"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

Sunday, 26 November 2017


When I was first introduced to Orthodoxy in Paris towards the end of Vatican II, I began to read Orthodox theology, especially Orthodox ecclesiology; and I was struck by the contrast between the theologians' exposition of Orthodox theology and spirituality, which was absolutely wonderful, and the rather silly objections they made against Catholicism.   Vladimir Lossky was a case in point.  I took my enquiry to my mentor in Orthodoxy, Father - later Archimandrite - Barnabas.  "Why," I asked, "is his theology so deep, wonderful and inspiring, while his comparisons with Catholicism are so superficial and unfair?"   "Well, Father David," Fr Barnabas replied, "He had to write periodic attacks against Catholicism; otherwise, Orthodox in Orthodox countries would not read him!  He is already under suspicion of being under the influence of Rome because he lives in a Catholic country, and he must demonstrate to Orthodox that this is not the case."   Even now, many people who wish to express their loyalty and preference for Orthodoxy feel they need to show how inferior the Catholic Church is.  The article referred to below is a good example of this.

I am not going to answer all the points made by the author because that would require a book, but I shall content myself with a couple of points, just to illustrate what I mean.   I shall begin by giving my own theological position.

Eucharistic Ecclesiology

When Pope Francis participated in the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Armenia, although, of course, he did not communicate at that Mass, he said afterwards,“We [Catholics and Armenians] have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one,” .   If we have the same heart, then we are also members of the same body.   

The Eucharist is the source of Christian unity and those who participate in the same Eucharist across the world are united to each other, whether we want to be or not because the source of our unity is our participation in the resurrected body of Christ, a unity made in heaven at Christ's ascension, a unity made by grace, not by our own works, nor by our own attitudes and behaviour.   It is up to us to live this unity in humble obedience, and it is the function of the ecumenical movement to help us solve the discrepancy between our inner reality as Church and our outward behaviour.  

Canonical communion arises from our common recognition that we are one through the Eucharist.   Rome presided in love before there was ever a system of law to make sense of the phrase "primacy of jurisdiction", and the patriarchates were bound together by ecclesial love before there were any canons to make sense of the phrase "canonical communion".  Where ecclesial love is present, mutual understanding and obedience are spontaneous: where it is absent, they become problematic and even impossible.  And we become imbued with ecclesial love through the coming down of the Holy Spirit on the bread and wine and upon our selves (epiclesis) in the Eucharist. 

This is not a version of the Anglican Branch theory which was used to justify the Anglican Communion in its separation.  Nor does it justify a group of autocephalous churches quarrelling among themselves like nation states, as is advocated in certain Orthodox circles.  Nor does it favour a supreme pontiff with the whole universal church subject to his will, as advocated in certain Catholic circles.  The Holy Spirit is active in the local church, in the regions throughout the world and in the universal Church. And the universal Church must recognise and serve what the Holy Spirit is doing in the regions and in local churches, and the regional churches must recognise and serve what the Holy Spirit is doing in the local churches and in the universal Church, and the local churches must recognise and serve what the Holy Spirit is doing in the universal Church as well as in their own regions.  As Pope Francis has said, in the Church, all authority is service and the only power is that of the Cross.   Everything else to the contrary bears witness to how the Church has failed to bear witness to the Gospel.

It follows that, if both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches share the same beating heart which is the Eucharist, they belong to the same body; and if Catholics wish to demonstrate that the Orthodox do not belong to the same body, or if Orthodox wish to demonstrate that Catholics do not belong to the same body, then they can only do so by being unfair and inaccurate to the other.  This is the problem with the article commented on below.

For myself, I love both Catholicism and Orthodoxy and am sure that my love for the one in no way diminishes or even challenges my love for the other.  My commitment to Catholicism does not weaken my respect for Orthodoxy, and my growth in understanding of Orthodoxy helps me in my appreciation and understanding of my own Catholicism.

10 reasons why I no longer pray the Roman Catholic Rosary
Over time, however, I discovered the reasons above in support of the Rosary were not entirely honest.  It is true the Orthodox Western-rite and St Seraphim of Sarov prayed a form of the Rosary, but they do not dwell on the aspects troublesome to Orthodoxy (I’ll go into this later).
Also the closest the Russian Old Believers get to a “Theotokos Lestovka” is the repetition of the prayer “Most holy Theotokos, save us by the power of your Son” or “Rejoice! O Virgin Theotokos! Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls!”, being closer in form and usage to the Jesus prayer than to the Roman Catholic Rosary .

 Over time, however, I discovered the reasons above in support of the Rosary were not entirely honest.  

Typical of such attacks is an accusation of dishonesty without any evidence whatsoever. The author could have said "mistaken", but chose to use "dishonest".  This charge is certainly not supported by the rest of the paragraph.

 The author says that the prayer “Rejoice! O Virgin Theotokos! Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls!” is closer to the Orthodox 'Jesus Prayer' than to the Catholic 'Hail Mary'.  Is it?

The main characteristic of the 'Jesus Prayer' is the constant repetition of the name 'Jesus'.   Where is Jesus' name in the Russian prayer?   I usually pray the 'Jesus prayer', using my chotki but sometimes pray the Catholic rosary.   I wouldn't dream of using the Old Believers' version of the Hail Mary though I have nothing against it because it lacks the all-important name which I am accustomed to invoke in the Jesus Prayer.

The Use of the Imagination

Imagination contemplation is absolutely essential to the Rosary experience. Quotes such as these can easily be multiplied using the writings of prominent Roman Catholic Saints such as Luis De Montfort and Alphonsus Liguouri and reflect the authentic Roman Catholic Tradition.
If the use of the imagination "is absolutely essential to the Rosary experience", then a large number of habitual praying Catholics would be unable to pray the rosary.  Some find they are unable to use the imagination in prayer from the beginning, while others normally leave the imagination behind as they progress in prayer.  It is a matter of trial and error and, perhaps, dialogue with one's confessor or another, but it is quite normal to stop using the imagination.   The normal rule is, Pray as you can and not as you can't.  I repeat, that it is simply untrue to say that imagination is " absolutely essential to the Rosary experience."  Imagination is used at an early stage of prayer, as is much emotion which is good to get you started but won't sustain you.  I refer the reader to the experience of St Therese of Lisieux and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

While the use of imagination may feel spiritual and uplifting, it is placed in its proper light when we consider the possible sources of imagination – Imagination can come from (1)God, (2) Our own minds or (3) Satan.

If the source is God, then surely it is good, however, if it is our own minds or even Satan it can definitely lead to deception and heresy, resulting in the loss of the soul. It is very important to discern the source of the imagination in order to avoid deception.

St Ignatii Bryanchaninov explains that personal sanctity and spiritual maturity is absolutely essential to discern the source of the imagination (ie what he describes as putting off the old Adam and putting on the New)

 If the source is God, then surely it is good:  Clearly, not all use of the imagination is bad.  In certain circumstances, it can be good.  There may well be variation according to different contexts; therefore, it is imprudent to quote an expert like St Ignatius Bryanchaninov from one context and apply his wisdom willy-nilly in another.

If people are meditating on stories of the New Testament or truths of the faith and are doing so humbly according to the mind of the Church, there is no evidence whatsoever that they will be subject to diabolical attack.  They all have a perfectly competent guardian angel and, in a practising Catholic, they have Christ in their heart.  What do they have to fear?  Also, they are likely to be led, little by little, into a prayer beyond words and images.  It is Catholic experience that many use the rosary as a way into contemplation.

Funnily enough, today, after having read this article again in order to answer it, a member of the faithful came to me for spiritual advice - this is an occupational hazard in a monastery - and she gave me her problem which led me to give her a reply identical to that of St Ignatius Bryanchaninov, and I thanked God for this article which had refreshed my memory.

She had received several illuminations in prayer, perfectly orthodox in themselves, but which involved our Blessed Lord and Our Lady speaking to her, and she saw various images.  She did not know where these words or images came from.

I told her that I didn't know where they came from either.   Then I referred to the teaching, not of St Ignatius Bryanchaninov, but of our own St John of the Cross.  I told her to reject all such images and words because she could be being led into a religious fantasy land.   The words that Christ and Our Lady addressed to her were true, that she and her family are loved by God, but she doesn't need the images and words to know that.  The important thing is to keep our feet on the ground because that is the way of humility, to do God's will at every moment in our ordinary hum-drum life, and to pray constantly little prayers while rejecting images like the ones she had described to me because they can be a dangerous trap.

The advice of St Ignatius Byanchaninov and St John of the Cross, indeed of the whole of Tradition refers, not to the kind of imagining that takes place while saying the rosary, but to images that present themselves in prayer whose origin we do not know.

Having answered some objections in some detail, I shall now hump to Eucharistic Adoration and leave the other subjects to another opportunity.  Here is what the article says:

So what does Eucharistic adoration tell us? It tells us we should worship Christ in separation from Him. But Christ Himself said the opposite “take eat this is my body” – we must consume the body of Christ, to become the body of Christ, to proclaim the body of Christ to the world. If we truly become the “body of Christ” then we should not see Christ sacramentally outside of ourselves. We should be worshiping Christ, not in separation from Him, but in full union with Him. Eucharistic adoration pretends to be a noble practice, but practically teaches a denial of the doctrine of theosis.
Again, it is ignorant prejudice posing as a theological objection; but, I am sure that Orthodox have to face the same thing from us, and looking at Catholicism from the outside must lead people to reach untrue conclusions if they don't know what is going on in our minds.  I shall begin with a quotation from St Patrick of Ireland:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise...

"Eucharistic adoration pretends to be a noble practice, but practically teaches a denial of the doctrine of theosis" would only be true if "Christ within me" and "Christ before me" were mutually exclusive alternatives.   Are they in the Orthodox tradition?   I don't think so.  When my Orthodox friends write to me, they begin with "Christ is in our midst!!" which is another place where Christ is. "Christ has ascended into heaven!!" puts him somewhere else; and Orthodox, along with Catholics, believe he is truly present in the consecrated species.   To deny this and say that he is only present within those who receive communion is a Protestant position.  I certainly believe in theosis in the way the Orthodox do, but I find adoration of the Blessed Sacrament a wonderful devotion and an excellent means of evangelisation.

Here are a few anecdotes to illustrate the western Catholic experience of the Blessed Sacrament.

There was a young army officer who went through the worst battles of the first world war and was only wounded towards the end of the war, returning to hospital in England.   As he was getting better, he went for a walk in the streets and saw a Catholic church.  Although he was Irish, he belonged to the Protestant ruling class who were still in place and knew absolutely nothing about Catholicism and had never entered a Catholic church.  Solely out of curiosity - for him, he had only heard bad things about popery which was the religion of servants - he decided to enter and look round.   As he entered, Christ ambushed him from the tabernacle.  He was almost bowled over by the sense of Christ's presence.   There was a priest kneeling before the altar, and he asked him what the explanation was.   The priest pointed to the tabernacle and explained to him the Catholic belief in the "real presence".  This experience brought him into the Catholic Church where he became a monk and a priest.

I knew him as a crotchety old devil who spent much time limping up and down the cloister saying the rosary.  However, over Christmas, when the monks let their hair down, you could see him, once in the holiday, sitting at the piano playing honky-tonk, a cigarette hanging loosely from the side of his mouth like Humphrey Bogart and a pint of beer on the top of the piano.  It was easy to imagine the young army officer in the
mess back in World War I on similar occasions.  The next day, he would resume walking with his rosary.

People being converted through sensing Christ's presence coming out of the tabernacle, even when they did not know Catholic teaching, has been quite common.   I have met several, and my own father had more than one reason for becoming a Catholic, but the thing that clinched it was the sense of Christ's presence in Catholic churches associated with the tabernacle.

I am not saying that Orthodox are wrong for their lack of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament outside the celebration of the Liturgy.  They have their tradition of Grace and we have ours.  To judge them would be to usurp God's place and even to judge God's work  We Catholics have our tradition of Grace which is mostly the same but which differs in some things.  The spirit of division which schism has unleashed in all our churches wishes to turn diversity into enmity; and, if we give into him, we are doing the devil's work.

This has been so much the case that the exposed Blessed Sacrament has been integrated into the New Evangelisation as a tool of conversion.  In the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, "Night Fever" was born.  A group of young people took over a city church on one night.   After Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar in a darkened church.  There is a music ministry, but there is more silence than music.  There are priests for confessions and counsellors for those who want them.  Then there are young people in the street who stop people who are passing by and asking them to enter the church with a lit candle and to leave in the sanctuary in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Catholics, Protestants, nonbelievers, everybody, are invited.   Many pass by, but some go in, and some stay a long time.

Now it is happening all over the world.  Others use different means.  One parish in Lima has a chapel with exposition that can be seen from the street.  Sometimes the "flash mob" method is used in shopping centres.  The great thing about the Blessed Sacrament exposed or in tabernacle is that anybody can approach, saint or sinner, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or nothing: all can approach the Lord.
God does not treat all people the same and the Church is a unity in diversity, but we do not allow other people to be different from ourselves. If they are, we accuse them of all kinds of terrible things, things we cannot possibly prove, things we cannot possibly know.  And God loves us all.
The Beauty of Catholicism - Bishop Robert Barron
The video does not include the Orthodox and Armenians, which would be the logical result of Pope Benedict XVI's "Where the Eucharist is,  there is the Church," and Pope Francis' remark after the Armenian Divine Liturgy about the Mass being the "beating heart" of the Church.  No one is ready for that yet, but we are getting there.

The real difference between the likes of Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis is not that Cardinal Burke is conservative and Pope Francis liberal: both are traditionalists; they cannot help it, they are Catholics.  But when he speaks of Tradition, he means the tradition of the Roman church, the constant teaching of the Vatican.  Pope Francis is a Vatican II man, and Vatican II reached out to the traditions of all the apostolic churches, and this is reflected in the "new" Eucharistic prayers of the Missa Normativa.  It follows from the adage "lex orandi, lex credendi" that when Pope Francis speaks of  Tradition he means the whole of it, both in East and West where things are not so cut and dried.

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