Archive for the ‘Sacraments’ Category

From Vertograd Orthodox Journal, Newsletter No. 76, Oct. 21, 2009 (via the Irenikon listserv):

“To all intent and purposes, mutual recognition of each others Mysteries already exists between us. We do not have communion in the Mysteries, but we do recognize each others Mysteries”, declared Archbishop Hilarion (Alfeev) on the air during a broadcast of the program “The Church and the World” on the television channel “Russia”, on October 17th (video and text, http://vera.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=237432).

“If a Roman Catholic priest converts to Orthodoxy, we receive him as a priest, and we do not re-ordain him. And that means that, de facto, we recognize the Mysteries of the Roman Catholic Church”, explained Archbishop Hilarion.

Responding to the question of whether Roman Catholics can receive Communion from the Orthodox, or Orthodox Christians from the Roman Catholics, Archbishop Hilarion said that such giving of Communion should not take place, inasmuch as “eucharistic communion has been broken” between the Orthodox and Roman
Catholics. But, at the same time, he made clear that in some cases such
Communion is possible: “Exceptional cases occur, when, for example, a Roman Catholic is dying in some town where there is no Roman Catholic priest at all in the vicinity. So he asks an Orthodox priest to come. Then in such a case, I think, the Orthodox priest should go and give Communion to that person.”

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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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I’ve been thinking a bit about this topic lately, and since it came up recently in the comments to this post, I thought I’d focus the discussion on this article of the late Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby. It’s come up before here at Eirenikon. The text of the article comes from the blog Torn Notebook (part 1 and part 2) and, by the way, the comments there are well worth reading through.

Archbishop Elias Zoghby, A Voice from the Byzantine East, R. Bernard trans., (Newton, MA: Eparchy of Newton, 1992), pp. 163-169.

The Indissolubility of Marriage

The problem which probably causes more anguish to young married people than birth control is that of the innocent spouse in the prime of life (usually the young lady, so we shall use the feminine form throughout this chapter to denote the wronged spouse) who is deserted by her partner and contracts a new union. The innocent party goes to her parish priest or bishop for a solution but hears: “I can do nothing for you. Pray and resign yourself to living alone for the rest of your life because you cannot marry again and expect to remain in the good graces of the Church.”

Such an unrealistic response is an insult to the young person’s inherent dignity! Furthermore, it presupposes an heroic virtue, a rare faith and an exceptional temperament. This almost abnormal way of life is not for everyone. After all, the young person was married in the first place because she didn’t feel called to perpetual continence. Now she is being cornered into contracting a new and illegitimate union outside the Church so as to avoid physical and emotional pressure. This good and normal Catholic now “officially” becomes a renegade and is even tortured by her own conscience. Only one course of action is left open: either become an exceptional soul overnight or perish!

Nothing but common sense tells us that perpetual continence is not the answer for the majority of Christians in such a predicament. In other words, we Church officials know that we are leaving these young and innocent victims without an answer. We ask them to depend upon that faith which works miracles, but we forget such faith is not given to everyone. Many of us, even we who are priests and bishops, still have a long struggle and a great amount of prayer ahead of us before we will even be able to approach it, let alone attain it!

The question presented us today by these disturbed people is, therefore, the following: “Does the Church have the right to tell an innocent member of the laity, whatever the nature of the problem disturbing him: ‘Solve it yourself! I have no solution for your case,’ or indeed can the Church provide in this case an exceptional solution which she knows to be suited only for a tiny minority?”

The Church has certainly received sufficient authority from Christ, its founder, to offer all its children the means of salvation proportionate to their strength. Heroism, the state of perfection—these have never been imposed by Christ under pain of eternal perdition. “If you wish to be perfect,” Christ says, but only “if you wish…”.

The Church, therefore, has sufficient authority to protect the innocent party against the consequences of the other partner’s wrongdoing. It does not seem normal that perpetual continence, which belongs to the state of perfection alone, can be imposed upon the innocent spouse as an obloigation or a punishment simply because the other spouse has proven to be false! The Eastern Churches have always known that they possessed the authority to help the innocent victim and, what is more, they have always made use of it.

The marriage bond has certainly been rendered indissoluble by the positive law of Christ. Yet, as the Gospel of St. Matthew points out: “except in circumstances of adultery” (cf. Matthew 5.32, 9.6). It is the duty of the Church to make sense of this parenthetical clause. If the Church of Rome has interpreted it in a restrictive sense, this is not true in the Christian East where the Church has interpreted it, from the very first centuries of its existence, in favor of possible remarriage for the innocent spouse.


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On the Present Apparent Conflict Between “Orthodoxy” and “Catholicism

From Dissertations on Subjects Relating to the “Orthodox” or “Eastern-Catholic” Communion (1853), by William Palmer, M.A., Fellow of St. Mary Magdalene College, Oxford, and Deacon.

As there is one God and Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Ghost, and one Baptism, so also there is One Body of the Church, the essential attributes of which are all inseparably united together. The Church is Holy: the same Church is Catholic, or Universal: the same is Apostolic: the same is Orthodox, or rightly-believing: the same is One. If there can be two Gods, one Almighty and the other all-merciful, then there may be two Churches, one Catholic or Universal, and the other Orthodox.

Yet at a certain point of time, or between two certain points of time, we see that great body of the visible Catholic or Oecumenical Church, which from the division of the Oecumenical Roman Empire (tes oikoumenes) was distinguished superficially into two branches, Eastern and Western, Greek and Latin, without detriment to its essential unity, splitting into two separate and hostile communities, one of which insisting upon “Orthodoxy'” was nevertheless unable to enforce that Orthodoxy upon the consciences of men by the weight of manifest Catholicism, the other insisting at the time on the Roman pre-eminence and the indivisible unity of the Church (and now also upon the note of a greater appearance of Catholicism,) was little careful or able to meet the charge brought against it with regard to Orthodoxy.

The Eastern section of Christendom in condemning the Latins urged openly that they had become heterodox, and assumed or implied tacitly that therefore they could not be Catholic, while their own Eastern Church, in spite of any appearances to her disadvantage, must be also Catholic, because she was unquestionably Orthodox. The Latins retorted that having on their aide the See of Peter (to which was attached the unity and Catholicity of the Church), they must therefore, in spite of any appearances to their disadvantage, be also Orthodox, while the Easterns refusing to follow them, and so breaking off from unity, could not really have any advantage in respect of Orthodoxy, whatever appearances they might think they had in their favour.

Each side had its own strong point, on which it insisted: neither side answered fairly or adequately to the objection of the other. Each alike dissembled the point of its own apparent disadvantage, and trusted to that point on which it felt itself strong to overbalance and hide its weakness.

Under such circumstances if the two contending bodies had been at the first equal in strength the one to the other, and had remained so since, the two forces would have absolutely neutralized one another, and it would have seemed to us now that cither there is no such thing in existence as the Church of the Creed, at once Orthodox and universal, (the two destroying one another,) or else that the two conflicting bodies are both equally the Church, that is parts of the Church, their conflict and external separation being only a superficial accident and disease, and not reaching to the essential orthodoxy and Catholicity inherent in them both.


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I recently discovered the “Light of the East” online radio show / podcast, produced by Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois. I highly recommend it.

In particular, I have been enjoying the four part series “Recovering a Sacramental World View” by Hieromonk Maximos of Holy Resurrection Monastery, Newberry Springs, CA (soon to be relocated to Belvidere, New Jersey):

  • Episode 200 – “Part I: Is a Sacrament a Thing or an Event?”
  • Episode 201 – “Part II: Sacrament as Prayer”
  • Episode 202 – “Part III: The Sacraments and the Holy Spirit”
  • Episode 203 – “Part IV: From a Scattering of Death to a Gathering of Life”

You’ll notice that Father Maximos does not shy away from some criticism of medieval Latin sacramental theology, from a Byzantine Christian perspective. But I am so grateful that he offers his criticism in such a gentle, irenic, constructive and – dare I say, catholic – spirit. Thank God for the Fathers of Holy Resurrection Monastery, and for their promotion of “spiritual ecumenism.”

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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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Wan Wei Hsien, over at Torn Notebook, has posted an essay by the late Melkite Archbishop Elias Zoghby on “The Indissolubility of Marriage”, in two parts, here and here.

Also, while we’re at it … I never got the chance to link to some comments on the same sticky issue of Eastern and Western marriage disciplines by Dr. Peter Gilbert at De unione ecclesiarum.

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Fr Paul, the English Catholic priest who has left many thoughtful comments both at Cathedra Unitatis and here at Eirenikon, has written a remarkable post over at De unione ecclesiarum on the ecclesiological, ecumenical and sacramental implications of the “Timisoara Incident”.

It is not my place to say whether it was in the event helpful to the cause of ecumenism for the Metropolitan to choose this course of action. It is even less my place to say whether it was right from an Orthodox point of view to infringe the discipline of his Church in view of what, as I said at the beginning, we must presume he believed to be a greater good. I have said why, as a Catholic, I believe that it was right for his request to receive communion from a Catholic altar to be granted. Some will see his gesture as a prophetical sign destined one day to bear fruit by the very reason of its provocative nature. Others will say it is well-intentioned but in reality premature and counter-productive. Others still will think it scandalous and sacrilegious. It is not given to me to know which judgement is correct. Only let those who cry “scandal” remember that scandal in its theological meaning is not, as in common parlance, the shock which an action causes to our sensibilities and our comfortable presuppositions, but that which causes us to sin. And let them ask themselves whether complacency in the face of a divided Christendom is not a sin, however much it hides behind rhetoric about not sacrificing truth to gain unity. In the end, truth and unity are the same thing; sin against unity damages our ability to see the fullness of truth.

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The Anastasis Project and Byzantine, Texas both report that Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Nicholae (Corneanu) of Banat recently received Holy Communion from the hand of Romanian Greek-Catholic Bishop Alexandru (Mesian) of Lugoj, at the consecration of a Romanian Greek-Catholic parish in Timisoara.

Catholic World News broke the story. 

I shudder in anticipation of Orthodox responses. Doamne miluieşte.

In other Romanian Catholic news, De unione ecclesiarum reports that Holy Resurrection Monastery in Newberry Springs, California, has decided to move to a new property in western New Jersey. May God bless and prosper the monks.

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Over at De Cura Animarum, Fr Alvin Kimel has posted a piece on “The Sacramentality of Sacraments”. It is most interesting how he brings Fr Alexander Schmemann and Dom Anscar Vonier (both authors of classic modern expositions of the Eucharist) into dialogue with each other over Schmemann’s claims about the deficiencies of Western Catholic Eucharistic doctrine. Once again, there is a great need for irenic Catholic theologians like Fr Kimel to take these sorts Orthodox concerns and criticisms seriously.

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