Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox serving in Naples. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and blogs at www.aoiusa.org/blog.
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
NAPLES, FL. (Catholic Online) - Like almost everyone, the resignation of Pope Benedict came as a shock to Orthodox believers. Those of us who have watched Pope Benedict and his predecessor Pope John Paul II work to lessen the estrangement between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches hope that Pope Benedict's successor will continue on the same path.
Two things stand out in Pope Benedict's relationship with the Orthodox Churches. First is his deep understanding of the Christian patrimony of Christendom. The Christian foundation of culture should be self-evident to most, but in our post-Christian (and poorly catechized) age our historical memory has grown increasingly dim.
Religion vivifies culture. Christianity is the well from which meaning and purpose are drawn. That meaning and purpose shapes law, institutions, and the other constituents that define Western culture. Many have forgotten that - while others don't even know it.
The loss of this Christian cultural awareness has created a moral crisis of the first order. When faith dies man gradually loses the knowledge that he was created by God and so he loses himself. Only through concrete, existential encounter with the Risen Christ can man come to know God in the full measure of God's self-revelation to him through Jesus Christ. And only in this relationship can man learn what it is to be truly human.
Any kind of decline follows contours that are specific to the culture within which the decline occurs. In our technological age we tend to see man as a machine and the self-organization of society as strictly a rational enterprise. In the simplest terms our crisis is the dehumanization of the individual person.
Pope Benedict understood this acutely, no doubt because of his first-hand experience with Nazism and the barbarity it unleashed in Western Europe. His work to recover and restore the Christian roots of Christendom is a prophetic call to return to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only a return to Christ can reverse this march to cultural suicide but only the embrace of Christ will reveal to man who he was created to be.
The Orthodox hear this, particularly Orthodox conservatives in the Christian West and the Russian Orthodox Church. Conservatives see the decline; the Russian Orthodox Church has experienced its bitter fruit. Pope Benedict has furthered the common project to restore the Christian foundations of culture. Clearly this is divinely ordained. The shared mission increasingly leads to a revaluation of the historical barriers that has contributed to centuries of estrangement between the Eastern and Western Churches and promises more progress in the future.
The Orthodox wonder about Pope Benedict's replacement. If the new Pope is a cultural conservative in the mold of Popes Benedict and John Paul II, then we know that the rapprochement of the last four decades will continue. If not, it will be more difficult to find common ground. We wonder too if the Catholic Church's crucial role in preserving the religious heritage of the Christian West will continue with the same deliberation. We hope that it does.
A second important characteristic of Pope Benedict's service in office is his understanding of the Orthodox patrimony within Christendom. The Regensburg Address is perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the contribution of Hellenism to Christianity offered by a Western Christian in centuries.
Regensburg was met with immediate hostility by the Muslims and thus misinterpreted by the mainstream press. The press seems to have a congenital inability to comprehend any idea outside of an immediate political context. In actual fact, the Address is a historical and theological tour-de-force and gently reminds the Christian West that ignoring the patrimony of the Christian East is like looking at history with one eye closed.
We should be careful not to underestimate the importance of Regensburg. It may have significant impact down the road. Pope Benedict already started the discussion by drawing out ideas about the non-coervice nature of the the Christian faith, considerations that require much more elaboration especially as the hostility towards the Christian faith increases in coming years and as Christendom faces the the historical problem of Muslim expansion once again.
Regensburg is a testament to Pope's Benedict's towering intellect but it also reveals a deep humility. There simply is not one hint of triumphalism or false note of partisanship in it. It was clearly intended as a gift to both West and East and those with ears to hear will see that. Pope Benedict's rare insight and erudition of the Eastern patrimony strengthens both West and East and many Orthodox believers are grateful for it. May God grant us more teachers like him.
What does a retired Pope do? Listening to Catholic radio it appears even the Catholic Church does not know for sure. It is reported that Pope Benedict will retire to a monastery within the Vatican and spend his remaining years in prayer and study. May his remaining years bear much fruit. We still need him.
Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, FL. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and blogs at www.aoiusa.org/blog.
THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH RESPONDS TO THE POPE'S RESIGNATION
It had not happened for nearly 600 years. On February 11, 2013 Pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) announced his resignation in Latin to the Vatican.
“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said.
In Russia, the pope’s Russian hashtag immediately became one of the most tweeted in the hours following the news, and there was no lack of comments.
Benedict XVI’s papacy lasted eight years. His resignation could mark a turning point in relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.
First deputy chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs, Leonid Slutsky, has made it clear that the election of a new pope could open up a new phase of dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, according to RIA Novosti.
“At this time, it is very important to further develop relations between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church,” he said. “I believe that the Russian Church has all the necessary elements to approach this matter in the correct way. The meeting between the patriarch and the soon-to-be-elected pope could be a milestone. But this will happen only when the two churches deem that the necessary conditions for a meeting exist. I hope this happens soon.”
Hilarion, metropolitan of Volokolamsk and chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, told Vzglyad that Pope Benedict’s decision was “a personal act of courage and humility.”
“The news of his resignation was a surprise even for his closest collaborators,” the metropolitan said. “The Russian Orthodox Church is grateful to Pope Ratzinger for his work in understanding and solving problems that obstruct the relationships between Orthodox Christians and Catholics, especially in regions such as Ukraine."
"I talked about Pope Ratzinger just a few days ago during a meeting with the new Russian ambassador to the Vatican, Aleksandr Avdeyev," said Hilarion. "He emphasized the positive direction that the relationship between the Russian Church and the Vatican has taken since the arrival of Benedict XVI. He is a highly respected theologian, an expert on orthodox traditions. I was struck by his calm and his meditated answers, as well as his acumen in trying to solve problems."
The Metropolitan Hilarion also wished Pope Benedict XVI’s successor the greatest of success in “continuing the dialogue between the two churches, for the good of the whole Christian world.”
Patriarch Kirill on four years as patriarch: a lot has been done, a lot remains to do
Patriarch Kirill also returned to the topic of relations between the two churches recently, stressing that he has by no means ruled out the possibility of an official meeting with the head of the Vatican.
“I do not exclude the possibility of meeting the Rome Pope at any time, but we have to work to create the conditions necessary for that to happen,” he said.
According to Kirill, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have many opinions in common today, such as “matters regarding the family, marriage, children and safeguarding Christian values in Europe.”
Pope Benedict’s resignation, which will become effective on February 28, 2013, among other things, coincides with the arrival in Rome of the former Russian minister of culture, Aleksandr Avdeyev, now appointed Russian ambassador to the Vatican.
The pope's decision comes after a dark period in Vatican history, marked by scandals and internal struggles. Not long ago, in a lengthy interview, Benedict XVI himself considered the possibility of leaving office, which is allowed by canon law.
“When a pope becomes fully aware that he is no longer capable physically, mentally and spiritually to perform the duties entrusted to him, then he has the right under certain circumstances — the duty even — to resign,” he said.
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. Before him, Celestine V resigned — the pope “who by his cowardice made the great refusal,” as Dante wrote in the Third Canto of his famous “Inferno".
Statement by His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew at the announcement of the retirement of Benedict XVI, Pope of Rome
Upon being informed on the way to his native island of Imvros of the imminent retirement of Pope Benedict from the Petrine ministry on the Throne of Rome, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a formal declaration and personal statement to the media, responding with sadness to the news. His All-Holiness closely cooperated with Pope Benedict during his papal tenure, issuing joint statements on contemporary problems facing humanity and realizing official exchange visits, but above all resuming in 2007 the conversations of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches (established in 1980 and interrupted in 2000). Immediately upon his election, His Holiness Pope Benedict accepted a formal invitation from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to visit the Phanar in November, 2006, on the occasion of the Patronal Feast of the Church of Constantinople. He also invited the Ecumenical Patriarch to deliver the only address by an ecumenical leader during the official celebrations in St. Peter’s Square for the 50th Anniversary since the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council in October, 2012. Below is the text of the formal statement by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
It is with regret that we have learned of the decision by His Holiness Pope Benedict to retire from his Throne, because with his wisdom and experience he could have provided much more to the Church and the world.
Pope Benedict leaves an indelible mark on the life and history of the Roman Catholic Church, sealed not only by his brief papacy, but also by his broad and longstanding contribution as a theologian and hierarch of his Church, as well as his universally acknowledged prestige.His writings will long speak of his deep theological understanding, through his knowledge of the Fathers of the undivided Church, his familiarity with contemporary reality, and his keen interest in the problems of humankind.We Orthodox will always honor him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all. Moreover, we shall rejoice upon learning of his sound health and the productivity of his theological work.Personally, we remember with emotion his visit to the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over six years ago, together with the numerous encounters and excellent cooperation, which we enjoyed throughout the duration of his primatial ministry.From the Phanar, we pray that the Lord will manifest his worthy successor as the head of the sister Church of Rome, and that we may also continue with this successor on our common journey toward the unity of all unto the glory of God.