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‘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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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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A symposium to be held at The University of Scranton on Friday, Oct. 15, will bring together scholars and clergymen involved in the work of ecumenism — the effort to bring into full, sacramental unity Christian bodies that have been long separated and sometimes hostile to one another.

At the beginning of the new millennium, a document issued by the Vatican sparked intense debate through ecumenical circles because of “its candid re-emphasis on singular and exclusive claims of the Catholic Church and its direct reference to what it called the ‘defects’ of other, non-Catholic Christian communities,” said Will Cohen, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and religious studies at The University of Scranton.

Dr. Cohen explained, “Although the document’s main focus was on relations not between divided Christians, but between Christianity and other faiths, its comments on inter-Christian relations sparked intense controversy and debate, both within and outside the Catholic Church — debate about the nature of the Church, its purpose, the basis of its unity and the meaning of Christian division.”

The event begins with a panel discussion entitled “The Church of Christ and Ecumenism 10 Years after Dominus Iesus: a Symposium on Christian Division and Reconciliation” that will bring together theologians from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Polish National Catholic and Anglican traditions to discuss Dominus Iesus ten years after its publication and to consider current prospects and challenges of ecumenical dialogue. The panel discussion, which will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. in room 406 of the DeNaples Center, is sponsored by the University’s Education for Justice Office and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies

In addition, a Catholic Studies Lecture will be presented by Monsignor Paul McPartlan, the Carl J. Peter Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  A member of both the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church and the International Commission for Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, Monsignor McPartlan will focus his presentation on the progress of these two dialogue commissions in a paper titled, “An Exchange of Gifts: Catholic-Orthodox and Catholic-Methodist Dialogue.” The lecture will take place at 7 p.m. in the Moskovitz Theater of the DeNaples Center.  Monsignor McPartlan’s address will be followed by a question-and-answer period.

Afternoon speakers include the Right Reverend Anthony Mikovsky, Ph.D., pastor of St. Stanislaus Cathedral in Scranton, Pa., and Bishop Ordinary of the Central Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC), as well as a member of the PNCC-Roman Catholic Dialogue; Reverend Dr. Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology in Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto and a member of the Covenant Design Group, established in 2007 by Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury with the aim of developing an Anglican Covenant that would affirm the cooperative principles binding the worldwide Anglican communion; and Reverend Dr. John Panteleimon Manoussakis, the Edward Bennet Williams Fellow and assistant professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Both the afternoon panel discussions and the Catholic Studies Lecture are free and open to the public. For additional information, please contact Dr. Cohen at The University of Scranton at 570-941-4545 or cohenw2@scranton.edu.

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We “Commend the Continuing Work of the Dialogue to the Prayers of the Faithful”

VIENNA, Austria, SEPT. 29, 2010 (Zenit.org) – Here is a communique released at the conclusion of the 12th plenary session of the International Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which took place Sept. 22-27 in Vienna.

* * *

The twelfth meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church took place in Vienna, Austria, a city with a long history, a bridge between West and East, with a rich ecumenical life. The meeting, generously and fraternally hosted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna, from 20-27 September 2010, in the Kardinal König Haus.

Twenty three Catholic members were present, a few were unable to attend. All the Orthodox Churches, with the exception of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, were represented, namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Antioch, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Patriarchate of Serbia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Patriarchate of Georgia, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Poland, the Church of Albania and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.

The Commission worked under the direction of its two co-presidents, Archbishop Kurt Koch and Metropolitan Prof. Dr John of Pergamon, assisted by the co-secretaries, Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Rev. Andrea Palmieri (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity).

At the opening plenary session on Wednesday, 22 September, the Commission was welcomed very warmly by the host, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, and by Metropolitan Michael of Austria of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on behalf of all Orthodox Churches present in Austria. Both emphasized the importance of holding the meeting in Vienna, which occupies a particular place in the history of the whole of Christianity. In the evening a reception was given by the Mayor of Vienna, Dr. Michael Häupl, at the Vienna Town Hall. The co-presidents announced that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI had urged intense prayer for the Commission meeting at his Wednesday General Audience and they read a Message to the participants from His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. A letter was sent by the co-presidents on behalf of the Joint Commission to the former President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and co-president of the dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, expressing gratitude and appreciation for his service and for his significant contribution.

On Thursday, 23 September, the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria met the members of the Joint Commission at Kardinal König Haus. On Saturday, 25 September, the Catholic members celebrated the Eucharist in the Stephansdom in Vienna presided over by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, in the presence of the Orthodox members. In his homily he said that “we have and we need a primacy in the canonical sense, but above all there is the primacy of charity. All canonical dispositions in the Church serve this primacy of love (agape)”. Afterwards a reception was offered in the Courtyard of the Archiepiscopal Palace of Vienna.

On Sunday, 26 September, the Orthodox members celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate of Austria in Vienna, presided over by Metropolitan John of Pergamon, in the presence of the Catholic members. In addressing those present, Metropolitan Michael of Austria conveyed “the greetings of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and underlined the role and the contribution of the Greek Metropolitanate to the history of Vienna with great eminent personalities”. He also referred to “the close collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics in Austria and in Vienna in particular, expressing the wish that the Lord’s prayer ‘that all may be one’ (Jn 17:21) be a reality in the search for the unity of His Church”.

During the afternoon, the members paid a visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz and attended the service of Vespers. Later in the evening, they visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nikolaus.

On the first day of the meeting, as is customary, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox members met separately to coordinate their work. The Orthodox meeting discussed among other things the unfinished draft text produced by the 11th plenary session in Paphos, Cyprus last year, and much time was given to the methodology of the dialogue. The Catholic meeting also considered the draft text, seeking specific ways to improve the text, and reflected on methodological questions.

As was decided at the 10th plenary session in Ravenna, 2007, the Commission is studying the theme “The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium”, on the basis of a draft text prepared by the Joint Coordinating Committee, which met in Aghios Nikolaos/Crete, Greece, 2008. During its meeting in Vienna, the Commission continued the detailed consideration of the text which began at last year’s plenary session at Paphos, Cyprus. At this stage, the Commission is discussing this text as a working document and it decided that the text must be further revised. It was also decided to form a sub-commission to begin consideration of the theological and ecclesiological aspects of Primacy in its relation to Synodality. The sub-commission will submit its work to the Joint Coordinating Committee of the Commission which will meet next year.

During the meeting the members received the sad news that Mgr Eleuterio Fortino, co-secretary of the Joint Commission since its inception, passed away, after a long period of illness, and prayers were offered for the repose of his soul.

The meeting of the Joint Commission was marked by a spirit of friendship and trustful collaboration. All members greatly appreciated the generous hospitality of the host Church, and they strongly commend the continuing work of the dialogue to the prayers of the faithful.

Vienna, Austria, 26 September 2010.

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Via Byzantine Texas, a “robo-translation” of this news article from the of the Moscow Patriarchate [a few comments in blue]:

As the President of the Department for External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate popular idea several media working document of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church does not reflect the position of the Orthodox parties on the issue of primacy of the Roman bishop, and can only be seen as merely auxiliary material for further work. [Compare this judgment of Met. Hilarion with the words of Met. John Zizioulas, that "On the whole the basic ideas of Ravenna are accepted by all the orthodox churches." Met. Hilarion, on behalf of the Russian Church, also voiced his disagreement with Ravenna as well.]
.
Contrary to the assertions of the press, at the meeting of the Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission in Vienna, there were no “breakthroughs” made. ["The press", of course, were following the lead of both Met. John Zizioulas and Archbishop Kurt Koch. Met. Hilarion is suggesting, I think, that Met. John shouldn't be speaking for the Orthodox.] All the session was devoted to discussion of the role of the bishop of Rome in the first millennium. On this subject the steering committee of the Commission had earlier prepared a document discussed in the last year in Cyprus . A draft version of the document “flowed” ["leaked"?] in the media and has been published.
.
It was assumed that Vienna will be able to finish the discussion of this document. But nothing happened: It took a lot of time discussion of the status of the text. Orthodox members from the very beginning of the meeting insisted that “the Cyprus document” can neither be formally issued on behalf of the Commission, nor signed by its members. From our perspective, this paper needs substantial revision, but after treatment he may have only the status of “working document” that is merely auxiliary material (instrumentum laboris), which can be used to prepare the following documents, but he will not have any official status.
.
“The Cyprus paper has strictly historical in nature and, speaking about the role of the bishop of Rome, almost no mention of the bishops of other Local Churches of the first millennium, creating misconceptions about how to distribute power in the early Church. In addition, the document is not clear and precise allegations that the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome in the first millennium did not extend to the East. It is hoped that these gaps and omissions will be filled in the finalization of the text.
.
After a lengthy discussion, the Commission decided that the document needed more work and that a final decision on his status will be made at the next plenary meeting of the committee, ie expected in two years. By this time, will be drafted a new document, which will consider the same issues, but only from the theological point of view.
.
For the Orthodox participants [All of them? Who is speaking for them, Met. Hilarion or Met. John Zizioulas?] is obvious that the first millennium jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome was distributed solely to the West, whereas in the East territories were divided between the four Patriarchy – Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The Bishop of Rome had no direct jurisdiction of the East [would very many Catholic theologians and historians argue that he did?], despite the fact that in some cases Eastern hierarchs spoke to him as an arbiter in theological disputes. Data treatment did not have a systematic character and in no way be interpreted in the sense that the bishop of Rome was seen in the East as the holder of the supreme authority throughout the universal Church.
.
I hope that in subsequent meetings of the commission the Catholic side would agree with this position, as evidenced by numerous historical evidence. [Met. Hilarion is certainly right in wanting to have his Church's ecclesiological views reflected in the work of the Commission, especially since his Church is by far the largest Orthodox Church: its views are those of the Orthodox majority!  At the same time, I do think Met. Hilarion's words are as much about the continued ecclesiological spats with Constantinople, as they are about old ecclesiological spats with Rome.]

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By Tom Heneghan of Reuters FaithWorld

September 24, 2010

[A few comments in blue.]

Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 [well, not to be pedantic, but how about 1484?] and bringing the two largest denominations [Apostolic communions of Churches] in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium.

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. [Would that this were true!] “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch [who stands in very sharp contrast to his far more liberal predecessor, Cardinal Kasper. This means (1) that relations with the Orthodox are primary, and (2) relations with Protestants will now be an "ecumenism of return" (see Anglicanorum coetibus)], the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.”

(more…)

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