Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category

While it is not a popular position for an Orthodox Christian, much less a priest, when I reflect on the history of uniatism—of those communities who left the Orthodox Church and joined themselves to Catholic Church—I am struck less by the machinations of Rome and more the failing of Orthodox Christians. Much of what we call uniatism is the fruit of our failure to be reconciled to each other, to support and encourage each other. How different would events then, and now, have unfolded if the actors had seen each other as the precious, irreplaceable gifts from God that each of us is to the other?

What concerns me as well is that even among those Orthodox Christians who left and joined themselves to Rome the same divisions still exist among Eastern Catholics. Forgive me for speaking so plainly, but I cannot help wonder at times at the tribalism that seems so deeply rooted in Eastern Christianity. Whether we are Orthodox or Catholic, we seem to prefer to be with “our people” rather than “those people.” This preference for our own comes at the expense of the Gospel and is in stark contrast to the beauty and wisdom I have found in Eastern Christianity.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council figured prominently in my own journey to the Orthodox Church. Not, as some might imagine, in a negative way, but in positive way. Reading the Council Fathers, looking at the reforms that they struggled to articulate and implement, was struck by the the prominence of the Christian East. To take but two examples, Vatican II’s emphasizes the conciliar nature of the Church on the universal level and the celebration of the Eucharist in the vernacular on the parochial level. I could add to this the renewed emphasis on the Liturgy of the Hours (or the daily cycle of services) and the universal call to holiness as the foundation of the life of the Church. Granted these elements were not always embodied with equal success, but the attempt was made and I saw in the attempt a turn to the East that lead me naturally to the Byzantine Catholic Church and ultimately to the Orthodox Church.

The Church of Rome looked to renew herself by looking East to re-appropriate for her own life the importance of the local Church. I wonder if it isn’t necessary for the Orthodox Church to look West and re-appropriate for ourselves the importance of the universal Church? Part of this process would , I think, require from us a sober reflection on the failures of uniatism not simple in the pejorative sense of the term, but also at the failure of Orthodox Christians then (and also now) to be true to our own ecclesiological vision. It is this failure I would suggest that failure that made reasonable the departure of some of us to Rome.

Let me be clear, I do not think that re-union with Rome is the answer. Yes, there must be reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and I hope for this in my lifetime.

But while reconciliation with the Church of Rome is essential, there is another, internal reconciliation that must happen as well. If it doesn’t then I am afraid we will see deeper divisions not only within the Church but from the Church as well. Even during the relative calm of recent years some 60% of those who join the Orthodox Church as adults leave us. Add to this the young people who leave as adults and the number of adults whose participation in the life of the Church is nominal at best, and the need for renewal and reconciliation on all levels of the Church becomes painful obvious.

Fr Gregory Jensen (Orthodox Church in America)

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With respect, this is, in fact, an anti-gospel argument. The gospel is intended for the world, for every people, for every culture. The gospel is not just for Jews but also for Greeks, not just for Greeks but also for Latins, not just for Latins but also for Asians and South Americans and whomever. Hence the need to translate the gospel when it moves from one culture to the next. This work of translation requires both the baptism of the thought forms, concepts, and symbols of the new culture but also the correction of these forms, concepts, and symbols, as well as the creation of new ones. There is death and resurrection. It is arrogance and sin for any single Church to believe that its culturally-contingent expression of the gospel is superior in all respects to all other expressions. Our theological constructions are ultimately always inadequate and thus in need of reform. The gospel is not “Byzantine” or “Latin” or “semitic” – it is catholic.

If one believes that the Church to which one belongs is the true Church, it is, I suppose, natural and inevitable that one will believe that that Church’s theological formulations are superior in all respects. And so we spend our time and energy demonstrating to all others how and why this is so. But this is apologetics, not theology. It has its place but its place is subordinate to theology and the search for truth.

… It is arrogance for either the Latin Christian or the Byzantine Christian to think that the truths of grace, theosis, and sanctification that they seek to express in their respective theological formulations are the only way or even the ultimately best way to express these truths. What is of first importance is to understand why theologians developed, and indeed invented, the language and concepts that they did. What essential truths and insights were they seeking to express? Just as the scholastic notion of “created grace” was the fruit of centuries of Latin reflection, so the Palamite notion of divine energies/being was the fruit of centuries of Eastern reflection. Before the Latin believer can begin to critique the Eastern position, he first needs to comprehend and master his own tradition and then he needs to understand in its own terms – or at least seek to understand – the Eastern position. And ditto for the Eastern believer. Unless this is done, constructive engagement and mutual understanding are impossible. All we have is fruitless and demeaning polemic.

Before throwing out the usual polemical criticisms, I suggest that each person ask his debate partner “Have I stated well your position?” “Do you think I have understood it?”

Fr Alvin Kimel

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To a disciple who had quarreled with those around him, [Elder Nicodemus] said: “It is not good or Christian to lose time in discussions that lead to argument and disunity. He who is victorious in discussions is he who in the beginning seems to be conquered but to the end remains peacefully and lovingly disposed to the one who whom he disagrees.”

– Archimandrite Ioanichie (Balan), “Elder Nicodemus (Manditsa): Spiritual Father and Missionary of Romania (1889-1975)”, The Orthodox Word, November-December 2007, Vol. 43, No. 6 (257), p. 287.

Thanks to Orrologion.

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Not all [modern] Orthodox theologians deny [the Immaculate Conception], though some do very explicitly deny it, thereby illustrating the different development which took place in the West and left the East comparatively unaffected. The development of an explicit doctrine of the Immaculate Conception originated in the Pelagian denial of original sin, which denial forced Latin theology to consider the nature of original sin, and hence to formulate more explicitly some of the relations between nature and grace in a way which Orthodox theology was not forced to do.

The sinlessness of the Theotokos, her closeness to her Son, her absolute accord all through her life with all the designs of her Son, her singular place in the economy of salvation – all this was and is common to Greeks and Latins alike. Common, too, was the belief that Mary was redeemed by her Son and redeemed in a most singular way. Mary as the second Eve was not a concept that arose in the West, but in the East – at least as far as we know; Mary as the type of the Church is to be found equally among Greek theologians and among Latin, and the Orthodox hold strongly that the Church is without sin, however much sin there may be in the members of the Church.

But the Latins, having had to deal with Pelagius’ denial of any original sin at all, had to analyze the notion of original sin more explicitly than the Orthodox; and thus the Latins came to see more universally than the Greeks that Mary’s singular privileges, as revealed in the Scriptures and the Church [Tradition], carried the implication of total exemption from the common sinful inheritance of the rest of men. The Orthodox, of course, hold strongly to the doctrine of original sin and to the privileges of the Mother of God; but they did not so early or so clearly connect the two.

I conjecture that those Orthodox who deny the Immaculate Conception may be under the impression that exemption from sin implies either that Mary did not need redemption, or else that exemption from sin carried with it exemption from the natura phthora, corruption in the wide sense, which is the natural lot of all men save only the God-man.

Professor Jean Meyendorff thinks that the Latin doctrine of original sin involves some responsibility, meriting a punishment, on the part of all men, and that exemption from this responsibility involves exemption from all “corruption” and hence exemption from death. The Orthodox doctrine, he says, of original sin involves a certain subjection, or even servitude, to the devil, who exerts a usurped, unjust, and deadly tyranny. Hence all men “inherit corruption and death and all commit sin.” But Mary, being born by natural generation of Joachim and Anne, was mortal, and her corporal glorification came only after her death. Hence he objects to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

But the Catholic doctrine of original sin does not involve any responsibility for the actual sin of Adam. Sin is spiritual disorder. If it is personal sin, then the person is responsible for the disorder; but if it is original sin, then the originator of the race, and not the individual person, is responsible for the disorder. The spiritual disorder, which is signified by original sin, involves a privation of that original holiness and rightness in which God created man; it involves too, in the normal way, that subjection to the evil one of which Professor Meyendorff speaks; and it involves bodily corruption and death.

Christ was exempt from all sin, and from all spiritual subjection to the evil one; but he was not exempt from death, for he died, and by his death we live. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the acts of Joachim and Anne; it only means that God exempted the future Mother of his Son from the spiritual disorder which leads all ordinary men to actual sin. Mary was born mortal, a true child of our race in that her natural lot was death. She was the second Eve, and it was precisely her immaculateness which, by God’s unmerited, spontaneous gift, prepared her for the fiat through which God sent his Son to be the second Adam, head of the new race, born of a sinless Mother.

On the subject of the Mother of God, I think Latins and Orthodox have the same mind, though perhaps language may sometimes be misleading.

– Bernard Leeming, SJ.

From “Orthodox-Catholic Relations” in Rediscovering Eastern Christendom, E.J.B. Frye and A.H. Armstrong (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1963), pp. 42-43.

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The very problem of Christian reconciliation is not that of a correlation of parallel traditions, but precisely that of the reintegration of a distorted tradition.  The two traditions may seem quite irreconcilable, when they are compared and confronted, as they are at the present.  Yet their differences themselves are, to a great extent, simply the results of disintegration: they are, as it were, distinctions stiffened into contradictions.

– Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Ethos of the Orthodox Church” (an address to the World Council of Churches given in 1960); emphasis in original

From Torn Notebook

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… [T]he reading of history that you have taken on from Joseph Farrell, that I think constitutes an ideology, in fact resembles, theoretically and rhetorically, the ideology of those who gave fuel to the Bosnian war. It presents a discourse wherein the West is conceived to have fallen from divine grace, and the chief villain of the story is St. Augustine. It is to his “dialectic” of divine simplicity, which you see as fundamentally akin to that of Eunomius, that you ascribe the manifold problems of the West. It may well be that you accord Augustine some credit as an honest Christian; but his thinking you consistently represent as heresy, “Sabellianism” or “Semi-Sabellianism.” When I say that this is an ideology, I mean that it is maintained only through a kind of willful disregard of Christian history. It presents a caricature view of both the West and the East, a caricature that arises from an impatience with looking at facts. Neither the East, nor certainly the West, was ever as monolithically Photian in its understanding of the trinitarian mystery as you make it out to be. That is one of the things, in writing this blog, that I have tried to show.

That impatience with looking at facts has serious consequences for Christian relations. The West is asked to renounce its own past, to take on a view of God that never really belonged to it. I do think that this is a kind of destruction of memory, implicitly a kind of violence, and that the West rightly rejects such a demand. And I know that theoretical violence often issues in the physical kind.

This is not to say that the West never perpetrated violence on the East, both theoretical and physical. And it is right that the theoretical and physical causes of violence be acknowledged and renounced on both sides. But my consistent claim throughout this blog has been that people like the Cappadocians, St. Athanasius, St. Maximus, and other fathers of the Church were constantly aware of the dangers of Christian misunderstanding, dangers of violence, and that they sought to obviate those dangers by perceiving, if at all possible, the underlying commonality of doctrine when there was a verbal disagreement. I think that that is what St. Maximus does in his Letter to Marinus. And I am pretty certain that the underlying commonality of doctrine St. Maximus defends in that letter allows for the orthodoxy of St. Augustine’s teaching on the Holy Trinity, in spite of what is said by Anastasius the Librarian.

In short, I think that Bekkos is a better reader of the patristic evidence than Photius is. It may be that you think such an acknowledgment is inconsistent with belonging to the Orthodox Church. Perhaps you are right; God is judge. But I have a great hesitation to leave Orthodox discourse entirely in the hands of those who are impatient with fact, and who thereby disallow the possibility of any Christian reconciliation from the outset …

Peter Gilbert

Update (6/30/2008) – A new post at De unione ecclesiarum: “On exclusive truth-claims; or, What I Believe”

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… including a brief but interesting reference to Eastern Orthodox (and Melkite Greek Catholic) practice. From a transcript of Benedict XVI’s impromptu address to the clergy of the Aosta Diocese on July 25, 2005:

… [Another priest raised the topic of Communion for the faithful who are divorced and remarried. The Holy Father answered him as follows:]

We all know that this is a particularly painful problem for people who live in situations in which they are excluded from Eucharistic Communion, and naturally for the priests who desire to help these people love the Church and love Christ. This is a problem.

None of us has a ready-made formula, also because situations always differ. I would say that those who were married in the Church for the sake of tradition but were not truly believers, and who later find themselves in a new and invalid marriage and subsequently convert, discover faith and feel excluded from the Sacrament, are in a particularly painful situation. This really is a cause of great suffering and when I was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I invited various bishops’ conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people’s painful plight, it must be studied further.

I shall not attempt to give an answer now, but in any case two aspects are very important. The first: even if these people cannot go to sacramental Communion, they are not excluded from the love of the Church or from the love of Christ. A Eucharist without immediate sacramental Communion is not of course complete; it lacks an essential dimension. Nonetheless, it is also true that taking part in the Eucharist without Eucharistic Communion is not the same as nothing; it still means being involved in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. It is still participating in the great Sacrament in its spiritual and pneumatic dimensions, and also in its ecclesial dimension, although this is not strictly sacramental.

And since it is the Sacrament of Christ’s passion, the suffering Christ embraces these people in a special way and communicates with them in another way differently, so that they may feel embraced by the Crucified Lord who fell to the ground and died and suffered for them and with them. Consequently, they must be made to understand that even if, unfortunately, a fundamental dimension is absent, they are not excluded from the great mystery of the Eucharist or from the love of Christ who is present in it. This seems to me important, just as it is important that the parish priest and the parish community make these people realize that on the one hand they must respect the indissolubility of the sacrament, and on the other, that we love these people who are also suffering for us. Moreover, we must suffer with them, because they are bearing an important witness and because we know that the moment when one gives in “out of love”, one wrongs the Sacrament itself and the indissolubility appears less and less true.

We know the problem, not only of the Protestant communities but also of the Orthodox Churches, which are often presented as a model for the possibility of remarriage. But only the first marriage is sacramental: the Orthodox too recognize that the other marriages are not sacramental, they are reduced and redimensioned marriages and in a penitential situation; in a certain sense, the couple can go to Communion but in the awareness that this is a concession “by economy,” as they say, through mercy which, nevertheless, does not remove the fact that their marriage is not a sacrament. The other point is that in the Eastern Churches for these marriages they have conceded the possibility of divorce with great irresponsibility, and that the principle of indissolubility, the true sacramental character of the marriage, is therefore seriously injured.

On the one hand, therefore, is the good of the community and the good of the sacrament that we must respect, and on the other, the suffering of the people we must alleviate.

The second point that we should teach and also make credible through our own lives is that suffering, in various forms, is a necessary part of our lives. I would call this a noble suffering. Once again, it is necessary to make it clear that pleasure is not everything. May Christianity give us joy, just as love gives joy. But love is always also a renunciation of self. The Lord himself has given us the formula of what love is: those who lose themselves find themselves; those who spare or save themselves are lost.

It is always an “Exodus,” hence, painful. True joy is something different from pleasure; joy grows and continues to mature in suffering, in communion with the Cross of Christ. It is here alone that the true joy of faith is born, from which even they are not excluded if they learn to accept their suffering in communion with that of Christ.

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“Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.” Saint Isaac the Syrian

[Kephalaia IV.77; The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian, translated by Sebastian Brock, (Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press Convent of the Incarnation, 1997), p15.]

From Koinonia.

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The other aspect of the ad extra mission of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church is its role in the ecumenical journey towards Christian unity.

Our Church has always been conscious of this role. The history of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church of Antioch, in full communion for close on three hundred years with the Church of Rome that “presides in love,” has been marked by many vexations. In particular, it has had to live in the catacombs for about one hundred and thirty years. Indeed, we are a Church of martyrs and confessors of the faith, especially in Lebanon and Syria. There are, standing before you, Most Holy Father, descendants of martyrs.

These were martyrs for unity, martyrs of communion with Rome, that communion which was, and still is for us, an historic, existential choice for commitment, that is both effectual and emotional, a definitive and irreversible constituent of glory and humility.

However, that communion with Rome does not separate us from our Orthodox ecclesial reality. We say this with profound humility, a deep ecumenical awareness and a touch of humour: we are an Orthodox Catholic Church.


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From Wei-Hsein Wan of Torn Notebook, chock full of brilliant quotes from great lights of the Church, both Eastern and Western, ancient and contemporary:

Church Unity and Legitimate Variance, Part II: Two Other Voices

For as, in the case of one and the same quantity of water, there is separated from it, not only the residue which is left behind by the hand when drawing it, but also those drops, once contained in the hand, which trickle out through the fingers; so also there is a separation between us and, not only those who hold aloof in their impiety, but also those who are most pious, and that both in regard to dogmas of small importance (peri dogmaton mikron), which can be disregarded (parorasthai axion), and also in regard to expressions intended to bear the same meaning. – Saint Gregory the Theologian

If we apply to our present situation what St. Gregory and St. Basil have said about their own age, we will see that they were in fact much more “liberal” than the most advanced “ecumenists” of today. Neither Gregory nor Basil regarded the disagreement on the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit as an obstacle for reconciliation among the Churches; nor did they claim that those who did not confess the Spirit as God were outside the Church. Moreover, it was a common practice in the fourth century—indeed, approved by St. Basil—to accept Arians into the Church through repentance, not requiring baptism or chrismation. In our own times some Orthodox say that Roman Catholics, being “heretics”, are outside the Church, and should be rebaptised when received into Orthodoxy. Yet neither Catholics nor Protestants would deny the divinity of the Son of God, as did the Arians, not would they deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit, as did most fourth-century theologians and bishops. And surely the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit is less significant than the question of his divinity. To regard today’s Catholics and Protestants as “pseudo-churches” is totally alien to the spirit of the ancient Church Fathers such as Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Their understanding of the divisions among the Churches was much more dynamic and multi-dimensional, and much less rigid. Many divisions between the Churches could be healed if contemporary theologians used the methodology advanced by St. Gregory. – Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna

Church Unity and Legitimate Variance, Part III: Truth and Our Will to Unity

…[W]e must learn that unity, for its part, is a Christian truth, an essentially Christian concept, of so high a rank that it can be sacrificed only to safeguard what is most fundamental, not where the way to it is obstructed by formulations and practices that, however important they be, do not destroy community in the faith of the Fathers and in the basic form of the Church as they saw her. – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Church Unity and Legitimate Variance, Part IV: Love, the Language of Truth, and the Will to Include

… Insofar as the unity to which Christians are called is a unity bound by love, our will to unity must also be a will to include rather than exclude. What I mean is that we Christians must attempt to live, speak and think in ways that enfold as many people as possible into the fellowship of the Church. This is true first of all with respect to Christians who find themselves disagreeing with one another on points of doctrine. They ought to struggle to count each other as being within the Church rather than outside her.

As I said in the first post of this series, there is today a theological maximalism in the Church that is driven by the need to exclude—to separate true believers from errant heretics. Don’t get me wrong: there are of course times when Christians have to draw boundaries between truth and falsehood, between orthodoxy and heresy. But the will to exclude cannot be our first instinct or response. In fact, even when we are forced to draw the lines, we must do so only with deep regret and sadness. God’s will for the Church, after all, is that she gather into her fold men and women “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7.9) so that Christ might be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28; Ephesians 1.23). By her constitution, she tends toward inclusion. As followers of Jesus, we ought to always lean toward reaching out, toward reconciliation, toward embrace. In this way, we will be more like our Master who once defied established norms by talking to a Samaritan woman and eating with people on the margins of religious correctness. – Wan-Hsien Wan (emphasis added)

P.S. May I recommend that you vote for Torn Notebook at the Eastern Christian Blog Awards, nominated in the categories of Best Theology Blog and Best Individual Blog?

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