catholic agency Catholica.ro reported.
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“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” he recalled. “We believe that with this realistic, pragmatic relationship in accord with the spirit of the Lord’s Gospel, other cases can be resolved in which Greek Catholics are obliged by the circumstances to pray in inadequate places. There is space for one another in the same church.”
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By Cristian Ciopron (English translation via De unione ecclesiarum)

[Our friend Michaël comments on this interesting piece: "I can't tell if the author is Catholic or Orthodox ... but what I found surprising were the extensive citations from the Venerable Bede and St Thomas regarding the light on Mount Tabor. While this might not be remarkable for a Catholic, the weaving of citations from late Western Fathers with those of Eastern saints would be very striking for an Orthodox. Even for a Catholic, the focus on the Uncreated Light would in itself be noteworthy."]

The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in the Synoptic Gospels. It is an event narrated only by the Synoptics, as it belongs to their logic and to their line of discourse about who Jesus of Nazareth is. These Gospels narrate the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor as a sequence of events, the first of them being a visible manifestation of Christ’s identity, something which must be interpreted in conjunction with the other signs. I presume that the Gospels are speaking about a visible light, a visible reality, not about a metaphorical light, such as the light of knowledge or understanding; in fact, each synoptic author tries to convey the exact impression made by the Lord’s transfigured luminosity, and seems to indicate a visible light, something to be seen, in the proper sense of the word. I believe that the Gospels speak about a light pertaining to the domain of visibility, not to that of knowledge.

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From the March 2010 issue of The Word (magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America)

The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is very ancient, and at the same time, the last historically to be preceded by preparation with a lengthy fast. The Feast is described, in the Byzantine tradition, technically as a “third class/ Vigil rank commemoration” — and in the West as the ” Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.” Though it does not rank with Pascha, Nativity, Theophany or Pentecost, it is still very important, as it is the patronal feast of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Most Christians, however, identify Saints Peter and Paul with the city – Rome –where they were martyred, according to tradition. Why Rome? And why does the city and its bishop, and the memory of the two Apostles, matter?.

The Akathist Hymn to the Holy Apostles gives us an important clue, incorporating what we find in the Scriptures as well: Saint Peter is given the place of honor. The Hymn addresses the Head of the Church first – Christ, the Good Shepherd, who “said unto thee, O first-enthroned Peter: If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep.” The same Christ admonishes the other apostles about the suitability of the former persecutor Saul of Tarsus (quoting here Acts 9:15); Christ confirmed “thee, O preeminent Apostle Paul: He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear my name before the gentiles.” But Christ then addresses the entire college of the apostles with the universal commission of the Gospel of Matthew – to preach to all the nations.

These themes – the primacy of Peter, Paul as the last-called but Peter’s equal before God, and the collegial nature of the apostles’ approach to difficulties – is reflected in the opening of the Akathist Hymn. The Hymn recognizes the primacy of Peter, the linkage of the Church of the Circumcised and the Uncircumcised in the two apostles’ dual ministries, and the collegial obligation of all the apostles and their successors, the bishops of the Church, to spread the Gospel, at the risk of martyrdom, if necessary. The hymn’s scriptural teaching is confirmed in the theology of some of the early fathers, including Saint Irenaeus of Lyon and the Montanist theologian Tertullian. Taken together, they provide us with a proper view of a Petrine ministry, Rome, and the role of a primacy among the bishops for Orthodox Christians in the 21st century.

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Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum (one of a few blogs by an Orthodox Christian I can bear to read) has just posted the text of a lecture he recently gave to the Youngstown, Ohio chapter of the Society of St John Chrysostom. Please leave any comments you have at Dr Gilbert’s blog.

I will only reproduce here a quote of St Gregory the Theologian, which seems to sum up so well the history of theological wrangling between Greek and Latin Christianity:

Others, mutually divided, drive East and West
into confusion, and God has abandoned them to their flesh,
for which they make war, giving their name and their allegiance to others:
my god’s Paul, yours is Peter, his is Apollos.
But Christ is pierced with nails to no purpose.
For it’s not from Christ that we’re called, but from men,
we who possess his honor by hands and by blood.
So much have our eyes been clouded over by a love
of vain glory, or gain, or by bitter envy,
pining away, rejoicing in evil: these have a well-earned misery.
And the pretext is the Trinity, but the reality is faithless hate.
Each is two-faced, a wolf concealed against the sheep,
and a brass pot hiding a nasty food for the children.

[Poem 2.1.13, To the Bishops, vv. 151-163; PG 37, 1239-1240]

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1077633850468I am proud to feature this interesting article by Catholic friend of the blog and frequent commenter, Michaël de Verteuil –

Of the two Patriarchs of Constantinople most closely associated with the East-West schism, Michael Cerularius (Keroularios) is clearly the lesser figure in Orthodoxy. Unlike Photius, Michael was not a great scholar and was not declared a saint after his death. As the latter schism was to become definitive, Michael correspondingly suffered more at the hands of Catholic historiography. In its more extreme forms, he stands accused of hubris, deceit, mendacity, treachery, and even homicidal intent. The purpose of this brief historical note is to offer a more nuanced picture which may help rehabilitate his reputation in the eyes of Catholic readers.

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From my favorite Orthodox blog, Prof. Peter Gilbert’s De Unione Ecclesiarum

I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf

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By David J. Melling (1943-2004)

(Many thanks to De Unione Ecclesiarum for the text of this article.)

Early in his ministry as a Non-Juror Anglican priest, the saintly William Law published a sequence of “Letters to a Lady inclined to enter the Church of Rome.” (1732-3) His advice to the Lady was that she, like other laymembers and junior clergy of the Anglican Church, was in no way responsible for the schism separating her and her fellow Anglicans from the Greek and Roman Churches. There is, he argued, no way of escaping the reality of schism, since every history determines that each of us is “necessarily forced into one externally divided part, because there is no part free from external division.” The divisions cannot be escaped by simply changing one’s ecclesiastical allegiance, he tells her, since that action resolves the schism with the Church entered at the price of schism with the Church abandoned. He counsels her to stay where she is, but to love the Greek and Roman Churches with the same love she has for her own Church. Law attributes the schism that divides the Churches to “the unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors on both sides.” He sees schism as caused by the failings and shortcomings of hierarchs, and as something affecting only the external reality of the Church’s life. Law is not, of course, writing of all kinds of schism. His position flows from the belief that the Roman, Greek and English Churches, whatever their differences in theological tradition and styles of worship, are alike in being effective means of attaining “christian holiness.” He does not have the same positive view of any Christian bodies which are merely human institutions and lack the full means of sanctification.

In Eastern Christian tradition, schism between ecclesial communities is not always read as William Law reads it. Eastern theology has tended to stress the intimate unity of faith and sacrament and to see schism as a sign of heresy. Roman Catholic theology, on the other hand, has generally distinguished more sharply between schism, in which both the separated communities may be fully orthodox and retain a full sacramental life, and formal heresy which involves the rejection of the Church’s dogmatic teaching. Roman Catholic sacramental theology has tended to regard heretical sacraments as invalid by reason of heresy only in those cases when the heresy explicitly denied the Church’s dogmatic teaching about the sacraments. The consequence of such a denial is obvious: a heretical priest who does not believe in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Real Presence or the Apostolic Succession can hardly be the presiding minister at a Divine Liturgy, consecrating this bread and this wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ, since that is precisely what he does not believe he is authorised to do and what he believes does not come about even when a Catholic or Orthodox priest celebrates the Mass. Roman Catholic tradition differs from Eastern Orthodox in the relative status it accords the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In Catholic theology, the infallibility attaching to the dogmatic definitions of the Councils is sharply distinguished from the relative degree of authority accorded their disciplinary and legal decisions. Orthodox Christians would not normally go so far as to claim the disciplinary canons of the Ecumenical Councils are absolutely immutable and irreformable, but tend to see them as reformable only by the authority of another Ecumenical Council.

This attitude to the legislation of the Ecumenical Councils explains in part the bitterness of the schism between Old Calendarists and New Calendarists in the Greek world. The Old Calendarists have consistently and vehemently denied the right of Patriarchs, Hierarchs and local synods to alter the calendrical arrangements laid down in the canons of the Council of Nicaea. Given the nature of what they see as a grave breach of Orthodox ecclesiastical discipline, some, but not all, Old Calendarists have gone further, and invoking the authority of St. Basil the Great, have seen New Calendarists not only as schismatics, but as a religious body whose sacraments are devoid of grace. Interestingly, this schism as the Old Calendarists see it does indeed conform in part at least to William Law’s characterisation of schism, since what the Old Calendarists object to is precisely what they see as high-handed, unlawful and unreasonable action by the Church’s hierarchs. This was equally an issue in the schism between the Old Believers and the Russian Orthodox Church. In both cases, what was judged by their opponents to be the illegitimate use of Hierarchical authority to alter the calendar in the one case, the service books in the other, was interpreted not merely as imposing on the Church untraditional and objectionable legislation, but also as signifying a drift into heresy that made schism both inevitable and a matter of inescapable duty. William Law, however, in speaking of the schism between the Roman and English Churches emphasises that the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors” were on both sides. An authoritarian and assertive Papacy had found its own claims reflected in the distorting mirror of Henry VIII’s assertion of his own divine right to rule as “Supreme Head” of the English Church. The Old Believers and Old Calendarists reflect the position not of the Vatican in relation to the Church of England, but of the Catholic Recusants, loyal to the religion they inherited from their fathers and mothers, and unable to accept the changes imposed by state authority. Conservative dissent is always an embarrassment to church authorities. It is not obvious exactly how one can become a heretic by standing fast on yesterday’s orthodoxy.

Law’s argument that schism as such is fundamentally a matter of the external reality of the Church is of particular significance if we attempt to interpret the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The mutual excommunications of 1054, while furnishing a fine example of the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims” which Law identifies as the fundamental cause of schism, were neither the origin nor the legal basis of the schism. Had they been so, the lifting of the excommunications by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch would have brought the schism to an end. It continues. The schism between Catholics and Orthodox continues, yet the full ecclesial life of both Churches also continues. While the absence of external institutional unity may be a cause of suffering and something to deplore, it has not prevented either Church from producing a rich crop of saints, from engaging in Apostolic missionary work, from serving the needy, from finding within its own spiritual resources the means for renewal.

The notion that Western and Eastern Churches were ever identical in theology, ritual and social life, is pure fantasy. Theological differences existed in the days when the Church of the Roman Empire was a legal unity. The typically Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin as inherited guilt is to be found in the doctrinal canons of the early sixth century councils of Carthage and Orange, and the latter council even went so far as to condemn the typical Eastern view that what is inherited from Adam and Eve as a consequence of their sin is our mortality. The dogmatic canons of the latter council were confirmed by Pope Boniface II. Eastern and Western Churches had different rules concerning the bread to be used in the Eucharist, different rules for fasting, clerical celibacy, the ordination of eunuchs, and later, the legitimacy of fourth marriages and the permissibility of divorce even during the period when the Churches were in full communion.

The schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches did not begin, nor was it completed in 1054. Indeed, one wonders at exactly what point in history many communities realised they were in schism from the other church. The failed reunion councils, the intrusion of Latin bishops in the wake of the Crusades, the sack of Constantinople and the profanation of Hagia Sophia in 1208 and the consequences of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks all helped crystallize out a pattern of relations that still managed to retain some fluidity even into the seventeenth century. The establishment of Eastern Catholic jurisdictions in the Patriarchate of Antioch and in the east of Poland helped considerably to confirm the external separation of the two Church institutions. The external separation spread and became firm. But what changed in the life of ordinary parishes? Some experienced a shift in hierarchical authority. Some experienced the arrival of new religious orders. In traditional Orthodox and Latin Catholic communities nothing took place. The life of the local Church carried on as before. Where things did change, it was not as a direct result of the schism, but as a result of the local changes taking place in the life of one Church or the other — e.g., the implementation of the reforms of the Council of Trent.

The heart of the life of every Catholic or Orthodox church, is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. In the Liturgy we find ourselves called to communion with Our Lord, to eat mystically His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine, to become one with Him, to be incorporated in Him. Our communion with Christ draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. It is by the Power of the Holy Spirit He became a human being; it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that the mystery of the Eucharist incorporates us in Christ. The Liturgy we celebrate here in our churches is an image of the Eternal Liturgy of the Court of Heaven. The barriers between Heaven and Earth are broken as the power of the Holy Spirit makes this holy table the Throne where the Son of God becomes present amongst us. Christ is “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek” [Heb.5, 6] the one true High Priest of all humanity. He is the Son and Word of God, Who has put on our humanity so that we may share His Divinity. He is the one perfect Sacrificial Victim who “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” [Heb.9, 26] He offers Himself once and for all, not in the sanctuary of the earthly Temple, but entering “into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” [Heb.9, 24] His death on Calvary is the visible historical realisation of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the Eucharistic Liturgy, the same High Priest is present offering Himself to the Father for us, and inviting us to the Mystic Feast where He Himself becomes our food and drink so that we become one with Him, becoming by His grace what He is by nature. The Son of God offers Himself to us to make us too children of God. But we stand in separate churches, hear different priests recite the ancient words of the anaphora, communicate from separate chalices. To that extent, precisely to that extent, the schism between Catholics and Orthodox is real. But we communicate together in the Body and Blood of the one Anointed, we put on the one Christ in Baptism and are incorporated in the one Anointed in the Mystical Supper. It is our communion with Him, and in Him with one another that is the fundamental basis of our relation to each other. In the most basic and the most important sense, we are in communion with one another and always have been. In Him we are in communion with each other in a sense far more important than that in which, because of the schism between the churches, we are separated. We are united in Christ by His Holy Spirit, and divided outwardly by the inherited habit of schism.

Understandably in this century of ecumenical politics and ecclesiastical bureaucracy, there is a broad pattern of exploratory discussions and negotiations underway aimed at the removal of the scandal of schism. Whatever may be agreed by such a path, for the Orthodox it will be necessary to find the consent of the Church in a way other than by Patriarchal or Synodical decree, unless the decree be that of what is recognised as an Ecumenical Council. The immediate response of the Monks of Mount Athos to the recent agreement between representatives of the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox makes clear exactly what problems such negotiations will face. The theologians and hierarchs involved in the Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox discussions have published a report that shows a true spirit of conciliation and mutual acceptance. Unfortunately, it proceeds from and addresses the mind-set of those who are prepared to see the proceedings of Ecumenical Councils in their historical and political relativity, and are ready to renegotiate relations amongst Churches without demanding formal acceptance of the dogmatic definitions of the Seven Councils. There may be many Orthodox who share such an outlook: they do not include the Holy Epistasia of Mount Athos or the many thousands who will stand in solidarity with the Athonite Community in seeing the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils as infallible and irreformable, as divinely inspired, and as the only possible basis for unity.

A process of growing together based on mutual trust and respect offers a much more realistic model for future developments than the repetition of ancient errors by the construction of eirenic but ambiguous documents and the validation of proposals for reunion by Patriarchal fiat or Synodical decree. Face to face, local communities can experience for themselves the reality of their oneness in Christ — or they can discover precisely the opposite. The zeal for full union will come from mutual knowledge, shared experience and profoundly respectful love: it can also come from the vivid awareness of the reality of our present communion with each other in Christ. That is not to say the hierarchs have no role in promoting the removal of schism. Pope John Paul II has made a major personal contribution in the last few months with the two letters Orientale Lumen and Ut Unum Sint. Sadly, the publicity given the second of these encyclicals has almost totally overshadowed the first, a document of immense importance for Catholic-Orthodox relations, emphasising, as it does, the need for Western clergy and theologians to become far better acquainted with the Eastern tradition of theology and Christian worship. Indeed, the Encyclical shows a warm sympathy for and a profound awareness of Eastern theology. It also offers an unusual opportunity for Orthodox and Eastern Catholics to co-operate in responding to the Pope in creating opportunities for Western brethren to learn more of our shared Eastern tradition. Co-operation between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics may seem an odd thing to recommend. For many Orthodox “Uniatism” remains an offensive and illegitimate method of Vatican proselytism. Whatever the truth of such a charge, there is a need for Orthodox Christians to face the challenge of the deep loyalty to Rome shown by many Eastern Catholic communities, even in the face of contemptuous treatment by Latins, even of appalling humiliations, the ultimate being that revealed by the late Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV when he disclosed, that in the aftermath of the then patriarch’s opposition to the definition of Papal infallibility at the first Vatican council, His Beatitude had been forced to the ground before the Papal throne while Pius IX placed his foot on his head. Loyalty in the face of such provocation merits at least astonished respect.

The draft agreement between Catholic and Orthodox theologians reached at Balamand in 1993 proposes a helpful way forward here, in proposing a formal rejection by the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, of “proselytizing among the Orthodox.” Once it becomes clear to the Orthodox that this commitment is serious, (and at the moment that is very far from clear) the possibility will grow of precisely the open and co-operative dialogue between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that the Balamand agreement envisages. It has, however, to be recognised that in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches there remain zealots and integrists who will defend forever a maximalist ecclesiology which leaves no room for any ecumenical activity whatsoever, since it sees schism as defining the boundaries of the Church of Christ, outside of which there exist heretical conventicles devoid of sacramental grace. In the Orthodox Church such interests still have a powerful voice, as Patriarch Bartholomaeos has discovered to his cost, facing demonstrations protesting against his brotherly relationship with the Pope, and denunciation of him as trying to drag the Orthodox Church into union with Rome.

There are, indeed, specific problems in the relation of Catholic and Orthodox Churches that the present Ecumenical Patriarch’s very public role has made vividly evident to many Orthodox. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s role as senior hierarch of the Orthodox communion is far more fragile than his public image sometimes suggests. In Rome he may look like the Eastern counterpart of the Pope, and the vigour with which he has exercised and even developed his role in the Orthodox Church may give plausibility to that image, but the fact remains that he is not the linear superior of the chief hierarchs of other autocephalous Churches, but only the first among equals among them, and that is something very different. Orthodox tradition, moreover, has never recognised any hierarchical role above that of the local bishop as of divine authority. Any higher layer of authority and responsibility derives from Synodical or sometimes even state decision. There is nothing inevitable or immutable in the Primacy of Constantinople. Nor can the Ecumenical Patriarch assert his authority to guarantee the Orthodox Church’s acceptance of the policy he espouses. The same arguments that establish the ecclesiastical and human origin of the patriarchates are deployed by Orthodox to reject Catholic claims of divine institution for the Roman Papacy, and of course to reject any claims to Papal supremacy. (Not, of course, to the Primacy of Rome, that is a quite different and relatively uncontroversial matter.) It is, then, very helpful to see the Pope is clearly aware that his own office as interpreted by Vatican theologians and canonists is experienced by Christians of other traditions as a major obstacle to unity. In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint he calls for a “patient and fraternal dialogue” on the nature and exercise of his primacy. This is a welcome and helpful development.

Progress in extricating ourselves from the bad habit of schism involves a reappraisal of what is central to our Christian heritage and what is transitory and peripheral, what is essential and what is merely a matter of cultural tradition. When we return to the heart and centre of our faith, we find ourselves together in Christ. If we lose the living awareness of our oneness in Christ and identify ourselves simply in terms of a particular community’s history and interests, we find a chasm yawning at our feet. The full flourishing of the spirit of schism is not merely external separation and institutional rivalry, its fruit can be tasted at the point where religious identity becomes a means of justifying political and ethnic conflict.

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