"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

Sunday 23 September 2012


While I was in Minsk, I had an interesting conversation with a deacon who  had studied Vatican II as part of his course at the  Orthodox theological academy.   He said what I have always suspected but which I have never heard confirmed by anyone else, that the Theologie Nouvelle with such people as de Lubac, Congar, Bouyer, Danielou etc had come under the influence of the emigre Russian Orthodox theologians in Paris, people Bulgakov, Lossky, Affanasiev etc, so that we can find traces of their thinking in the documents of Vatican II and in the thinking of Pope Benedict XVI.  Here is an Orthodox article on Tradition.   Compare this with Pope Benedict on the same subject. - David

click on "An Enormously Important Talk by the Pope ON HOLY TRADITION"

When I first became Orthodox a Protestant friend of mine, a minister as it happened, noted that in becoming Orthodox I joined a pre-modern tradition in a post-modern fashion.  Simply put, I decided to submit myself to the Tradition of the Church.

For some this decision to accept the Tradition of the Church embodies within it a distancing from the same.  After all, so the thinking goes, in accepting the Tradition of the Orthodox Church rather than the Catholic Church, didn’t I assume the ability–even the right–to judge both traditions? Well maybe that is what happened psychologically, but I’m not sure that–even if it holds true–that the psychology of the decision exhausts its meaning.  Nor does the fact of human choice invalidate the objective character of the Tradition; much less does it mean that the person judges the Tradition as a master judges a servant or a teacher a student.

Rather the Tradition of the Church is that which makes human choice both possible and meaningful.

Metropolitan Hilarion in a recent speech (Address by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations to the Annual Nicean Club Dinner, Lambeth Palace, 9 September 2010) observes that unlike Protestant Christianity,  the Orthodox Church has ” a different understanding of Holy Tradition.”  He continues by quoting   It is aptly “Vladimir Lossky: ‘Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church – the life giving to every member of the Body of Christ the ability to hear, accept and know the Truth in its inherent shining, not in the natural light of human reason.’”   To grasp the anthropological import of this it is important that we remember that the human will, as St Augustine and others have noted, is not meant for choosing between options–will I have toast or cereal for breakfast this morning–but as the faculty by which I am freely and personally in communion with God and, in God, the whole of humanity and indeed the cosmos.

To exercise my will apart from God is neither an act of freedom nor of self-expression.  Rather it is to cripple the will and degrade the self binding it that which is transitory.  Both personal experience and psychological research illustrates this.  Every discrete choice has the consequence of limiting in someway my ability to act.  Sitting here writing means I can’t be watching television.  Yes, the example, like the choice of what to eat for breakfast is trivial.  Trivial or not thought, it illustrates the point that human freedom and so happiness  is not found in the mere fact that I can exercise my will this way rather than that.  In fact, and again experience and research demonstrates this, the more choices I have the more unhappy and anxious I am likely to feel.

Does this mean that there should be no choice or that we should be coerced to accept the Gospel?  No of course not.  The fact that I misuse my will, does not mean my will should be violated.  It does however mean that my will must be formed so that I am able to evermore fully choose God.   Returning to an earlier post, this is why incentives matter not only in economics but also the spiritual life.  This isn’t a quid pro quo–if I do this for God, God will do that for me–but of explaining that personal freedom and self-expression that are culture rightly values are only possible in Christ.
But doesn’t this degrade the Tradition?  Doesn’t it turn it into but one more consumer option?  It may to be sure but only because the contemporary consumer culture, like all cultures, is a pale reflection of Holy Tradition.

The Acton Institute‘s Samuel Gregg in his analysis of Pope Benedict XVI‘s visit to Great Britain (Benedict’s Creative Minority) writes that “to be an active Catholic in Europe is now, …, a choice rather than a matter of social conformity.”  He continues that “This means practicing European Catholics in the future will be active believers because they have chosen and want to live the Church’s teaching.”   The irony here, and it is an irony that is as applicable to Orthodox Christians as it is Catholics, is that living the Gospel is NEVER a matter of mere social conformity–of playing along to get along–but of personal choice rightly understood.

All of this means that  Christians (and as Gregg points out not simply Christians) must do the hard work of wooing the human heart.  Along the way, as the pastoral experience of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches illustrates, we will invariably make mistakes.  It is always tempting to try to sidestep the hard ascetical work of growing in holiness for the quick return of marketing or social coercion  or, for that prominence and  respectability.  Complicating this temptation is that it will not always be clear whether I have put my foot on the wrong path.  Gregg offers the example of Thomas More who “stood almost alone against Henry VIII’s brutal demolition of the Church’s liberty in England.”

At the time, “many dismissed his resistance as a forlorn gesture.” But when we take a somewhat longer view, “More, … , turned out to be a one-man creative minority. Five hundred years later, More is regarded by many Catholics and non-Catholics alike as a model for politicians. By contrast, no-one remembers those English bishops who, with the heroic exception of Bishop John Fisher, bowed down before the tyrant-king.”

While  More’s response was unique to his situation, his actions have a foundational quality as well.  Christians are always called to bear witness to Christ before a tyrant-king who demands our obedience  or at least silent collusion.  This fact shapes, or should shape, our understanding of why incentives matter not simply in economics but also, and more importantly, the Gospel.  The Enemy of souls offers his own inducements.

Or rather, what he offers is a parody of God’s blessings to humanity, blessings that we who are in Christ have received in abundance and which  in obedience to Christ and for the sake of our neighbor, we need to proclaim.
In Christ,
+Fr Gregory
While I was in Minsk as a guest of the Community of Elizabeth the Royal Martyr, another guest came and asked to see me.   He had been receiving instruction to enter the Orthodox Church and was very near reception.   However, on that day the good nun who was teaching him told him that, once received into the Orthodox Faith, he must cease to participate in Catholic masses.   His favourite monastery in France is Sept-Fons and is a frequent visitor to it, and he is also involved with the Emmanuel charismatic community.   He was alarmed and asked me what he should do.

I answered:   The relationship between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy is a very complex one, so complex that I would not even dream of judging anyone who wanted to leave the Catholic Church to become Orthodox.   In the circumstances, I could only tell him why I could not in conscience leave the Catholic Church to become Orthodox.   This is very personal and would in no way cause me displeasure, should he decide to become Orthodox.

  • Firstly, while I much prefer the Orthodox Liturgy to my own, I believe that the Catholic and Orthodox churches celebrate the same Mass; not similar masses, but the same identical Mass.   The same Christ speaks to me through the lessons as speaks to them; the same Father sends the same Spirit on the bread and wine at the prayer of the same Christ the priest, and changes the bread and wine into the same body and blood.   We are taken up into the same heaven and pass through the veil of the Holy of Holies which is Christ's flesh into God the Father's Presence.   Here we receive communion and become one body with Christ, we become the Church, just as the Orthodox do.   We become one body with the Orthodox, one Church with the Orthodox, whether we want to or not, because there is only one Eucharist. 
  • This means that the schism is a monstrous lie, an obscene lie, because it leads both sides to deny the grace they celebrate.   As Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has said, about a thousand years ago, both Catholics and Orthodox decided they could go it alone without the other: they did not need the other to be fully Catholic.   It was a very porous schism at first and there were remararkable examples of ecclesial cooperation as well as the occasional atrocities on BOTH sides.   However it was still a lie.
  • Nevertheless, the schism began to have a reality of its own.   As well as the atrocities and mutual suspicions, the Orthodox and Catholic churches lived in very different cultural, political and social environments and responded to different problems, asked different questions and developed different vocabularies.  Thus something said in one religious environment could take on a slightly different meaning in the other.   For instance, Orthodox are continually misunderstanding what is meant by the West by "created grace", and, usually, however much we protest that they are knocking down an Aunt Sally rather than countering what we really believe, they go on repeating charges that are obviously baseless once we know the true meaning of the words Catholics use.  
  •  Thus there are two levels of disagreement caused by the rift when both churches decided to go their separate ways.   The first is mistrust that results in lack of ecclesial charity between us and the ghastly mistake that we do not need each other.   This has resulted in doctrinal differences which form the second level.   I agree with the Patriarch of Moscow and with Metropolitan Hilarion that the first thing to tackle is the mistrust and the mistake that we do not need each other.  They have suggested that the Catholic and Orthodox churches should join forces in the New Evangelization to bring Europe back to its Christian roots.   Seeing the need for each other, we may overcome mistrust by working together, and then we may love one another.   Only then will doctrinal agreement be fruitful.    Without ecclesial love, agreement by theologians will only cause more rifts.   As the Byzantine Liturgy says, "Let us love one another so that with one voice we may say," I believe...."
  • None of us living were responsible for the original schism.   It took place long before we were born, even me.   If I love Orthodoxy and love its liturgy and spirituality, if I try to unite in my own interior both East and West, if I try to breath with both lungs while suffering the consequences of the schism, I am just one little drop in the ocean of love needed to heal the schism.   If, on the other hand, I split with the Catholic Church in order to become Orthodox, then, inevitably, I am giving  the schism new life, making it a contemporary event: I am choosing the split rather than merely suffering the consequences of a schism made by others
  • As I said at the beginning, the situation is too complicated for me to judge others.   Better monks than I, like Fr Lev Gillet, for example. have chosen a different course, as have some converts to Catholicism in the Ukraine, if "convert" is the right word.   I reserve judgement and take comfort in the fact that, whoever or wherever we are, we still share in the identically same Eucharist, even if we celebrate it separately.   It will all come out in the wash!
The French guest decided not to separate himself from his Catholic roots and is continuing to visit Sept Fons.   If he had been a Protestant, I would have given him very different advice.


Anonymous said...

"If he had been a Protestant, I would have given him very different advice."..hahahahahaha...priceless!

Jonathan said...

"If he had been a Protestant I would have given him very different advice." My Father, did you mean that seriously? I am a Protestant looking to become either Catholic or Orthodox; I am very interested in hearing what you would say to a Protestant.

Also, I'm just curious, what exactly does the West mean by "created grace"? I've heard the Orthodox rail against this doctrine but I don't know much about it.

PV said...

Father, I have become Catholic after wrestling 7 years with the question whatever to remain Orthodox or cross the Tiber. The schism was and remains a source of deep suffering to me. Thank you for your post and blog. I feel less lonely since I found your site and other similar blogs.

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