Archive for the ‘Mary’ Category

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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(Excerpt from an interview with Radio Vaticana, June 4, emphasis added)

Your Holiness, there has been a lot of progress in dialogue with the Orthodox in terms of cultural, spiritual and life issue. At the recent concert hosted for you by the Patriarch of Moscow, the profound harmony between Orthodox and Catholics was felt particularly in relation to the challenges to Christianity in Europe from secularization. But what is your assessment from a more strictly theological point of view?

Let me start by underscoring these great strides that we have made in our common witness to Christian values in the secular world. This is not just a coalition of political morality, but it is really something profoundly rooted in faith, because the fundamental values for which we are in this secular world is not moralism, but the fundamental physiognomy of Christian faith. When we are able to witness these values, to engage in dialogue, discussion of this world, witnessing to live these values, we have already made a fundamental witness of a very deep unity of faith. Of course there are many theological problems, but here there are very strong elements of unity. I would like to mention three elements we unite us, which see us getting closer, drawing closer. First, Scripture; the Bible is not a book that fell from heaven, it is a book that grew within the people of God, that lives in this common subject of God’s people and only here is always present and real, that can not be isolated, but is the nexus of tradition and Church. This awareness is essential and belongs to the foundation of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and gives us a common path. As a second element, let us say, tradition that interprets us, it opens the door of Scriptures to us, it also has an institutional, sacred, sacramental form, desired by the Lord, that is the episcopate, it has a personal form, that is the college of bishops which together is a witness and presence of this tradition. And the third element, the so-called Regula fidei, that is the profession of faith drawn up by the ancient councils is the sum of what is in Scripture and opens the door to interpretation Then other elements of the liturgy, our common love for Our Lady which unites us deeply, and it also becomes increasingly clear that they are the foundations of Christian life. We must be aware, and delve deeper into the details, but it seems that although different cultures, different situations have created misunderstandings and difficulties, we are growing in awareness of the essential and unity of the essential. I would add that of course it is not the theological discussion alone that creates unity. It is an important dimension, but the whole Christian life, mutual knowledge, learning despite the experiences of the past, this brotherhood are processes that also require great patience. But I think we are learning patience, so love, and with all dimensions of theological dialogue, where we are moving forward leaving it to the Lord to decide when to gift us perfect unity.

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“Rejoice, much-sorrowing Mother of God, turn our sorrows into joy and soften the hearts of evil men!”

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From the new promising new blog, Toward Transfiguration, by Nathan, a seminarian of St Vladimir’s in Crestwood, NY

Last night my wife and I drove north of New York city and across the Tapan Zee bridge to see an icon visiting from Moscow. It was a more powerful experience than we reckoned for. Indeed, the evening was pregnant with prophecy.

The church, a small Russian Orthodox church in a picturesque and rocky New York village right on the west side of the Hudson, was filled with Russians in its narrow bosom. It was a beautiful church, with icons and paintings from floor to ceiling, an elaborate icon screen with brass overlays everywhere, and the many-layered architecture you find only in such places.

In the middle of the church, underneath brass candle holders filled with beeswax candles dancing with flame, stood a very small icon in a glass case. It is the icon of the Theotokos, or Birth-Giver of God, the “Softener of Evil Hearts.” It’s also called “Symeon’s Prophecy,” since it shows seven swords pointed towards the center of the Virgin’s torso, an allusion to Luke 2:34-25. It’s a miraculous icon, associated with physical healing and miracles, but especially for softening hearts towards God and one another of those who pray before it… and softening the hearts of their enemies, too.

What was the icon doing here? On February 2, 2009, the day that the current Patriarch of Moscow Kyrill was enthroned, it miraculously and profusely began gushing pure myrrh. Since then, it’s been on tour.

The service was an Akathist hymn, a long string of poetic verses recounting step by step the crucible of discipleship for Mary from the scriptures, and the sufferings that both she and her Son experienced. Afterwards, the priest anointed all of us with the myrrh from the icon mixed with olive oil. Unexpectedly to us, we saw the anointing of the icon at work in the gift of tears.

The atmosphere of the church was different: my wife remarked on the way home that people were transfixed in meekness. It was spontaneous. Even the priest briefly lost composure and choked up at certain points while reading the prayers of the Akathist, something I’ve rarely seen a priest do. When we got back into our car afterwards, we spontaneously began praying for a family member, and found ourselves weeping, as well. Tears are only tears most of the time. But sometimes they are qualitatively different.

Now what is the meaning of spontaneous tears in a church, and why did an icon associated strongly with miracles of reconciliation and the softening of hearts, and inspired by a Latin devotion, suddenly begin to stream myrrh at the election of the new patriarch of Moscow?

Could it signify that Patriarch Kyrill has been ordained in God’s economy for an extraordinary mission in the midst of a movement of repentance in suffering?

Let me get bolder: not to proclaim a prophecy, but a possibility.

The icon is well known for miracles of softening hearts hardened towards one another in animosity, but it represents reconciliation in another way. The icon is a bridge between East and West, drawing from western piety about the Seven Sorrows and plopping them down squarely in a thoroughly Eastern and Byzantine cultural frame.

Could it therefore be that events that have yet to unfold shall thrust Patriarch Kyrill into the place where he shall enact God’s will for the reconciliation of his divided people, Catholic and Orthodox? Church unity, from a human perspective, will take generations… even at the extremest stretch of optimistic imagination. Yet I believe that there is reason to believe that it can happen suddenly and soon. Stay posted further posts to explain that bold statement later.

But any sign of the Kingdom that God gives us,he gives us to drive us towards prayer and repentance, and not speculation. So let us take the wonder of this icon as a sign that God has given us a very special opportunity in this present time since the election of Patriarch Kyrill: an opportunity to have our prayers born powerfully heavenward on the wings of the Holy Spirit who rushes to answer when we pray that God will soften the animosity of hearts towards one another and heal his divided Church.

Let’s seize this opening in the Heavens and pray as fervently as we can for unity, and for His Holiness Kyrill.

Let us also take the occasion to meditate on how the Mother of God suffered for Christ during her earthly life through the slander, animosity, and shaming of others, and allow those swords that Symeon prophesied would lay bear the thoughts and intents of many hearts to pierce our own souls also. Then the Holy Spirit will soften our evil hearts and lead us to true repentance.

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A little Marian levity

Yes, I’m still technically on retreat from blogging, but I just had to post a link to this post from Fr Hunwicke’s Liturgical Notes. No offence is meant to anyone, of course: just a bit of fun for today’s solemnity of the Assumption/Dormition.

Thanks to Dr Tighe for the link.

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By Father Lev Gillet

From Chrysostom, Vol. VI, No. 5 (Spring 1983), pp. 151-159.

(Continued from Part IPart II & Part III)


V. There are three principal causes which provide an explanation for the opposition with which the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has been met in the Orthodox Church.

First and foremost, there is the mistrust felt a priori by many Orthodox about any doctrine defined by Rome since the separation of East and West. That, of course, is primarily a psychological reason.

There is also the fear of formulating a doctrine which might not seem to have sufficient foundation in Holy Scripture and the patristic tradition. We have left the patristic age outside the bounds of our discussion, limiting ourselves to the Orthodox theology of Byzantium: but it seems that (from St Andrew of Crete to St Theodore the Studite) much evidence can be produced from Greek sources in favour of the Immaculate Conception.

Finally there is the fear of restricting the redemptive work of Christ. Once you have exempted Mary from original sin, have you not exempted her from the effects of her Son’s redemption? Is it not possible for a single exception to destroy the whole economy of salvation? The Orthodox theologians who think on these lines have not given careful enough consideration, or indeed any at all, to the fact that according to Pius IX’s definition, Mary was only exempt from original sin in view of the merits of Christ: “intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis“. Therefore, Christ’s redemptive action was operative in Mary’s case although in a quite different way from that of the rest of mankind.

We will add this, too. Orthodox theology has always insisted on the beauty of human nature in its integrity before the fall. Now it is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which alone can justify this ‘humanism’. It is only in Mary conceived without sin, that human nature has reached its fulfilment and actualized all its possibilities. Mary is the one and only success of the human race. It is through her and in her that humanity has escaped total failure and has offered to the divine a point of entry into the human. Mary, said Metropolitan George of Nicomedia (19th century) “was the magnificent firstfruit offered by human nature to the Creator.” (16) “She is”, said Nicholas Cabasilas (14th century), “truly the first man, the first and only being to have manifested in herself the fullness of human nature.” (17)

VI. Let us draw our conclusions:

  1. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is not a defined dogma in the Orthodox Church.
  2. One can say that since the first part of the nineteenth century the majority of Orthodox believers and theologians have taken their stand against this doctrine.
  3. Nevertheless. it is impossible to say that from the Orthodox point of view the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception constitutes a heresy; for canonically it has never been defined as such by an oecumenical council and in fact it has never met with the disapproval of a universal and unchanging consensus of opinion.
  4. There does exist a continuous line of eminent Orthodox authorities who have taught the Immaculate Conception.
  5. Therefore the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has every right to its existence in the Orthodox Church as an opinion of a school or as a personal theologoumenon based on a tradition worthy of respect.
  6. It follows therefore that the Roman definition of 1854 does not constitute an obstacle to the reunion of the Eastern and Western Churches.
  7. It is my own view that not only does the Immaculate Conception not contradict any Orthodox dogma but that it is a necessary and logical development of the whole of Orthodox belief. (18)

Regina sine labe concepta, ora pro nobis.


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By Father Lev Gillet

From Chrysostom, Vol. VI, No. 5 (Spring 1983), pp. 151-159.

(Continued from Part I and Part II)


IV. Let us now consider more closely the attitude of the Russian Church towards the question of the Immaculate Conception.

Every Russian theological student knows that St Dmitri, metropolitan of Rostov (17th century), supported the Latin “theory of the epiklesis” (10)but young Russians are inclined to consider the case of Dmitri as a regrettable exception, an anomoly. If they knew the history of Russian theology a little better they would know that from the middle ages to the seventeenth century the Russian Church has, as a whole, accepted belief in the Immaculate Conception (11).

The Academy of Kiev, with Peter Moghila, Stephen Gavorsky and many others, taught the Immaculate Conception in terms of Latin theology. A confraternity of the Immaculate Conception was established at Polotsk in 1651. The Orthodox members of the confraternity promised to honour the Immaculate Conception of Mary all the days of their life. The Council of Moscow of 1666 approved Simeon Polotsky’s book called The Rod of Direction, in which he said: “Mary was exempt from original sin from the moment of her conception”. (12)

All this cannot be explained as the work of Polish Latinising influence. We have seen that much was written on the same lines in the Greek East. When as a result of other Greek influences, attacks were launched in Moscow against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, a protest was made by the Old Believers – a sect separated from the official Church by reason of its faithfulness to certain ancient rites. Again in 1841, the Old Believers said in an official declaration that “Mary has had no share in original sin”. (13) To all those who know how deeply the Old Believers are attached to the most ancient beliefs and traditions, their testimony has a very special significance. In 1848, the “Dogmatic Theology” of the Archimandrite Antony Amphitheatroff, approved by the Holy Synod as a manual for seminaries, reproduced Palamas’ curious theory of the progressive purification of the Virgin’s ancestors, a theory which has already been mentioned and which proclaims Mary’s exemption from original sin. Finally, we should notice that the Roman definition of 1854 was not attacked by the most representative theologians of the time, Metropolitan Philaretes of Moscow and Macarius Boulgakov.

It was in 1881 that the first important writing appeared in Russian literature in opposition to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It was written by Professor A. Lebedev of Moscow who held the view that the Virgin was completely purified from original sin at Golgotha. (14) In 1884, the Holy Synod included the question of the Immaculate Conception in the programme of “polemical”, that is to say, anti-Latin theology. Ever since then, official Russian theology has been unanimously opposed to the Immaculate Conception.

This attitude of the Russians has been strengthened by a frequent confusion of Mary’s immaculate conception with the virgin birth of Christ. This confusion is to be found not only among ignorant people, but also among many theologians and bishops. In 1898, Bishop Augustine, author of a “Fundamental Theology”, translated “immaculate conception” by “conception sine semine“. More recently still, Metropolitan Anthony then Archbishop of Volkynia, wrote against the “impious heresy of the immaculate and virginal conception of the Most Holy Mother of God by Joachim and Anne.” It was a theologian of the Old Believers, A. Morozov, who had to point out to the archbishop that he did not know what he was talking about. (15)


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