Archive for December, 2009

Advent Hiatus

Dear friends, I’m closing down the blog until sometime after Christmas. There will be no new posts until then, and all comments will be held in moderation until then.

Have a wonderful remainder of the Nativity Fast, or Advent Season, and a glorious Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ!

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If you find yourself under comment moderation, it’s because you’ve violated my comment policy.*

If, after being under moderation for a time, you find yourself completely banned from commenting, it’s because you’ve continued to violate my comment policy, even after a generous probation period.

If you’d like to know exactly why you’ve been put under moderation, or banned, you can e-mail me privately at eirenikonblog (at) me (dot) com.

* If you’ve posted more than five links (until now, the default has been two links), you’ll get caught in the spam filter.

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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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Quote of the day

… [T]hankfully, pig-headed foolishness is not a Church-dividing issue.

– Father Paul

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Our friend Michaël alerts us to an interesting document, recently issued by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation: “A Common Response to the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church Regarding the Ravenna Document.”

The North American Consultation’s conclusion about the Ravenna Document (emphasis mine):

We find much to commend in the Ravenna document and welcome its publication. The document identifies conciliarity with the entire Church, not just in episcopal councils. It draws an analogy among the three levels of communion: local, regional, and universal, each of which appropriately has a “first” with the role of fostering communion, in order to ground the rationale of why the universal level must also have a primacy. It articulates the principle that primacy and conciliarity are interdependent and mutually necessary. It provides both a sacramental and Trinitarian basis for the koinonia of the Church. It identifies ministry as a service of communion. It attempts to broaden the basis of authority wherein each of the baptized exercises an authority proper to that person’s ordo in the Church, and it invites us to reflect on the fact that just as primacy and conciliarity are interdependent, so are the processes of reception and teaching.

At the same time our Consultation also judges that some issues mentioned in the text are in need of further dialogue and clarification. Like any analogy between the eternal God and created beings, the analogy between the order (taxis) which exists among the three persons of the Holy Trinity and the order (taxis) which exists among local Churches requires further explanation and development. The Ravenna text does not make sufficiently clear the ecclesiological status of regional expressions of primacy and synodality. Even at regional levels, and not only at the universal level, the limits and exercise of authority by the “first” are also not made clear. The document’s historical treatment of apostolic succession and of ecumenical councils lacks precision and may occasion oversimplification and misunderstanding. The understanding of the local parish within the context of the modern diocese or local Church is in need of study.

Finally, we take exception to the contents of the Ravenna document’s sole footnote: “Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasize that the use of the terms ‘the Church’, ‘the universal Church’ and ‘the Body of Christ’ in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks. From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ (Lumen Gentium, 8); this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.”

We find this footnote inaccurate. First, we think that its two assertions do not adequately represent the ecclesiology of either the Orthodox or the Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church’s self-understanding as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is not understood by all Orthodox in exclusivist terms. Throughout the centuries, significant currents within Orthodox ecclesiology have recognized the presence of the Church’s reality outside the canonical, visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church. Also, to assert that “from the Catholic point of view the same self-awareness applies” misrepresents Catholic ecclesiology at and since the Second Vatican Council, in spite of the Ravenna document’s reference to Lumen Gentium 8. Because of apostolic succession and the Eucharist, Vatican II did not hesitate to recognize that the Orthodox constitute “Churches,” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 14) that they are “sister Churches,” and to assert that in their celebration of the Eucharist, the Church of God is being built up and growing. To our Consultation, these two points of view point to the fact that the ecclesiological issues regarding mutual recognition raised at Bari still require resolution.

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To His Holiness Bartholomaios I
Archbishop of Constantinople
Ecumenical Patriarch
Your Holiness,

It is with great joy that I address Your Holiness on the occasion of the visit of the delegation guided by my Venerable Brother Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to whom I have entrusted the task of conveying to you my warmest fraternal greetings on the Feast of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter and the protector of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On this joyful occasion commemorating the birth into eternal life of the Apostle Andrew, whose witness of faith in the Lord culminated in his martyrdom, I express also my respectful remembrance to the Holy Synod, the clergy and all the faithful, who under your pastoral care and guidance continue even in difficult circumstances to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The memory of the holy martyrs compels all Christians to bear witness to their faith before the world. There is an urgency in this call especially in our own day, in which Christianity is faced with increasingly complex challenges. The witness of Christians will surely be all the more credible if all believers in Christ are “of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32).

Our Churches have committed themselves sincerely over the last decades to pursuing the path towards the re-establishment of full communion, and although we have not yet reached our goal, many steps have been taken that have enabled us to deepen the bonds between us. Our growing friendship and mutual respect, and our willingness to encounter one another and to recognize one another as brothers in Christ, should not be hindered by those who remain bound to the remembrance of historical differences, which impedes their openness to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and is able to transform all human failings into opportunities for good.

This openness has guided the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which held its eleventh plenary session in Cyprus last month. The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness. I extend once again my heartfelt gratitude to the Church of Cyprus for its most generous welcome and hospitality. It is a source of great encouragement that despite some difficulties and misunderstandings all the Churches involved in the International Commission have expressed their intention to continue the dialogue.

The theme of the plenary session, The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, is certainly complex, and will require extensive study and patient dialogue if we are to aspire to a shared integration of the traditions of East and West. The Catholic Church understands the Petrine ministry as a gift of the Lord to His Church. This ministry should not be interpreted in the perspective of power, but within an ecclesiology of communion, as a service to unity in truth and charity. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity (Saint Ignatius of Antioch), is understood to be the Servus Servorum Dei (Saint Gregory the Great). Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.

Yet even as we make this journey towards full communion, we should already offer common witness by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person, in affirming fundamental ethical values, in promoting justice and peace, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world, particularly hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the inequitable distribution of resources.

Furthermore, our Churches can work together in drawing attention to humanity’s responsibility for the safeguarding of creation. In this regard, I express once again my appreciation for the many valuable initiatives supported and encouraged by Your Holiness which have borne witness to the gift of creation. The recent international symposium on Religion, Science and the Environment dedicated to the Mississippi River, and your encounters in the United States with distinguished figures from the political, cultural and religious spheres, have exemplified your commitment.

Your Holiness, on the solemn Feast of the great Apostle Andrew, I express my respectful esteem and spiritual closeness to Your Holiness and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and I pray that the Triune God may bestow abundant blessings of grace and light on your lofty ministry for the good of the Church.

It is with these sentiments that I extend to you a fraternal embrace in the name of our one Lord Jesus Christ, and I renew my prayer that the peace and grace of our Lord may be with Your Holiness and with all those entrusted to your eminent pastoral leadership.

From the Vatican, 25 November 2009

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Recently, I was involved in an interesting private discussion about the way that the Catholic Church has historically handled the individual conversions of Orthodox Christians to her communion.

One of the participants in the discussion maintained that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church generally frowns on such individual conversions, that she would rather Orthodox Christians remain within their own communion (since, after all, unlike Protestant bodies, the local Orthodox Churches are indeed “true particular Churches” in Rome’s eyes), and that the Orthodox Churches should be dealt with corporately. There may be instances in which individual conversion is warranted (that is, the Church would never turn away those who feel that they must convert as a matter of conscience), but generally speaking, individual conversions do not figure into Rome’s ecumenical programme with Orthodoxy, and in fact, they could be seen as directly counter to it – that is, as actually thwarting the true quest for corporate unity.

My question: Is this an accurate representation of the current Catholic* approach to Orthodoxy; and if so, where would one be able to find this approach expressed officially?

* Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic; or, to make things a bit more complex, are there different approaches here?

Update – I should have mentioned my awareness of the clauses in the Balamand Declaration (1993), dealing with proselytism:

5. While the inviolable freedom of persons and their obligation to follow the requirements of their conscience remain secure, in the search for re-establishing unit there is no question of conversion of people from one Church to the other in order to ensure their salvation. There is a question of achieving together the will of Christ for his own and the design of God for his Church by means of a common quest by the Churches for a full accord on the content of the faith and its implications …

But I am also aware that this statement, like all such joint ecumenical statements, does not officially bind either side to its recommendations. And the Balamand Declaration has its fair share of fierce critics, from conservative and traditionalists on both sides of the schism.

What I am looking for is some public teaching from the Roman magisterium to the effect that individual conversions of Eastern Orthodox Christians are not in line with the Roman Church’s current policy concerning union with the Orthodox Churches.

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