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Archive for the ‘Reunion’ Category

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“Every Christian … Is Set Apart to Bear Prophetic Witness to the Risen Lord”
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PAPHOS, Cyprus, JUNE 4, 2010 (Zenit.org). – Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today during an ecumenical celebration at the archeological area of the Church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitiss. [emphasis added]
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
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“Grace and peace to you in abundance” (1 Pet 1:2). With great joy I salute you who represent the Christian communities present in Cyprus.
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I thank His Beatitude Chrysostomos the Second for his gracious words of welcome, His Eminence Georgios, the Metropolitan of Paphos, our host, and all those who have helped to make this meeting possible. I am also pleased cordially to salute the Christians of other confessions present, including those of the Armenian, Lutheran and Anglican communities.
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It is truly an extraordinary grace for us to gather together in prayer in this Church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa. We have just heard a reading from the Acts of the Apostles which reminds us that Cyprus was the first stage in the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 13:1-4). Set apart by the Holy Spirit, Paul, accompanied by Barnabas, a native of Cyprus, and Mark, the future evangelist, first came to Salamis, where they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues.
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Traversing the island, they reached Paphos where, close to this very place, they preached in the presence of the Roman pro-consul Sergius Paulus. Thus it was from this place that the Gospel message began to spread throughout the Empire, and the Church, grounded in the apostolic preaching, was able to take root throughout the then-known world.
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The Church in Cyprus can rightly be proud of her direct links to the preaching of Paul, Barnabas and Mark, and her communion in the apostolic faith, a communion which links her to all those Churches who preserve that same rule of faith. This is the communion, real yet imperfect, which already unites us, and which impels us to overcome our divisions and to strive for the restoration of that full visible unity which is the Lord’s will for all his followers. For, in Paul’s words, “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5).
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The Church’s communion in the apostolic faith is both a gift and a summons to mission. In the passage from Acts which we have heard, we see an image of the Church’s unity in prayer, and her openness to the promptings of the Spirit of mission. Like Paul and Barnabas, every Christian, by baptism, is set apart to bear prophetic witness to the Risen Lord and to his Gospel of reconciliation, mercy and peace. In this context, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, due to meet in Rome next October, will reflect on the vital role of Christians in the region, encourage them in their witness to the Gospel, and help foster greater dialogue and cooperation between Christians throughout the region. Significantly, the labours of the Synod will be enriched by the presence of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Christian communities in the region, as a sign of our common commitment to the service of God’s word and our openness to the power of his reconciling grace.
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The unity of all Christ’s disciples is a gift to be implored from the Father in the hope that it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today’s world. The Lord prayed for the holiness and unity of his disciples precisely so that the world might believe (cf. Jn 17:21). Just a hundred years ago, at the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, the acute awareness that divisions between Christians were an obstacle to the spread of the Gospel gave birth to the modern ecumenical movement. Today we can be grateful to the Lord, who through his Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future.
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The Church in Cyprus, which serves as a bridge between East and West, has contributed much to this process of reconciliation. The path leading to the goal of full communion will certainly not be without its difficulties, yet the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus are committed to advancing in the way of dialogue and fraternal cooperation. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds and strengthen our resolve, so that together we can bring the message of salvation to the men and women of our time, who thirst for the truth that brings authentic freedom and salvation (cf. Jn 8:32), the truth whose name is Jesus Christ!
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Dear sisters and brothers, I cannot conclude without evoking the memory of the saints who have adorned the Church in Cyprus, and in particular Saint Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis. Sanctity is the sign of the fullness of Christian life, a profound inner docility to the Holy Spirit who calls us to constant conversion and renewal as we strive to be ever more conformed to Christ our Saviour. Conversion and holiness are also the privileged means by which we open our minds and hearts to the Lord’s will for the unity of his Church. As we give thanks for this meeting and for the fraternal affection which unites us, let ask Saints Barnabas and Epiphanius, Saints Peter and Paul, and all God’s holy ones, to bless our communities, to preserve us in the faith of the Apostles, and to guide our steps along the way of unity, charity and peace.

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Via two excellent blogs with serious ‘traditionalist’ credentials – Ora et Labora (Russian Orthodox) and Rorate Caeli (Roman Catholic) – I present the following new official liturgical texts for St Justin (Popovic) of Celije (+1979), a newly glorified Saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Apolytikion, Mode 1

Let us honor with splendor the divinely inspired theologian, the wise Serb Justin, who by the scythe of the Holy Spirit hath thrashed the error of atheism and the insolence of the Latins, being a mystic of the God-man and lover of piety, crying out: Glory to Christ Who hath glorified thee, glory to Him Who hath crowned thee, glory to Him Who hath rendered thee a luminary to those who are in a state of darkness.

Kontakion, Mode 1

We proclaim to the faithful the inexhaustible fount conveying the Orthodox doctrines, and an angel-like man full of divine zeal, the divine Justin, the offspring of the Serbs, who by his sound teachings and writings hath strengthened the faith of all in the Lord.

This (as Mr Palad of Rorate Caeli points out) coming mere months after the election of the new Serbian Patriarch, Irinej (Gavrilovic), a ‘moderate’ who apparently welcomed the idea of a papal visit to Serbia (which would be the first in history) and even proposed that it happen in 2013, in commemoration of the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan.

Some readers may be familiar with St Justin’s famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) declaration: “In the history of the human race there have been three principal falls: that of Adam, that of Judas, and that of the pope.”

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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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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
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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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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Joel I. Barstad, Russian Catholic and professor of theology at St John Vianney Seminary in Denver, attempts to answer this question. From a rather interesting blog entitled The Augustana Greek Catholic: An Irregular Journal of Ecumenical Experiments.

Abstract:

Many Greek-Catholics define themselves as Orthodox-in-Communion-with-Rome and appeal to the First Christian Millennium as providing the foundation for this communion. This way of identifying themselves found confirmation in Joseph Ratzinger’s proposal that, with regard to the primacy, Rome need require nothing more from Orthodox churches than what was acknowledged during the First Millennium. With a similar conviction the Melkite synod in 1995 adopted the Zoghby Initiative as the framework within which it might reestablish communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church, without breaking communion with Rome.

This article considers the viability of such a project in light of Pope John Paul II’s Ad tuendam fidem, and its companion commentary on the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, published in 1998.

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From my favorite Orthodox blog, Prof. Peter Gilbert’s De Unione Ecclesiarum

I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf

(more…)

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A Bulgarian Orthodox prelate told Benedict XVI of his desire for unity, and his commitment to accelerate communion with the Catholic Church.

At the end of Wednesday’s general audience, Bishop Tichon, head of the diocese for Central and Western Europe of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, stated to the Pope, “We must find unity as soon as possible and finally celebrate together,” L’Osservatore Romano reported.

“People don’t understand our divisions and our discussions,” the bishop stated. He affirmed that he will “not spare any efforts” to work for the quick restoration of “communion between Catholics and Orthodox.”

Bishop Tichon said that “the theological dialogue that is going forward in these days in Cyprus is certainly important, but we should not be afraid to say that we must find as soon as possible the way to celebrate together.”

“A Catholic will not become an Orthodox and vice versa, but we must approach the altar together,” he added.

The prelate told the Pontiff that “this aspiration is a feeling that arose from the works of the assembly” of his diocese, held in Rome, in which all the priests and two delegates from every Bulgarian Orthodox parish took part.

“We have come to the Pope to express our desire for unity and also because he is the Bishop of Rome, the city that hosted our assembly,” he stated.

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By David J. Melling (1943-2004)

(Many thanks to De Unione Ecclesiarum for the text of this article.)

Early in his ministry as a Non-Juror Anglican priest, the saintly William Law published a sequence of “Letters to a Lady inclined to enter the Church of Rome.” (1732-3) His advice to the Lady was that she, like other laymembers and junior clergy of the Anglican Church, was in no way responsible for the schism separating her and her fellow Anglicans from the Greek and Roman Churches. There is, he argued, no way of escaping the reality of schism, since every history determines that each of us is “necessarily forced into one externally divided part, because there is no part free from external division.” The divisions cannot be escaped by simply changing one’s ecclesiastical allegiance, he tells her, since that action resolves the schism with the Church entered at the price of schism with the Church abandoned. He counsels her to stay where she is, but to love the Greek and Roman Churches with the same love she has for her own Church. Law attributes the schism that divides the Churches to “the unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors on both sides.” He sees schism as caused by the failings and shortcomings of hierarchs, and as something affecting only the external reality of the Church’s life. Law is not, of course, writing of all kinds of schism. His position flows from the belief that the Roman, Greek and English Churches, whatever their differences in theological tradition and styles of worship, are alike in being effective means of attaining “christian holiness.” He does not have the same positive view of any Christian bodies which are merely human institutions and lack the full means of sanctification.

In Eastern Christian tradition, schism between ecclesial communities is not always read as William Law reads it. Eastern theology has tended to stress the intimate unity of faith and sacrament and to see schism as a sign of heresy. Roman Catholic theology, on the other hand, has generally distinguished more sharply between schism, in which both the separated communities may be fully orthodox and retain a full sacramental life, and formal heresy which involves the rejection of the Church’s dogmatic teaching. Roman Catholic sacramental theology has tended to regard heretical sacraments as invalid by reason of heresy only in those cases when the heresy explicitly denied the Church’s dogmatic teaching about the sacraments. The consequence of such a denial is obvious: a heretical priest who does not believe in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Real Presence or the Apostolic Succession can hardly be the presiding minister at a Divine Liturgy, consecrating this bread and this wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ, since that is precisely what he does not believe he is authorised to do and what he believes does not come about even when a Catholic or Orthodox priest celebrates the Mass. Roman Catholic tradition differs from Eastern Orthodox in the relative status it accords the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In Catholic theology, the infallibility attaching to the dogmatic definitions of the Councils is sharply distinguished from the relative degree of authority accorded their disciplinary and legal decisions. Orthodox Christians would not normally go so far as to claim the disciplinary canons of the Ecumenical Councils are absolutely immutable and irreformable, but tend to see them as reformable only by the authority of another Ecumenical Council.

This attitude to the legislation of the Ecumenical Councils explains in part the bitterness of the schism between Old Calendarists and New Calendarists in the Greek world. The Old Calendarists have consistently and vehemently denied the right of Patriarchs, Hierarchs and local synods to alter the calendrical arrangements laid down in the canons of the Council of Nicaea. Given the nature of what they see as a grave breach of Orthodox ecclesiastical discipline, some, but not all, Old Calendarists have gone further, and invoking the authority of St. Basil the Great, have seen New Calendarists not only as schismatics, but as a religious body whose sacraments are devoid of grace. Interestingly, this schism as the Old Calendarists see it does indeed conform in part at least to William Law’s characterisation of schism, since what the Old Calendarists object to is precisely what they see as high-handed, unlawful and unreasonable action by the Church’s hierarchs. This was equally an issue in the schism between the Old Believers and the Russian Orthodox Church. In both cases, what was judged by their opponents to be the illegitimate use of Hierarchical authority to alter the calendar in the one case, the service books in the other, was interpreted not merely as imposing on the Church untraditional and objectionable legislation, but also as signifying a drift into heresy that made schism both inevitable and a matter of inescapable duty. William Law, however, in speaking of the schism between the Roman and English Churches emphasises that the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors” were on both sides. An authoritarian and assertive Papacy had found its own claims reflected in the distorting mirror of Henry VIII’s assertion of his own divine right to rule as “Supreme Head” of the English Church. The Old Believers and Old Calendarists reflect the position not of the Vatican in relation to the Church of England, but of the Catholic Recusants, loyal to the religion they inherited from their fathers and mothers, and unable to accept the changes imposed by state authority. Conservative dissent is always an embarrassment to church authorities. It is not obvious exactly how one can become a heretic by standing fast on yesterday’s orthodoxy.

Law’s argument that schism as such is fundamentally a matter of the external reality of the Church is of particular significance if we attempt to interpret the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The mutual excommunications of 1054, while furnishing a fine example of the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims” which Law identifies as the fundamental cause of schism, were neither the origin nor the legal basis of the schism. Had they been so, the lifting of the excommunications by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch would have brought the schism to an end. It continues. The schism between Catholics and Orthodox continues, yet the full ecclesial life of both Churches also continues. While the absence of external institutional unity may be a cause of suffering and something to deplore, it has not prevented either Church from producing a rich crop of saints, from engaging in Apostolic missionary work, from serving the needy, from finding within its own spiritual resources the means for renewal.

The notion that Western and Eastern Churches were ever identical in theology, ritual and social life, is pure fantasy. Theological differences existed in the days when the Church of the Roman Empire was a legal unity. The typically Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin as inherited guilt is to be found in the doctrinal canons of the early sixth century councils of Carthage and Orange, and the latter council even went so far as to condemn the typical Eastern view that what is inherited from Adam and Eve as a consequence of their sin is our mortality. The dogmatic canons of the latter council were confirmed by Pope Boniface II. Eastern and Western Churches had different rules concerning the bread to be used in the Eucharist, different rules for fasting, clerical celibacy, the ordination of eunuchs, and later, the legitimacy of fourth marriages and the permissibility of divorce even during the period when the Churches were in full communion.

The schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches did not begin, nor was it completed in 1054. Indeed, one wonders at exactly what point in history many communities realised they were in schism from the other church. The failed reunion councils, the intrusion of Latin bishops in the wake of the Crusades, the sack of Constantinople and the profanation of Hagia Sophia in 1208 and the consequences of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks all helped crystallize out a pattern of relations that still managed to retain some fluidity even into the seventeenth century. The establishment of Eastern Catholic jurisdictions in the Patriarchate of Antioch and in the east of Poland helped considerably to confirm the external separation of the two Church institutions. The external separation spread and became firm. But what changed in the life of ordinary parishes? Some experienced a shift in hierarchical authority. Some experienced the arrival of new religious orders. In traditional Orthodox and Latin Catholic communities nothing took place. The life of the local Church carried on as before. Where things did change, it was not as a direct result of the schism, but as a result of the local changes taking place in the life of one Church or the other — e.g., the implementation of the reforms of the Council of Trent.

The heart of the life of every Catholic or Orthodox church, is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. In the Liturgy we find ourselves called to communion with Our Lord, to eat mystically His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine, to become one with Him, to be incorporated in Him. Our communion with Christ draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. It is by the Power of the Holy Spirit He became a human being; it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that the mystery of the Eucharist incorporates us in Christ. The Liturgy we celebrate here in our churches is an image of the Eternal Liturgy of the Court of Heaven. The barriers between Heaven and Earth are broken as the power of the Holy Spirit makes this holy table the Throne where the Son of God becomes present amongst us. Christ is “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek” [Heb.5, 6] the one true High Priest of all humanity. He is the Son and Word of God, Who has put on our humanity so that we may share His Divinity. He is the one perfect Sacrificial Victim who “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” [Heb.9, 26] He offers Himself once and for all, not in the sanctuary of the earthly Temple, but entering “into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” [Heb.9, 24] His death on Calvary is the visible historical realisation of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the Eucharistic Liturgy, the same High Priest is present offering Himself to the Father for us, and inviting us to the Mystic Feast where He Himself becomes our food and drink so that we become one with Him, becoming by His grace what He is by nature. The Son of God offers Himself to us to make us too children of God. But we stand in separate churches, hear different priests recite the ancient words of the anaphora, communicate from separate chalices. To that extent, precisely to that extent, the schism between Catholics and Orthodox is real. But we communicate together in the Body and Blood of the one Anointed, we put on the one Christ in Baptism and are incorporated in the one Anointed in the Mystical Supper. It is our communion with Him, and in Him with one another that is the fundamental basis of our relation to each other. In the most basic and the most important sense, we are in communion with one another and always have been. In Him we are in communion with each other in a sense far more important than that in which, because of the schism between the churches, we are separated. We are united in Christ by His Holy Spirit, and divided outwardly by the inherited habit of schism.

Understandably in this century of ecumenical politics and ecclesiastical bureaucracy, there is a broad pattern of exploratory discussions and negotiations underway aimed at the removal of the scandal of schism. Whatever may be agreed by such a path, for the Orthodox it will be necessary to find the consent of the Church in a way other than by Patriarchal or Synodical decree, unless the decree be that of what is recognised as an Ecumenical Council. The immediate response of the Monks of Mount Athos to the recent agreement between representatives of the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox makes clear exactly what problems such negotiations will face. The theologians and hierarchs involved in the Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox discussions have published a report that shows a true spirit of conciliation and mutual acceptance. Unfortunately, it proceeds from and addresses the mind-set of those who are prepared to see the proceedings of Ecumenical Councils in their historical and political relativity, and are ready to renegotiate relations amongst Churches without demanding formal acceptance of the dogmatic definitions of the Seven Councils. There may be many Orthodox who share such an outlook: they do not include the Holy Epistasia of Mount Athos or the many thousands who will stand in solidarity with the Athonite Community in seeing the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils as infallible and irreformable, as divinely inspired, and as the only possible basis for unity.

A process of growing together based on mutual trust and respect offers a much more realistic model for future developments than the repetition of ancient errors by the construction of eirenic but ambiguous documents and the validation of proposals for reunion by Patriarchal fiat or Synodical decree. Face to face, local communities can experience for themselves the reality of their oneness in Christ — or they can discover precisely the opposite. The zeal for full union will come from mutual knowledge, shared experience and profoundly respectful love: it can also come from the vivid awareness of the reality of our present communion with each other in Christ. That is not to say the hierarchs have no role in promoting the removal of schism. Pope John Paul II has made a major personal contribution in the last few months with the two letters Orientale Lumen and Ut Unum Sint. Sadly, the publicity given the second of these encyclicals has almost totally overshadowed the first, a document of immense importance for Catholic-Orthodox relations, emphasising, as it does, the need for Western clergy and theologians to become far better acquainted with the Eastern tradition of theology and Christian worship. Indeed, the Encyclical shows a warm sympathy for and a profound awareness of Eastern theology. It also offers an unusual opportunity for Orthodox and Eastern Catholics to co-operate in responding to the Pope in creating opportunities for Western brethren to learn more of our shared Eastern tradition. Co-operation between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics may seem an odd thing to recommend. For many Orthodox “Uniatism” remains an offensive and illegitimate method of Vatican proselytism. Whatever the truth of such a charge, there is a need for Orthodox Christians to face the challenge of the deep loyalty to Rome shown by many Eastern Catholic communities, even in the face of contemptuous treatment by Latins, even of appalling humiliations, the ultimate being that revealed by the late Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV when he disclosed, that in the aftermath of the then patriarch’s opposition to the definition of Papal infallibility at the first Vatican council, His Beatitude had been forced to the ground before the Papal throne while Pius IX placed his foot on his head. Loyalty in the face of such provocation merits at least astonished respect.

The draft agreement between Catholic and Orthodox theologians reached at Balamand in 1993 proposes a helpful way forward here, in proposing a formal rejection by the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, of “proselytizing among the Orthodox.” Once it becomes clear to the Orthodox that this commitment is serious, (and at the moment that is very far from clear) the possibility will grow of precisely the open and co-operative dialogue between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that the Balamand agreement envisages. It has, however, to be recognised that in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches there remain zealots and integrists who will defend forever a maximalist ecclesiology which leaves no room for any ecumenical activity whatsoever, since it sees schism as defining the boundaries of the Church of Christ, outside of which there exist heretical conventicles devoid of sacramental grace. In the Orthodox Church such interests still have a powerful voice, as Patriarch Bartholomaeos has discovered to his cost, facing demonstrations protesting against his brotherly relationship with the Pope, and denunciation of him as trying to drag the Orthodox Church into union with Rome.

There are, indeed, specific problems in the relation of Catholic and Orthodox Churches that the present Ecumenical Patriarch’s very public role has made vividly evident to many Orthodox. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s role as senior hierarch of the Orthodox communion is far more fragile than his public image sometimes suggests. In Rome he may look like the Eastern counterpart of the Pope, and the vigour with which he has exercised and even developed his role in the Orthodox Church may give plausibility to that image, but the fact remains that he is not the linear superior of the chief hierarchs of other autocephalous Churches, but only the first among equals among them, and that is something very different. Orthodox tradition, moreover, has never recognised any hierarchical role above that of the local bishop as of divine authority. Any higher layer of authority and responsibility derives from Synodical or sometimes even state decision. There is nothing inevitable or immutable in the Primacy of Constantinople. Nor can the Ecumenical Patriarch assert his authority to guarantee the Orthodox Church’s acceptance of the policy he espouses. The same arguments that establish the ecclesiastical and human origin of the patriarchates are deployed by Orthodox to reject Catholic claims of divine institution for the Roman Papacy, and of course to reject any claims to Papal supremacy. (Not, of course, to the Primacy of Rome, that is a quite different and relatively uncontroversial matter.) It is, then, very helpful to see the Pope is clearly aware that his own office as interpreted by Vatican theologians and canonists is experienced by Christians of other traditions as a major obstacle to unity. In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint he calls for a “patient and fraternal dialogue” on the nature and exercise of his primacy. This is a welcome and helpful development.

Progress in extricating ourselves from the bad habit of schism involves a reappraisal of what is central to our Christian heritage and what is transitory and peripheral, what is essential and what is merely a matter of cultural tradition. When we return to the heart and centre of our faith, we find ourselves together in Christ. If we lose the living awareness of our oneness in Christ and identify ourselves simply in terms of a particular community’s history and interests, we find a chasm yawning at our feet. The full flourishing of the spirit of schism is not merely external separation and institutional rivalry, its fruit can be tasted at the point where religious identity becomes a means of justifying political and ethnic conflict.

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From the blog Communio, via Sean, the recent letter of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon to the Archbishop of Athens and the Metropolitans of Greece on their Church’s ongoing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. Emphasis added.

Your Eminence,

Given that much turmoil has been unduly created by certain circles, on the subject of the official theological Dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, and that views have also been expressed, which often range between inaccuracy and open falsehood and slander, I am hereby addressing Your affection in order to clarify the following:

1. The aforementioned theological Dialogue does not constitute a concern of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and much less, that of a specific person, but is something that is taking place upon the decision of all the autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox Churches without exception. Specifically with regard to the present period of the Dialogue, during which the undersigned has the co-chairmanship from the Orthodox side, the agreement of all the Orthodox Churches for the continuation of the Dialogue has been recorded in Memoranda signed by the venerable Primates of the Orthodox Churches, which are hereto attached in photocopy.  As Your Eminence will see when reading these Memoranda, even the most holy Church of Greece – and in fact with a Synodical decision – has admitted that “despite the existing difficulties, which spring from the provocative activities of Unia to the detriment of the flock of the Orthodox Church, the said Theological Dialogue must continue.”  Consequently, those opposed to the said theological Dialogue are doubting and judging pan-Orthodox decisions, which have been reached synodically. By claiming solely as their own the genuine conscience of Orthodoxy, these people are in essence doubting the Orthodoxy not only of certain persons – as they misguidedly insist – but of the very Primates and sacred Synods of all the most holy Orthodox Churches.

2. The same things apply in the case of the said Dialogue.  We are informed that a certain professor in his letter to the Reverend Hierarchs is censuring the topic of primacy as a chosen topic for the theological Dialogue, and believes that the Dialogue should be concerning itself with other matters.  But the said professor is either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the fact that – again – the topic of the Dialogue was decided on at a pan-orthodox level. The attached Memoranda, signed by all the Primates of the Orthodox Churches, testify to and verify this.  The most holy Church of Greece thus accepts that “this discussion (regarding Unia) can, for the sake of facilitating the course of the Dialogue, be conducted within the framework of ecclesiology through the prism of the primacy”.  This is precisely what we normally intend to do, during the forthcoming discussion of the subject “The Primacy during the 2nd Millennium”, which is also when Unia first appeared. The remaining topics that the said professor referred to will by no means be overlooked by the Dialogue. However, during the present phase, as decided at an inter-orthodox level from the beginning of the Dialogue, the focal point of the discussion is Ecclesiology. It is duly respected and legitimate, for the said professor – or anyone else – to have a different point of view, but it is inadmissible to be crying out that Orthodoxy is in danger because the Primates who are shepherding Her do not share his opinion.  Where are we heading as a Church, my Reverend holy brother?

3. It is being propagated very falsely and conspiringly that the signing of the union of the Churches is imminent! A professor emeritus of Theology, who is well known for his ill-will towards my person, had visited a Hierarch of the Church of Greece and had told him that he knew with certainty (!) that the union had already been signed (in Ravenna!) and that the relative announcement was a matter of time!!!  Clergy and laity have approached me and asked me if it is true that the union is to be signed in Cyprus, in October!  Obviously, a feeling of unrest is being attempted among the people of God through this behaviour, with unpredictable consequences for the unity of the Church.  However, those who are disseminating these things are fully aware (as long as they have not been blinded by empathy, fanaticism or a mania for self-projection), firstly, that the ongoing theological Dialogue has yet to span an extremely long course, because the theological differences that have accumulated during the one thousand years of division are many; and secondly, that the Committee for the Dialogue is entirely unqualified for the “signing” of a union, given that this right belongs to the Synods of the Churches.  Therefore, why all the misinformation? Can’t the disseminators of these false “updates” think of what the consequences will be for the unity of the Church?  «He who agitates (God’s people) shall bear the blame, whoever he may be» (Galatians 5:10).

Your Eminence,

The responsibility of all of us, and mostly of the bishops who have been appointed by God to cater to the safeguarding of the canonical unity of their flock, is an immense one.

What is being jeopardized is ecclesiological: What is the authority and the prestige of Conciliar decisions? Do we conform to the Conciliar decisions as we are already doing – and being attacked for doing so – or do we conform to the “zealots” of Orthodoxy?  Can there be an Orthodoxy and Dogmas without any Conciliar rulings?

We ask you to please place yourself on the matter, before we are led to a complete demerit of Conciliar decisions, and before Your flock disintegrates because of negligence on our part.

In humility and in awareness of episcopal responsibility, we submit the above to Your affection and judgment and remain,

in Athens the 26th of September 2009

With Respect, honour and love in the Lord

+ John of Pergamon

Orthodox Co-Chairman of the Committee for the Theological Dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics

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