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"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

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Friday, 26 June 2015

NEW TEXT ON THE NEW ECCLESIOLOGY OF PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW (plus) MY COMMENTARY



SYNAXIS OF ORTHODOX
CLERGY AND MONASTICS

Thessaloniki, November 19, 2014

Beloved Brethren,

Attached you will find a text prepared by the Synaxis of Orthodox Clergy and Monastics and signed by all its members which presents and examines the novel ecclesiological views recently expressed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  You will note that six of the Church of Greece’s hierarchs – Andrew of Dryinoupolis, Seraphim of Piraeus, Paul of Glyfada, Seraphim of Kythira, Kosmas of Aetolia and Akarnanias, and Jeremiah of Gortynos – have already added their signatures to this document and it will certainly be signed by a broader segment of the clergy and laity in the coming days

[2400 have signed the document as of Nov. 28th]​.

The effect of this text will be greatly increased if you, and any other clergyman, monastic or layman whom you may know, add your signatures to the following document and then return it to us electronically at the following e-mail address: synaxisorthkm@gmail.com

With all due respect and honor,

On behalf of the Synaxis of Orthodox Clergy and Monastics

Archimandrite Athanasios Anastasiou
Former Abbot of Great Meteora Monastery

Archimandrite Sarantis Sarantos
Rector of the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Marousi, Attica, Greece

Archimandrite Gregory Hadjinicolaou
Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, Ano Gatzeas, Volos, Greece

Elder Efstratios, Priestmonk
Great Lavra Monastery, Mount Athos

Protopresbyter. George Metallinos
Professor Emeritus of the Theological Academy at the University of Athens, Greece

Protopresbyter. Theodore Zissis
Professor Emeritus of the Theological Academy at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Table of Contents

The new Ecclesiology of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew… 1

1. Various formulations of  ‘Divided Church’ ecclesiology. 1
2. Historical instances where this new ecclesiology has been applied. 3
3. Denial of the Creed, faith “in One Church”. 3
4. The Church is eternally indissoluble, the unity of Christ and the is faithful unbreakable. 4
5. Since Christ “cannot be divided”, it is self-evident that unity is a mark of the Church. 5
6. The cutting off of the heretics does not affect the Church. 6
7. Has the Priesthood of the Bishops been abolished?. 7
8. Past resistence by ceasing the commemoration of Patriarch Athenagoras. 8

APPENDIX 1 – Petition Signature List. 10

The New Ecclesiology of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

It was with great sorrow that we all witnessed the events which unfolded in the Holy Land, now a few months ago.  Within the context of his meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem on 25 May of the present year, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed, amongst other things, a novel ecclesiology, entirely foreign to Orthodoxy.  The culmination of years of deviation within the sphere of ecclesiology, and indeed its worst manifestation, this new ecclesiology denies the indissolubility and incorruptibility of the Church, despite the fact that it is, according to the Fathers, “…the Theanthropos (the God-Man) Christ, extended through that ages and unto all eternity.  It is for this reason that the Church is without, “…spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”[1]  Conversely, according to the Patriarch, the Church has been divided, contrary to the will of the Almighty Christ:

1. Various formulations of ‘Divided Church’ ecclesiology.

“The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by the “Word who was in the beginning,” who was “truly with God,” and who “truly was God”, according to the Evangelist of Love, sadly, on account of the dominance of human weakness and of impermanence of the will of the human intellect, was divided in time in the course of her earthly campaign.  This brought about a variety of conditions and groups, each of which claiming “authenticity” and “truth” for itself. The Truth is One, however; Christ, and the One Church founded by Him”.

“Unfortunately, the human element prevailed, as a result of a build up of “theological,” “practical,” and “social” additions, the Local Churches were led into a division of the unity of the Faith, into isolation, which at times gave rise to hostile polemics”[2].

This position is not entirely new: much earlier, the Ecumenical Patriarch expressed his view in favour of the equality of the Orthodox Church and the Papal heresy:

“A common sacramental conception of the Church has emerged, sustained and passed on in time by the apostolic succession…the Joint Commission has been able to declare that our Churches recognize one another as Sister Churches, jointly responsible for safeguarding the one Church of God, in faithfulness to the divine plan, and in an altogether special way with regard to unity… In this perspective we urge our faithful, Catholics and Orthodox, to reinforce the spirit of brotherhood which stems from the one Baptism and from participation in the sacramental life.”[3]

“Dialogue is most beneficial, for by means of it we come to recognize the harmful elements of the old leaven, which is a presupposition of true and salvific repentance…Inasmuch as one Church recognizes another Church to be a storehouse of holy grace and a guide leading to salvation, efforts aimed at tearing faithful away from one church in order that they may join another are unacceptable, being inconsistent with the aforementioned recognition. Each local Church is not a competitor of the other local Churches, but rather is one body with them and desires the life of unity in Christ, the restoration of what was disturbed in the past, and not the absorption of the other.”[4]

This strange broadening of the Church did not leave the heretical Protestants outside of its bounds.  Patriarch Bartholomew had the following to say in 2008 about the 9th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches which took place in Porto Alegre of Brazil in February of 2006:

“And so, freed from the tensions of the past and determined to stay together and act together, two years ago at the Ninth Assembly at Porto Alegre, Brazil, we laid down markers for a new stage in the life of the Council, taking account of the present situation in inter-church relations and the changes that are gradually taking place in ecumenical life”[5].

To general astonishment, the final text of that Assembly proclaims about the “churches” of the W.C.C:

“Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it. Each church fulfils its catholicity when it is in communion with the other churches…apart from one another we are impoverished”[6].

The Patriarch’s theological advisor, Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, also considers any heretical or schismatic group that employs “baptism” of any kind to be within the church.

“Baptism creates a limit to the Church. Now, within this baptismal limit it is conceivable that there may be divisions, but any division within those limits is not the same as the division between the Church and those outside the baptismal limit … within baptism, even if there is a division, one may still speak of the Church”[7].

By arbitrarily widening the boundaries of the Church, Metropolitan John limits the field of heresy. According to him, every heresy that does not expressly contradict Symbol of Faith [the Creed], such as Monophysitism-Monothelitsm (the so-called Pre-Chalcedonians), Iconoclasm, anti-hesychasm, nationalism, etc. is part of the church

“Heresy, meaning the divergence from that which is believed and confessed in the Creed by the Church, automatically sets one outside of the Church.  The problem arises, however, from the moment this point of view becomes absolute”[8].

All the above seem to be the extension of an earlier suggestion of Patriarch Athenagoras, the mentor of the subsequent leaders of the pan-heresy of Ecumenism, who said:

“The movement toward unity it is not a matter of one Church moving toward the other, but rather let us all re-found the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church together, coexisting in the East and the West as we lived up to 1054 in spite of the theological differences that existed then”[9].

2. Historical instanced where this new ecclesiology has been applied.

The views of the Ecumenical Patriarch set forth above have been confirmed in practice over time at various ecumenical events.  They are confirmed, for example, by the Ecumenical Patriarch’s presence or prayer at Vespers for the patronal feast of Rome (June 1995), at the funeral of Pope John Paul II (April 2005), at a papal liturgy in the Vatican (June 2008), at a meeting of the Council of Catholic Bishops (October 2008), at the first formal liturgy of Pope Francis (March 2013), when he blessed the orthodox faithful together with Cardinal Cassidy (at the Phanar in 1992), when Pope Benedict XVI was permitted to participate in a Patriarchal Liturgy in Constantinople (November 2006), during which the Pope, wearing a pallium, recited the Lord’s prayer and was honoured with the singing of “Many Years”.  These views were also confirmed more recently (May 2014) by means of joint prayer in front of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, as well, through the giving of a Holy Chalice to the newly elected Uniate bishop, Demetrios Salachas of Carcabia in Athens (May 2008), with the Papal bishop Louis Pelatre participation in the Vespers of Love in Constantinople (Pascha 2009), a custom that has continued in subsequent years, and with the allowing of heterodox to enter into the Altar through the Beautiful Gate.  Patriarch Bartholomew’s participation in the Anglican Synod at Lambeth Palace (November 1993) offers further confirmation of these views.  All these instances – and many more besides these – were filled with joint prayer, addresses or even common ecclesiological statements. In the context of his ecumenist plans, Patriarch Bartholomew did not forget to encourage the new Bulgarian Patriarch, Neophyte to return the Patriarchate of Bulgaria to the ecumenical movement, from which it had withdrawn in 1998.[10]

3. Denial of the Creed, faith “in One Church”

The above mentioned statements and events make manifest the Ecumenical Patriarch’s consistent ecclesiological mindset. His recent statement in Jerusalem clearly shows the obvious contradictory or double-minded character of this ecclesiology, a common characteristic of Ecumenism, as it projects the One Church, but as “divided in time”.  In this case, the patriarchal text creates confusion and is clearly not inspired by the Holy Spirit, which is a “right” [straightforward] Spirit.[11] It should be understood that this view constitutes a conscious denial, at the very least, of the unity of the “One Church” as an attribute and ontological certainty of the Church. The inclusion of this attribute in the ecclesiological article of the Creed is the expression of the Church’s self-consciousness [αὐτοσυνειδησία] and of its experience in the Holy Spirit. Consequently, whoever consciously doubts or rejects the faith of the Church as it has been set down with exactness by the Decrees of the Ecumenical Synods, especially in the unambiguous articles of the Symbol of Faith, whether he is clergy or laity, self-evidently falls away from the Body of the Church, and according to the Ecumenical Councils is subject to deposition or excommunication.[12]

4. The Church is eternally indissoluble, the unity of Christ with the faithful is unbreakable.

The Lord’s clear promise that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against”[13] the Church, and even more, the assertion that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”[14], trump the Patriarch’s assertion that “the human factor prevailed” in the second millennium of the Church’s history. In this case, the findings of the Fathers are clear: for Basil the Great, Christ “was begotten in the midst” of the Church, “and gave Her the gift of being unshakeable”[15]; St. Gregory the Theologian calls the Church “the great heritage of Christ which will never cease, but which will advance ever further”, whereas St. John Chrysostom proclaims that Scripture calls the Church “a mountain, because of It being immovable, and a rock, because It is incorruptible.”[16] St. Nektarios of Aegina, in agreement with the confession of all the Holy Fathers, verifies that the Church alone is “the pillar and the ground of the truth[17], because the comforting Spirit stays in her until the end of ages”[18]. The continuous presence of the Spirit safeguards the Church, and that is why the work of Christ is complete and whole, for He “has accomplished His work, He has gladdened his friends”[19].

We believe in the Church as in an eternal theanthropic establishment that “will not only be extended everywhere in the universe, but throughout all time, as well”[20] and consequently cannot be defeated or pass away. It is clear that this space-time extension is not speaking of some noetic Church “outside of time”, but of the militant Church “in time”, which is historically visible as a unity-communion of faithful[21], because It is “a city that is set on a hill” and “a house of God that is admired by all”[22].

The extraordinary unity of the Church as the Body of Christ is a fact, absolutely and irrevocably secured by Christ, the Head of the Church[23], through the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit within It[24], from the day of Pentecost until the end of time.  The faithful, as the body of the Head, which is Christ, are a necessary complement of the Church, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all”[25] and the reason why a Church “outside of time”, without faithful on earth, is inconceivable.  Saint John Chrysostom writes: “for where the Head is, there is the body also. There is no interval to separate between the Head and the body; for were there a separation, then were it no longer a body, then were it no longer a head… and he introduces Him as having need of each single one and not only of all in common and together…then is the head filled up, then is the body rendered perfect, when we are all knit together and united”[26].  That is why God is glorified both in Christ and in the Body of Christ, the Church, whose only saviour is the God-man[27], He who “nourishes and cherishes the church”[28]. Whoever does not believe in the continuation of the Incarnation, the Church, does not believe in Christ. “The Church is the continuation of the Incarnation in time. And just as our Lord was seen and touched and venerated in the flesh, in time, so too does His Body, the Church, continue—united and holy—in time. If we were to accept the division of the Church, we would be accepting the nullification of the Incarnation and the salvation of the world[29].

5. Since Christ “cannot be divided” it is self-evident that unity is a mark of the Church

The Church does not chase after unity, but rather, possessing it as an ontological attribute, simply maintains it, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”[30]. It is an essential characteristic of the Church, since “the Church’s name is not a name of separation, but of unity and concord”[31].  A divided and broken apart Church is a monstrosity and mere imagination. St. Nektarios of Aegina, while targeting the Protestant theory of an “invisible Church”, seems to be asking the Patriarch: “Why the name Ecclesia, when the members are isolated and unknown to each other, and do not constitute an organic system or an unbreakable unity in the true sense of the word?”[32]

Therefore, the unity of dogmatic faith is also the given reality of the Church; because, just as Christ, the Head of the Church cannot be broken apart – Christ is not divided[33] – so too in the Church there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”[34] and not dogmatic polyphony. The Church forms a single faith in the Christ-believing flock, so that “for all the faithful, the grace and calling of faith joins each one to the other in a single form”[35].

6. The cutting off of the heretics does not harm the Church

Whoever falls away from the unanimous theological confession, becoming like a dried vine that has been cut off from the Vineyard[36], is himself responsible, as St. John Chrysostom clearly warns: “the Church did not abandon him but he abandoned the Church  […] Abide in the Church and you will not be betrayed by the Church. If you flee from the Church, the Church is not the cause of your capture […] if you go outside, you are liable to be the wild beast’s prey: yet this is not the fault of the fold, but of your own faintheartedness […] the Church is not walls and roofs, but faith and life”[37].

In agreement with the above, the cutting off of the heretical Latins and the absence of the Protestants from the One and Catholic Church did not harm Her (“you will not be betrayed by the Church”) nor would they be able to harm Her.  At an 18th century synod, the Orthodox Patriarchs clearly profess the incorruptible theanthropic nature of the Church and that the Latins fell away from this on account of the Pope’s pride: “After many years of being under the evil one’s influence, the Pope of Rome, having been led astray into innovations and strange teachings, was separated from among the members of the Body of the pious Church and fell away […] If the four parts of the sail have been maintained in place, attached and woven together, we do now sail with ease through the waves of this life’s sea without suffering shipwreck […]. Thus it is, for us, that Christ’s pious Church stands upon four pillars, that is, the four Patriarchs, and remains unassailable and unshaken”[38].

Heresy is certainly not only the damage done in relation to the fundamental faith of the Church, but also that done in the lesser matters of the faith, which invariably worsens over time. Together with many other Saints, the Patriarch of Constantinople St. Tarasios, observes: “As far as dogmas are concerned it is all the same to err to a small degree or to a great degree, because in one case and the other the law of God is broken”[39].  The great Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios II agrees with this, stating: “Whether one sins in great matters or lesser matters against the truth of the Faith, he is a heretic”[40].

7. Has the Priesthood of the Bishops been abolished?

A consistent/honest interpretation of this new ecclesiology renders the Patriarch and all the Bishops as “deficient” in regards to the true Priesthood of Christ and consequently deputies or locum tenens, but not successors of their Throne, supervisors and not perfecters (or finishers) of the Divine Mysteries of the Church. If Patriarch Bartholomew is right, the Bishops do not partake in the fullness of the Priesthood of the Church. If over time, the One Church, the Body of Christ, was broken up, then the ecclesiastical Hierarchy (Priesthood) which is in communion in Spirit with the heavenly Hierarchy according to St. Maximos,[41] retains the enlightenment of the Priesthood only in a “fragmented” state, since, “…through divine vision the hierarch is illumined first, and afterwards he imparts to those under him and guides to perfection those whom he brought to illumination.”[42]

From the above dogmatic findings, brief yet comprehensive (as far as space permits), the distance of the Patriarchal declarations from Orthodoxy has become as clear as day.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew believes in a “broadened and divided” Church; broadened because he thinks that the heretics belong to the Church by the power of any “baptism”, regardless of their heretical dogmas and their being in schism and not in communion with the Church; divided because there does not exist “inter-communion” between the Orthodox and heretics. According to the Patriarch, even though divided “in history” the One Church continues to exist “somehow – someway”.

It is easy to see, however, in the Faith of the Church, that the Church’s Oneness (Unity – state of being Undivided) is an ontological and inalienable characteristic, because She is the Body of the Indivisible and Almighty Christ our God. As the Body of Christ and the completion of His work, the Church cannot be divided because that would mean Her destruction and the “defeat” of [Christ’s] Divinity. Nor can the Church cease to exist because the Church Herself is the fulfillment of the promises of eternal salvation on earth.

The unity of the Body of the Church is also expressed in her unique dogmatic faith. Calling this faith into doubt constitutes heresy, for it is the doubting of the presuppositions our salvation. Christ revealed that whoever is separated from the Vineyard, i.e. from Himself, is as a withered branch and is lost[43].  Patriarch Bartholomew believes that the Living and blessed Vineyard of our Lord’s Body is deficient without these dried out branches, those who through their own responsibility cut themselves off, who are “broken up”, and we must therefore “graft” these branches, though they be dead, in Her anew, into the ecclesiastical Body of true Life, the Living Christ.

8. Past Resistance by ceasing the commemoration of Patriarch Athenagoras

The innovative ecclesiology of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has seen Ecumenism advance from the devaluation of dogma, carried out by Patriarch Athenagoras, to the present, horrific distortion of orthodox faith; apparently the declaration of the “dissolution” of the One Church is necessary for Ecumenism, so that the “new church” can be “re-established” in harmony with ecumenistic specifications.

In the days of Patriarch Athenagoras, the entire Holy Mountain of Athos resisted the Patriarch’s ecumenist overtures. Three Metropolitans of the Church in Greece, invoking the 31st Apostolic Canon and the 15th Canon of the First-Second Council, ceased commemoration [of the Patriarch], which is the lawful, ecclesiastical resistance foreseen by the Holy Fathers. The same response was issued by eight Monasteries on Mount Athos: “from the decision of the extraordinary 52nd Double Holy Synaxis Meeting of November 13th, 1971, […] each Holy Monastery, as self-governed, is free to practice according to its conscience regarding this issue”[44]. The discontinuing of commemoration without further separation [“walling-off”] or full break in communion [with other Orthodox] always constituted of a praiseworthy stance, because, as set down by the 15th Holy Canon of the First-Second Council[45] (861 A.D.), those who thus react “have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but, on the contrary, have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions.” Those who, with such good intentions, cease commemoration of heretical-minded Bishops “have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers” and this is why “not only are [they] not subject to any canonical penalty, […] but shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians”[46].

We are saddened, for the way things are developing it does not seem that there is hope for a change of direction by Patriarch Bartholomew. With the imminent visit of Pope Francis to the Phanar for the Patronal Feast of St. Andrew, on November 30, 2014, once again there arises on gloomy horizon increased liturgical participation of the Pope in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy:  his wearing an omoforion [bishop’s vestment], his exchange of the liturgical kiss of peace with the Patriarch (which is reserved for only those who liturgize), his recital of the “Lord’s Prayer” [from the place of the one presiding (προεστώς)], a prayer with a clear Eucharistic reference (“give us this day our daily [super-essential] bread”) and which is to be recited by the one presiding [o προεστώς] on behalf of the Orthodox people, even with the sensing of the Pope and his being granted the pulpit (άμβωνος), for him to preach.

All this is not just a form of simple prayer, because obviously the Divine Liturgy does not begin with “with fear of God, faith and love draw ye near”, but from “Blessed be the Kingdom”[47]. According to Fr. Alexander Schmemann “From the standpoint of Tradition the sacramental character of the Eucharist cannot be artificially narrowed to one act, to one moment of the whole rite. We have an “ordo” in which all parts and all elements are essential, are organically linked together in one sacramental structure. In other words, the Eucharist is a sacrament from the beginning to the end and its fulfillment or consummation is “made possible” by the entire liturgy”[48].

We pray that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will come to realize his great responsibility for those he is leading into deception and for the stripping the Church of the “robe of truth, the fabric of theology from above”[49]. Nothing of Orthodox dogma shall ever be lost. Nothing will ever be altered. No new, additional decisions will ever be reached which will alter older judgements. It is not possible for dogmatic evolution to exist in any way, shape or form[50].

“The one who is throwing you into confusion, will bear his judgment, whosoever he may be”[51].

At the time of its initial publication, the preceding text had already been signed by some 2000 Orthodox Christians, including six Metropolitans of the Church of Greece, many abbots, clergy, monastics and laity.  Those who wish to participate in this humble confession of the Orthodox faith may do so by signing the document which follows below under the heading, “I agree with this document against The New Ecclesiology of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and endorse it,” adding your signature, your name, your clerical, monastic, or professional status and your city of residence in the spaces provided.  It is requested that you then send this document to us at the offices of the Orthodox Journal Theodromia, by mail (Timiski 128, 546 21, Thesslaloniki, Greece), by fax (2310 276 590), or by e-mail (synaxisorthkm@gmail.com)


COMMENTARY

I am publishing this to show my Catholic readers that there is a lot of opposition to ever-closer ties between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  You must remember that the Orthodox have not yet had the equivalent of Vatican II; and that, before Vatican II, much of the "official" Catholic theology would have used the same arguments to discount any possibility of ecumenical contacts between the Catholic hurch and the "schismatic" Orthodox churches.

As Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has said, about a thousand years ago, both sides decided they could do without the other; and we must get used to the idea that we need each other before theological dialogue can bear fruit.  Let us concentrate on those areas where we so obviously need each other and in areas where we can collaborate without arousing controversy, like the re-conversion of Europe and the defence of traditional values before a secular world, and leave the more controversial steps, like sacramental sharing, till later.  Perhaps, once we get used to needing each other, the rest will follow naturally.   Perhaps we shall see the old problems with new eyes.  In a sense, we Catholics and some Orthodox already do. 

 The difference has been made by eucharistic ecclesiology, an ecclesiology first formulated by N. Afanassieff, an Orthodox theologian in Paris, which has been adopted by Vatican II.   Using the Eucharistic assembly as a paradigm, it affirms the old ecclesiological principles by seeing them in a new context which has been formed by going back to the understanding of the Church of St Ignatius of Antioch and the early fathers. 
Let us look, for instance, on this statement in this document with which both Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis agree, "The Truth is One, however; Christ, and the One Church founded by Him”
The truth is one and the Church is one. If we did not believe that, there would be no need for ecumenical dialogue. However, when "eucharistic ecclesiology" looks at the Church, it first looks at the eucharistic assembly in which the bishop presides or a priest in the bishop's name; because the eucharistic assembly is the Church at its most visible: each eucharistic assembly is the body of Christ because all partake of the same bread and the same cup.  Each eucharistic assembly is like the tip of an iceberg because it is united to all who are "in Christ" at all times and everywhere, as well as being the visible part of a community that embraces heaven and earth.   It is an act of the whole Church because it is linked to every other eucharistic assembly by the Holy Spirit, whether we know each other, acknowledge each other, like each other or want to be associated with each other: it is an act of God.   There are not two kinds of Eucharist, one Catholic and the other non-Catholic, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, there is only one Eucharist; and there are not two kinds of eucharistic assembly because each and every assembly takes its nature from this single eucharistic source and receives its faith expressed in a liturgy that has its origins in Apostolic preaching and is the fruit of the continual activity of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament.  In the words of Vatican II, the liturgy is the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity.   (Sacrosanctum Concilium 1, 10)
Hence, the unity between local churches is one of identity, because each church is the body of Christ.  It also follows that the one Truth by which each local church lives springs out of its own ecclesial life and is identical to that of other local churches, not because it is imposed from above or granted from outside, but because of the identity of each church with all the others.  It is brought about by the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the humble obedience of a church in a process that has its origins in apostolic mission and preaching and is expressed in a liturgy with roots in that apostolic preaching, and the celebration of which makes the church the body of Christ.   Communion with other churches is, even before it is a legal act, an act of witness of their common identity as Christ's body and an act of ecclesial love which manifests the presence of the Holy Spirit.  But this act of communion doesn't confer on the local church its catholicity: that is conferred by its eucharistic nature.
Recognising the identity of one church by another is not always easy. As Tradition in each church is centred on the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the local community, it takes diverse forms as it roots itself in different cultures, with different vocabularies and philosophies, as well as having to experience different problems in one region rather than another where solutions have to be found, where to find a solution was important in one region but not in another.

   One great divider was the Byzantine Empire which resulted in a three-fold division of the Church.  In the East was the Persian Empire which regarded the Byzantine Empire as an enemy. Also, there were the people of Syria and Eqypt who wanted independence from Byzantium.  In the middle was the Byzantine Empire where the emperor claimed to be and was regarded as the civil ruler of the entire Church on earth - it was he who called the ecumenical councils and was left to unite the universal Church.  Then there was the Latin Church which, in the first centuries after the conversion of Constantine, acknowledged the emperor; but the emperor was totally incapable of fulfilling the functions of emperor.   he couldn't keep order within his western borders nor defend them from without from barbarian attacks.  The legend of King Arthur belongs to that time, when order in Britain was kept by a small band of Roman cavalry that had been abandoned by a Roman Empire in retreat.  The Church had to step into the gap, and this marked its ecclesiology for ever.   

Thus, how do we keep order and unity when these are protected by the emperor was an Orthodox question.   How do we keep order and unity when everything is going to collapse into chaos was a Latin Catholic question.  Both sides looked into Tradition to find an answer; but, since they were different questions, they came up with different answers.

A good example of a church that has preserved its Tradition down the centuries to the present day, without being in communion with either Orthodoxy or Catholicism since the fifth century is the Assyrian Church of the East.   Christ would have understood its liturgy which is in Christ's native language. Unfortunately, it belonged to the Persian Empire, rather than the Byzantine Empire, and did not receive an invitation to the Council of Ephesus. However, it was told, after the council, that it had to assent to the council's decrees.  It refused and, therfore, was labelled as Nestorian.   I have no means of knowing whether the Assyrian Church was heretical or no; but I do know that one of its most illustrious sons, St Isaac the Syrian in the seventh century, was completely orthodox, and that theological investigations by both the Catholic and Orthodox churches have found no traces of heresy in its faith.

  It has always been extremely conservative, and one of its anaphoras (eucharistic prayers) in common use, that of St Addai and Mari, dates from the second century.   This anaphora does not have the words of institution, "This is my body...this is the chalice of my blood."   During the first Gulph War, Assyrians and Catholics of the same rite - the latter have inserted the words of institution in that anaphora - closed ranks and began to go to one another's churches.   The Catholic patriarch had scruples and wrote to Rome, asking if the Eucharist which is celebrated using the anaphora of St Addai and Mari.

This set the cat among the pigeons!   We all know the normal Catholic teaching as formulated by St Thomas: that the matter of the sacrament is bread and wine, and the words of consecration are, "This is my body... this is the chalice of my blood."  This is the ordinary teaching of the Catholic Church, presumed in all kinds of official documents.   Hence the flurry of activity when the Catholic patriarch's letter arrived in Rome.

The Congregation for the Defence of the Faith under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a copy of the letter to a number of the most prestigious liturgists and asked for their comments.   Their reply was unanimous.  They said, firstly, that the anaphora of St Addai and St Mari was only one of the many anaphoras in the early Church that did not include the words of institution, including St Cyril of Jerusalem's "Mystagogical Catechesis; secondly, the whole eucharistic prayer consecrates, although the point at which this takes place may be different in different rites; thirdly, that the teaching of the Assyrian Church on the Eucharist is identical to that of the Roman Church and is clearly expressed in the rite; and, fourthly, the Roman See has always recognised the validity of Assyrian sacraments.  The Sacred Congregation for the Defence of the Faith issued a document with these conclusions, and it was signed by some of the most important Vatican cardinals and initialled by Pope John Paul II, because of its enormous implications.

The document recognised the apostolic authenticity of the Assyrian Church, in spite of the schism - an earlier theological investigation had found that the Assyrian Church's faith in the Incarnation is completely orthodox, even if it did reject Ephesus - and also recognised that the normal Catholic teaching on the Eucharist ( and, by implication, anything else) must be placed within the context of diversity within a wider apostolic Tradition as witnessed in the liturgy handed down in the Assyrian Church.  In spite of having been separated from both Catholicism and Orthodoxy since the 5th Century, the document says,  "the Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession."


Where does the universal Church fit into all this?  The SYNAXIS OF ORTHODOX CLERGY AND MONASTICS is only giving voice to a doctrine held both in the East and the West that the universal Church, the Church spread throughout the world is a visible body expressing in itself the essential unity of the human race under Christ's universal lordship. 

Using eucharistic ecclesiology, we would say that the universal brotherhood of Christians is based on our sacramental identity as body of Christ.  As there is only one Truth, one Baptism, one Eucharist where we offer to the Father all honour and glory in Christ in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, any division between us is a lie, a denial of what we are as Christians.   We look across the divide and say with St Augustine:
Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptize us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognizing our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers. I they say, "Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?" we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, "Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you." But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head. And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realize that they have nothing whatever to say against the truth; they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.
However, ecumenism is a new thing, an inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our day; and we do not just look across the divide to note just the faults of others, the blindness of others, the historical crimes committed by others, the mistakes of others.   We look across the divide and see the miracles of grace that take place among the others, the holiness of others, the good intentions of others, the fervour of others, the presence of Christ in others.  It began in the gulags where Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants suffered together for their faith in the same Christ; it continues in what Pope Francis calls "the ecumenism of blood" in Syria and Iraq, where people die for Christ, victims of people who do not ask what church they belong to; it is discovered in friendship where love penetrates the appearances, ignorances, defences and prejudices that have been constructed over the centuries to discover the Christian soul within.   In our pain at suffering the divisions and our delight at finding a common life behind them, we strive to uncover the underlying common ground that lies at the root of our differences.  Yet we know that our mutual loyalty to the Truth as we see it will not allow us to take anything for granted, and know that progress will be slow and sometimes painful.

The truth is that, once you leave behind the teaching that the fullness of Catholicism is present wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, that this fullness requires communion with all other churches and, for us Catholics, especially with the Church of Rome, then we find ourselves with a theory of the Church that does not hold water.

We have to ignore the strong evidence of sanctity in the different churches.  People who live in Greece or in the depths of Russia whose only knowledge of Catholicism is through their own propaganda may ignore that evidence. Only ignorant Catholics can deny the holiness of Orthodox saints.  How did St Isaac the Syrian become a saint and a church father while not being in canonical communion either with Constantinople or Rome? How are Christians of every shape and size willing to die for Christ humbly and patiently?   Who gave any of us power to judge our neighbour by fixing labels on them, as in this synaxis?  My case rests.



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