"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

Thursday, 7 June 2018


Like so much Orthodox writing, there is nothing more profoundly true, more beautiful, more necessary for balancing East and West and as a corrective to popular misconception, more enlightening but also  more frustrating.

Before we go further, please read the article here.  It is well worth reading and may advance your appreciation of the Church as communion in the Christian Mystery.  As a Catholic, I found myself agreeing with every line as I was led, sentence by sentence, into the very centre of what it means to belong to the Church.  And then came the frustrating bit: "It [the Church] can have no birthday."  

This rules out any context in which it would be legitimate and true to call Pentecost the "birthday of  the Church", even though it is often spoken about in this way.

I have found that there is a frustrating tendency among Orthodox that, in their anxiety to distinguish Orthodoxy from heterodoxy, they are too ready to distinguish and contrast their particular "doxy" from everybody else's, as though they have forgotten the inadequacy of human language and the apophatic nature of theology in relation to the Christian Mystery that should lead to caution and make us slow to rule out what does not fit in with our own vocabulary.

Apophatic Theology by Andrew Louth (19 mins)

Another example of this enthusiasm for unjustifiably discovering error in differences was the great Russian theologian Nicolas Afanassieff.   No one had dug so deeply into the Catholic truth on the nature of the Church as he did.  His "eucharistic ecclesiology" was accepted by theologians across the division  and became common ground in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. It was adopted by Vatican II and by subsequent popes and has always been a central pillar in the theology of Pope Benedict XVI  Thus, for the first time in centuries, we have our Catholic-Orthodox discussions based on a common theological principle: where the eucharistic community is there is the Catholic Church and thus all the Church's powers have their source in its liturgical life where the Holy Spirit and the Church work in synergy.   This view of the Church hasn't automatically abolished our differences, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Afannassiev contrasts the understanding of the Church in the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch with those of St Cyprian of Carthage.   In the first, the Catholic Church is identified with the local church under its bishop.  It is the body of Christ because its members eat the same bread and drink of the same cup.  As "body", the local church is not part of the Church but the whole.  Just as in a ciborium of consecrated hosts each host is Christ and all together are the same Christ, so each local church is Christ and all together are the same Christ.  True Christian unity is nothing less than the unity of identity.   There is only one episcopal throne  in which the same Christ presides as head of his body in each local church and; as there is no authority higher than Christ, there is no higher authority than the local bishop.  

According to Afannassiev, St Cyprian of Carthage has a very different vision of the Catholic Church.   If for St Ignatius the word "catholic" meant "fullness" in the sense that the fullness and wholeness of truth  and revelation is present in every local church and is thus fully "catholic"  for this reason, for St Cyprian, "catholic" meant "universal", "worldwide", and each Catholic local church is part of the universal whole, the worldwide Catholic Church and is fully Catholic only in so far as it is part.  

How is the  Church one throughout the world if it is divided into a multitude of local churches?   St Cyprian applied St Paul's teaching on the make-up of the local church to solve the problem of the worldwide Church: ecclesia per totum mundum in multa membra divisa (the worldwide Church is divided into many members.    The Church is one because there is one God alone, one Christ, one Church, one Throne of Peter whom the word of God has made its foundation stone.  Every bishop is a successor of St Peter only in so far as he is part of the episcopate.  There is discussion on to what extent the Bishop of Rome where St Peter was buried had any role in the concord between bishops that St Cyprian considered so important.

Thus Afannassieff contrasted two ecclesiologies, one, eucharistic ecclesiology which is based on St Paul's  teaching to the local church of Corinth and found in the letters of St Ignatius; the other based on more empirical concerns, modelled, he says, on the Roman Empire.  The first is sacramental, and the second must inevitably be seen to be legalistic.   The first is basically Orthodox, even though in practice, it often uses the universalist approach; while the second is expressed in the papal dogmas of Vatican I, even if the first can be found in Catholic theological circles when dealing with the liturgy and other subjects.

Those who think and act according to the eucharistic model place ecclesial charity as the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit and as the force behind doctrinal agreement and Christian unity: Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.   Those who think and act according to the universalist model place Canon Law at the very centre and only recognise ecclesial charity as it is active within the boundaries set by law.   Hence, Catholics divide the Christian world into two parts, Catholic and non-Catholic, according to whether they accept papal jurisdiction or not.   There are Orthodox who only accept the validity of sacraments celebrated within the context of "canonical communion".   They re-baptise anyone who was baptised within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev patriarchate) because their patriarchate is not recognised by the other patriarchates.   Canonicity is supreme!

For those who think according to the eucharistic model, ecclesial authority is principally an authority of witness as St Irenaeus interpreted the authority of the Roman Church. Other churches, looking at their own faith which is the product of Tradition that springs from their own liturgical life, recognise the principal church as a shining example of what they themselves believe in, so that they are enlightened when they are in doubt, receive help when they are in need, and are guided when they do not know the way forward.   This principle church helps the other churches to be themselves, to be true to Tradition which is fundamentally the same in each identical church.  Their obedience to this central see is an exercise in ecclesial love.   Obedience to a central see is not only a recognition of Christ in that see, but is evidence of the presence of Christ in their own church because he was "Obedient unto death." In Christian life, humble obedience is a mark of authenticity.

In fact, both Catholic and Orthodox theologians  have questioned Afannassiev's thesis that St Ignatius and St Cyprian were in disagreement:
a) St Cyprian's statement that the church is in the bishop and the bishop in the Church is very much like St Ignatius
b)  Nowhere does Afannassiev offer proof that the two disagreed: it is simply taken for granted by him
c)   The Church of East and West revere both saints and look at the Church, local and worldwide, as Catholic both in its local and worldwide dimensions and use the word "Catholic Church" as being proper to both.

It is sometimes a weakness of Orthodox argument that an Orthodox ideal, in all its simplicity and depth, is set in contrast against a theory based on empirical evidence that remains besmirched by human sinfulness.  The empirical evidence is ignored, condemned or forgotten as irrelevant or even heterodox.  It is forgotten that the two arguments do not oppose each other because the problem  is being looked at from two different angles or is being solved in two different  dimensions.    

In a religion of the Incarnation, a problem cannot be wholly solved if the empirical dimension in which it is embedded is ignored.   A local church is the whole church in so far as it is a complete expression of the Christian Mystery as celebrated in the liturgy: Christ is completely present within it.  It is also a part of the Church in so far as it is a local or regional community that has to manifest universal salvation in Christ together to the world with all who are in Christ throughout the world.  The universal Catholic Church is such that each part contains and manifests the whole, and the whole is nothing less than heaven and the cosmos together participating in the life of the Trinity in and through Christ. 

Death, Resurrection and Afterlife
N. T. Wright (32+ mins)

Let us now look at the thesis of Father Stephen Freeman who, I believe, falls into the same error as Father Afannassiev.   His positive contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the Church is excellent, but he does not do enough justice to the Incarnation because he seems to forget the Church in the world, as it has been embedded in history, as it lives its life in this world, as it looks forward to the Second Coming, also deserves theological treatment as an embedded reality.  How would his understanding be seen by St Maria Skobtsova? 

Mother Maria Skobtsova
The New Life/ New Creation in action

As Father Stephen truly says, being Church is to share in  the divine life, and this means sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity.   " The three persons of the Holy Trinity constitute the eternal Church."  We all know that God is eternal and that eternal life is sharing in the life of God.   We also know that the Holy Trinity  has no birthday.

However, the second person of the Holy Trinity has!   We celebrate the Annunciation when God became man in the womb of the Virgin so that we can share the tri-une divine life, "become God".  Thus, the Holy Spirit worked in synergy with the humble obedience of the Virgin Mary, and Jesus was born.  There is nothing wrong to say that the Church was born when God became man, because, without the Incarnation, the Holy Trinity would never have constituted the eternal Church.  

However, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles is the traditional birthday of the Church.   The Holy Spirit and the Christian community working in synergy brings about the Church.  Without the Holy Spirit there would be no baptism, no Eucharist, no Church; so it could be said that Pentecost brought about the Church.

As Father Stephen tells us, eternal life is not merely the restoration or renewal of this world: it is a new reality.

   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)
This “new” does not mean “getting a fresh start.” It means something that did not exist before. It is not a repair of the old, but the creation of a new – and this new is “according to the image of Him who created him.        

Notice St Paul's present tense.  All things are new now and we are a new creation.  Jesus is Lord  of the world by means of his death and resurrection.

  What was new in Paris during the Nazi occupation?   Well, Mother Maria Skobtsova was new.   The divine Love of the holy Trinity in which she shared, that completely eternal, completely new love of God that she poured out to the people, that became embedded in their history, that is new.  There were many more who suffered and died under Hitler or under Stalin.  It wasn't that they were heroes, heroism is as old as humanity, but that the love that they were imparting was that of God himself.

Let us explore as deeply as possible our faith, but never let us go so deeply below the surface that we ignore what is going on in plain light of day

June 8th: Feast of the Sacred Heart

I know that many will look on the title of this article and will exclaim, "How preposterous!"   It is well known that this is a purely western devotion: it oozes Roman Catholicism!   How can a devotion so western, so post-schism, be where East and West meet?   I am not suggesting that, one day, some time in the future, this devotion may become a meeting place.   Nor am I saying that, for it to to become an expression of unity, the Orthodox have to adopt the devotion.   I am saying that East and West unite in this devotion, without either side having to do anything: it manifests a unity that already exists.   It is a unity at a very profound level; though, unfortunately, its discovery is not enough to provide answers to all our differences, nor does it herald an   immediate union between East and West.
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