Archive for the ‘Eastern Catholicism’ Category

From Rocco Palmo’s Whispers in the Loggia:

As foreseen yesterday, this morning the Pope accepted the retirement of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar as major-archbishop of Kiev and head of the 5 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church worldwide.

With the departure of the 77 year-old hierarch on grounds of poor health, the leadership of the largest Eastern fold in communion with Rome is now up for grabs, and going into next month’s Synod to elect his successor, the stakes are high well beyond the ecclesial front.

For starters, the choice of the UGCC’s 26th head will, in all likelihood, mark a generational shift at the church’s helm. Each tipped to receive serious consideration to succeed to the (de facto) patriarch’s chair, three of the body’s four metropolitans — the Synod’s most senior figures after Husar, all likewise elected by it to their current posts — are 60 or younger, two of them having spent their whole lives in the diaspora.

In the meanwhile, the church’s second-ranking figure at home, Archeparch Ivor Vozniak, 58 — Husar’s onetime deputy in his former seat of Lviv — has been named the church’s temporary head pending the Synod of Election, which must convene within a month. Prior to his ascent, the now-retired cardinal was the lead aide to his predecessor, Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, who led the church for 17 years until his death in 2001 at 86.

Above all, though, the selection of the next major-archbishop will be watched with considerable attention far outside Ukrainian and Catholic circles alike for the decision’s potential impact on the delicate relationship between the Vatican and the Kremlin — a slowly warming rapport whose continued improvement ranks atop Benedict XVI’s religious and geopolitical priorities all around.

For his part, Husar’s decade-long tenure has had its share of tensions with Ukraine’s predominant Orthodox church. The latter closely linked with the formidable Moscow patriarchate — that is, the ecumenical constituency to which Benedict has invested his most intense energies as Pope — the UGCC has long been accused of proselytism andinterference by its Orthodox counterparts, and the two groups havesparred over the construction of churches.

Along the way, the Greek-Catholics prominently inflamed pockets of Orthodox tensions with Husar’s 2005 move to Kiev (the traditional cradle of Russian Christianity and seat of the UOC), coupled with his push to build a grand cathedral there (above), the preliminary chapel of which was set ablaze in 2005 in an act immediately blamed on Orthodox aggression. (Dedicated to the Resurrection, the Kiev cathedral’s exterior was completed last fall.)

Most recently, in one of his last major statements in office, the cardinal — invariably a fierce advocate of his church’s fullest standing in society — blasted an enhanced state recognition for the UOC (one of three Orthodox branches in Ukraine).

Saying that the country’s constitution ensured equal status under the law for each religious body, Husar warned that “when we can witness a clearly biased, despite all the assurances to the contrary, attitude of the regime toward a specified church, this favoritism begins to create tensions.”

The development, he said, “is dangerous for the nation’s peace.”

In its relations with the Orthodox churches on post-Soviet turf, Rome has often found itself walking a delicate balance, and no more is that the case than in the sizable orbit of the Moscow patriarchate.

Even as its diaspora grew and the leaders of the persecuted fold were arrested before being scattered in exile, the Vatican has maintained a half-century reluctance to accord the patriarchal dignity to the head of the Ukrainian church, inventing the designation of major-archbishop in 1963 after Paul VI was petitioned to elevate the fold’s then-head, Cardinal Joseph Slipyj, to the full status of an Eastern chief. While John Paul II naturally enjoyed a particular bond with the faithful just across the border from his Polish homeland, even he declined the step. And given Benedict’s priority on improving relations with Orthodoxy’s most hard-line branch, not only would the question seem even less likely to be broached in the current pontificate (at least, barring a sudden, epic detente with Moscow), but a realm of thought on this front has seen the reigning Pope as having given more emphasis to external relations than that of the churches within his own care. Whether this mindset reflexively plays out in the choice of a successor from Husar’s mould of an unstinting, battle-ready defense of the church’s prerogatives, as opposed to a more diplomatic figure, hangs as a key variable in the run-up to the Synod — one which, again, could have ramifications far beyond Kiev.

Coincidentally, last week marked two years since Rome’s most significant recent triumph on the Orthodox front — the election of Metropolitan Kirill, the Russian church’s chief ecumenist, who became particularly well-regarded at the Holy See, as patriarch of Moscow following the death of the more strident Alexei II.

To the degree that the Russian Synod was looking outside, its choice of the moderate, media-savvy dialogue chief was likely aided by the Vatican’s 2007 appointment of a more collaborative cleric — the Italian priest of Communion and Liberation Paolo Pezzi — as the capital’s Catholic archbishop, replacing a prelate whose departure the Orthodox had ardently sought.

Though Kirill and Benedict have built a history of warm relations from the former’s prior assignment, to date, no meeting between a Roman pontiff and incumbent Russian patriarch has ever taken place… and to say that the historic encounter is high on B16’s “bucket list” reaches the realm of understatement.

While the Moscow chief is thought to be just as personally disposed for the moment to happen, as patriarch, Kirill first has to assuage his hard-liners. And it’s likewise on Benedict’s radar that his hierarchs refrain from presenting any obstacles that would galvanize the significant resistance in both churches to better relations, largely thanks to the concessions each would have to make along the way.

To be sure, in a December address, Husar lamented the “stereotype” that “Greek Catholics are the problem for reaching agreements between the Moscow Patriarchate and Roman Pope.”

“The pope and the Patriarch of Moscow cannot reach an agreement on many other things,” the cardinal said.

“You see, we are the unfortunate Greek Catholics on the border between the two great cultures – the Byzantine and Latin ones, between Roman Catholicism and confessional Orthodoxy – as we consider ourselves the Orthodox in unity with the Apostolic See.”

Still, the truth remains the Vatican’s prized path to Moscow could well be affected by what happens in Kiev. So on multiple points of the map, get ready for an interesting month.

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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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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)


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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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).



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).


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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.



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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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 de Ville informs us of his new blog, Eastern Christian Books: “I hope to feature brief notices of new books in Eastern Christian Studies, with links to their publisher; short reviews of my own of new books; long reviews of my own; and then links to long reviews published in LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, of which I am editor.”

De Ville is a professor at St Francis University (Fort Wayne, IN), and author of The Roman Papacy and the Orthodox Churches: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (to be published by the University of Notre Dame Press in early 2011). He received his doctorate from Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, St Paul University, Ottawa.

On this blog’s former incarnation, we featured a review by de Ville of Michael Whelton’s Popes and Patriarchs: An Orthodox Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims.

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