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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

IS CATHOLIC - ORTHODOX DIALOGUE IN DANGER?

Christian Unity Cannot Be Built on Lies
November 17, 2014

The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev not only misrepresents Catholic practice and history, he also misrepresents Orthodox practice and history.
my source: Catholic World Report


Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign affairs minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, is, as George Weigel observed recently in First Things, a talented man, “charming and witty.” However, the gifted Hilarion, Weigel rightly noted, “does not always speak the truth.” Hilarion is rather like the Energizer Bunny: he goes on and on and on repeating tirelessly whatever pernicious propaganda the Russians want to spread. He has three channels to choose from: tired and outright lies about Ukrainian Catholics, repeated ad nauseam for over a decade now; useful if rather vague calls for Christians to co-operate in addressing the social ills of our time (same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion); and tendentious distortions of his own Orthodox tradition, particularly her ecclesiology. It is the third I wish to address.

Earlier this month, the metropolitan gave a speech at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, about primacy in the Orthodox Church and in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. Since I've written the most wide-ranging, up-to-date, and comprehensive survey on both topics—Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame Press 2011)—I was vexed at the ignorance and distortions on display in the metropolitan's essay. It is absurd, frankly, that he cannot even relay his own Orthodox tradition faithfully and that it fell to me, lowest of the low (for I am a Ukrainian Catholic—one of those horrible old “Uniates” that Alfeyev is forever denouncing), to more faithfully represent and adequately describe the Orthodox tradition than he himself has.

Now, to be sure, I do not suffer from delusions of grandeur and imagine that everyone has eagerly devoured my book, treating it like some Delphic oracle revealing the way to Christian unity. But it has been lauded by many Orthodox for its faithful, wide-ranging, and comprehensive survey of Orthodox positions in all their diversity. For the Orthodox do not speak with one voice on these matters, and they do not speak in one place, either. I gathered dozens of articles and books, most from very obscure places, and put them into one sweeping chapter, which had never been done before. As Fr. John Jillions, a scholar and the Chancellor of the Orthodox Church of America, said to me quite sincerely and gratefully, “At the very least your book will be useful for telling us Orthodox what we say and think!”

Had Hilarion read the book, he could have saved himself the embarrassment of uttering such howlers in New York as this:

… we are dealing with two very different models of church administration: one centralized and based on the perception of papal universal jurisdiction; the other decentralized and based on the notion of the communion of autocephalous local Churches.

This is the old mythology, never accurate in the first place, that sees the West as all papal and monarchical, and the East as all patriarchal and synodical. Like all stereotypes, it distorts. For the plain facts are that there is a long history of robust synodality in the Church of Rome going back to the earliest centuries of her history, and there is a long history of Eastern Churches attempting to be heavily centralized and run not in a synodal manner but in a manner that some Orthodox themselves have confessed to be “quasi-papal.” The clearest recent example of a super-centralized Orthodox church run on quasi-papal lines is Alfeyev's own Russian Church, whose 1945 statutes gave the patriarch of Moscow (for political reasons insisted upon by Stalin) powers that popes of Rome could only dream about. I document all this in great detail in my book. For Alfeyev not to acknowledge any of this makes it clear that his treatment of primacy is grossly tendentious and thus must be dismissed as inaccurate and unreliable.

But it gets worse. Referring rather sweepingly and positively to “Orthodox....polemics,” the metropolitan sums these up as arguing that “in the Universal Church there can be no visible head because Christ Himself is the Head of the Body of the Church.” He recognizes that some Orthodox do not subscribe to such a view, naming the (safely dead) Fr. Alexander Schmemann, former dean of St. Vladimir's. Tellingly, the metropolitan fails to mention the most important Greek Orthodox theologian alive today, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, who is Orthodox co-chair of the international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and has argued in favor of universal primacy—as the majority of modern Orthodox theologians also do—exercised in a synodal manner. Zizioulas, moreover, has rightly insisted that universal primacy requires universal synodality, and one cannot speak intelligently about one without the other. Alfeyev's failure to even mention Zizioulas strikes the reader as thin-skinned and perhaps even motivated by envy—there can be only one prima donna in this town, and c'est moi.

Hilarion next makes another spurious claim:

The notion that a supreme hierarch for the Universal Church is a necessity has been approached from different angles over the last fifty years, but invariably the consensus among the Orthodox is that primacy as expressed in the Western tradition was and remains alien to the East. In other words, the Orthodox are not prepared to have a pope.

Current modes of exercising the papacy may indeed remain “alien to the East” in broad measure, but the second sentence here is, as my book's survey of twenty-four Orthodox scholars shows, completely bogus. Again and again, modern Orthodox thinkers have recognized that there is a role for the papacy, that they are prepared to have a pope under certain circumstances, and that the papacy, when exercised properly, is a gift and a blessing for all Christians, including the Orthodox! Indeed, the late Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Vsevolod of Chicago bluntly stated, in a 1997 address at Catholic University of America, “the Church needs the Roman primacy.”

There is more tiresome nonsense: Hilarion ties up his piece by referring to the statement of the Russian Church about primacy, adopted on December 26, 2013 (which I debunked in this CWR piece), where it is claimed that“primacy in the Universal Orthodox Church...is the primacy of honor by its very nature rather than that of power.” There are few phrases more vexatious to me than “primacy of honor.” More than twenty years ago now, the widely respected historian Fr. Brian E. Daley, SJ, in an article—““Position and Patronage in the Early Church: The Original Meaning of ‘Primacy of Honour’”—published in Journal of Theological Studies, one of the most prestigious theological journals in the anglophone world, showed that the notion of “primacy of honor” in the early Church did not mean an absence of authority. Such primacy, in fact, was honored precisely because it was authoritative, and the one exercising that primacy could and did call people to account, where necessary coercing and compelling obedience in various circumstances. The primate of “honor,” then, clearly is not a useless avuncular fellow—able to smile and wave and nothing more. He had real teeth—or, to use Alfeyev's word, “power”.

Why, then, such a shoddy speech? Was Metropolian Hilarion Alfeyev just being lazy in not reading widely recognized landmark scholarship such as Daley's article (to say nothing of my book)? Or was he setting out to distort the record and ignore evidence that does not fit his (and broadly Russian) prejudices? The inescapable conclusion is that he cannot even be relied upon to faithfully, truthfully, and accurately represent his own tradition. If he repeatedly tells lies about Catholics in Ukraine, and is now caught out uttering distortions about his own Orthodox tradition, how can this man be called upon to reliably discuss anything? 

If all his invitations to various conferences—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—do not now dry up, then the fault is not with him but with us for our willingness to indulge duplicity. We have made ourselves accomplices in this man's self-destructive utterances by regularly giving him a platform from which to lie. As Christians, we must surely recognize that it is itself a sin to aid and abet another in actions we ourselves know to be sin. Out of genuine charity for Metropolitan Hilarion, it is time that we no longer seek him out or listen to him. Let him never again be given an invitation to a Vatican event of any kind; let no more honorary doctorates be conferred on him; let him be denied all future speaking engagements and photo ops with Billy Graham, the pope, or the archbishop of Canterbury. Let us pray that, being young enough, perhaps he may yet amend his ways so that truth and honesty might light the difficult but vital path of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.


About the Author
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille  

Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).


I think that this article is thoroughly unhelpful and detrimental to dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, but it does illustrate the difficulties that both sides have to contend with in their ecumenical journey.  Each side comes with its own baggage which impedes it from looking honestly at the real problems that separate us.   

Let me say, to begin with, that I do not deny the facts in the article but I am not in agreement with the moral judgement against the Russian; and, in  fact, I am against any attempt to judge any side because I don't think things are so cut and dried and clear, and because I am ready to leave any judgement to God, hoping he won't judge me too harshly.

I don't know if any of my readers have ever met the late Archimandrite Barnabas (ex-Canon Burton of the Anglican Church in Wales).   I first met him in the street in Paris in the early sixties.   He wasn't an archimandrite then and was wearing a Benedictine habit, which is why I approached him.   He was living in a Russian Orthodox community.   Most were Western rite like him, though there was a number of gnarled, mis-shapen, weathered old Russian monks with skins like tree-bark who were probably refugees from the Russian Revolution.   It is he who introduced me to Orthodoxy, though he did it with his tongue in his cheek, and one was never quite sure whether he was telling me how it is, or whether he was pulling my leg.   In that way he deflected my attempts to argue and created space in my mind that allowed me to absorb and learn.   If I understand something of Orthodoxy, he is to blame because it was he that layed the foundations.

I quoted to him the passage about the Council of Chalcedon when the fathers of the Council met Pope Leo's "Tome to Flavian" with the words, "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo!".   Father Barnabas answered, " Perhaps they said this because they calculated that this was probably what he wanted to hear.   You must always bear in mind, Father David, that the Orthodox are Easterners and not Westerners, and "Yes" doesn't mean "Yes", and "No" doesn't mean "No".   "Yes" means that it is a good idea to agree at the moment, secure in the knowledge that whatever we have agreed on will never happen; and "No" means that the price is not high enough."...This is a rather ironic point of view; and I am sure that there are people on either side of the argument who are expressing the truth exactly as they understand it.   Nevertheless, I think it may be worthwhile to enumerate a few reasons why Metropolitan Hilarion may wish to throw cold water on any attempt at reunion at the present time and to concentrate instead on collaboration in the face of militant secularism:
  • Any actual moves towards reunion would split Orthodoxy down the middle.   The first task of the Orthodox authorities is to preserve Orthodox unity.   Therefore, everything must be done to stop any attempt at premature moves towards reunion.   In the first video below, in a lecture given by the Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, he quotes Cardinal Suenens saying that unity won't happen until we love one another, and that that won't happen until we know one another.   In the second and third videos, you will see motives and interpretations that are as mistaken as they are because they are inaccurately attributed to the papacy by people who only know it from the description of its enemies. Rome is the enemy and this absolves these Orthodox apologists from any need to be objective, fair or charitable. This aversion to Catholicism is not found so much in places where Catholics and Orthodox mix - even in the Ukraine it is more among clergy formed in Russia than among the common people, but it is very strong on Mount Athos and in areas where we are largely unknown. Certainly, relations with Rome is a topic that cold cause deep divisions in Orthodoxy.   The last thing the Russian Orthodox want is a breakthrough in the Catholic-Orthodox talks.
  • This is especially true because the energies of the Russian patriarchate are almost wholely taken up with the re-creation of "Holy Russia".  To this end they need the collaboration and support of the State, which is part of their tradition anyway - the non-apostolic part.   Since the collapse of Communism, thousand of churches have been rebuilt, and the vast majority of Russians seek baptism, so that the patriarchate can boast over two hundred million members.   However, if you ask how many of them understand the faith they have espoused, or how many can intelligently follow the Divine Liturgy, or how many actually have a regular attandance at Mass, it is only a very small minority.  The Orthodox authorities feel they have been given a wonderful opportunity to make Russia a shining example to the rest of the world as a Christian nation; and they don't want to be distracted by engaging too closely with such a divisive issue as unity with Rome.  To take advantage of the situation, all Orthodox in Russia must pull together
  • The other problem is the rivalry between Moscow and Constantinople.  If it were ever admitted that a universal primacy of the universal Church is required by its very nature, de jure divino, then this primacy would automatically belong to Constantinople once Rome had fallen into schism, and the ecumenical patriarch would have the right to concern himself with Moscow's affairs. If, on the other hand, universal primacy is only one of honour, due to the political importance of the city of which the patriarch is bishop, then the primacy should belong to Moscow, because the patriarchate of Constantinople has shrunk and that of Moscow has grown.
  • Then there is the problem of the Ukraine, and here the Russians, Metropolitan Hilarion included, deal in half truths just like any worldly politicians.  They seem to be in denial about Orthodox involvement in the suppression and persecution of the "Greek Catholics" by the Stalinist regime.   They have never ever admitted it, and they certainly have never said they were sorry; yet they scream in pain at any injustice done to them.   I met a Catholic old lady who was in one of the Russian labour camps at ten years old and who was given one slice of bread a day, only because she was a Catholic.   Then there was the Holodomor, the systematic starvation of millions of Ukrainians at the orders of Joseph Stalin which only the Russians deny was deliberate genocide.  Metropolitan Hilarion and his friends never admit that  the reunion with Rome of the Ukrainian Catholic Church wasn't simply about power politics and that there were many very saintly Orthodox who supported it, like St Josephat who had a reputation for sanctity on both sides of the divide; nor do they admit that many people of Orthodox origin who become Greek Catholics today do so out of conviction and not because of prosyletism, as I am sure there are Catholics who become Orthodox for honest reasons.  The Russian Orthodox may blame the power-hungry Vatican or the Poles or the Lithuanians for the existence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but they should also blame themselves for its continuous success and attraction.   It was a Russian Communist who said that religion is like a nail: the harder you knock it, the deeper it goes in; and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church certainly received many knocks, knocks that were given by people who had the support of Russian Orthodox hierarchs, knock so great - deportation, torture, inprisonment and death - that both the Orthodox Church and the Vatican believed that it had been wiped out from the Ukrainian lands.  Both were wrong; and, with glasnost, they came back to reclaim their confiscated churches.  Metropolitan Hilarion seems hurt and surprised that they should sometimes do this with anger.  They appeared from everywhere.  Worse, they began to flourish where they had been deported, and Hilarion cried, "prosyletism!"   Personally, If I were Orthodox, I wouldn't want reunion with a Catholic Church willing to let these people down for the sake of it; and, if that is the price the Russian Orthodox Church demands for better relations with the Catholic Church, then the price is too high.   The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church earned the right by the shedding of its blood to be both Catholic in union with the Pope and living in the Russian spiritual tradition which is its past.   Whatever one thinks of the "Uniate" solution, and I agree that it cannot serve as a model for the future, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a church of martyrs, and this should earn the respect of anyone who does not look at the world through secular political spectacles.
Hence, when we see Metropolitan Hilarion at work we see Hilarion the diplomat, not Hilarion the theologian.   He uses common Orthodox arguments to block dialogue rather than to further it.   Before we feel too holier-than-thou about this, I believe Pope Benedict did the same thing when he used Vatican I arguments to avoid taking the Vatican II eucharistic ecclesiology to its logical conclusion on de-centralisation. I suspect he didn't know how to decentralise without bringing about chaos as in the Humanae Vitae crisis: he was playing for time, as is Metropolitan Hilarion.   However, we now have Pope Francis doing what Pope Benedict hesitated to do: it was inevitable because Pope Benedict did not repudiate eucharistic ecclesiology; and Pope Francis is in full continuity with Pope Benedict's theology.   Likewise, the time will come when there will be a backlash in Russian Orthodoxy against the way diplomacy has been made to interfere with the theological quest, a backlash even possibly headed by Hilarion the theologian, hopefully at a more propitious time.
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by Metropolitan John Zizioulas

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