"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

Wednesday, 28 May 2014


UNIVERSAL DESK: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 5/28/14.

Pope, patriarch, primacy and the press
 by Terry Mattingly

The Holy Land pilgrimage by Pope Francis contained plenty of symbolic gestures, photo ops and sound bites crafted to slip into broadcasts, ink and Twitter.

There was his direct flight into the West Bank, the first papal "State of Palestine" reference and the silent prayer with his
forehead against the concrete security wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, near graffiti pleading, "Pope, we need some 1 to speak about justice." He also prayed at a memorial for suicide-bombing victims and put a wreath on the tomb of Zionism pioneer Theodor Herzi.

The backdrop for the Manger Square Mass included an image of the infant Christ swaddled in a black-and-white keffiyeh, the headdress made famous by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.  And, of course, the world press stressed the pope's invitation to presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian
Authority to visit the Vatican for prayers, and surely private talks,
about peace.

After days of statecraft, Francis arrived -- drawing little attention from major American media -- at the event that the
Vatican insisted was the key to the trip. This was when Pope Francis met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for an historic evening prayer rite in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a setting long symbolic of bitter divisions in world Christianity.

The symbolic leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians, the successor to the Apostle Andrew, had earlier invited Francis, the successor to the Apostle Peter, to join him in Jerusalem to mark the 50th anniversary of the breakthrough meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. Their embrace ended 900-plus years of mutual excommunication in the wake of the Great Schism of 1054.

"Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are," said the pope, at
the site of the tomb the ancient churches believe held the body of Jesus. "We know that much distance still needs to be traveled before we attain that fullness of communion which can also be expressed by sharing the same Eucharistic table, something we ardently desire. ...

"We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed."

Patriarch Bartholomew stressed that, even as barriers fall between Christians in east and west, it's crucial to remember that violent conflicts -- including threats to religious freedom -- shape the lives of millions of believers.

This means shedding another modern fear, he said, the "fear of the other, fear of the different, fear of the adherent of
another faith, another religion, or another confession. ...Religious fanaticism already threatens peace in many regions of the globe, where the very gift of life is sacrificed on the altar of religious hatred.  In the face of such conditions, the message of the life-giving Tomb is urgent and clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions."

The rite surrounding these sermons was full of symbolic touches, beginning with Bartholomew entering the basilica -- shared by six different Christian bodies -- from the east and Francis from the
west. The Gospel was chanted in both Latin and Greek. Bartholomew entered the tomb ahead of the pope, but Francis led the way to the site where church tradition indicates Jesus was crucified.

When Bartholomew finished his remarks, Francis took his hand and kissed it -- an act that in these ancient churches shows respect for a man's priesthood, since he holds the consecrated bread and wine during the Holy Eucharist. This was a striking gesture, since in 1437 Patriarch Joseph II had been forced, as a sign of subservience, to kiss the feet of Pope Eugene IV.

            "Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen," said Francis.

"Here I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue ... aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in
fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all."

* * *


One the Embrace, Many the Divisions
The encounter between Francis and Bartholomew at the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. But there's rupture between the Greek Orthodox patriarchs of Jerusalem and Antioch. And open conflict between Constantinople and Moscow, on the question of primacy. The anti-papal sentiment of Eastern Christians. 

ROME, May 26, 2014 – The images of Pope Francis in front of the western wall of the temple in Jerusalem, just as, on the previous day, in silence and stillness in front of the dividing wall of Bethlehem have polarized the attention of the media all over the world.

But it is another wall that gave rise to the voyage of pope Jorge Mario Bergogio to the Holy Land.

It is the wall that divides Christians among themselves.

Exactly fifty years ago, on January 5, 1964, the embrace in Jerusalem between Paul VI and patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras marked the beginning of a journey of reconciliation between the Church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Just as back then the proposal was made by Athenagoras to the pope, this time as well it was his successor Bartholomew who proposed to Francis the renewal of that encounter in Jerusalem.

The pope accepted the proposal right away. And for the first time in history a papal voyage was planned by common agreement with the patriarchate of Constantinople, in the part concerning the two Churches.

With two important innovations with respect to the encounter fifty years ago between Paul VI and Athenagoras:

- the participation of representatives of other Christian Churches and denominations at the event, not only Eastern but also belonging to the lineage of the Protestant Reformation,

- and the place of the encounter, the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, with the rock of the cross and the stone rolled away at the resurrection, a foundation of the faith of all Christians.

Both of these innovations mark the progress that has been made over half a century in the ecumenical journey between the Christian Churches.

But both also bear witness to how arduous and obstacle-ridden this journey still remains.


The basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is the living symbol of the extent to which the historical divisions between the Churches complicate their coexistence, and at times lead to conflict. On the basis of a “status quo” dating back to 1753 and the Ottoman empire, the ownership of the basilica is assigned to the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Apostolic patriarchate. But use of the basilica is also permitted for Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian Christians. For all with a meticulous allotment of times and places, failure to respect which not rarely unleashes conflicts that can even be physical between one side and another, within the sacred space, with the Israeli police rushing in to quell the tumult.

The very fact that the pope of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople have been welcomed peacefully into the basilica and have performed a liturgy there, in an exemption from the rules of the “status quo,” is certainly an important sign.

At the same time, however, the very person who on the evening of Sunday, May 25 welcomed into the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre the two illustrious guests from Rome and Constantinople, Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, is a living witness of the divisions that separate not only the Latin Church from Orthodoxy, but also the Eastern Churches among themselves.

The Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem, of the Byzantine rite, the origins of which go back to apostolic times, is the Christian community most present in the Holy Land.

But last April 29 the patriarch of this church, Theophilos III, was liturgically outlawed by another historic patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, that of Antioch and all the East, John X.

Since then, in celebrating the divine liturgy John no longer includes the name of Theophilos among those of the Orthodox Churches in communion with each other.

The reason for this rupture, declared unilaterally by the synod of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, was the creation of a new diocese in Qatar by Theophilos one year ago, in a territory that the patriarchate of Antioch considers its own.

But the consequences immediately went beyond this clash between the two patriarchates. And have overrun the entire field of orthodoxy.

On March 9 the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, called the heads of all the Orthodox Churches to Istanbul, to announce in agreement with all of them the convocation in 2016 of the pan-Orthodox council that had been awaited for decades but never agreed upon.

In the Byzantine liturgical calendar, March 9 was also the Sunday "of Orthodoxy.” Both John X and Theophilos III were present in Istanbul. But the former did not sign the declaration setting 2016 for the convocation of the pan-Orthodox council. Nor did he participate in the divine liturgy.


Another sign of division was that the encounter in Jerusalem between Francis and Bartholomew was not attended by any leading representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, by far the largest in the field of Orthodoxy.

In his discourse at the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, pope Bergoglio renewed “the hope for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all."

A new meeting has already been scheduled for next September in Novi Sad, Serbia, for the joint team of bishops and theologians called the “joint international commission for theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church," which is supposed to continue the study of the question of papal primacy in the footsteps of the document approved in Ravenna in 2007 by all the members of the commission.

But the Russian Church was absent from Ravenna, and over the subsequent years has always stressed its disagreement with that document.

Not only that. In a document approved by its synod last winter the patriarchate of Moscow flatly ruled out any type of “primacy” - whether of the head of the Church of Rome, or of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople among the Orthodox Churches - that is not purely honorific and among equals.

The patriarchate of Constantinople replied to this document in a no less decisive fashion.


But there's more. There is the fear that the progress made so far in ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Eastern Churches belongs to a narrow and enlightened elite and is far from being accepted by the bulk of the Orthodox hierarchy and faithful.

One indication of this is a long-winded open letter, in Italian and English, sent last April 10 to the pope - or more exactly “to the most illustrious Francis, head of Vatican State" - by two metropolitan bishops of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Seraphim of Piraeus and Andrew of Konitsa.

The letter is an interminable and unabashed assembly of accusations, culminating in those of heresy and idolatry, in support of the idea that “There can exist no form of compromise between Orthodoxy and Papism.”

The two authors are the most prominent representatives of the traditionalist wing of the Greek Orthodox Church. But according to Professor Enrico Morini, “they reflect the positions of a large part of the Orthodox hierarchy in Greece but also in Russia and Romania, and to an even greater extent of the most conscientious and fervent Orthodox faithful.”

Morini is a professor of the history and institutions of the Orthodox Church at the state university of Bologna and the theological faculty of Emilia Romagna, and president of the commission for ecumenism of the archdiocese of Bologna.

For more details on the background:

> The Russian Veto Against Francis and Bartholomew

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

We all know that union between Catholicism and Orthodoxy is not going to happen any time soon, which is a tragedy.   As the above article indicates, those engaged in ecumenical dialogue are relatively few - it is work for experts - and what is going on has not seeped through to the general population.   Both Catholics and Orthodox are quite happy with the idea that they are the one true Church and would resist any idea that they lack anything that could be supplied by the other: these conflicting claims seem to indicate that neither side needs the other.   Moreover, there is a long history of hurt which feeds the xenophobia that is the result of centuries of adversity and persecution suffered by  so many Orthodox countries.   There is also the Russian myth that whatever evil that has ever happened to them has come from the West: partly true, but a very one-sided view of history.   According to one Orthodox archimandrite friend of mine, there is also a fear that Catholicism is going to use, and is perhaps using its greater resources and better organization against them.   

Even intelligent people like Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, who is on good terms with the Pope, believes that the Greek Catholics in Ukraine are a kind of fifth column, with the clear intention of converting Orthodox and attacking the Moscow Patriarchate.   

At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church seems quite unconscious of the effect in Ukraine of the memory of Russian Orthodox collaboration with Stalin in the tyrannical treatment and persecution of the Greek Catholic Church and its willingness to act as an arm of Stalinist policy.   Little wonder that there are many Ukrainians who either want their own patriarchate or who join the Greek Catholic Church of their own accord.   If the Russian Orthodox Church only said it was sorry, but they never even mention the part they played in that shameful piece of Christian history.

 This must be balanced by the good relations between priests and people of both churches where they mingle and know each other.   In Ukraine and Belarus, where I was two years ago, there are many mixed marriages and much friendship and collaboration.   In the family of one Orthodox priest in Minsk, the boys are baptised Orthodox and the girls Catholic, unless, he said, the Orthodox priest is drunk at the time he is supposed to be baptising a boy of the family, in which case, they took him over to be baptised by the Catholic priest.  

I met a few Orthodox seminarians.  They showed none of the reluctance to dialogue shown by their Patriarch and Metropolitan Hilarion.   Their theological hero was Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon who is one of the Greek theologians involved in Catholic-Orthodox discussion.   "The Russians are anti-Catholic, but they don't know anything about Catholics.   On the other hand, we in Belarus have Catholic neighbours and relatives."

A Greek Orthodox priest, educated in England, told me, "We are not in communion because we disagree about the Pope.   Hence, normally, I would not communicate in a Catholic church nor would I tell members of my flock that they can go to communion either.   However, we are sister Churches, and, in an emergency, we help each other out, even sacramentally.   Thus, I looked after a Jesuit parish for some weeks, using the normal Western Catholic rite.   My bishop told me not to use the first eucharistic prayer because it doesn't have an epiclesis.   Both sides find this level of communication satisfactory and it seems to be the best solution under the circumstances."

In the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, Catholics and Orthodox have commonly ignored the schism,   Informal intercommunion is, and always has been, rife.   Indeed, a good case could be made to claim that there never has been a time since the schism when there haven't been places where Orthodox and Catholics have been in de facto but informal communion!

Why the do the Russians seem to want to scupper the dialogue iniciated by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Rome which has the support of the other patriarchates?

  1. Because the question of universal primacy is bound up with a disagreement between Moscow and Constantinople.   When the Council of Nicaea said that the Patriarchate of Constantinople was second to Rome, it gave as a reason that it was the imperial centre of power.    The Russians say that, as the Byzantine Empire no longer exists, modern Istanbul is Muslim, and the Patriarch now has a relatively small number of people in his jurisdiction, the primacy of honour which the Patriarch of Constantinople had inherited from Rome after the pope had broken communion should pass to the Patriarch of Moscow who now presides over the largest Orthodox nation.
  2. This argument hold good as long as the primacy of Rome was also mainly due to political considerations.   However, if the primacy of Rome was based n theological considerations, as Rome has always claimed, and if such a primacy is required by the nature of the Church as an organism spread throughout the world, then Constantinople can claim that political power has nothing to do with the primacy it now exercises.   Moreover, the more authority that it is accepted that the papacy had before the Schism can be claimed by Constantinople after the Schism until union with Rome has been accomplished.   We can see in the video below how the patriarchate of Constantinople is developing a theology of universal ministry.   It is very different from Vatican I, but not so different from Pope Francis.
  3. I suspect that there is another, more worthy reason why Moscow wishes to put off any coming together at the level of doctrine.   At least, it is the reason that would worry me if I were Russian - putting ourselves in one another's shoes is a good ecumenical exercise.   What would happen if the theologians come to an agreement before we come to know each other, to feel the need of each other, and to trust each other?   The danger is that we would simply repeat the mistakes of the past, and the agreement would go the way of Lyons and Florence.   Important parts of the Orthodox Church, like Mount Athos for instance, would reject the understanding, as would some Catholics.   There would be divisions and bad feelings; and, more importantly, the Church would be deflected from its most urgent task: to proclaim the Gospel to a modern world that has separated itself from its roots in Christianity.   Better than putting into danger the ecumenical achievements we have already made, let us collaborate in our mission to the modern world.   In this way, we can come to know, respect and trust one another, to acknowledge one another as brethren, and to experience our real need for each other.   Then, and only then, will doctrinal agreement be useful as well as interesting.
Having said all this, I still believe that the ecumenical dialogue is of immense importance to both sides, even if it is not going to lead to immediate union of Orthodoxy and Catholicism.   The truth is that the papal claims correspond to a real weakness in Orthodoxy, even if they are not the answer while the papacy is in its present form; and the Orthodox concept of "sobornost" corresponds to a real weakness in Catholicism, which Vatican II saw as most important but which subsequent popes have shelved till a later date and which Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium has promised to tackle....Universal primacy and conciliarity are exercising the minds of theologians in both churches, not as static answers to well-rehearsed questions, as in a theological stand-off, but as real problems which we might as well solve together.  We now know from experience that, any answers to basic ecclesiological questions that we try to answer separately, apart from our Orthodox or Catholic brothers, will only be of transient value, even if they are true as far as they go, until we come to tackle the question together.   I am thinking of the Vatican I definitions of universal jurisdiction and papal infallibility, but I could be thinking of any decision, by Orthodox or ourselves, where schism has limited the value of our answers by reducing our vision of the truth, even if the gift of infallibility has guarded us from actual error.



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