Archive for February, 2010

From the blog The Divine Life by Eric Sammons:

Last night I attended a talk by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware entitled “An Insider’s View: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Today”. Metropolitan Kallistos is a member of the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which is the official committee charged with ecumenical talks between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches at the highest levels.

Kallistos gave a very informative and engaging talk. After reviewing a brief history of the Joint Committee, he then focused on its work over the past few years. He noted that the last official dialogue about reunion – the Council of Florence in the 15th century – spent months discussing the filioque and purgatory, but only 10 days on the role of the pope in the Church. Now there is a recognition by all parties that the papacy is in fact the most significant obstacle to unity, so the Committee has decided to focus on that.

The most significant document that the Committee has produced is the Ravenna Document (2007), in which the Orthodox participants, for the first time, acknowledge the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome. As the Metropolitan emphasized last night, this was incredibly significant. Of course, what “universal primacy” means is still hotly debated.

(In fact, one of the most telling moments of the night was the final question. Someone ask Kallistos what the Orthodox mean, in practical terms, by “universal primacy”. How would it actually be practiced in the real world? The Metropolitan responded by noting that the Orthodox are very clear on what universal primacy is NOT, but have not really decided on what it IS.)

Another topic the Metropolitan discussed was the three levels of authority in the Church, as emphasized by the Ravenna Document: local, regional, and universal. He lamented the fact that the Western Church has practically ignored the regional level, and stated that a reclamation of that understanding in the West was necessary for a true understanding of universal authority within the Church. As a Western Christian, I admit that I have never had much appreciation for regional authority within the Church, so I’ll have to consider that more in-depth myself.

An important aspect of how authority is practiced in the Church, both in the East and the West,  is the concept of “protos”, which means “first”. The Church is hierarchical, and therefore in every grouping in the Church, there must be a “protos”. For example, the bishop is the “protos” of his diocese. The Patriarch is “protos” among the bishops in his patriarchy. The pope is “protos” among all the bishops in the universal Church. Both Catholics and Orthodox accept this structure. But what does it mean to be “protos”? How is that role exercised? Metropolitan Kallistos pointed out Apostolic Canon 34 as a model for the role of “protos” in the Church. Apostolic Canon 34 states,

The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent…but neither let him (who is head) do anything without the consent of all.

It should be obvious that the problem arises from the second part of that Canon. In fact, this appears to be in direct conflict with Vatican I, which states that “definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable”. But Metropolitan Kallistos is hopeful that this Canon will be a way in which the Church can find a mutually agreeable means for the pope to practice universal primacy.

Metropolitan Kallistos also mentioned the recently leaked draft from the Committee about the papacy in the first millennium, which I analyzed here. He was very disappointed that the draft was leaked and felt strongly that the person who leaked it, thus breaking an agreement of confidentiality, should be removed from the Committee, if discovered. While respecting the need to honor a confidentiality agreement, I asked him if the very practice of confidentiality in this situation is healthy. After all, the reason the Council of Florence failed to bring about union was because the common people in the East rejected what was presented to them as a done deal. They had no involvement in the process. Would it not be better to make the Joint Committee more open to the public, thus allowing more people to be invested in it, and therefore making it more acceptable to the members of the various churches?

Kallistos agreed that it is vitally important that the leaders of the churches make these discussions a reality in the pews, and admitted that they had not done a good job of that. He asked how many people in the audience had actually read the Ravenna Document, and only about 10-15% of the audience had (and this was an audience deeply engaged in this issue). He did think it important to keep the discussions confidential during the process of creating a document, for many things in the draft might be eventually rejected and he saw no point in people getting upset about something that might eventually getting discarded. A valid point, but personally I think in today’s interconnected world more openness would be beneficial.

All in all, it was a wonderful talk, and I hope and pray that Metropolitan Kallistos is blessed with many more years of service to the Church.

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(February 21, 2010)


By God’s Grace

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Fullness of the Church, Grace and Peace

From our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Our most holy Orthodox Church today commemorates its own feast day, and – from this historical and martyric See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – the Mother Church of Constantinople directs its blessing, love and concern to all of its faithful and dedicated spiritual children throughout the world, inviting them to concelebrate in prayer.

Blessed be the name of the Lord! Those who endeavored over the ages to suppress the Church through various visible and invisible persecutions; those who sought to falsify the Church with their heretical teachings; those who wanted to silence the Church, depriving it of its voice and witness; they all proved unsuccessful. The clouds of Martyrs, the tears of the Ascetics, and the prayers of the Saints protect the Church spiritually, while the Comforter and Spirit of Truth leads it to the fullness of truth.

With a sense of duty and responsibility, despite its hurdles and problems, as the First-Throne Church of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about protecting and establishing the unity of the Orthodox Church, in order that with one voice and in one heart we may confess the Orthodox faith of our Fathers in every age and even in our times. For, Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people. Orthodoxy is always contemporary, so long as we promote it with humility and interpret it in light of the existential quests and needs of humanity in each historical period and cultural circumstance.

To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

Today, Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible. Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father “that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me.” (John 17:21) It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.

It is precisely for these reasons that, with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in an unacceptably fanatical way – at least by the standards of a genuinely Orthodox ethos – by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy. As if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church.

In their polemical argumentation, these critics of the restoration of unity among Christians do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful. Thus, they are silent about the fact that theological dialogues are conducted by unanimous decision of all Orthodox Churches, instead attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone. They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods. They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because they latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics! They condemn those who conduct these dialogues as allegedly “heretics” and “traitors” of Orthodoxy, purely and simply because they converse with non-Orthodox, with whom they share the treasure and truth of our Orthodox faith. They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers.

Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue. By contrast, when in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism. You should have utmost confidence in your Mother Church. For the Mother Church has over the ages preserved and transmitted Orthodoxy even to other nations. And today, the Mother Church is struggling amid difficult circumstances to maintain Orthodoxy vibrant and venerable throughout the world.

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this sacred Center of Orthodoxy, we embrace all of you lovingly and bless you paternally, praying that you may journey in health through the holy period of contrition and asceticism known as Holy and Great Lent in order that you may become worthy of celebrating the pure Passion and glorious Resurrection of our Savior Lord with all faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010

+ Bartholomew of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant to God for all

+ Constantine of Derkon

+Evangelos of Perge

+ Kallinikos of Lystra

+ Michael of Austria

+ Alexios of Atlanta

+ Joseph of Proikonnisos

+ Demetrios of Sevasteia

+ Irenaios of Myriophyton and Peristasis

+ Chrysostom of Myra

+ Emmanuel of France

+ Makarios of Gortyna and Arkadia

+ Amphilochios of New Zealand

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The Associated Press
Thursday, January 28, 2010; 8:39 AM

The new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church on Thursday urged dialogue to overcome long-standing divisions with Roman Catholics.

Patriarch Irinej said that a 2013 anniversary important to Christians would be a “good opportunity … to meet and talk.”

He added that “with God’s help this (dialogue) would continue to overcome what had happened in history and take a new, Christian road.”

The year 2013 marks 1700 years since Roman emperor Constantine the Great signed the Edict of Milan to establish religious tolerance for Christians.

Serbia’s patriarch has suggested that the ceremony to mark the anniversary could be held in the Serbian city of Nis, emperor Constantine’s birthplace, and include Pope Benedict XVI as well as key Orthodox Christian leaders.

That would be the first ever visit by a pope to Serbia, a rare European country not visited by the Roman Catholic Pope.

The Serbian Orthodox Church had opposed the visit in the past because of the schism between the two churches, but also over the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which pitted Serbs against Croats, who are mostly Roman Catholics.

Irinej acknowledged that the war period “was not the right moment (for the papal visit) and we decided to postpone it for more peaceful times.” He added, however, that no concrete arrangements for the visit have been made so far.

The 80-year-old Irinej was elected last week to become the 45th Serbian patriarch. He is considered to be a moderate in the influential church which is viewed as hardline conservative.

Irinej has retained firm opposition to the Western-backed opposition in Kosovo, the historic heartland of the Serbian church which split in 2008. He said Thursday that “Kosovo is soaked with Serbian blood” and “belongs to us.”

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On January 25, a draft document from the International Catholic-Orthodox dialogue was leaked to Chiesa, the Italian Catholic news agency. Written in 2008, the document “The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium” is entirely unofficial. I hesitate somewhat to post it, out of principle (was the document leaked by someone wishing to throw a wrench in the ecumenical works?), but I will post it, since it’s already out there, and is a fascinating read.

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