"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


Google+ Badge

Thursday, 17 August 2017

MARY, THE LIVING TEMPLE OF GOD by Archpriest Michael Gillis (Orthodox) and MARY'S HOLY PROTECTION

The Living Temple of God
Source: Praying in the Rain
my source: Pravmir.com

The Church often refers the Mary as the Living Temple of God because, like the temple of the Old Testament, her womb was the place where the Glory of the Lord dwelt. However, unlike the temple—made of inanimate stones and wood and covered in gold—Mary is the Living Temple of God. Although she has experienced death, she is still the Living Temple because, as Christ said, “all who live and believe in me shall never die.” Mary lives as Queen of heaven standing at the right hand of Her Son and Lord (c.f. Psalm 44: 10-18) together with all of her “virgin companions,” those who in imitation of Her have believed in Him and by the Holy Spirit have Christ dwelling in their hearts.

Some of what it means for Mary to be the Living Temple of God is lost on us today because we do not understand how believers under the Old Covenant related to the temple. Those who know anything at all about the temple know about its liturgical and ultimately symbolic function foreshadowing heavenly realities finally manifested in Christ. However, most do not realize that the temple was an icon of the presence of God and played an important part in the prayer life of the faithful. King Solomon’s prayer of dedication found in II Chronicles 6:14-42 gives us some insight into the prayer life of believers under the Old Covenant and the iconic role the temple played in it.

At the beginning of the prayer Solomon makes it clear that God is not literally in the temple any more or less than God is or isn’t anywhere else, for “heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.” “Yet,” Solomon asks, “regard the prayer of your servant…so [that] day and night Your eyes may be open toward this house…that you may hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.” That is, Solomon asks God to regard the temple as an icon toward (or to) which one would pray. In praying toward the temple, one is praying to God.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Study Bible translation of the Septuagint translates as “in” all of the prepositions in this passage which the King James translates as “toward.” This is a mistake. Pray “toward” or “in the direction of” is the correct translation in vv. 20,26,29,32,34, 38 (See grammatical explanation below).

The faithful under the Old Covenant should pray toward the temple as an icon of God’s presence, even if they were exiles in a foreign land (v.38). Although God is not limited by the temple—and Solomon acknowledges this at the beginning of his prayer—the temple functions as a special place toward which or in the direction of which prayer should be offered because God put His Name there (v.20). The temple had an intercessory function because its existence manifested the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people and God’s presence with His people. It was only in the temple (or the tabernacle before it) that acceptable worship could be offered to God. Only in the temple could atoning sacrifice be offered or sacrifices of thanksgiving made. Only toward the temple could the faithful Israelites pray with confidence knowing that their prayer would be heard, especially if they had sinned and were suffering judgment because of their sin.

In a similar manner, the faithful followers of Christ have come to regard Mary as the Living Temple of God. You might say that Christians often pray to God toward Her. Mary is the Intercessor, the Mother of God, the Proto-Christian, the One who bore God in her womb and has thereby gained the intimacy and privilege of a mother with Her Son and our God. When we pray to the Mother of God, we are not praying to her instead of God (as we are sometimes accused). We are praying to God through Her, or to use the Old Testament temple image, we are praying to God toward Her. As the Living Temple of God, Mary not only intercedes (because she is living, unlike the temple made of stone), but she also is intercession. That is, she is the human being from whom and in whom God took on humanity for the salvation of the human race. Mary’s womb is the Gate of the Temple through which “the Lord God of Israel” enters (see Ezekiel 44:1-3); and as such, just as the temple in Jerusalem was itself intercession for the faithful of Israel, so Mary is intercession for the faithful in Christ.

This is why it is right—perhaps even incumbent on us—to pray to Mary; or, as it is commonly put to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding: to ask Mary to pray for us. This is a convenient phrase to avoid conflict with Muslims and Protestants, but anyone who knows English fairly well realizes that it is just a word game: “pray” and “ask” are often synonyms. But for those of us in the family of God and in the Tradition of the Church of both the Old and New Covenants, such phrases are not necessary: prayer toward the Temple is prayer to God.

[Grammatical explanation] Two Hebrew words are used in this passage to mean “toward.” In some cases it is the Hebrew word ̕êl “denoting motion or direction towards (whether physical or mental)” (translated eis in Greek). While “in” is one of many possible translations of eis, “to” and “toward” are also possible. Here I think the Hebrew should influence the translator of the Septuagint. The NETS translation of the Septuagint follows this tack in translating eis as “toward” in this passage. In the other cases, the Hebrew word derek is used. Derek means most literally “way” or “road,” but is also used to mean “in the direction of” or “toward.” Here two Greek words are used to translate the Hebrew: the preposition kata and the noun òdós (road or way). For these words the OSB translation uses “in” (v.34—clearly wrong) and “toward” (v.38—acceptable), but I think the NETS has it better translating both “in the direction of.”

“I Had a Hard Time Praying to the Theotokos”

In response to my blog entry called The Tongs, someone has asked me if, as a convert to Orthodoxy, I had a hard time at the beginning praying to the Theotokos. The answer is yes.

In my whole-life confession the week before I was received into the Holy Orthodox faith, I confessed to the priest that I had a hard time praying to the Theotokos. I told him that I had no problem with the theology related to the intercession of the Saints, nor with the special place of the Mother of God in the dispensation of salvation and as an intercessor. My problem was that I just couldn’t do it. I could say the words of the prayer–O Lady, Bride of God, spotless, immaculate Virgin…–but the words had no meaning for me. I felt no connection. The wise priest told me not to worry about it, She’d make the connection.

Because I converted with a community (there were 85 of us), I was ordained a deacon on the day of my chrismation. And so I served as a deacon for about three years before she “made the connection.” For the first three years, standing in front of the icon of the Mother of God during the first part of the Divine Liturgy, I basically felt a blank inside my heart. I even had a hard time venerating the icon, finding myself always kissing the foot of Christ in Her arms, and not Her. (I’d be too ashamed to confess it now, except that it magnifies the greatness of the Love and patience of the Mother of God for those who are being saved.) I said the prayers to the Mother of God faithfully, but with no feeling. I often found myself trying to figure out what the words “meant,” as though that would help me find a connection.

Then one day a miracle happened. I was going through a particularly stressful season of financial worry. The stress was crushing me. During the Divine Liturgy one Sunday, while standing before the icon of the Mother of God, I asked Her for help. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I remember what happened. I heard a voice in my head. The exact words are lost, but the gist was this: you won’t have to worry about money again. The words were accompanied by a very peaceful feeling, almost like an untying of knots inside me. The feeling stayed with me for several days.

Within a few days, there was a change in my circumstances that delivered me from the immediate cause of my financial worries. Since that time, whenever I am tempted to worry about money, I stand before the icon of the Mother of God and remind Her (remind myself really) of the words I believe She spoke to me. And the miracle is that I don’t worry. Financial ups and downs come and go, but the miracle is that She has freed me from worry.

Praying to the Mother of God, I have come to know in some small ways the Mother of God. She is our heavenly Mother. I know Protestants will freak out about that kind of language–I certainly would have–because they have no categories for divine-human synergy. But just as God distributes his gifts through the free will of his people on earth, so He also distributes His gifts through the intercessions of the Saints who are in heaven, especially the Mother of God.

When my daughter Hannah was 16, she wanted to work at Barbara Cheatley’s, an exclusive gift shop in a little high-end shopping area in Claremont, California. My daughter prayed fervently that she would get a chance to work there. Then she spoke to Barbara, but Barbara told her that there were no openings and she expected no openings: all of her “girls” had worked for her for fifteen years or more. Hannah was crushed when she told us the news. My wife, however, was not ready yet to give up so easily. Bonnie and the Barbara had been business associates for several years and had developed a friendship. Bonnie went to her and “interceded” on Hannah’s behalf. Eventually, after much intercession that may have sounded somewhat like nagging, Barbara agreed that if Hannah could learn to wrap packages well (and the gorgeous wrapping is one of the big reasons why people keep coming back to Barbara Cheatley’s), she could work in the back room for the two months leading up to Christmas. Hannah learned to wrap packages “Barbara’s way,” and she worked two exhausting months for minimum wage at Barbara Cheatley’s.

God answered Hannah’s prayers through the intercessions of her mother (and my wife ☺). God often pours out his Grace to us through others, by the intercessions of others. It should be no surprise then if, when we are in trouble, we find help in the intercessions of God’s Mother. The Grace is God’s, the intercession is His Mother’s, the help is from both. God works synergistically with and through His people.

No Orthodox Christian is Without Theotokos’ Protection

Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
my source: Pravmir.com
14 OCTOBER 2015

Worldwide, the Protection of the Mother of God is one of the most beloved feast days on the Orthodox calendar, commemorated on October 1 (14). It is also known as the Feast of the Virgin Mary’s Cerement. The word translated “cerement”—the Slavonic pokrov or the Greek skepi—has a complex meaning. First of all, it refers to a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession. For this reason, the name of the feast is variously translated as the Veil of Our Lady, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, the Protection of the Theotokos, or the Intercession of the Theotokos.

The feast day celebrates the appearance of the Mother of God at Blachernae in the tenth century. St. Andrew of Constantinople with his disciple St. Epiphanius and a group of people saw the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and several other saints and angels during a vigil in the Church of Blachernae, near the city gates. The Blachernae Palace church was where several of the Virgin’s relics were kept—her robe, her veil, and part of her belt, which had been transferred from Palestine during the fifth century.

The Theotokos approached the center of the church, knelt down and remained in prayer for a long time. Her face was drowned in tears. Then she took off her veil (cerement) and spread it over the people as a sign of protection. During that time, the people in the city were threatened by a barbarian invasion. After the appearance of the Mother of God, the danger was averted and the city was spared from bloodshed and suffering.

The first celebration of the Theotokos’ veil/protection dates back to the twelfth century. Today the feast is celebrated throughout the Orthodox Church. The feast day commemorating her miraculous appearance is celebrated with a vigil and many of the same hymns as occur on great feasts of the Theotokos.

One time, St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, having finished serving liturgy in a cave chapel about 100 feet up the face of a sheer cliff, leaned restfully against a railing while his deacon cleaned the altar area. The railing suddenly broke and St. Arsenios plummeted to the earth far below. A farmer in a nearby field saw him fall and rushed to the place where his body had landed. When he arrived, St. Arsenios was lying on his back weeping, but cried out, “Don’t touch me! Please, don’t touch me. I’m fine.” When the farmer inquired how he had survived the fall, St. Arsenios told him, “Just before I struck the ground, I was caught in the hands of the Theotokos, and she set me gently on the ground.”

No Orthodox Christian is without this same protecting Mother. None are left without the warm and secure enclosure of a mother’s emblanketing arms. For the veil of the Theotokos encompasses, comforts, and protects us all. As the epitome of motherhood, she anticipates our every need and catches us up in her arms when we call upon her for aid.

P.S. When St. Arsenios climbed back up the high ladder to the cave chapel, his deacon was still cleaning the altar area and had not even noticed his fall!

Coffee with Sr. Vassa: The Protection of the Mother of God, or Impropriety is no Obstacle to Prayer

The history of this feast is different in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, but the meaning is essentially the same: it celebrates the prayers of the Virgin Mary, of the Mother of God for the all of us.

Hi, I am Sr. Vassa and I am having my coffee before going to work today in Vienna in Austria. I am drinking my coffee black as usual because, they say, – black never goes out of style.

Before I go to work today, I am looking in my Church calendar. In case you didn’t know, this week October begins, and September ends. So, today I will be reflecting on a feast that occurs in the Russian Orthodox Church on October 1, called the Protection of the Mother of God; in Greek  Scepitis Theotocou.  The history of this feast is different in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, but the meaning is essentially the same: it celebrates the prayers of the Virgin Mary, of the Mother of God for the all of us.

In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a very important and beloved feast. Many Russian churches are dedicated to the Protection of the Holy Virgin and also many well –known churches, including the cathedral in Red Square (Church of “Basil the Blessed”).

The history of this feast in the Russian Church is complicated and with contested meanings that some historians disagree about its exact origins. In any event, the feast celebrates the vision of the Holy Virgin that occurred in a Church of Blachernae in Constantinople in early 10th century during the Liturgy when the church was packed with people. The Mother of God appeared to St. Andrew, the Fool-for-Christ, and to his disciple, St. Epiphanius. She appeared above the crowd that was praying in the church, surrounded by many angels and saints. First, the Mother of God prayed at the Altar for all the people, then, as St. Dimitri of Rostov describes it, “She took off the great and awe-inspiring cover, which She wore on Her most-pure head, and, holding it with great solemnity, with Her most-pure hands, extended it over all the people. Now, although this vision occurred in Greek-speaking Constantinople, it ironically came to be celebrated as a great feast in the Church of Rus’.

Most historians attribute the introduction of the feast to Prince Andrei Bogolubsky of the late 12th c. Now, you might be asking, if you haven’t switched to a different YouTube channel because of all this history. Why would Prince Andrei introduce a feast that the Church of Constantinople did not have? After all, the Church of Rus’ was baptised by Greek-speaking missionaries, and in fact, in the 12th century had Greek bishops. That’s why even today we sing to our Russian bishops Eis polla eti, despota! in Greek, because originally our bishops understood that language.  The thing is, that Prince Andrei is said to have tried to obtain more cultural independence for his people. He wanted his people to have their own customs, and their own, independent tradition. In fact, he even tried to elevate his own bishop, or metropolitan, named Theodore, independent of the Kievan church. But of course, the Patriarch of Constantinople, did not agree to this. So, Andrei did not succeed in establishing culture independence in his land, because in fact, culture independence does not exist. Especially not in a last 1000 years. Every tradition, you see, has been and is, influenced by other traditions. Interestingly, even this beautiful church (“Pokrova-na-Nerli” Church), which Prince Andrei had built in honour of the new feast of the Protection, was built  by foreign builders from the Latin West. They were sent to Prince Andrei by Friedrich Barbarossa- the famous crusader and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. But that’s just a fun fact.

Concerning this feast in the Greek-speaking churches today, it is commemorated on October 28th, not October 1st. In the Greek-speaking churches it is commemorated on the Greek national holiday called Ochi-Day. And the feast, the church feast, is associated with thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Greek nation from the Italian invasion of 1940, because of the miracles reported by many Greek soldiers, – miracles of the Holy Virgin during the Greco-Italian War of 1940-1941.  But that’s enough about the historical side of this feast.

Now let’s talk about the main aspect of it, and that is: the prayers of the Mother of God. We hear about the prayers or intercessions of the Mother of God at the beginning of Byzantine Divine Liturgy in the 1st Antiphon: “Through the prayers of the Mother of God, Saviour, save us”. We might tend to mystify, or imagine, these prayers of the Virgin Mary, as if they occur in a galaxy far-far away… But the Gospel actually gives us a very human example of her intercessions for other human beings, in the well-known passage about the wedding in Cana in Galilee:

“On the third day there was a wedding, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him: They have no wine. Jesus said to her: Woman, what (is that) to me and to you? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants: Do whatever He tells you to do”.

And after that, as most of you probably will know, He tells the servants to fill six jugs with water, and turns this water to wine, performing his first public miracle.

What is of interest to us in this passage right now is how Mary approaches Her Divine Son, – and how He reacts. First of all, She obviously knows more about Him than others do. She knows He can do something about the wine-situation, and She has complete faith that He will do this, despite His somewhat off-putting answer. Because He lets Her know that Her request is made at an inappropriate time. He says, “My hour is not yet come, and, Woman what is that to you and to Me?”

Now, let me note that Christ is not being disrespectful to His mother by calling Her “Woman”. In the language which Jesus spoke this was the equivalent of the English “ma’am”. Similarly, He said to His mother, as you may remember, from the cross: “Woman, behold, your son”. He uses this term, actually, several times to address women, like Syrophoenician woman, and the Samaritan woman. He also incidentally uses the term “man”, “anthrope”, to address man as in: “Man, your sins are forgiven you!” in Luke 5:20.  Nonetheless, Jesus does indicate the impropriety of His mother’s request at the wedding in Cana. And yet, he fulfills this request. He also fulfills another inappropriate request, for another woman – already mentioned Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman, who calls after the Lord as He’s walking with His disciples, begging Him to heal her daughter. Jesus first ignores her, and indicates to His disciples the impropriety of her request. But finally, when she persists, He praises her faith: ”O woman,” He says, “great is your faith”, and heals her daughter.

From all this we can observe the very awkward fact, that impropriety is no obstacle to prayer.  The rules of liturgical propriety that we observe in our prayer; the outer forms like liturgical texts, the proper prostrations, the proper clothing…all these things doubtlessly have their place and their reasons. But we should not forget that these are no more, and no less, than outer forms. The Mother of God, the model of Christian prayer, makes a request of Her Son at an inappropriate time in Cana of Galilee. Then, at the church in Blachernae in Constantinople in Her vision, She removes Her head covering  – Her vail – in church to demonstrate Her protection of us, despite of the impropriety some of us might perceive in this. Because, as it turns out, our sense of impropriety is no obstacle to prayer. And that’s our Thought of the Day.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Two Popes
Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

Pope Francis’ trip to Egypt (April 28-29, 2017) has been one of the most important and difficult for this pontificate, given the international political situation and the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and of all Christians between Africa and the Middle East. It is not easy to look at this trip through one single interpretive lens, and therefore it requires the attempt to read it in the context of the pontificate.

A first level was the trip of Francis as expression of the modern magisterium of the pope of the Catholic Church on the relationship between religion as defensor of human rights and political rights in an age of evident crisis of faith not only in God, but also in our fellow human beings – the crisis of democracy. Interestingly, in his speech to the strongman of Egypt, general Al Sisi, and to the political authorities, Francis quoted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 but also from the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, delivering a blunt reminder to Egyptian political authorities: “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice.” Francis walked a very fine line between the need to avoid the impression of a papal blessing of the post-Islamist regime of Al Sisi in Egypt, more friendly to Christians than the brief period of Morsi on one side, and on the other side the need not to be silent before the disturbing record of the present regime in terms of the respect of democratic rights and of freedom.

The second level was the inter-religious relations. Pope Francis had to deal with the difficult legacy of the Regensburg address of Benedict XVI in 2006, which was a typical example of the divided and mutually opposed and deeply misguided, ideological receptions of Ratzinger’s most important public pronouncements (similarly to what happened to the famous speech on the “two hermeneutics of Vatican II” of December 2005). For hardliner, “occidentalist” Catholics the Regensburg speech was the gold standard of the Catholic response to Islam, while for some Muslims it was the manifestation of the crusading mentality of the Vatican. Despite the attempts to frame Bergoglio’s response to the invitation to the peace conference organized by Al Azhar as “Francis’ Regensburg speech”, the tone and the content were significantly different. In his speech to the international peace conference at Al Azhar, Francis quoted from the Second Vatican Council (the declaration Nostra Aetate on non-Christian religions and the constitution Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world) and from John Paul II’s visits to Egypt in 2000 and from the first interreligious meeting of prayer in Assisi in 1986).

There is then the third level of the ecumenical and ecclesial relations, where the intra-Catholic and the inter-Christian relations are more interconnected than before. There are technical aspects of his visit and agreement with Pope Tawadros II that will have to be evaluated in time, especially about re-baptism: “Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.” In this respect, also pope Tawadros has to deal with the “dubia” raised through the media by his opponents.

What is most important is that Francis’ visit to Egypt has confirmed the complex nature of the ecumenical dimension of this pontificate, where we can see three kinds of ecumenism. The first ecumenism is that of bilateral relations between Churches: commissions of theologians and prelates who discuss documents that the Churches will have to approve or reject, or approve and put in a drawer. Francis sees a role for this ecumenism of bilateral commissions and official joint declarations, but without being driven or bound by this kind of relationship that is typical of the ecumenism of the post-Vatican II period and which has brought significant fruits, especially on the basis of relations of the Catholic Church with Lutherans, Anglicans, and Orthodox, but also with non-Chalcedonian Churches (the 1973 Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and the Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III). Francis is aware of the different roles of the official ecumenical dialogues and of the ecumenical dialogue that is related to his “ecclesiology of the people”: an ecclesiology of the people endowed with an infallibilitas in credendo (exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of November 24, 2013, par. 119) – the people’s infallibility in the foundations of its faith. The ecumenical relations between different Churches need solemn acts and official texts, but without the reception of them by the people they would be meaningless. Francis knows that post-Vatican II ecumenism has been made and received by the lay Christian faithful and that there is no hermeneutical re-discussion of Vatican II that can stop this progress.

Then there is a second type of ecumenism, of which Francis has often spoken: “the ecumenism of blood” (from the beginning of his pontificate: see his interview with Andrea Tornielli of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, 14 December 2013), the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christians of every church and theological tradition in the face of persecutions, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. On this score, it is significant that the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, joined Francis in Egypt in a show of solidarity with Coptic Christians.  Martyrdom as a theological source is redefining ecumenism more than the theological and ecclesiastical systems in the West can comprehend. The issue of refugees escaping persecution is a humanitarian and political issue, but also an interfaith and ecumenical one. From discussions about “Eucharistic hospitality” (giving communion to Christians who are members of another Church, not Catholic-Roman) we have moved on to the problem of hospitality tout court of those who (including many Christians, Catholics and not) flee from death and destruction: it is not a theologically less relevant question than that of Eucharistic communion. Christianity is now put to the test more by its response to the humanitarian crisis of today than by the dogmatic obstacles in the full communion between Churches.

Finally, there is the third type of ecumenism, the one it is most difficult to speak in the Catholic Church, for it is the most difficult and delicate: intra-Catholic ecumenism, among Catholics of devotions and different “obediences” and idiosyncratic identities. Francis insistently called to dialogue and rejection of sectarianism between Churches, but also within the Catholic Church. Francis has repeatedly appealed to the various Catholic movements to coexist in local churches without temptation to occupy spaces or claim primogeniture rights. His trip to Egypt was a powerful reminder against the Catholic temptation to see Christianity through a West vs. East lens: it has been a subtle message against the Catholic “Orientalization” of the Eastern Churches – the temptation to see in them something like a museum of exotic, pre-modern and anti-modern Christianity – as well as against the Catholic “Occidentalization” of itself – Catholicism as an essentially Western religion. In this sense, Francis’ ecumenism is challenging different kinds of Catholics certainly not less than non-Catholic Christians.

Massimo Faggioli is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University.

Monday, 14 August 2017


by Abbot Paul of Belmont (UK)

Assumption 2017

            “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.” With these words the Book of the Apocalypse celebrates God’s final victory over sin and death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When we look at history and contemplate the state in the world today and when we come face to face with the power of evil, these words seem pure make-believe. Yet our faith in God’s plan of salvation and the celebration of today’s solemnity allow a glimmer of light to shine through the darkness. Indeed, faith in the Resurrection has given Christians hope and consolation in the most horrific situations the world has ever known. Think of St Maximilian Kolbe, whose martyrdom we celebrated yesterday.

            Not only does the Resurrection answer our doubts and fears, it also gives meaning to the mystery of Man. Only when Jesus rose from the dead did the disciples finally understand the meaning of his life. Suddenly it all fell into place. At last they began to see the big picture, God’s scheme of things, the History of Salvation and our part in it.

            Just as every feast is centred on Easter and is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, so too the Assumption, for we believe that Mary, the Mother of God, was taken up body and soul into heaven. It is the greatest feast of Our Lady from which all the others spring, the matrix of Marian devotion. The Assumption came to be known as Little Easter or Easter in Summer and, in many parts of Europe, Catholics make their Easter duty today.

            Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God took flesh and blood from Mary and that flesh and blood were raised to the glory of heaven at his Resurrection and Ascension. Through the Incarnation, he shared his divine life with us as in Mary’s womb we shared our humanity with him. That humanity entered the glory of heaven when the risen Christ ascended to the Father’s right hand. As a special privilege, as a foretaste of our common destiny, that flesh and blood entered into the glory of heaven a second time when Our Lady fell asleep and was assumed body and soul, such was the depth of her divine Son’s love for his Blessed Mother. An ancient antiphon declares, “Through Mary, the gate of heaven, you came to crown our hope and fulfilment: today she goes before us into your kingdom.”

            We have just heard these words of St Paul, “All men will be brought to life in Christ; Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end.” We belong to Christ through faith and baptism. We also belong to him through Mary, the glory of our race, the Mother of all who live and Queen of heaven. Today we celebrate the Easter Mystery, eternal life made manifest in Mary, the “lowly handmaid” of the Lord. “Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” The Magnificat is not only Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving for what God has done in her. It is also a prophecy of what he will do in each one of us. “His mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.”

            So, it is true. “Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ.” Christ is risen and Mary is assumed into heaven.  Thanks be to God.

In the normal icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Mary bears Jesus in her arms.   In the normal icon of the Dormition of Our Lady, as this detail shows, Jesus bears Our Lady's soul in his arms, prior to taking her, body and soul, up to heaven with Him.

You will notice in the next two items, one Catholic and the other Orthodox, that, while the first says that the death of Mary is not defined, the Orthodox puts great emphasis on that death: Mary's Assumption is nothing less than a sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ which are two inseperable dimensions of the same Mystery.  The Catholic comment is an example of the Latin tradition existing as though it bears no relation with the Eastern.  Many Orthodox make the same mistake of separating the Eastern and Western traditions when they too are two inseperable dimensions of the same Catholic Tradition.  Popes St John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made it quite clear that fidelity to the one Catholic Tradition involves accepting the truth of Mary's death, defined or not.

May 24, 2014 by Fr. Juan Velez 
The title Holy Mother of God denotes the reason for all the other titles and privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In these reflections for the month of May John Henry Newman looks to one of the privileges, Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, body and soul. The Church has not defined that Mary died before her Assumption; instead She holds that at the end of her life on earth the Virgin Mary was taken to Heaven.
Newman held the belief that she did die and was raised to life by God. After asserting this he considers that after the Resurrection of Christ many prophets and holy men and women rose from their tombs. He asks: “it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.” Thus we can confidently believe that “our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.”

Mary, Sancta Dei Genetrix, we venerate you as the Mother of God, and rejoice at your Assumption into Heaven. Next to your Son intercede for the Church.

May 24
Mary is the “Sancta Dei Genetrix,” the Holy Mother of God

AS soon as we apprehend by faith the great fundamental truth that Mary is the Mother of God, other wonderful truths follow in its train; and one of these is that she was exempt from the ordinary lot of mortals, which is not only to die, but to become earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Die she must, and die she did, as her Divine Son died, for He was man; but various reasons have approved themselves to holy writers, why, although her body was for a while separated from her soul and consigned to the tomb, yet it did not remain there, but was speedily united to her soul again, and raised by our Lord to a new and eternal life of heavenly glory.

And the most obvious reason for so concluding is this—that other servants of God have been raised from the grave by the power of God, and it is not to be supposed that our Lord would have granted any such privilege to anyone else without also granting it to His own Mother.

We are told by St. Matthew, that after our Lord’s death upon the Cross “the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept”—that is, slept the sleep of death, “arose, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection, came into the Holy City, and appeared to many.” St. Matthew says, “many bodies of the Saints”—that is, the holy Prophets, Priests, and Kings of former times—rose again in anticipation of the last day.

Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God’s own Mother? Had she not a claim on the love of her Son to have what any others had? Was she not nearer to Him than the greatest of the Saints before her? And is it conceivable that the law of the grave should admit of relaxation in their case, and not in hers? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul.

Meditations and Devotions,  see www.newmanreader.org

(Fr Thomas Hopko)

In the sermon of Cardinal Newman and the talk by Father T. Hopko, we see how East and West complement each other; while, in the remarks introducing the sermon of Cardinal Newman, we see what happens when the West  forgets the Eastern tradition - all that about Mary not dying and this being o.k. because it hasn't been defined.

"And therefore she died in private. It became Him who died for the world, to die in the world's sight; it became the Great Sacrifice to be lifted up on high, as a light that could not be hid. But she, the lily of Eden, who had always dwelt out of the sight of man, fittingly did she die in the garden's shade, and amid the sweet flowers in which she had lived. Her departure made no noise in the world. The Church went about her common duties, preaching, converting, suffering; there were persecutions, there was fleeing from place to place, there were martyrs, there were triumphs: at length the rumour spread abroad that the Mother of God was no longer upon earth. Pilgrims went to and fro; they sought for her relics, but they found them not; did she die at Ephesus? or did she die at Jerusalem? reports varied; but her tomb could not be pointed out, or if it was found, it was open; and instead of her pure and fragrant body, there was a growth of lilies from the earth which she had touched. So, inquirers went home marvelling, and waiting for further light. And then it was said how that when her dissolution was at hand, and her soul was to pass in triumph before the judgment seat of her Son, the Apostles were suddenly gathered together in one place, even in the Holy City, to bear part in the joyful ceremonial; how that they buried her with fitting rites; how that the third day, when they came to the tomb, they found it empty, and angelic choirs with their glad voices were heard singing day and night the glories of their risen Queen. But, however we feel towards the details of this history (nor is there anything in it which will be unwelcome or difficult to piety), so much cannot be doubted, from the consent of the whole Catholic world and the revelations made to holy souls, that as is befitting, she is, soul and body, with her Son and God in heaven, and that we are enabled to celebrate not only her death, but her Assumption."(John Henry Cardinal Newman, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, pp. 375-8; cited in J. Regina, ed., The Mystical Rose, St. Pauls Editions, 1960, pp. 91-94.)









( and its connection with Fatima) (click)

Friday, 4 August 2017


Santa Sophia
It is related that a young German theologian called Joseph Ratzinger was showing some friends around Rome during Vatican II when they came across a large statue of a Roman emperor.   “Who is that?” one of them asked. “Oh, that is the emperor Constantine,” replied Ratzinger  “We buried him last week.”   He was referring to the proclamation of one of the council documents, perhaps “Sacrosanctum Concilium” on the Liturgy or “Lumen Gentium” on the Church.   This has enormous implications for the unity of Christ’s Church, as did the alliance between Church and Empire so long ago.  

I believe that the young Joseph Ratzinger was not exaggerating when he told his friends what Vatican II implied, but we had to wait for Pope Francis who expressed these implications with clarity when he said  that the only authority the Church has is service, and the only power the Church has is the Cross.   Authority in the Empire was based on conquest, on sheer power, while authority in the Church can only be authentically exercised    as an expression of ecclesial love which, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is a reflection of the kenotic love of God.  Authority in the Church, the body of Christ, is different in kind from that of Caesar and his successors.   This became obscured when Christendom was born, and many of the quarrels between Christians that have taken place since have been caused, at least in part, by this confusion.   The often uneasy relationship between Church and Empire produced great saints and many wonders and was probably a necessary stage in the history of the Church, but it couldn't last because it was based on a synergy between church and state in which church law and state law are basically the same kind of thing, only working at different dimensions of human life but based on the same principles..
The Art of Eternity: The Byzantine Empire

Apostolic Christianity has divided down the centuries into four streams, each stream differing from the other three by its relationship or lack of it to the Byzantine Empire. There are other differences too, as the theologians will rush in to assure us. Nevertheless, their differing relationship to the Empire plays a major role in all of the other differences that have  existed since the time Constantine was converted and civil power began to play a significant role in pan-Christian affairs.

 Before we go further I must define my terms. What do I mean by "Apostolic Christianity"?  What are the four streams?  How do they differ from Christian bodies not included in "Apostolic Christianity"?  I shall not  try to solve the differences between them  because that would require a large volume rather than a short article and is beyond my competence, but I shall allow some videos to fill the space left by my ignorance.

There are four separated ecclesiastic families, each claiming to be the whole universal Catholic Church, and each claiming their ecclesial Tradition to be the whole Catholic Tradition that excludes all rivals.  Using “eucharistic ecclesiology” I shall try to show in what sense their claims are true and  in what sense they need to be modified  to a way that will permit them to recognise each other as “sister churches”.

Apostolic Christianity is composed of those churches which have a continuity in faith, understanding, liturgy and ecclesial structure with the church formed by apostolic preaching in the first century.  Of course, by separating themselves from other churches of apostolic foundation, they departed from their earlier practice  because they do not recognise a development in the other streams something demanded of them by their own ecclesial and liturgical tradition; but they have not  separated themselves from what has been handed to them. .  In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, each stream has done its best to live by the "hermeneutic of continuity", according to Tradition, in faith, understanding, liturgy and ecclesial structure, and have benefited in this from the active presence of the Holy Spirit invoked in the liturgy, even when they have been led  by a mistaken zeal for orthodoxy or by human weakness to break relations with other churches.  Yet, even when political considerations coupled with ignorance of the other have been involved in this decision, it still remains that they have remained true to their own tradition that goes back to the Apostles so they can, therefore, still be called Apostolic churches.

As their differing relationships with the Byzantine Empire has played a major role in the formation of schism between the Apostolic churches, let us look at the original relationship between the churches and the Empire.  Remember that the Empire’s true title, what it called itself, was not “Byzantine” but “Roman”: it was the identical empire that had been ruled over by Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, and the people called themselves “Romans”.   

In the first centuries of the Christian era, to the East with its border in Syria was the Persian Empire.  Syria was split,  with the western part, including part of modern Turkey, under "Roman" rule; and the eastern part under the Persians. The Persians did not trust the allegiance of the Syrians under them and cut them off from contact with Syrians living in the Christian Empire. 

  The Syrians had their own semitic culture and spoke a version of Aramaic, the language of Our Lord. Those in the Byzantine Empire, like the Egyptians who also had their own culture, were none too keen on being ruled from Constantinople.

In western Europe, the Roman legions were not strong enough either to preserve order or protect the land from invaders for any length of time.  The Emperor Justinian was successful in beating back the barbarians, but his victories won peace in the west only for a time.   When Pope St Gregory the Great took over a large part of Italy for the sake of the people, he did so in the Emperor's name; but it, in time evolved into the papal states.  When the Greek Pope Leo III crowned the barbarian Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800, as western Emperor, he was only recognising the political reality.

The difference between the two empires couldn't have been more different, the real Roman Empire and its barbarian counterpart, and this  meant that, while the faith was the same, the relationship between Church and state was very different, the pastoral problems were very different, and emphasis placed on different aspects of Church teaching was different in order to deal with the pastoral problems.   To make matters worse, in the western empire there were people jealous of Byzantium because of its wealth and because it was the authentic Roman Empire, and this fuelled their contempt for its weaknesses, while the Greeks had contempt for the semi-civilised barbarians of the west.   Neither side trusted the other.   

By the time Constantinople fell in 1453, the sad schisms between the four families of Apostolic churches were already fixed; and they coincided with political divisions which contributed much to bringing them about. We shall look at each of these apostolic families and how each became what it is today. 

The Lost Empire, a BBC documentary

Dr Sebastian Brock on the Syrian Tradition

The border between the two empires divided Syrian Christianity, so that those in the Persian Empire were liturgically and theologically different from those in the Byzantine Empire, even though they shared the same Syriac language, (a dialect of Aramaic), strong Judeo-Christian roots and Semitic culture; though those who lived in the Byzantine Empire were open to the Greek speaking world which was quite foreign to those  in Persian Syria.

It is the church in Persian Syria that constitutes the first of the four families of Apostolic churches under consideration, together with the Malabar Christians of Southern India. Its present title is the Assyrian Church of the East.   It can be found in Iraq, Iran and Syria, but mostly in Iraq.  Mosul (the Biblical Nineveh) was once a mainly Christian city; and this tradition was strongly represented there until recently, when Islamic State declared war on Christians. 

I shall leave to Dr Sebastian Brock the task of telling you about Syriac Christianity.  It is enough for me to say that the Assyrian Church of the East is semitic rather than Greek, and that much of its serious theology in the first centuries was put in poetry and song rather than treatises.  As they were in the Persian Empire rather than the Byzantine, they were never invited to the early ecumenical councils and only heard of them many years afterwards.  They registered their agreement with the Council of Nicaea, but only 85 years after it took place!  They have an extremely ancient liturgy in Aramaic, and one of the three eucharistic prayers they us, written around 200AD, does not have the words of institution, "this is my body...this is the chalice of my blood" included in it.   Although this is unique in modern times, it was quite common in the early Church. including the description of the Mass in the 4th century Church of Jerusalem in St Cyril of Jerusalem's Mystagogical Catecheses.   Finally, the theologian who gave them their theological vocabulary was Saint Theodore of Mopstuestia.

Although St Theodore was not a heretic, his vocabulary was considered too imprecise to express the mystery of the Incarnation for which a new vocabulary was being forged.   Particularly opposed to the "school of Antioch" was the "school of Alexandria".   Although he died in peace with the Church in the year when Nestorius (who may have been his cousin) became Patriarch of Constantinople, he became a figure of controversy after his death, especially as both Pelagians and Nestorians appealed to his writings. 

Here is a dialogue between an Assyrian bishop (descendent from the "school of Antioch) and a Coptic priest (descendent of the school of Alexandria).   Notice that the Copt looks a bit like a Byzantine (Orthodox) priest because the Copts belonged to the Byzantine Empire.  In contrast, the Assyrian looks like a Catholic (Latin) prelate; not because they are closer to us, but because their problem was with Byzantium and thus felt more comfortable in our style of dress.  We live further away.
I shall be using the Introduction to Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's excellent book, "The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian," to show us why the Assyrian Church of the East rejected the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451).  Remember that they were not invited to either council, that the discussions took place in a foreign language, and it was not clear on whose authority they were obligated to accept the outcome: it could have been the authority of the Byzantine Emperor, though Pope Leo would have said that it was the Roman See that gave Christian legitimacy to the council.

Theodore of Mopsuestia had an inadequate vocabulary.  As Metropolitan Hilarion writes:

We need to look at why the Church of the East not accept the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon...The representatives of the antiochene school, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius of Constantinople, suggested the following terminological expression of the unity between the two natures: God the Word "assumed" the man Jesus, the unbegotten Word of God "inhabited" the one who was born from Mary, the Word dwelt in the man as in a "temple", the Word put on human nature as a "garment".  The man Jesus was united to the Word and assumed divine dignity. When asked the question, "Who suffered on the Cross?" they would answer: "The flesh of Christ," "the humanity of Christ", "his human nature", or "the things human".   Thus they drew a sharp line between the divine and human natures of Christ....The alexandrian tradition which, in the person of Cyril of Alexandria, was in conflict with Nestorius, opposed to the antiochene scheme another understanding of the two natures: the Word became human and did not merely 'assume' human nature: the unbegotten Word of God is the same person as Jesus born from Mary; therefore, it was the Word himself who 'suffered in the flesh' (epathen sarki). Thus, there is one Son, one hypostasis, 'one nature of God, the Word incarnate' (mia physis to theou logou sesarkomene).  The latter phrase, which belonged to Apollinaris of Laodicaea, cast suspicion of 'mixture' and 'confusion' of the two natures on Cyril of Alexandria.   Cyril's Christology was confirmed by the Council of Ephesus (431) and rejected by the east-syrian theological tradition, which remained faithful to the Christological terminology of Theodore and Diodore.
The Council of Chalcedon (451) returned to the antiochene strict distinction between the two natures, but tended to avoid the terminology of 'indwelling' of the divinity in the humanity and of 'assumption' of the human nature by the divine nature.
   The chalcedonian definition of faith was meant to bring about a reconciliation between the alexandrian and antiochene parties by accentuating simultaneously the unity of the hypostasis of Christ and the existence of two natures.
Why did the east-syrian tradition not accept the Council of Ephesus?  The answer is concealed not in the personality of Nestorius - he was barely known in Persia even by name until the sixth century - but in the prcedures of the council.  The Church of Persia did not accept the Council mainly because it was conducted by Cyril of Alexandria and his adherents in the absence of John of Antioch who, on arrival at Ephesus, anathematized Cyril.   The Christological position of the Council of Ephesus was purely alexandrian: it took no account of the antiochene position, and it was because of the antiochene (and not nestorian) Christology that was the Christology of the Church of the East. 
 It is more difficult to answer the question of why the Council of Chalcedon was not accepted by the East Syrians.  Its formula ‘one hypostasis in two natures’ should have brought agree ment between the warring factions.  The greek word hypostasis meant a specific person, Jesus Christ, God the Word whereas the word physis referred to the humanity and divinity of Christ.   When translated into Syriac, however, the termininolological distinction could not be expressed  adequately since in the Syriac the word qnoma (used to translate hypostasis) carried the meaning of the individual expression of kyana (nature); thus Syriac writers normally spoke of natures and their gnome.
Consequently, whereas Severus of Antioch thought that one hypostasis implies one nature, diophysite writers claimed that two natures imply two hypostases. 

Hence, the schism and accusations of heresy were based on misunderstanding because the Greek formula of Chacedon could not be translated into Syriac.  What scholars like Metropolitan Hilarion tell us has been found to be true and are reflected in the Joint Agreement between Pope John Paul II and the Church of the East.:

 11 November 1994

His Holiness John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, give thanks to God who has prompted them to this new brotherly meeting.

Both of them consider this meeting as a basic step on the way towards the full communion to be restored between their Churches. They can indeed, from now on, proclaim together before the world their common faith in the mystery of the Incarnation.


As heirs and guardians of the faith received from the Apostles as formulated by our common Fathers in the Nicene Creed, we confess one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity who, in the fullness of time, came down from heaven and became man for our salvation. The Word of God, second Person of the Holy Trinity, became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit in assuming from the holy Virgin Mary a body animated by a rational soul, with which he was indissolubly united from the moment of his conception.

Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with us in all things but sin. His divinity and his humanity are united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation. In him has been preserved the difference of the natures of divinity and humanity, with all their properties, faculties and operations. But far from constituting "one and another", the divinity and humanity are united in the person of the same and unique Son of God and Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of a single adoration.

Christ therefore is not an " ordinary man" whom God adopted in order to reside in him and inspire him, as in the righteous ones and the prophets. But the same God the Word, begotten of his Father before all worlds without beginning according to his divinity, was born of a mother without a father in the last times according to his humanity. The humanity to which the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth always was that of the Son of God himself. That is the reason why the Assyrian Church of the East is praying the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of Christ our God and Saviour". In the light of this same faith the Catholic tradition addresses the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of God" and also as "the Mother of Christ". We both recognize the legitimacy and rightness of these expressions of the same faith and we both respect the preference of each Church in her liturgical life and piety.

This is the unique faith that we profess in the mystery of Christ. The controversies of the past led to anathemas, bearing on persons and on formulas. The Lord's Spirit permits us to understand better today that the divisions brought about in this way were due in large part to misunderstandings.

Whatever our Christological divergences have been, we experience ourselves united today in the confession of the same faith in the Son of God who became man so that we might become children of God by his grace. We wish from now on to witness together to this faith in the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, proclaiming it in appropriate ways to our contemporaries, so that the world may believe in the Gospel of salvation.

The mystery of the Incarnation which we profess in common is not an abstract and isolated truth. It refers to the Son of God sent to save us. The economy of salvation, which has its origin in the mystery of communion of the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit —, is brought to its fulfilment through the sharing in this communion, by grace, within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which is the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Spirit.

Believers become members of this Body through the sacrament of Baptism, through which, by water and the working of the Holy Spirit, they are born again as new creatures. They are confirmed by the seal of the Holy Spirit who bestows the sacrament of Anointing. Their communion with God and among themselves is brought to full realization by the celebration of the unique offering of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This communion is restored for the sinful members of the Church when they are reconciled with God and with one another through the sacrament of Forgiveness. The sacrament of Ordination to the ministerial priesthood in the apostolic succession assures the authenticity of the faith, the sacraments and the communion in each local Church.

Living by this faith and these sacraments, it follows as a consequence that the particular Catholic churches and the particular Assyrian churches can recognize each other as sister Churches. To be full and entire, communion presupposes the unanimity concerning the content of the faith, the sacraments and the constitution of the Church. Since this unanimity for which we aim has not yet been attained, we cannot unfortunately celebrate together the Eucharist which is the sign of the ecclesial communion already fully restored.

Nevertheless, the deep spiritual communion in the faith and the mutual trust already existing between our Churches, entitle us from now on to consider witnessing together to the Gospel message and cooperating in particular pastoral situations, including especially the areas of catechesis and the formation of future priests.


I shall not go into the same detail about the history of the Oriental Orthodox and their theological relationship with Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but will leave that to two videos and the Agreed Statement between Pope Paul VI and the Coptic pope.  Once again, the real difference is one of vocabulary, leading to misunderstanding.   The formula of Chalcedon has been of enormous importance to Tradition and understood by Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but, as a means of reconciliation the Church of the East and the Oriental Orthodox to the Orthodox and Catholic communion, it was a dead loss.

May 10, 1973

Paul VI, bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, give thanks in the Holy Spirit to God that, after the great event of the return of relics of St. Mark to Egypt, relations have further developed between the Churches of Rome and Alexandria so that they have now been able to meet personally together. At the end of their meetings and conversations they wish to state together the following:
We have met in the desire to deepen the relations between our Churches and to find concrete ways to overcome the obstacles in the way of our real cooperation in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:18-20).
In accordance with our apostolic traditions transmitted to our Churches and preserved therein, and in conformity with the early three ecumenical councils, we confess one faith in the One Triune God, the divinity of the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God, the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His substance, who for us was incarnate, assuming for Himself a real body with a rational soul, and who shared with us our humanity but without sin. We confess that our Lord and God and Saviour and King of us all, Jesus Christ, is perfect God with respect to His Divinity, perfect man with respect to His humanity. In Him His divinity is united with His humanity in a real, perfect union without mingling, without commixtion, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation. His divinity did not separate from His humanity for an instant, not for the twinkling of an eye. He who is God eternal and invisible became visible in the flesh, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. In Him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of the humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.
The divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments of Christ in His Church: Baptism, Chrism (Confirmation), Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders.
We venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light, and we confess that she is ever Virgin, the God- bearer. She intercedes for us, and, as the Theotokos, excels in her dignity all angelic hosts.

We have, to a large degree, the same understanding of the Church, founded upon the Apostles, and of the important role of ecumenical and local councils. Our spirituality is well and profoundly expressed in our rituals and in the Liturgy of the Mass which comprises the centre of our public prayer and the culmination of our in corporation into Christ in His Church. We keep the fasts and feasts of our faith. We venerate the relics of the saints and ask the intercession of the angels and of the saints, the living and the departed. These compose a cloud of witnesses in the Church. They and we look in hope for the Second Coming of our Lord when His glory will be revealed to judge the living and the dead.....


This post would be too long if I were to treat this subject, even remotely, how it deserves.  In the agreed statements it is agreed that some of the differences are simply mistakes, others like the filioque are partly due to a difference between the greek word and the latin word, others because two different cultures and historical circumstances led the two churches to put emphasis on different things but did not know enough of the other to know their motivation etc.
Two things can be said in passing:

1) Since Vatican II, and thanks to Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, our differences on the Church are now being discussed within the context of eucharistic ecclesiology: this is the first time that we discuss while using the same paradigm of the Church

2)  It has become recognised by the theologians of both churches that their understanding of the Church requires a primate at a universal level as well as at a regional and local level.   But, since Chieti, (2016), it has been also recognised that the papal petrine primacy was not universally recognised in East and West in the first thousand years.  The implications of both these points are still being worked out.


Thanks to the work of Metropolitan Hilarion, we have seen that what is, perhaps, the longest schism in history was not about differences of faith, but of culture, vocabulary and political borders.   In fact, the two sides had the same faith but different theologies due to their different languages and cultures.  By insisting that the Church in Persia adopt the Chalcedonian definition that didn't make sense in Syriac, the Council, with the best will in the world, helped to divide the Church.  Nevertheless, the Persian Church kept their loyalty to Catholic truth as passed down by their Church from apostolic times and have celebrated the whole Christian mystery intact, in spite of their lack of unity with universal communion, which is not, and never has been, their fault.

The same thing can be said for the Oriental Orthodox churches who are NOT monophysites, but fully Catholic apart from the universal communion.

Looking at all three schisms, the important contribution that the Church's links with civil society towards schism must be  studied.  Is it not true that part of the problem, since Constantine, is that the Church has allowed civil power, based on conquest, to be linked too closely with ecclesial power that should be an expression of God's universal love.   Hence, the Church of Persia was not invited to the Councils because "ecumenical" meant, not universal in a Catholic sense, but in an imperial sense.  One means absolutely universal, even cosmic, while the other is intrinsically limited to the power of an earthly leader.  Confusing the two was a basic error.  Later, those in Egypt who accepted Chalcedon were called "Melkite" or "king's men.   When the Empire collapsed in the West, the Papacy came to look more and more like an imperial court.   After the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Churches divided into fourteen patriarchates that frequently compete like countries, jostling for influence.  How different from the Letter to Diognetus:

The Christians in the world 

"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. 

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.  

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred. 

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments....

Let us bury Constantine together.   Christendom produced many wonders and the life of grace we have inherited has been greatly enriched; but it is now in the past.  Let us embrace each other in love, knowing that in ecclesial love there is the Holy Spirit. Let us, like the Desert Fathers, like St Francis and St Seraphim of Sarov, bear witness to the world by being different.


If in Eucharistic  ecclesiology the source and goal of all the Church's activities and powers, and hence the  embodiement of Tradition,  is the sacred liturgy, and if the liturgy is always the basic activity of the local church, then it follows from the very  nature of the Church that Catholic Tradition takes many forms according to the languege, culture, history and liturgy of each region.   If the most basic relationship of local and regional churches, one to the others, is that of identity like hosts in a cinorium, in that each church is body of Christ, and all of them together in a regional or universal grouping, are  body of Christ, then, for all the differences of language, culture, history and liturgy, there is a fundamental harmony and coherence between the traditions of all churches, though itis possible  for one tradition to see a truth that others do not, especially if it has an importance for its own Christian life because of conditions peculiar to that local or regional church.   As the traditions pf each church are simply versions of a single Catholic Tradition, this truth would normally be discovered by the other churches quite naturally in their shared life with the other churches, without any problem or violence to their own traditions; example: private confession  began by Irish monks in western Europe, spread   throughout the Church without difficulty.

 However, what happens when a regional church is separated from the rest, either through no fault of its own or by mutual misunderstanding.or by fault in the past, without, however, being unfaithful to what has been handed down to them from apostolic times?
Must we always oversimplify the reasons for schism, making out our own church is without blame while the other is full of pride?   Does not that judgement break the Lord's commandment not to judge others?   Why is it that the monks of Mount Athos consider themselves exempt from obeying that commandment.
What is the status of dogmatic definitions and/or teaching in one's own tradition to other traditions where a particular doctrinal development have not taken place?

One thing is certain, that the ecumenical discussions between Catholic and Orthodox theologians on the Papacy are an enormous benefit to the Catholic Church in its post-Vatican II reform because it is learning to put the whole papal question and the problems that arise from it in a wider context.

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive