"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

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


There is no blog for which I have greater respect and read with greater enjoyment than "Glory be to God for All Things", written by Father Stephen.   He has a gift for writing English as well as a deep theological insight into the Faith I have learnt much from him.    I always expected that there would be differences of conviction between Father Stephen and myself.  After all, he is Orthodox and I am Catholic.  Even in the three essays or "posts" about "Unecumenism" which I am going to deal with here, I agree with a large part of what he says and enjoy the rest, even when I don't agree.

Why is it that so many converts, Catholic or Protestant, are anti-ecumenical?  I know I could have the same sort of argument with Catholics.  Our disagreement is not so much Catholic against Orthodox as between Catholic or Orthodox who have always been so, and Catholics or Orthodox who are converts.  For instance, the views of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom expressed in the video below are nearer mine than those of Father Stephen.

Let us start with something we agree on.   Father Stephen writes:
What was Christianity in England before Cranmer? From its earliest days, “Church” had a pretty clear meaning. There was only one. Though Celtic Christians in the north had been missionized quite early and were often out of contact with Christians on the continent, they nevertheless did not think of themselves as part of a “Celtic Church.” When St. Augustine was sent by St. Gregory the Great in 597, he established the Church among the Anglo-Saxons, under the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Eventually, that Roman Church (in communion with the Orthodox of the East) met in council with the Celtic Christians (the Council of Whitby, 663 a.d.) and worked out differences between them. They all understood that there could not be two Churches in Britain. The crisis had arisen precisely because the Church could only be one.
A good example of the unity of the English Church can be seen in the appointment of the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury some 71 years after St. Augustine’s arrival. Bishop Valerian of Rome sent a Byzantine Greek monk, St. Theodore of Tarsus, to fill the see of Canterbury. He became responsible for the reform and organization of the English Church. Prior to Augustine’s time in England, three bishops from Britain were in attendance at the Council of Nicaea. The One Church extended from Britain across the European Mediterranean world, Africa and deep into the Middle East. It was the One Church – one faith, one practice, one teaching, one mind. And the life of the One Church was universally expressed in the unity of her sacraments. Communion was not an act of hospitality, but itself the manifestation of the One life of Christ in His One Body.

However, I think a good case can be made for saying that the main source of division in the early Church was Constantine and his successors.  The main problem was that, in the synthesis between Church and Empire, the Emperor was given a role he couldn't possibly fulfil because a) he wasn't the Emperor of all Christians, and b) though officially Emperor of the West, the Empire could not function in the West because the Empire was too big for the resources he had in his power. This policy already contained the seeds of future schism. 

  To the East of the Roman Empire was the Persian Empire, outside the Emperor's power.   There lived there Christian churches that celebrated the Liturgy in Aramaic and had a semitic culture.  They were not invited to the ecumenical councils because they were not subjects of the Emperor, but they were expected to accept the teaching of the councils and obey their canons.  Things were made more difficult because their Christianity was not Greek - they did not think in Greek categories, and they did not regard the emperor as a friend.   The inevitable happened, and they became "Nestorians".  That was because they would not accept Ephesus.  Two theological commissions, Catholic and Orthodox, have studied their theology and reached the conclusion that it is not heretical.   Then again, at Chalcedon, the Syrian Orthodox and the Copts, who wanted independence from the Roman imperial yoke, refused to accept the Council's conclusions and thus became Monophysite heretics. In Egypt, their opponents who accepted Chalcedon were called "Melkites" or "King's men", which shows how much it was mixed with politics.  Once more, Rome has studied their classical formularies, as have the Orthodox, and no heresy has been found.  Those are two schisms directly caused by the emperors accepting a role they were unable to fulfil because of politics.

The Western problem with the Empire was entirely different.  From early on in the Christian Empire, Byzantium began to withdraw from western Europe, thus bringing about King Arthur and the Round Table in Britain. It was a time of barbarian invasions, and Byzantium could not fulfil the basic requirements of defence and order in the west.  Thus there was culture and order and civilization in the East, and a continual battle against chaos in the West, an ordered, well-equipped civil society working in harmony with the Church in the East, and wars, invasions, barbarian hoards, and the Church doing its best to stay united and trying to impose some kind of Christian order in the West; and all this fell, more and more, on the shoulders of the pope.  Thus there came about two parts of the Church with different priorities, different mentalities based on different experiences.   Both sides blamed the other for being different and decided to do without it.

I suppose our greatest difference is how we see the Church at a universal level. He identifies the One, Holy, Catholic  nd Apostolic Church with the Orthodox Church; and my starting point is that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, as a complete universal structure is the Catholic Church in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome.  

 Another difference is that I have to balance this last statement with these words by the Orthodox monk-priest (and convert from Catholicism) Father Lev Gillet, because they express my own experience:
The whole teaching of the Latin Fathers may be found in the East, just as the whole teaching of the Greek Fathers may be found in the West. Rome has given St. Jerome to Palestine. The East has given Cassian to the West and holds in special veneration that Roman of the Romans, Pope Gregory the Great. St. Basil would have acknowledged St. Benedict of Nursia as his brother and heir. St. Macrina would have found her sister in St Scholastica. St. Alexis the "man of God," "the poor man under the stairs," has been succeeded by the wandering beggar, St. Benedict Labre. St. Nicolas would have felt as very near to him the burning charity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Seraphim of Sarov would have seen the desert blooming under Father Charles de Foucauld's feet, and would have called St. Thérèse of Lisieux "my joy."

My convictions are also expressed by the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in this video 

 Another difference is that, when I assist at the Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox Church, I have no doubt that I am attending a Catholic Mass in which the local (Orthodox) congregation is the visible part, here and now, of the universal Church whose members  find communion with each other in their communion with Christ in heaven as they celebrate the Eucharist throughout space and time. In the Mass, all the myriad of local eucharistic assemblies manifest their fundamental visible unity, a unity of identity, in the eucharistic celebration of each.  Thus, each Mass is an act of the whole Church, and not just an act of a local church. It is not one group kidnapping the rest or taking part in a liturgical violation of the rest: it is an act of the Holy Spirit who comes down on the bread and wine and upon the congregation, and taking the congregation with its sacrifice of bread and wine, and making them one with Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension on the heavenly altar, and thus one with all the rest in Christ (Roman Canon:Almighty Father, we pray that your angel...). 

As Pope Benedict XVI said, the Eucharist is the constitution of the Church; and, as the Eucharist is one and identical across the divide, so Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental churches are sister churches through their sacramental participation in the one Christ, in the one Eucharist: they are not three parts of the Church, because Christ, who is the plenitude of Catholicism, is not divided, and "parts" have no ecclesial significance; but they are three manifestations of and doors into the wholeness of Catholicism.  

Therfore, I would apply to all who celebrate the one Eucharist and receive Christ, whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox, what is so beautifully expressed by Father Stephen:
However, begin to think. Consider how the verse, “the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23), and what it means. In this 4th century experience, you can not only ponder this meaning in the abstract, but the very Cup you drink, and everything you tangibly know as Church, is included as well. No longer is the “stuff” of the Church interchangeable with other things. Everything about the life of the Church carries this very same fullness. You eat the fullness and breathe the fullness. When you think about the Church your conscience isn’t troubled and your sense of belonging is unshaken.

At the same time,  the three groups are divided by schism and are unable to witness to the world the unity found in what they are celebrating and receiving.  In participating in the eucharistic life of their churches, they share in the eucharistic life of the one Church they all belong to by being baptised into the one Eucharist, This is not a fourth invisible Church distinct from the churches they belong to; nor  can they settle down contendedly to be three legitimate "parts' of the Church, because the Eucharist has turned them into the same flesh and blood. During the Soviet persecution, it often needed Orthodox and Catholic faithful to suffer together in the same gulag for them to realise this. To be more truly ourselves, we all need to become united with one another; and that  is the purpose of the ecumenical dialogue. For Catholics and Orthodox, ecumenism has nothing to do with "modernity".

Father Stephen writes:
 The document Lumen Gentium in Vatican II, declares that the Mystical Body of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church, thus no longer saying that the two are one and the same. It seemed a gesture of generosity, but it was a capitulation to the centuries-old demands of modernity. Orthodoxy feels the same pressure, and there are some within it who would gladly embrace such language. It is a fulcrum point, and modernity has its hand on the lever.

I, as a Catholic who fully accepts Vatican II, simply do not recognise the criticism of Fr Stephen.  Like him, and just as much as our Orthodox brethren, I believe in a visible Church. Nor was Lumen Gentium moving towards accepting the idea of an invisible Church when the bishops dropped the phrase, "The church of Christ is the Catholic Church," and changed it to "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church."   It was done to do justice to the many dimensions of the Catholic Church which Vatican II opened up to our understanding, and which take much prayer, much dialogue and much love to explore and understand.

  After all, the Church is a mystery in which the Holy Spirit works in synergy with human beings, and which is both visible and invisible.   The source of its life is the risen and ascended Christ in heaven with whom its members are united continuously by the Holy Spirit, so that the angels and saints in heaven unite with the Church on earth in one ecclesial organism, partly visible and partly invisible.   There is also the invisible connection between the Church and those who are divided from it or who belong to other faiths but who manifest in their lives the Grace of God.
A year before their martyrdom
in Uganda, June 3rd, 1886

There is what Pope Francis calls the "ecumenism of blood".  The Uganda martyrs were put to death for their faith, for their refusal to sin.  They are now saints; but, on earth some were Catholics and some were Anglicans.  
There was the "White Rose Group" in Nazi Germany, made up of Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox.  All were martyrs.  
There is martyrdom in the Middle East, where Christians of all shapes and sizes are being put to death for Christ.  They are all equally martyrs.  Then there are  those who have lived and died in the grace of God but outside Catholic communion, sometimes marvellous examples.  There are people like C. S. Lewis, who has been claimed by both Catholics and Orthodox but lived and died happily as an Anglican.   There are people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and a host of others. There is nothing abstract about the martyrs, nor about the faithful who live by the Grace of God but are separated from Catholic communion. Non-Catholic martyrs by their witness, and non-Catholic Christians by their lives of grace make visible the presence of the risen Christ, showing themselves to be members of his body, even outside the Church's borders.   As Abbot (later, Bishop)  Christopher Butler, commenting on the Vatican II vision of the Catholic Church, said, "I know where the Catholic Church is.  I do not know where it isn't."   He knew its centre, but did not know where its outer border is.  "Grace is everywhere," says the priest in "Diary of a Country Priest," and Grace is the life of the Church and cannot be separated from it.  It flows beyond the visible Church membership, uniting communities, families and individuals to the life of the visible Church in its Eucharistic celebration by the invisible power of the Holy Spirit.   

Hence the Church is visible by its very nature because fully incarnate in its time and place, but has invisible dimensions that stretch as far as heaven, as well as  across time, and over the face of the earth, even beyond its visible borders.  Thus, Lumen Gentium took all this into account and wrote that "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church."   
Vatican II was not supporting the idea of an abstract, invisible church, but was recognising the overwhelming evidence for the concrete reality of Christian life and even sanctity outside Catholic communion.  It was refusing to deny the evidence of its own concrete experience in favour of an abstract and unrealistic view of the Church.

We now come to a real difference between Catholicism and a certain kind of Orthodoxy. It is the relationship between the Church and the nation. Father Stephen writes:
In the countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, the Church (Orthodox or Catholic) was a largely unreformed entity. It retained its identity as the One Church and its place in the lives of the people and the culture. What Pope John Paul II said in Poland could bring down a government. They feared him. And though the Church in Russia was deeply wounded by a sustained persecution of 70 years’ length, it remained. Nothing replaced it, nor was it gelded. In Romania, when the Ceaușescus were overthrown, the announcement on the radio was, “The anti-Christ is dead! Romania is a Christian country!” That carried power because Romania was 95 per cent Orthodox. The Church had continued to exist in an unreformed condition. Such an announcement in America would naturally bring the question, “Which Christians?” Indeed, many Christians in America today think that their nation is a Christian nation. It is not, nor has it ever been. It has been a country without The Church. (my emphasis)
Typical of so much Orthodox thought when it comments on the modern world, non-theological factors are simply ignored, and everything gets a theological explanation, usually one that builds a wall to separate it from the West.   Even if "modernity" had never existed, America is a land of immigrants from different cultures, backgrounds, religions etc.  The Americans would then have to choose,  "Do we have an established religion that does not reflect this fact?" or "Should we allow into our country only people of our Church?"

This is a very alive question.   Hungary does not want to allow into its borders non-Christian refugees because it regards itself a Christian country.   If they allow in huge numbers of Muslims, simply because they are in need, do they cease to be a Christian country?   I would prefer to ask, if they don't allow these people into their country, is their Christian religion worth protecting?

The truth is that we live in one world and, like America, Britain is becoming a country full of immigrants who are living here for all kinds of reasons.  We cannot stop this from happening without committing grave injustice.  If the reformation and the enlightenment had never happened, modern inventions would have still brought this about.   It means the end of Christendom and the integriste mentality that goes with it.  Christ founded a Church, but Constantine founded Christendom, and it doesn't have the same promise of divine protection.   Before its founding, Christianity regarded itself without a homeland.  We have a great witness to Catholicism and the Catholic mentality in the Letter to Diognetus 
 They dwell in their own countries but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws in their lives. They love all, and are persecuted by all... They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. . . They are reviled, and yet they bless...When they do good they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.

There is nothing in Christianity that depends on a relationship with the state for its integrity, and Christianity can be a minority as was the church of St John Damascene.  

The modern world exists, and it isn't very helpful to demonstrate that it shouldn't. It is the product of many different causes, some good and some bad.   What Father Stephen calls "modernity" is partly explained by him, though some non-theological causes are also at work, immigration, modern science,and modern communications. The secular state is a place where people of all religions and none can be at home. Neither the USA or Britain have much choice because any alternative would be unjust.  Secularism is a different animal.  The question is what we are going to do about it.   One way is to build a wall around our religion, live in a ghetto and put up a sign saying business as usual, hoping that the rest will get tired of chaos and come knocking at our door to let them in.  That seems to be Father Stephen's solution.   Another is to form Christian community of a kind that manifests Christ's presence and God's love and, from there, dialogue and evangelise, like Taize or the Franciscan Friars of Renewal.  There are many ways to evangelise, and there is also personal witness.

I would like you to compare Father Stephen's three posts on Un-Ecumenical in his blog Glory To God For All Things with these three videos on Taize.  This is not so much a East-West confrontation - young people from Orthodox countries, Russia and Romania for example, go to Taize in droves, and the visits have been reciprocated.  Father Stephen's starting point is that the Western world shouldn't be what it is.   America is not a Christian country because it doesn't have a national church; not a very helpful remark.   In contrast, Taize accepts the world in which Providence has placed it, tries to live the Gospel within it, and opens its arms to all comers, accepting them as they are, and showing people that Jesus loves them. 


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