"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

Monday 23 May 2011

Rome and the Orthodox East | Aidan Nichols, O.P. | The Conclusion to Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism (Ignatius Press, 2010; 2nd edition) | Ignatius Insight


The present study has not been intended simply as an historical excursus—though without historical study there can be no illumination of existing reality. It is also meant as a contribution to the overcoming of the various schisms described—through an eirenic, yet confessionally responsible, adjudication of the chief "separating issues" involved. This is not to say, however, that the author is especially optimistic about the possibility of a positive outcome for the various bilateral negotiations, whether formal or informal, currently taking place. Quite apart from the dogmatic investment of the different churches in their own interpretations of the apostolic deposit and the relative intractability of a number of the questions involved (especially, perhaps, the matter of the status of doctors regarded as heretical by opposing traditions and, at the heart of it all, the Roman claims themselves), the Catholic theologian must face the fact that the present and future of the separated Eastern churches are not and will not be shaped by doctrinal considerations alone. These churches, considered as human communities with a given history, and determinate hopes and anxieties vis-ˆ-vis other communities whose living space they share, will be obliged to give due weight to nontheological factors relevant to their survival and flourishing.

It is obvious that the operation of these nontheological factors—which are basically political, whether in a broad or a narrow sense of that word—will vary from country to country, from church to church. [1] The Copts of Egypt, for instance, an exposed island buffeted by the winds of an Arab ocean, may be expected to welcome sympathy and solidarity from the Christian West, although working against this will be the corporate mystique of the Coptic church as the "true" Egyptian nation and the guardian of Athanasian and Cyrilline orthodoxy when all the world was Arian (or semi-Arian) and "Nestorian" (or Chalcedonian). In India, by contrast, the Syrian Orthodox, self-governing (with the exception of the small minority still dependent on the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch) and proudly aware both of their Palestinian origins and centuries of Indian domicile, will not find it notably politic to create links with a Rome associated in the minds of Indian nationalists, whether secularising or Hindu, with the territorial aggression of the Portuguese or the spiritual "aggression" of the later European missionaries.

The issue of nationalism—the greatest political conundrum of the twentieth century—is also highly relevant to the position of the Chalcedonian Orthodox. [2] If the Byzantine church came to function as a church of the Hellenes, it nevertheless retained some sense of "PanOrthodoxy" thanks to the intricate relations that bound the East Roman basileus to other Orthodox princes and peoples in what Dimitri Obolensky called the "Byzantine commonwealth". [3] But the particularist lesson of Byzantine Hellenism was only too well learned by the Orthodox nations in the course of time. An emerging state apparatus naturally wishes to utilise, and dominate, the religious organs of its territory—a phenomenon as well known in the Catholic West as in the Orthodox East. But the existence of a supranational common centre in the see of Rome, endowed with a primacy not merely decorative but functional, has prevented the crystallisation in the West of truly national churches that operate as the religious arm of their ethnos, with scant regard to the needs, desires, or values of a wider communion. The failure of the ecumenical patriarchate to maintain at any rate an effective analogy with the church of Rome in this regard has—to the eye of the outside observer—cost Orthodoxy dearly.

Although at the present time there are signs that the see of Constantinople may try to regain a Pan-Orthodox significance largely obscured in modern times, it may be doubted whether it will find the resources to overcome the tendency of many of its sister churches to become vehicles for cultural and political nationalism. For the factors that led to the partial eclipse of the ecumenical throne of New Rome are still potent today. The Ottoman Empire, it is true, lies beyond any conceivable possibility of historical reconstruction. But the Turkish state, though still committed to a secular ideology, takes as its long-term policy goal the achievement of an ethnically homogenous Turkey of the Turks, while recent governments have shown themselves not averse to significant concessions to a newly renascent Islam. In these circumstances, the partriarchate's freedom of initiative is obviously limited. Again, whereas the attempt of the Russian church to unite all Orthodox under its own aegis largely collapsed with the tsardom, that church remained, and remains, a formidable competitor to Constantinople. Used by the Soviet state for its own foreign policy ends, [4] it is in the process of becoming the (officially or unofficially) established church of the Russian Federation, post-Communist and thirsty for the slaking of historical memories, passions, and dreams. Since the Russian church will, on any reckoning, remain numerically the single most important Orthodox community, it is clearly possible that it may regain something of the position of dominance that it achieved through the Romanov dynasty before the Great War of 1914-1918. Once again, the spectre of ecclesiastical nationalism rears its head. The third factor that maintains the wings of the ecumenical patriarchate in a state of clippedness derives from the circumstance that the emancipation of the Orthodox Church in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire coincided with the arrival in those territories of the ideological packhorse of nineteenth-century nationalism. The new patriarchates of Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as the autocephalous churches that orbit as planets these minor stars, are too firmly wedded to the national idea to be divorced therefrom at Constantinople's say-so—as the ineffective late nineteenth-century condemnation of "Filetism" by the Phanar demonstrates. [5] Finally, owing to a mixture of insouciance towards temporary schism and an attitude of "pick and choose" towards the canons, both aided and abetted by the lack of a clearly recognised and effectively functioning universal primacy, there is, in much Orthodox church life, a wilfulness that lends itself only too easily to the free play of corporate egoisms.

Rome must reckon, then, with the probable continuance and even accentuation, within Orthodoxy, of a vigorous ecclesiastical nationalism, and, from her viewpoint, little seems more depressing. If the movement in the church of Greece known as "Neo-Orthodoxy" (essentially an Orthodox nationalism of Christian Hellenism, opposed not only to the Latin West but also to the non-Greek churches of the Orthodox world) plays a major part in the continuing resistance of many Greek Orthodox to the ecumenical movement, the hostility of the Moscow patriarchate to the Ukrainian church [6] and that of the Romanian patriarchate to the Uniates of Transylvania is no less founded on the national church idea. [7] If the ploys of the Moscow patriarchate and the harshness of its hierarchs have earned well-merited strictures from such an admirer of Orthodoxy as the Anglican Russianist Michael Bordeaux, [8] it is at least encouraging to find that among the Greek monastic clergy there are stern critics of the gains made in recent times by religious nationalism. [9] Until those attitudes are purified and replaced by an internationalism, a catholicity, better befitting the pattern of the Christian koin™nia, there can be no place within Orthodoxy for a Roman see embodying the universal pastorate of Peter and the apostolate to the Gentiles of Paul.

Rome looks at this important aspect of contemporary Orthodoxy with such dismay because she not only desires but needs reunion with the Orthodox East. In the face of her own numerous theological liberals and the innovationist tendencies of churchmen (and churchwomen) in various portions of her far-flung "Western" patriarchate, from Santiago de Chile to Manila, from Melbourne to Detroit, Catholicism's grasp of the historic Christian tradition can only be strengthened by the accession of Orthodoxy to communion with Rome. In such matters as the upholding of the transcendentality of revelation vis-ˆ-vis human understanding; the defence of the Trinitarian and Christological doctrine of the first seven councils; a perception of the nature of salvation as more than temporal alone; the maintenance of a classical liturgical life; the nourishment of group and personal devotion to Mary and the saints; the preservation of the threefold apostolic ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons (in that same gender in which the incarnate Word exercised his own high priesthood); the encouragement of the consecrated life, especially in its most basic form, monasticism; and the preservation of the ascetic dimension in spirituality, in all of these the present struggle of the papacy to uphold Catholic faith and practice in a worldwide communion exposed to a variety of intellectual and cultural influences often baleful, if sometimes also beneficent, can only benefit from Orthodox aid. The energies of authentic Catholicism can only be increased by the inflow of Orthodox faith and holiness: the precious liquid contained within the not seldom unattractive phial of Orthodoxy's canonical form. Can this greatest of all ecclesiastical reunions be brought off? The auguries are not good, yet the Christian lives from hope in the unseen.


[1] For a brief overview. see S. Runciman, The Orthodox Churches and the Secular State (Auckland, 1971). There are useful essays in P. Ramet, ed., Eastem Christianity and Politics in the Twentieth Century (Durham, N .C., 1988); see also the same editor's Catholicism and Politics in Communist Societies (Durham, N.C., 1990), and, as author, Nihil Obstat: Religion, Politics and Social Change in East-Central Europe and Russia (Durham, N.C., 1998).

[2] L. Duchesne, Autonomies ecclésiastiques: Eglises séparées, 3rd ed. (Paris, 1904); F. Dvornik, National Churches and the Church Universal (Westminster, 1944) .

[3] D. Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500-1453 (London, 1971) .

[4] For the period from the end of the Second World War to 1970, see W C. Fletcher, Religion and Soviet Foreign Policy (London, 1975).

[5] For this 1872 Orthodox synod of Constantinople, see Mansi, 45:417-546; also M. Zyzykine, "L'Eglise orthodoxe et la nation", Irén . 13 (1936): 265-77.

[6] M. Tataryn. "Russian Orthodox Attitudes towards the Ukrainian Catholic Church", Religion in Communist Lands 17, no. 4 (Winter 1989): 313-31.

[7] See, for instance, I. Ratiu, "The Uniates in Romania", Tablet, 27 February 1982, pp. 198-99.

[8] M. Bordeaux, Gorbachev, Glasnost and the Gospel (London, 1990), pp. 167-70, 181- 87.

[9] Father Maximos [Lavriotis], Human Rights on Mount Athos: An Appeal to the Civilized World (Welshpool, 1990), pp. 8-9. For the background, see K. Ware. "Catholicity and Nationalism. A Recent Debate in Athens", ECR IO (1978) : 10-16. Dr. Richard Clogg, of the School of Eastern European and Slavonic Studies, London, in the course of reviewing C. Frazee, The Orthodox Church and Independent Greece, 1821-1852 (London, 1969), in the same journal, calle

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