EXPAND YOUR READING!!

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Google+ Badge

Saturday, 21 January 2012

CHRISTIAN UNITY II - THE MOSCOW PERSPECTIVE





Paper delivered on 7 October 2002 at the University of St Thomas (St Paul, Minessota, USA), and repeated on 9 October 2002 at the Catholic University of America (Washington D.C).

In this paper I shall first of all outline the history of the relations between the two major Christian Traditions. Then I shall look more specifically at the theological dialogue that has taken place between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches throughout the last two decades of the 20th century. Relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church will also be discussed, with special reference to the recent developments. Finally, I will share my vision for the future of Catholic-Orthodox relations in the 21st century.

An outline of the history of Catholic-Orthodox relations 

The history of the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has for the most part been one of mistakes, betrayals, lies, suspicions, disappointments and disillusionments.

The division between Eastern and Western Christianity which took place in the 11th century was in itself the result of a long development of alienation between these two traditions.

When one looks at the history of the Early Church, one is struck by the fact that Latin Christianity was markedly different from its Greek counterpart almost from the very beginning. Differences are evident both at the dogmatic and ecclesiological levels. The Trinitarian theology of Latin Christian authors, such as Tertullian and Augustine, differed significantly from that of the Greeks, e.g. Origen and the Cappadocians: over the centuries the divergence became more and more acute, leading to the long and still unresolved Trinitarian dispute around the question of the Filioque.

Ecclesiological presuppositions were also dissimilar. If in the East, a system of Patriarchates gradually developed, where each head of a local Church was regarded as equal to the others, in the West the central role of the Bishop of Rome was stressed with ever increasing insistence. While the Easterners regarded the Bishop of Rome as primus inter pares, i.e. the first among the five equal great Patriarchs (the so-called 'Pentarchy'), he himself was rather inclined to regard his primacy as that of jurisdiction over the other four. At several Ecumenical Councils this difference was manifested in the behaviour of the Papal legates: while their interventions were regarded by the Easterners as contributions to discussions leading to conciliar decisions, the legates thought that it was their right to pronounce the final word. The Pope would normally express approval or disapproval of the decisions of the Councils, while the Councils themselves did not deem it necessary.

Political developments in East and West also contributed to growing differences in the ecclesiological visions of the two traditions. In the Byzantine East, the figure of the Emperor was central: it was he who convened the Councils, who gave approval to various decisions regarding church life, who in many cases appointed and dismissed patriarchs and bishops. The ideal of 'symphony' between Church and state was developed against this background. In practice this most often led to a direct interference of the state into church affairs. No central ecclesiastical figure emerged in the Byzantine East during the first millennium, even though the Patriarch of Constantinople received the title of 'Ecumenical'. Western developments were altogether different. For many centuries Western Europe was disunited and divided into many small and fragile kingdoms. In the absence of a strong centralized civil authority, the Papacy gradually became the strongest unifying factor. Hence the role of the Pope not only as the head of the Western Church, but also as a powerful political figure, a head of state, a mighty magnate, a land- and slave-owner.

The West was separated from the East not only by political and theological factors: there was also an apparent cultural difference, conditioned to a significant degree by the use of Latin in the West and Greek in the East. Different cultural contexts contributed to differences in theological approaches, and vice versa. When reading Byzantine polemical treatises against the Latins or Latin diatribes against the Byzantines, one is struck by how theological accusations were permeated with various reproaches of a purely cultural nature. The 'Encyclical Letter' by Patriarch Photius is but one of many such examples. Being dedicated to the important question of the procession of the Holy Spirit, it begins with petty accusations against various liturgical and domestic customs of the Latins, such as fasting on Saturdays. Even if one takes into account that such accusations were advanced in the heat of the polemics and were part of a developed propaganda strategy, it is still evident that even minor cultural differences were regarded by both sides as grave deviations from Tradition. This, in turn, resulted from people's inability to cross the borders of their own cultural contexts. (Maximus the Confessor's attempt, in his 'Letter to Marinus', to look at the Filioque question from the Western perspective is a rare and extrinsic example of the opposite).

The schism of 1054 was, therefore, the result of quite a long development, and not simply a matter of misunderstanding between the Papal envoys and the members of the Church of Constantinople, as it is sometimes presented. Obviously, dogmatic and ecclesiological differences between East and West in the first millennium did not necessitate the complete breach of eucharistic relations between the two traditions, but they definitely contributed to the alienation that resulted in this breach.

The second millennium was marked by a continual struggle between East and West, and by the numerous attempts of the Pope to bring disobedient Easterners under his control. The Crusades were the most striking and outrageous example of the use of violence against the Orthodox by their Western fellow-Christians. The memory of the Crusades is still alive among the Greeks: the wound is still bleeding. Recently the Pope 'apologized' for the Crusades before the Archbishop of Athens, which by itself was a noble action. One has to admit, however, that the apology was delayed by eight centuries. It must also be recognised that numerous remnants of the Crusaders' activity still survive, including, for example, Latin Patriarchate in Orient, which were created at the time of the Crusades in order to replace the respective Orthodox Patriarchate.

Other blows dealt repeatedly to the Orthodox were the numerous attempts to bring them under the jurisdiction of Rome by means of 'union'. The first such attempt, made in Lyon in the 13th century, was followed the Union of Ferrara-Florence in 1439, on the eve of the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Nothing has remained of these two 'unions'. But the Union of Brest, proclaimed in 1596, gave birth to ecclesiastical structures that still exist and whose recent revival has contributed to aggravating Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Parallel to these processes, a continuing theological alienation between Orthodox and Catholics also grew. This was to a significant degree conditioned by the introduction of new doctrines in the Catholic Church, which were (and are still) regarded by the Orthodox as dogmatic innovations. The belief in the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex cathedra is the most striking example. A teaching that was the consequence of many centuries of theological debate within the Catholic Church, it was strongly censured by the Orthodox. Indeed, this doctrine was rejected also by some traditional circles within the Western Church: hence the appearance of the Old Catholic Movement, which for many decades conducted a dialogue with the Orthodox.

The struggles between the two Christian traditions in the first half of the 20th century did not differ from those of previous times in that they continued at various levels. There were, however, some latent streams within both traditions which predetermined a rather rapid rapprochement in the second half of the 20th century. Already in the 1930s and 1940s theologians from both sides began to meet on a more regular basis, and for the very first time in Christian history the possibility emerged for each to cross the borders of its own context. The theological exchange that took place at that time contributed to the remarkable change on the part of the Catholics towards the Orthodox which was most evidently manifested during the Second Vatican Council.

At this Council the Orthodox Church was recognised as possessing the fullness of the divine grace that leads people to salvation. It is from Vatican II that the term 'sister Church' with reference to the Orthodox Church stems. This same Council predetermined the significant achievements attained in theological dialogue between the two great Christian traditions in the 1960s-1980s.

Theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. The question of Uniatism. 

Official theological dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches goes back to early 1960s. In 1961, the First Pan-Orthodox Conference chose the following topics for the forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council: 'Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church. a) A study of positive and negative moments in the relations between the two Churches: 1) on faith; 2) on government; 3) on church activity (especially, propaganda, proselytism, Unia)'. In 1963, the Second Pan-Orthodox Conference 'unanimously agreed that our Eastern Orthodox Church should propose a dialogue with the honourable Roman Catholic Church on conditions of parity'. The work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches was preceded by three meetings of the Orthodox Technical Theological Commission for the preparation of such dialogue. In 1978, the Third Conference of the Technical Commission (Chambesy, Switzerland) stated: 'The objective of the dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches is to establish full communion. Such communion is to be based on unity in the faith, on the commonly shared life and Tradition of the early Church, and is to be realised through the celebration of one Eucharist'.

The official dialogue began in 1980 on the Greek island of Patmos. The theme of the first session of the Joint Commission was 'The Mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity'. The same theme was discussed in 1981 in Munich, at the second meeting of the Commission. The third (1984, Crete) and the fourth (1986-1987, Bari) sessions of the Commission were devoted to 'The Faith, Sacraments and Unity of the Church'. The fifth session, which took place in 1988 at New Valamo Monastery, discussed 'The Sacrament of Ministry in the Sacramental Structure of the Church, and the Importance of Apostolic Succession for the Consecration and Unity of the People of God'. It is evident that all of these topics have a theological character. The intention of both parties was to come to a better understanding of each other's positions, while at the same time identifying the major differences that existed between them. A significant degree of unity was achieved, and the participants were ready to embark upon a discussion of the major dividing issue, the question of the authority of the Pope of Rome.

However, the end of 1980s was marked by a rapid deterioration in the relations between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. The main reason for this was the emergence of the Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine. Its presence, which was created after the 1596 Union of Brest, was strong in Western Ukraine until 1946, when it was banned by Stalin. After 1946, many members of this Church were imprisoned and killed and some went into exile. The Greek Catholic Church was declared to be illegal and many church buildings that belonged to it were given to the Orthodox. A similar process took place in 1948 in Communist Romania, where the Uniate Church was also declared to be illegal and its buildings were either closed or transferred to the Orthodox.

Now, at the end of 1980s, under the influence of the nationalist movement in Western Ukraine, the Greek Catholics began to re-establish their presence in the region. What may have become a restoration of justice, however, turned out to be a crying injustice, since the revival of the Greek Catholic Church took place at the expense of the Orthodox Church. On 29 October 1989, the Greek Catholics seized the Transfiguration Cathedral of Lvov, after expelling the Orthodox from it. Shortly thereafter, many similar acts occurred in other parts of the country.

January 1990 saw the creation of the so-called Quadrennial Commission, which comprised representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Roman Catholic Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Eastern Rite Catholics from Western Ukraine. The Commission began to discuss concrete cases of human rights violations during the campaign launched by the Uniates. In March 1990, the Commission developed basic principles for the distribution of the property between the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox. It was agreed that, where there are two churches, one should be given to the Greek Catholics and another one remain Orthodox; where there is only one church, it should belong to the majority group, which must in this case help the minority find or build a suitable place of worship. However, on 13 March 1990, the Greek Catholics unilaterally left the Commission. From then on the seizure of the Orthodox churches (some of them had belonged to the Orthodox even before the Union of 1596) assumed an avalanche-like character. In many places violent methods were employed by the Greek Catholics as they seized Orthodox churches and expelled parishioners from their places of worship. Tensions between the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics led to clashes and mass disorders. By the end of 1990, most churches in Lvov, Ternopol and Ivano-Frankovsk had been captured and by the end of 1991, 597 churches had been taken from the Orthodox.

Commenting on these events, the Theological Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church stated in 1997:

In such a situation it was important to do the utmost to bring home to public opinion, to international organizations, to Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, that beating Orthodoxy in Western Ukraine was not only an act of violation of human rights and religious freedom, but also an annihilation of whatever progress the dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches had made in the previous years. It was essential to show that Uniatism was a dangerous and unacceptable way for achieving unity.

The Unia has brought about new divisions, tearing the One Body of the Orthodox Church. The four centuries of its maintenance have revealed it as a dangerous form of proselytism against Orthodoxy. Human suffering and even bloodshed were the sad aftermath of the divisions it had caused.

At the same time, it is important to emphasize that, while repudiating Unia as a method, the Churches do not abjure people. The Greek Catholic communities existing today, with a legal right to exist, like any other religious organization or association, should cease to be the source of divisions and conflicts between the Orthodox and Catholics. To serve this purpose, rules should be worked out to regulate co-existence and relations in places where there is tension causing suffering among the people of God. 

The revival of the Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine, accompanied as it was by violence, together with other, similar events in the Transcarpathian region, brought the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Commission to decide on suspending the discussion of purely theological topics and to turn to the burning issue of Uniatism. In 1990, the sixth plenary session of the Commission in Freising (Munich) set out to discuss the matter. The Statement that ensued said, among other things, that 'Unia, as a method, failed-where it was introduced-to bring the Churches closer. On the contrary, it caused further disunity. The situation, as a whole, gave occasion to confrontation and pain which became imprinted in the historical memory of both Churches. Ecclesiological motives, too, call for some other methods to be found'. Both sides of the Commission were resolute in their denunciation of Uniatism: 'We reject it as a method for the search for unity because it is opposed to the common tradition of our Churches'. The Freising Statement was accepted with satisfaction by most Orthodox Churches. The Roman Catholic Church, however, did not ratify it.

In 1993, the seventh plenary session of the Joint Commission took place in Balamand, Lebanon. The representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and those of the Orthodox Churches (excluding the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian and Czechoslovak Churches) agreed on the theological principles and practical recommendations with regard to Uniatism. Once again, it was stated that Uniatism is not a method for achieving unity between the Catholics and the Orthodox:

Because of the way in which Catholics and Orthodox once again consider each other in relationship to the mystery of the Church and discover each other once again as Sister Churches, this form of 'missionary apostolate' described above, and which has been called 'uniatism', can no longer be accepted either as a method to be followed or as a model of the unity our Churches are seeking. 

All forms of proselytism were strongly condemned, and a call to mutual collaboration was made:

While the inviolable freedom of persons and their obligation to follow the requirements of their conscience remain secure, in the search for re-establishing unity there is no question of conversion of people from one Church to the other in order to ensure their salvation.

The Eastern Catholic Churches... should be inserted, on both local and universal levels, into the dialogue of love, in mutual respect and reciprocal trust found once again, and enter into the theological dialogue, with all its practical implications.

Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, no longer aims at having the faithful of one Church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox. It aims at answering the spiritual needs of its own faithful and it has no desire for expansion at the expense of the Orthodox Church.

Religious freedom would be violated when, under the cover of financial assistance, the faithful of one Church would be attracted to the other, by promises, for example, of education and material benefits that may be lacking in their own Church. In this context, it will be necessary that social assistance, as well as every form of philanthropic activity, be organized with common agreement so as to avoid creating new suspicions.

Furthermore, the necessary respect for Christian freedom - one of the most precious gifts received from Christ - should not become an occasion for undertaking a pastoral project which may also involve the faithful of other Churches, without previous consultation with the pastors of these Churches.

Those in charge of the communities concerned should create joint local commissions or make effective those which already exist, for finding solutions to concrete problems and seeing that these solutions are applied in truth and love, in justice and peace. If agreement cannot be reached on the local level, the question should be brought to mixed commissions established by higher authorities.

Suspicion would disappear more easily if the two parties were to condemn violence wherever communities of one Church use it against communities of a Sister Church. 

Important guidelines were developed, specifying, in particular, what should be the position and behaviour of the Catholic Church in territories where the Orthodox Churches are present:

...To avoid all misunderstanding and to develop confidence between the two Churches, it is necessary that Catholic and Orthodox bishops of the same territory consult with each other before establishing Catholic pastoral projects which imply the creation of new structures in regions which traditionally form part of the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church, in view to avoid parallel pastoral activities which would risk rapidly degenerating into rivalry or even conflicts.

The admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (I Cor. 6:17) will be recalled. It recommends that Christians resolve their differences through fraternal dialogue, thus avoiding recourse to the intervention of the civil authorities for a practical solution to the problems which arise between Churches or local communities. This applies particularly to the possession or return of ecclesiastical property. These solutions should not be based only on past situations or rely solely on general juridical principles, but they must also take into account the complexity of present realities and local circumstances. 

The Balamand statement with its call on 'excluding for the future all proselytism and all desire for expansion by Catholics at the expense of the Orthodox Church' was a breakthrough in Catholic-Orthodox relations at the theological level. The fact that it was officially ratified by the Roman Catholic Church testifies to the latter's willingness at that time to foster good relations with the Orthodox Church.

However, the reaction to the document among certain Catholics was not altogether positive; some Greek Catholics, for example, greeted it with open hostility. In 1994, Bishop George Gutu, the Apostolic Administrator for the Greek Catholics in Romania, in his letter to Pope John Paul II, criticized those passages in the document where Uniatism was rejected as a method contradicting the tradition of the two Churches. The Bishop spoke accusingly of the Romanian Orthodox Church that 'it does not admit co-opting the Romanian Uniate Church by the Romanian Orthodox Church by means of violence and terror in 1948'. The letter concluded with the complete rejection of the conclusions of the dialogue between the Catholics and the Orthodox on the issue of Uniatism: 'The Romanian Church in communion with Rome accepts none of the texts signed in Rhodes, Freising, Ariccia and Balamand, and declares the signatures under these texts to be invalid'. Critical comments on the Balamand Statement came also from the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, Cardinal Miroslav Lyubachivsky.

Negative reaction was voiced also within some local Orthodox Churches. The major reason for dissatisfaction was, however, not the document itself, but the fact that it did not bring about any noticeable change in the relations between the Orthodox and the Greek Catholics in the areas of conflict. The document admitted that Uniatism was a mistake of the past, but it did not solve the problems relating to the coexistence of the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox in the present. This is why the Orthodox participants insisted on continuing the discussion within the framework of the Joint Commission on the theological and ecclesiological consequences of Uniatism. Two meetings of the Steering Committee took place; one in Rome (1997) and the other in Arriccia (1998): both made progress in the discussion of the issue by admitting that the very existence of the Greek Catholic structures parallel to the Orthodox ones is, from the ecclesiological point of view, something 'abnormal'. The 'Arriccia paper' pointed to the three factors which make Uniatism abnormal: a) by the very fact of its existence it calls into question the salvific character of the Mother Churches (i.e. the local Orthodox Churches); b) it contradicts the fundamental ecclesiological principle according to which there should be only one local Church and one bishop in a given place; c) it presupposes the conception of the universal jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome, which is unacceptable for Orthodox theology.

The 'Arriccia paper' was to be discussed by the plenary session of the Joint Commission. However, when in 2000 the members of the Commission met in Baltimore, it became clear that the Roman Catholic delegation was not prepared to go any further than Balamand in the discussion on Uniatism. It did not even want to discuss the 'Arriccia paper' since it claimed that this paper, written by both the Orthodox and the Catholics sides of the Steering committee, represented only the Orthodox point of view. The ecclesiological situation of the Greek Catholic Churches cannot be called 'abnormal', insisted the Catholics in Baltimore, since these Churches are in full communion with Rome. This was a startling and highly regrettable turn in the entire discussion of the issue. For several days heated debates took place, but all in vain: no common position was found and no solution was reached. The session ended without a clear decision as to whether the work of the Joint Commission would ever be resumed. Most probably, the Commission will now be dissolved and some other framework for dialogue will have to take its place.

Many Orthodox delegates present in Baltimore interpreted what happened as a huge step backwards: towards the era before the Vatican II. I must admit that even the emotional atmosphere which reigned in Baltimore reminded one of the Council of Ferrara-Florence rather than the Second Vatican Council. During one of the sessions the atmosphere became so heated that the entire Catholic delegation, headed by Cardinal Cassidy, stalked out of the meeting. Thanks to the 'shuttle diplomacy' undertaken by some Orthodox members of the Commission the session was resumed on the following day, but no progress was achieved. The Commission acknowledged its own inability to continue the discussion and the necessity of raising the question about the future of the dialogue before the respective authorities of the Churches that took part in it.

This was the unfortunate and miserable end of the theological dialogue which began with so many expectations and whose ultimate goal had been no less than the restoration of full communion between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches.

The present crisis in the relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches 

The Russian Orthodox Church participated in the theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church at the Pan-Orthodox level from the very beginning. Parallel to this it conducted its own bilateral dialogue with Rome. The latter began in 1967 and from the very beginning it had a theological character. Among the themes for discussion were: 'Church and salvation', 'Pastoral care today', 'The people of God and contemporary issues', 'The Christian message of salvation in a changing world'. All these matters were of mutual interest for both the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox sides and they broadened significantly their knowledge of each other.

At the end of 1980s, when the atheist regime in Russia weakened and religious freedom began to flower, hope was brought to both the Orthodox and the Catholics in the territory of the then Soviet Union. The ties between the two Churches, which in Soviet times were quite close (in the face of a common enemy people tend to be united), could have become closer still. I remember this period most vividly. At the time I was a parish priest in Lithuania, a Soviet republic with a predominantly Catholic population. The Orthodox and the Catholics had coexisted there peacefully (this, fortunately, is still the case), and there was a significant degree of mutual trust and assistance. Catholic seminarians came to me for advice before ordination - I was present at their ordination in the Catholic seminary - and meetings between the clergy of the two Churches were frequent. Some Catholic priests and bishops began to return from prison or from exile. I remember my conversation with the newly appointed dean of the theological seminary: when I asked him about his previous 'appointment' he said that he had just returned from prison, where he had spent some ten years. Another Catholic priest spent twenty-five years in a Soviet camp: he had been accused of teaching religion to children, which was forbidden by Soviet law.

The situation in Lithuania, however, differed from that in Ukraine, Russia and some other republics. In Ukraine, the emergence of the Greek Catholic Church, which I have already described, caused grave problems in the relations between the two Churches - problems which remain unresolved until the present. In Russia, the main cause of discord was and still is the missionary activity of the Catholic Church, which the Russian Church has labelled as proselytism. It took different forms in different places, not only in the Russian Federation itself, but also outside it, in what the Russian Church considers to be its 'canonical territory'.

In 1991, the Roman Catholic Church established four 'apostolic administrations' in Russia and appointed Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz as head of the Russian Catholics. In order to avoid any collision with the Russian Orthodox Church, the term 'administration' was clearly defined and an explanation was given why the Catholic Church did not create dioceses in Russia. It claimed that it wanted to avoid creating parallel structures in order to emphasize that it recognized the Orthodox Church as a 'sister Church'. In 1992, Rome issued a document entitled 'General Principles and Practical Norms of Coordinating Evangelism and the Ecumenical Work of the Catholic Church in Russia and other CIS Countries', which stated that instead of accepting those deprived of pastoral care into the Catholic Church, the Catholic clergy should help the Orthodox Church as much as it can. Besides, the document urged Catholic bishops to see that no activity in the areas under their jurisdiction could be interpreted as a 'parallel evangelising structure'.

In spite of these assurances, the strategy of a gradual Roman Catholic 'conquest' of Russia was being developed. It consisted not only of expanding Catholic parochial structures, but also of undertaking various missionary, educational and charity projects. Sometimes these projects were carried out contrary to the wish of the Orthodox Church and at its expense. Ten years of activity resulted in the creation, at the beginning of 2002, of four Catholic dioceses in the 'canonical territory' of the Russian Orthodox Church. This decision by the Vatican administration fuelled a deep crisis in the relations between Moscow and Rome. The visit of an official delegation headed by Cardinal Kasper, the Chairman of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to Moscow was cancelled. Instead, an exchange of statements between Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Kondrusiewicz on the one hand, and the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad on the other, took place. This indicated the high degree of hostility and mutual dissatisfaction felt by the two sides.

In his letter to Metropolitan Kirill, as well as in a number of interviews that he gave both in Russia and abroad, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz expressed his disappointment at the reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church to the creation of the Catholic dioceses. In one interview he stated that the Orthodox oppose Catholic missions in Russia because they 'fear that pastoral work may end in emptying their churches' (Avvenire¸ 18 March 2000). Cardinal Kasper, for his part, stated: 'The Russian Orthodox Church feels her own pastoral and evangelical weakness and thus is afraid of the Catholic presence, which is far more effective on the pastoral level, though smaller numerically' (Civilta cattolica, 16 March 2002). The Cardinal further declared: 'It has become clear that the debate on the principle of canonical territory and proselytism conceals arguments of basically ideological nature'. The Russian Orthodox Church, he added, 'defends not only a reality which is longer existent, but also the relations between the Church and the people which are problematic theologically'. He accused the Russian Orthodox Church of 'ecclesiastical heresy', meaning its 'failure to recognize the Catholic Church's missionary aspect for the sake of a conception of proselytism unduly extended in its meaning'.

These statements by two leading Catholic officials were regarded by the Russian Orthodox Church as direct challenges made deliberately and consciously. They were commented on by Metropolitan Kirill in an open letter, in which he said, in particular, that 'the principal problem of dialogue between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches lies in the fact that all good intentions expressed by the Catholic side at various official meetings and negotiations have not been substantiated by concrete actions. The Catholic side stands up for dialogue with our Church in its public statements, but, unfortunately, acts in Russia in such a way as if no dialogue had ever existed'.

The most comprehensive response, however, came not from Metropolitan Kirill himself, but from the Department for External Church Relations, headed by him, in an official statement dated by June 2002 . For the first time, the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on the questions of proselytism, of 'canonical territory', of the missionary and charitable activities of the Catholic monastic orders was presented in a detailed and systematic way. The statement begins with the definition of proselytism and an explanation of why the Catholic Church is accused of it:

Proselytism carried out by the Catholics among the traditionally Orthodox population in Russia and other countries of the Commonwealth of the Independent States devalues the Roman Catholic Church's attitude to the Orthodox Church as her 'sister Church' declared by Vatican II...

The problem of proselytism is aggravated by the fact that the Catholic side denies flatly its very existence, referring to its own interpretation of the term 'proselytism' as enticement of people from one Christian community to another through 'dishonest' means (for instance, bribery). At the same time, it alludes to the preaching of the gospel to 'non-believers and non-baptized' people who come to Catholic churches exercising their freedom to choose a religion that suits them. The Catholic side would often voice this question: 'Would it be better if these people remained atheists rather than become Catholics?'

Carrying out precisely preaching and mission in Russia, not at all caring only for their traditional flock (Poles, Lithuanians, Germans), the Catholic side often refers to the 'missionary nature of the Church' and to the Lord's commandment to preach the gospel...

This view, very popular among the Russian Catholic clergy, can raise a great deal of serious objections.

Firstly, Catholic clergy, who come mostly from abroad as we will see below, do not have to preach in some obscure 'missionary territory', nor to a heathen or non-religious population. They come to a country with a millennium-old Christian culture imbued with the Orthodox tradition. Therefore, the very fact of conducting Catholic mission here, among the local population who do not have any historical or cultural relation to the Catholic Church, and the presence of Catholic missionaries in the Russian land provokes the perfectly legitimate question: Do the Catholics believe the Orthodox Church to be a Church?..

Secondly, it is has been evident for a long time that the object of the Catholic mission in Russia and other CIS countries is the traditionally Orthodox population. These people were forcibly torn from their Orthodox roots in the decades of atheist regime, but they cannot be called non-believers or atheists. Many of them have found themselves at a crossroads, in a spiritual search, but as we can see from practice, most of them return to the faith of their fathers and find their spiritual path in Orthodoxy. It is unthinkable to deny the profound spiritual, cultural and historical bonds of our people with Orthodoxy. It is bewildering that the Catholics, who themselves belong to a Church in which the notion of tradition is one of the fundamental ones, should doubt the traditional nature of Orthodoxy for Russia. For many of them, Russia is a missionary field for 'evangelization' of the local population. In other words, the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to Russia differs little from that of various sectarians who seek to 'Christianize' the post-Soviet space and to build up here a 'religious market' in which religious organizations act as competitors struggling for the 'customer'. The ensuing logic is clear: those who are larger and more powerful, who were the first to seize a particular 'market sector,' are in the right. 

The statement by the Department for External Church relations points to the revival of faith in Russia, which has taken place owing to the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church. 'Unfortunately, no such thing is happening in the West, the territory of the historical pastoral responsibility of the Roman Catholic Church. Neither effectiveness, nor aggiornamento, helps here. The West is growing ever more secular and atheistic'. While recognizing that the West is the 'canonical territory' of the Roman Catholic Church, the statement explains what it means by 'canonical territory':

The notion of canonical territory is not an invention of the Russian Church developed for some ideological reasons. It follows from the canonical tradition of the Early Undivided Church. There is an ancient rule in both the Eastern and Western Churches: 'one city-one bishop'. This means that a territory entrusted to the care of one bishop cannot be ruled by another legitimate bishop. This principle has been observed to this day in both the Orthodox and the Catholic Church. An exception is a confessional diaspora, that is, the Orthodox who live in a territory where Catholic bishops have historically exercised their jurisdiction, and vice versa. The pastoral care of such a diaspora by its own bishops and clergy has never raised any objections from local bishops. A vivid example in Russia is the status of the Catholic Church before the 1917 Revolution, while in Western Europe the status of various jurisdictions of Local Orthodox Churches, including the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. 

The question of the Catholic search for 'vocations' in Russia is also discussed. It is stated that 'one of the principal priorities for the RCC's work in Russia is training local Catholic clergy, and probably clergy and the religious for Western Europe'. According to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, 'The Catholic Church is extremely interested in having Russian, not foreign clergy, to take care of the Catholics in Russia and will do everything possible for it'. In accordance with this guideline the Catholic bishop Jerzy Mazur of Eastern Siberia is drafting some kind of 'pastoral program' for the formation of the fully fledged local clergy.

The activity of the Catholic monastic orders in Russia is regarded as something 'artificially spread through the efforts of foreign monks'. It is noted that 'monasticism has always been a result of the spiritual aspirations of believers themselves, that is, it would emerge from among them in a natural way. This is not the case, however, in today's Russia. Catholic monastic communities have been organized by visiting foreigners in the hope to convert an increasing number of the Orthodox or "unbelieving" Russians'.

The final section of the document deals with the creation of the new diocesan structures in the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church:

Evidence that the Vatican intends to extend the Catholic mission in Russia is to be seen in its recent decision to elevate the status of its church structures in Russia, apostolic administrations, to that of dioceses and to form them into a 'church province' headed by a 'metropolitan'. If this development is to be assessed in terms of the Orthodox canonical tradition, it can be stated that Rome has declared the existence of a Russian Catholic Church understood as a church for the Russians whatever their cultural and ethnic roots may be. This step shows that Rome, acting one-sidedly and without any dialogue with the Orthodox Church, has fundamentally changed the nature of the Catholic presence in Russia. With the establishment of dioceses, the Catholic Church in Russia has ceased to be a pastoral structure for ethnic minorities linked with the Roman Catholic tradition and declared itself a church of a given place whose duty and responsibility is mission towards all the people living in Russia. This step of Rome has not only moved away the prospect for settling the problem of proselytism, but also created a system of competition, hence confrontation, with the Orthodox Church in Christian witness so important for the entire Russian society. All this has certainly weakened the integrity and effectiveness of this witness and thus worked against the Christianization and inchurching of the people. 

Responses coming from the Russian Orthodox Church to various accusations and actions of the Roman Catholic Church may seem to be excessively harsh, hostile and inadequate. One would admit that some of them do not correspond to the Western rules of 'political correctness'. However, one has to bear in mind that they stem from the very critical situation in which the Russian Church finds itself vis-à-vis the Catholic Church. They also proceed from a deep concern about the integrity of the Christian message that is to be brought to a country still recovering from many decades of the most severe religious persecution. 'Freedom of conscience' must be respected, and this is why the Orthodox Church would not oppose individual cases of conversion to Catholicism. But when the question is about a missionary strategy developed in order to attract Orthodox, or potentially Orthodox, people to Catholicism, the Russian Church opposes this very strongly. The principle of 'freedom of conscience', moreover, presupposes the right of every individual to make a choice between various equal options, such as, for example, between adhering to this or that branch of Christianity, between being religious or an atheist. In post-Soviet space, however, this is not quite the case. Most people are still 'spiritually uprooted' and need to rediscover their own roots before they may freely consider other options.

One issue that has emerged in the correspondence between the senior Catholic and Orthodox officials is the nature of the Russian Orthodox presence in the West. It has been argued by the Catholic side that the existence of the Orthodox dioceses and parishes in the West does not differ in nature from the existence of the Catholic dioceses and parishes in the East. The response coming from the Russian Church is that our dioceses and parishes were created by the Russian emigration to serve the Russian-speaking people living in the West, who are rooted in the Orthodox tradition, while the Catholic structures in Russia have been created in order to attract Russian people to Catholicism. The Russian Church does not aim at converting the West into Orthodoxy through its mission, while the Catholic Church does have a 'missionary strategy' in the East. This argument echoed with a discussion within the Russian Orthodox diaspora about the missionary imperative of Orthodoxy in the West. The matter, in my opinion, needs to be clarified.

The Russian Orthodox Church does not consider itself to be an ethnically 'Russian' entity, as kind of a national ghetto. It is not the Church 'of Russia', or 'of Russians': it does have an international character. The use of the Russian language (or of Church Slavonic, as far as the liturgy is concerned) has never been regarded as obligatory: on the contrary, the use of vernacular languages is encouraged wherever appropriate. Moreover, as a local expression of world Orthodoxy, the Russian Church shares the universalist ecclesiology peculiar to Orthodox Christianity in general. As Bishop Kallistos Ware states in his classic manual: 'The Orthodox Church claims to be universal. Not something exotic or Oriental, but "simple Christianity"'.

How does this claim correspond to the notion of 'canonical territory'? If we, the Orthodox and the Catholics, divide the world into 'spheres of influence', are we not going to lose this universalist vision of the Christian mission and undermine the very missionary imperative of the Christian Church? It seems to me that the answer to these questions has still to be found. Perhaps the present conflict between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches can be regarded as a clash between two universalist ecclesiologies, which inevitably come into conflict when put into practice. Were this the case, could this crisis result in a kind of fruitful discussion, both within the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches and between them, lead to a redefinition of a whole range of issues relating to the Christian presence in the modern world?

Where do we go from here? 

This leads me to the final point of my paper: the future of Catholic-Orthodox relations. It is clear that there is a deep crisis between the Orthodox and the Catholics, probably the deepest in the modern history of Christianity. But is there a way out? Are there any signs of hope for the future? And what has to be done in order to find some solution to existing problems?

It seems to me that every care should be taken to avoid unnecessary false accusations, which are now being circulated in great number. For example, when the state authorities of the Russian Federation refused visas to some Catholic priests, senior Catholic clergy accused the Orthodox Church of influencing the state's decision. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz even spoke of 'persecutions' of Catholics by the Orthodox Church in Russia with reference to these incidents (this sounds especially offensive and ridiculous after several decades of real persecution when millions of believers were imprisoned or executed). Needless to say, the Russian Church is much less influential than one may imagine, and certainly has nothing to do with issuing or refusing visas by the Russian Federation. Sometimes the Russian state authorities refuse visas even to the Russian Orthodox priests who have no Russian citizenship and who live abroad: even in these cases no explanation is in such cases given to the Church. Occasionally, other countries, too, refuse or delay visas to Orthodox clergy from Russia: again, no explanation is normally given, but we do not accuse such states of 'persecuting' the Russian Orthodox Church.

Some unfortunate decisions taken lately in order to expand the Catholic presence in traditionally Orthodox territories should be reconsidered. Among them, the transformation of the apostolic administrations in Russia into dioceses headed by a 'Metropolitan'. The recent decision of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics to transfer their headquarters from Lvov to Kiev, their ambition to create a 'Patriarchate' in Ukraine, as well as their numerous attempts to establish permanent episcopal structures in Russia, do not help in solving the existing problems either. On the contrary, the further expansion of Uniatism, which is underway in spite of the condemnation of this movement at Balamand and in other official statements, makes the way to reconciliation even more problematic.

Uniatism should be thoroughly dealt with from historical, theological, ecclesiological and pastoral points of view. Balamand's practical recommendations ought to be put into practice. We must, in fact, go further than Balamand and declare that Uniatism is unacceptable not only as a fact of the past but also as a reality of the present. Without, of course, denying the right of the Greek Catholic Church to exist and to exercise its ministry, we must agree that Uniatism is still a bleeding wound, a cause of serious discord among the Orthodox and the Catholics, an obvious impediment to the normalisation of the situation in Catholic-Orthodox relations.

The issue of proselytism must also be addressed. There is no agreement between the Orthodox and the Catholics as to what the notion of 'proselytism' entails and what the difference is between proselytism and mission. It seems to me that by 'mission' one should understand missionary activity of a particular Christian Church in its own 'canonical territory' or in other places where Christianity was not preached before. If mission is carried out by a particular Christian group in a place where a local Christian Church already exists, it must be carried out with the permission, in close contact, and in collaboration with this local Church. Proselytism, on the contrary, implies missionary activity in territory traditionally belonging to another Christian Church, at the expense and to the detriment of this Church.

The notion of 'canonical territory' must be clarified. Perhaps, the expression itself is not particularly meaningful, but the idea behind it is vital for the co-existence of various Christian communities. There are, using a phrase from Balamand, 'regions which traditionally form part of the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church', and there are also countries and regions which traditionally belong to the Catholic sphere of influence. This reality has to be acknowledged and its practical implications should be drawn.

In general, different countries and territories have different religious histories. Some countries, like the USA, were from the very beginning multiconfessional and multireligious: hence the absence of any 'national' faith in America. Some other countries and regions, however, had and still have 'national' faiths, i.e. those to which the majority of their population belongs. There are, for example, Islamic countries (like Afghanistan or Iran), Buddhist regions (like Tibet or Bashkortostan), a Jewish country (Israel) etc. There are indeed many countries whose whole history has been deeply influenced by Christianity and in which most people still identify themselves as Christians (even though not necessarily 'practising'). Evidently, no religion can 'claim' a particular territory. But every religion which is dominant in a given place has the right to be recognized and respected in that place: other religions, while legally permitted to exist and to develop, must find appropriate ways of showing their respect to the dominant religion. If, therefore, a particular Christian Church is considered to be 'national' by a particular people, those faithful should not be proselytized by missionaries from another Christian confession. One would not deny that there are countries with a centuries-old Orthodox tradition (Russia, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, et al.); why, then, should these countries be subjected to intensive activity of Catholic missionaries? Why should a search for Catholic 'vocations' be undertaken in them? Rather, let us look for vocations wherever we are already prominently established. If we do not find them, let us intensify our missionary efforts among our own people, and let others do their job and take care of their flock.

More collaboration, co-operation and mutual trust are needed on a local level between Catholics and Orthodox. As I said earlier, there are already regular contacts between the dioceses, monasteries, parishes, theological schools and other structures of both Churches. These contacts must be developed, in spite of all the difficulties experienced at the official level. Joint charity projects should be encouraged, whereby Catholics and Orthodox could work together for the benefit of the poor and needy. These activities, if carried out successfully and on a large scale, may eventually compel the officials to reconsider their positions and begin to work towards reconciliation.

At some point in the future, when the relationship on a practical level is normalized, the two Churches may resume theological discussions. One of the most important theological questions to be discussed then will be that of primacy. It seems to me that, while the Catholics may wish to revisit this issue in order to make their doctrine more consonant with the tradition of the Ancient Undivided Church, the Orthodox may, on their part, wish to develop further their own comprehension of primacy in the Universal Church. We are accustomed to criticizing the Catholics for their view on primacy, but can we develop our own understanding of it in a way that convinces Catholic theologians? In order to do this, we must agree among ourselves on our interpretation of the relations between the local and the universal Church. In what precisely does the 'universality' of the Church consist? How is this universality to be manifested? Is there any room in Orthodox ecclesiology for a kind of 'universal' leadership? It seems to me that the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople will differ in their response to the last question from the representatives of other Orthodox Churches. The question therefore is not solved and requires further discussion.

Once the divisive issues have been addressed and the existing difficulties resolved, Catholics and Orthodox will be much more amenable in their common response to the challenges of the modern world, such as ever growing secularism, ever increasing globalization, ever more evident loss of moral and ethical values. The Catholic and the Orthodox Churches both belong to the 'traditional' stream of Christianity, and together have much to say to the modern world, where the very notion of 'tradition' is put into question. Their testimony, however, will be successful only if they are able to speak 'with one mouth and with one heart'.

There is, therefore, a long road ahead. But there are always some signs of hope. And there is indeed a common well from which both the Catholics and the Orthodox may draw. As one of my close friends, a Roman Catholic hermit and theologian, said, 'it is sin that divided the Churches and it is sanctity that will unite them again'. The legacy of saints and martyrs is common to both Churches - both have centuries-old experience of martyrdom and sanctity. In the 20th century both Catholics and Orthodox, together with people from other confessions and religions, suffered in Soviet and Nazi camps: many gave their lives for the faith. There are many striking testimonies of solidarity among Christians of different confessional backgrounds in the Soviet camps. These Christians were united not only because they had a common enemy, but also because they shared with each other their love for Christ and for his Church, a love which was not shaken even by the most severe persecutions. There was more that united them than that divided them, because what united them was Christ himself.

* * *


At the time of the Second Vatican Council people spoke of the end of a long ecumenical 'winter' and of the beginning of the spring of cooperation and interaction. Now it seems that winter has come again, since much of what was achieved and declared then is now 'frozen'. I believe that in this critical time we must do whatever we can in order to return to the spirit of that openness, mutual respect and cooperation promoted by Vatican II. It is only in this way that we will be able to move the situation in Catholic-Orthodox relations from the present stalemate.


TOMORROW WE SHALL HAVE A POST ON A NEW ORTHODOX SAINT.   ON MONDAY, WE SHALL CONTINUE WITH A HARD-HITTING RESPONSE  BY ARCHIMANDRITE ROBERT TAFT S.J. TO RUSSIAN ORTHODOX COMPLAINTS, AS WELL AS A CLEAR STATEMENT ON WHAT SHOULD BE DONE ON BOTH SIDES.   ON TUESDAY, THERE WILL BE THE FINAL POST IN THIS SERIES ON THE NEW INITIATIVE IN CATHOLIC-ORTHODOX RELATIONS.
Post a Comment

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Followers

My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive