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Archive for the ‘Communio in sacris’ Category

‘We should not pretend we are close to solving this problem’

BY JOHN BURGER
National Catholic Register
Monday, February 07, 2011

(Emphasis and [my comments] added)

There’s been encouraging — sometimes tantalizing — news in recent years about the growing potential for Catholic-Orthodox unification. Pope Benedict XVI is said to be viewed more favorably by the Orthodox than his predecessor. The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow exclaimed in 2009 that unity with the Orthodox could be achieved “within months.” And the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation issued a document last October that envisions practical steps each Church can begin taking to begin the process of reunification.

But Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev is a lot more cautious about any predictions of imminent unity between East and West. Archbishop Hilarion heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, a position that was held by now-Patriarch Kirill before Patriarch Alexei died in 2008.

At 44, Hilarion has experienced a meteoric rise in the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. A brilliant theologian and author, he was elected bishop at age 35, has served as bishop of Vienna and head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. He is deeply involved in ecumenical dialogues with the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

He’s also an accomplished composer and is in New York for the U.S. English-language premiere of his St. Matthew Passion oratorio this evening. He also delivered the annual Father Alexander Schmemann lecture at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., on Saturday, where he spoke about the meaning of icons in the Orthodox Church.

Thanks to Father John Behr and Deborah Belonick of St. Vladimir’s, I was able to sit down with Archbishop Hilarion for a chat after the lecture. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

How important is Christian unity to the Orthodox Church?

The notion of Christian unity is essentially linked to the last words of Jesus Christ, which he pronounced at the Last Supper and, notably, those which were addressed to his father, when he preached about the unity of his disciples. It is a tragedy that Christ’s disciples throughout the world were unable to preserve this unity and that many schisms and divisions arose in the Church, and the call to Christian unity is the ultimate goal of our exposure to inter-Christian activities and to various dialogues which we lead with the Roman Catholic Church and with other Christian traditions.

So I think for an Orthodox Christian, it is essential to participate in inter-Christian exchanges in order to bring different Christian traditions closer to mutual understanding in order to overcome centuries of prejudices with the ultimate goal of the restoration of the full Eucharistic communion between various Christian denominations.

Of course, the Orthodox and the Catholic are the closest ones. We have certain differences in dogma, certain differences in ecclesiology, but we have the same teaching on the apostolic succession of the hierarchy, on the sacraments and on the Church in general.

Therefore, though there are obstacles to unity, they are, I believe, in no way insurmountable.

(more…)

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I’ve long been fascinated by the figure of Kyr Elias Zoghby, the late Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Baalbek (1912-2008). Readers of this blog may be familiar with his controversial proposal for the establishment of “dual communion” of the Melkites with both the See of Rome and the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate, on the basis of a two point declaration of faith:

  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.

DTBrown, of the blog Orthocath, has posted a PDF file of interesting documents relating to the Zoghby Initiative. DTBrown explains, in a post to the Byzcath forum:

Recently, I came across the copy I had of the original French text of the 1997 Letter from Rome (written by Cardinals Silvestrini, Ratzinger and Cassidy) to Melkite Patriarch Maximus V Hakim discussing the “Zoghby Initiative.” I had obtained this text directly from the Melkite Eparchy back in late 1997 after reading an initial report about it in the Catholic press. With the help of a friend, I posted a translation into English on the old CINEAST discussion list back in early 1998 …

I thought it would be good to make the original French text available for those who might be interested. After taking a look at it, one friend spoke highly of the nuances behind the French text: “The tone of the French is deliberately neutral and restrained… The text almost defies translation because of this… The letter is truly a masterpiece in measured precision.”

As far as I know there is no official translation of this letter. I don’t believe any of the published translations into English claim to convey fully the nuances of the sophisticated French. The 1998 translation mentioned above strived to be a literal rendering of the document.

Along with this file of the original French text I am also making available a new English translation made with the help of a couple of friends. This translation does not claim any special merit but serves simply as a reference point for those researching this document. This newer translation is less literal and tries to render the French into more idiomatic English. Perhaps someday an official translation into English can be provided or someone might attempt a polished professional translation.

Further, this file also contains a 1997 article on this letter from Eastern Catholic Life, which contains a partial translation and summary of the letter by Bishop Nicholas Samra. Finally, some historical background is also appended to the file.

This new file (original French text, new English translation, 1997 news article and background information) is in PDF format and can be downloaded here. The file is about 3.5 MB. Depending on your connection speed, it may take a bit to download. It might be best to right click on the link to download it directly to your computer instead of trying to read it online.

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The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation
Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Saturday, October 2, 2010

[Emphasis and a few comments added]

1.  Prologue. For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world.  Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

2. A Central Point of Disagreement.  In the course of our discussions, it has become increasingly clear to us that the most divisive element in our traditions has been a growing diversity, since the late patristic centuries, in the ways we understand the structure of the Church itself, particularly our understanding of the forms of headship that seem essential to the Church’s being at the local, regional and worldwide levels.  At the heart of our differences stands the way each of our traditions understands the proper exercise of primacy in the leadership of the Church, both within the various regions of the Christian world and within Christianity as a whole.  In order to be the Body of Christ in its fullness — to be both “Orthodox” and “Catholic” — does a local community, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, have to be united with the other Churches that share the Apostolic faith, not only through Scripture, doctrine, and tradition, but also through common worldwide structures of authority — particularly through the practice of a universal synodality in union with the bishop of Rome?

[There is no question here of one side or the other returning to some pure, patristic, first millennium standard. It's unfair for each side to reproach the other for departing from such a mythic standard. Church history is full of both "Orthodox" and "Catholic" moments (and even a few "Protestant" ones!), and apologists for each side will use the bits that best fit their case. The problems which arose between the Churches in the second millennium arose because there was no consensus about the relationship between primacy and conciliarity in the first! There must, then, be a model of Orthodox-Catholic communion for the third millennium.]

It seems to be no exaggeration, in fact, to say that the root obstacle preventing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from growing steadily towards sacramental and practical unity has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion. While for Catholics, maintaining communion in faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome is considered a necessary criterion for being considered Church in the full sense, for Orthodox, as well as for Protestants, it is precisely the pope’s historic claims to authority in teaching and Church life that are most at variance with the image of the Church presented to us in the New Testament and in early Christian writings.  In the carefully understated words of Pope John Paul II, “the Catholic Church’s conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections” (Ut Unum Sint 88).

(more…)

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The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation recently held its annual meeting and has just released the text of two statements: one on the date of Easter, and the other entitled “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future”.  The latter statement is reproduced below (emphasis added).

—————–

STEPS TOWARDS A REUNITED CHURCH: A SKETCH OF AN ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC VISION FOR THE FUTURE

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation
Georgetown University, Washington, DC
October 2, 2010

1.  Prologue. For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world.  Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

2. A Central Point of Disagreement.  In the course of our discussions, it has become increasingly clear to us that the most divisive element in our traditions has been a growing diversity, since the late patristic centuries, in the ways we understand the structure of the Church itself, particularly our understanding of the forms of headship that seem essential to the Church’s being at the local, regional and worldwide levels.  At the heart of our differences stands the way each of our traditions understands the proper exercise of primacy in the leadership of the Church, both within the various regions of the Christian world and within Christianity as a whole.  In order to be the Body of Christ in its fullness — to be both “Orthodox” and “Catholic” — does a local community, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, have to be united with the other Churches that share the Apostolic faith, not only through Scripture, doctrine, and tradition, but also through common worldwide structures of authority — particularly through the practice of a universal synodality in union with the bishop of Rome?

It seems to be no exaggeration, in fact, to say that the root obstacle preventing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from growing steadily towards sacramental and practical unity has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion. While for Catholics, maintaining communion in faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome is considered a necessary criterion for being considered Church in the full sense, for Orthodox, as well as for Protestants, it is precisely the pope’s historic claims to authority in teaching and Church life that are most at variance with the image of the Church presented to us in the New Testament and in early Christian writings.  In the carefully understated words of Pope John Paul II, “the Catholic Church’s conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections” (Ut Unum Sint 88).

(more…)

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The blog of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (also known as the Transalpine Redemptorists), of Papa Stronsay, Orkney, Scotland, features an interesting document: a 1908 letter from Pope Pius X (not exactly an “ecumaniac” or champion of “indifferentism”) to Andrei Sheptyts’kyi (1865–1944), the saintly Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Kiev, explicitly permitting communicatio in sacris with Orthodox Christians.

N.B. I post this merely for informational purposes; the Catholic and Orthodox faithful should always respect the eucharistic disciplines imposed by the hierarchy of their respective communions.

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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 [2008]), 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.

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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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