"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 26 January 2012


On Sunday within the Octave of Christian Unity, we remembered the Orthodox martyr for peace Alexander Scheroll who will be canonized on February 7th.   He was a founder member of a small group called the "White Rose" that wrote and published pamphlets against Adolph Hitler and Fascism during World War II.   It was the only group to explicitly condemn the Holocaust.   He was Orthodox, but his step-mother, brothers and sisters were Catholic. 

  The "White Rose" was not a religious group, but their Christian faith was a strong factor in binding them together and in motivating them.   Alexander was Orthodox; Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie were Lutheran, and there were Catholic members of the group.   It is probable that none had heard of ecumenism; and it certainly was not one of their aims; but they were a group of Catholics, Orthodox and Lutherans who supported one another on their way to heroic sanctity, each being an intimate part of the Christian vocation of all the others; and, as a group, they have borne witness to Christ's presence in Nazi Germany down to the present day.   They also bear witness to the reality of Christian living in the modern era, where , at the level of ordinary, everyday life, Grace flows across ecclesiastical barriers, and people of different churches and denominations experience their unity in Christ, even when they are scarcely aware of it.   This forms the context for the modern ecumenical movement in which theologians and hierarchs are trying to catch up with different degrees of success.

This is true in countries like the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Belarus and Roumania,  where Catholic and Orthodox populations mingle and rub shoulders. 

  In the Ukraine, when Greek Catholics were moved in cattle trucks from their homes in Western Ukraine to gulags in different parts of Russia, often with the support of Russian Orthodox authorities, they found ordinary Orthodox believers suffering for their faith in the same gulags.   Friendships were formed, and, incidentally, Greek Catholicism established itself in places it had never been before - something not foreseen by the Orthodox authorities who collaborated in their exile.   When Stalin's Russia murdered six million Ukrainian peasants, men, women and children, by starving them to death on purpose,   Orthodox and Catholics died together.   Common suffering forged strong bonds which exist to the present day.   Communicatio in sacris is common; Orthodox and Catholic priests help each other out; Orthodox bishops make their retreats in Catholic monasteries; and Orthodox students go to to Greek Catholic university.  There is much more friendliness than is apparent in statements from Moscow; but it is linked with Ukrainian nationalism for which the Moscow Patriarchate has no sympathy.

That strong links were forged between neighbours during the Communist era is also true in other countries.   When two Belmont monks visited Minsk in Belarus, people, Catholic and Orthodox were daily demonstrating for the return to worship of a church that had been confiscated by  the Communists.   The monks discovered that the people did not care very much whether it was returned to the Catholics who originally owned it, or the Orthodox who are in the majority.  Their concern was that it should be returned to its original use.   Eastern Christians cannot accept that a church dedicated to the celebration of Mass should then be put to secular use: better to dynamite it or let it fall into ruin than to de-sacralize what has been made sacred.   These bonds of Christian friendship, together with the fact that the barriers between Catholicism and Orthodoxy have never been water-tight, in spite of efforts by some on both sides to make them so, form part of the context in which efforts towards reunion are taking place.

Nevertheless, there is a marked difference of tone between the talks by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware with his report on Catholic-Orthodox talks in CHRISTIAN UNITY I, and the following passage from Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.  If I wanted to be petty, I could simply put the difference down to the fact that the prime Orthodox mover in the talks is Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, while Archbishop Hilarion represents the Patriarch of Moscow.   Constantinople and Moscow are not the best of friends.   However, to dismiss the source of the cold water poured on the talks as mere Russian ambition and feelings of rivalry is to underestimate Patriarch Kiril of Moscow and Archbishop Hilarion who are not anti-Catholic or anti-ecumenical and are keen on closer relations with Rome.   Before we go on, please read this Russian statement.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the head of the MP Department for External Church Relations, refuted media rumours that an alleged breakthrough in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue occurred at the meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue in Vienna last week. In the words of a statement released by Vladyki Hilarion, “Contrary to press reports, there was no ‘breakthrough’. All our time was devoted to a discussion of the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium. On this subject, the Coordinating Committee of the Commission had previously produced a document that we discussed last year in Cyprus. A rough version of this document was ‘leaked’ to the media, which published it”. According to a piece posted on the official MP website, the participants thought that they could finish discussion on this document at the Vienna meeting. Metropolitan Hilarion’s statement went on to say, “However, nothing happened. It took us much time to discuss the status of the text. From the very beginning, the Orthodox members at the meeting insisted that the Commission could not formally issue the ‘Cretan’ document (revised later in Cyprus), nor could its members sign it. From our point of view, this document requires considerable revision, but even after such review, it would still only have the status of a ‘working document’, that is, merely auxiliary material (instrumentum laboris), which can be used in the preparation of following documents, but in itself, it wouldn’t have any official status”.
Metropolitan Hilarion noted that the document prepared in Crete was “strictly historical in nature”, and, in reference to the role of the Bishop of Rome, has almost no mention of the bishops of other Local Churches of the first millennium, which creates a misconception about the distribution of power in the ancient Church. In addition, he added, the document didn’t clearly and precisely state that the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium didn’t extend to the East. Metropolitan Hilarion hoped that the finalised text would remedy these lacunae. He went on to say that, after a lengthy discussion, the Commission decided that it should rework this document, and that the next plenary meeting of the Commission, which is due in two years time, shall make a final decision on its status. By that time, another new draft document will be under consideration, covering the same material, but only from a theological point of view.
Vladyki Hilarion said, “For the Orthodox parties, it’s obvious that, in the first millennium, the jurisdiction of the Roman bishop resided solely in the West, whereas the East was divided between the four Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. In any case, the bishop of Rome had no direct jurisdiction over the East, despite the fact that, in some cases, eastern bishops appealed to him as an arbiter in theological disputes. Such actions didn’t give rise to any systematic treatment or development, nor can we read this in any way as implying that the Bishop of Rome was seen by the East as the possessor of supreme authority throughout the Universal Church”. He hoped that the Catholic side would agree with this position at subsequent meetings of the Commission, which, in his view, is confirmed by abundant historical evidence.

Cold water indeed!   The first half calls to question the status of the document which had been the fruit of discussions between Catholic and Orthodox theologians at a time when the Russians were absent.   In other words, it calls in question the value of the discussions and optimistic sounds coming from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in our first article.   The second half simply denies that the Pope enjoyed universal jurisdiction in the first thousand years of history, as though no discussion had ever taken place.   We must notice that Archimandrite Robert Taft S.J. agrees with him on that point.   However, even when that is agreed, there still remains other questions related to the Petrine Ministry which don't go away even when the question of jurisdiction is agreed.   

The breakthrough in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is "Eucharistic Ecclesiology" which finds the fullness of Catholicism in the Eucharist which is its essence as body of Christ and the source of all the Church's functions and powers.   This is an enormous paradigm shift and permits the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church and the various Oriental Orthodox churches all to claim that they possess the fulness of Catholicism because its source is the Divine Liturgy which is celebrated locally.   It makes the Catholic Church re-think its theology of the petrine ministry, finding papal authority, not primarily in a legal delegation from Christ to Peter, as in the sacramental unity of the episcopate based on the identity of all eucharistic celebrations. This re-thinking is taking place together with Orthodox theologians like Metropolitan John Zizioulas.   It links infallibility with the epiclesis at the Mass and the nature of Tradition and Liturgy as the fruit of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church.   Thus rises the question: if Tradition as expressed in a liturgical life that has come down from Apostolic times, is found in several versions, all of which can claim the Holy Spirit as one of their components by their very nature, what do we do about truths proclaimed in one tradition and denied in another?  Papal Infallibility and universal jurisdiction is an important example.   Perhaps some of the Orthodox teaching on Hesychasm is another.   Clearly, an effort must be made to find something which both sides hold in common and which may have within it a solution to the difficulty.   That is what the Orthodox-Catholic dialogues are doing.

Why do the Russian Orthodox was to slow down or halt this process?

Firstly, ecumenism, especially with Rome, is a very divisive issue in Orthodoxy.   The hierarchs and theologians who really know anything about Rome are few and far between.   For the rest, folk memories of papist atrocities, theological cliches, Protestant anti-Catholic propaganda that they had adopted to defend themselves against Catholic argument, hundreds of prejudices, and a belief that being right involves being intolerant, all mixed up with a large dose of fear because the Catholic Church has a higher educated clergy, is more organized, better equipped, more prepared in catechesis and pastoral programmes, and, above all in the Ukraine, free of all complicity with the atheistic Communist regime.   Ecumenism is divisive in Greece and other places as well, as the Athonite abbots showed in an open letter against Rome.   In this context, signs that the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue was coming up with mutually agreed solutions would cause divisions in Orthodoxy.   I don't think the theologians were so near an agreement; but the problem is fear of an agreement.

Another fact is that the wounds caused by the Russian Revolution, the 2nd World War, and the Communist regime are all very raw, and hurt is just below the surface.   When ecumenism is mixed up with nationalism, old memories and old scores, it can become explosive.

It is also true that, while ecumenism is important, it is not the first concern of the Russian Orthodox Church.   Re-establishing the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and its dependencies after a long period of atheism is their primary goal.   It colours everything else they do.  For this, they do not need internal bickering about ecumenism; but they may need help.   Organisation is notoriously bad.   The level of education and academic level of the seminaries is abysmally poo.   They have seen how much, in general, the Greek Catholics arein catechetics and in engaging in conversation with intellectuals outside the Church.   Moreover, they have seen the difficulties that the Catholic Church has in Western Europe over a rampant secularism.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev has said that a basic problem  of relations between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is lack of confidence in each other.   About a thousand years ago, he has said, both sides decided that they did not need each other and that they could go it alone.   While that mentality is general, theological discussion has only limited worth.   What is needed is that each side should re-discover their need for the other.   Let us start with the fight against secularism.   Russian Orthodoxy is fighting for the soul of Russia and those places it likes to think are its dependencies; the Pope and the Catholic bishops have launched the "new evangelization".   Why not combine forces, putting aside until later or turning into a side show for the moment the differences in theology and practice that are so charged with emotion?   Metropolitan Hilarion is not a liberal who considers doctrinal differences as unimportant.   It is just that, in the Russian judgement, the time is not right.  Only when both sides have become part of the other's Christian world, when they are accustomed to work together at common goals, will they form a context where ecumenism is not threatening division.   Hence we have the Moscow initiative.

Source: Question More | Elena Yakovleva (click)
Moscow Patriarchate calls for strategic alliance with Catholic Church
The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church should accept each other not as rivals, but first and foremost as allies, working to protect the rights of Christians, said “the Lavrov of the Church”, head of the ROC’s Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, while speaking at the International Christian Congress in Wurzburg, Germany.
This year Easter celebrations coincide for the Orthodox and Catholic faiths. Bishop Hilarion told Rossiiskaya Gazeta how the two Churches could develop an allied position without damaging their integrity, dogmas, and principles.
“Today, the Orthodox and Catholic Christians should accept each other not as rivals, but as allies working to protect the rights of Christians. We share a common field of missionary work.” said Metropolitan Hilarion, while speaking at the fourth international congress in Wurzburg, stressing that “the future of Christianity in the third millennium depends on the joint efforts of the Orthodox believers and Catholics.’’
Bishop Hilarion commented on his statement to RG as follows.
“The idea of a strategic alliance with the Catholics– is an old idea of mine. It came to me when the Catholics were electing the new Pope. Although I would like to point out that what I am suggesting is, in essence, the direct opposite of Uniatism, which is a way toward a rapprochement based on doctrinal compromises. In our point of view, the policy of Uniatism had suffered complete failure. Not only did it not bring the Orthodox Christians and Catholics closer together, it actually distanced them. And Uniatism, as is currently recognized by both Orthodox believers and Catholics, is not the path toward unity.
“I, on the other hand, am asking to – without any doctrinal compromises and without attempts to artificially level our dogmatic differences, the teachings about the Church and about the superiority of the Universal Church, without the claims to resolve all of the existing problems between us – act as allies, at the same time, without being a single Church, without having a single administrative system or common liturgy, and while maintaining the differences on the points in which we differ.
“This is especially important in light of the common challenges that face both Orthodox and Catholic Christians. They are first and foremost the challenges of a godless world, which is equally hostile today to Orthodox believers and Catholics, the challenge of the aggressive Islamic movement, the challenge of moral corruption, family decay, the abandonment by many people in traditionally Christian countries of the traditional family structure, liberalism in theology and morals, which is eroding the Christian community from within. We can respond to these, and a number of other challenges, together.
“I would like to stress, once more, that there are well-known doctrinal differences between the Orthodox and Catholic faiths, but there are also common positions in regard to morality and social issues which, today, are not shared by many of the representatives of liberal Protestantism. Therefore, cooperation is first and foremost necessary between the Orthodox and Catholic Christians – and that is what I call a strategic alliance.
“The Church is not ready to make any compromises. And I am not calling for compromise, but on the contrary, to uncompromisingly defend our positions. Within the framework of the Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, my position is often the toughest. Meanwhile, the documents that are drafted there, are the most often contested by the ROC delegations. There have been instances when we were forced to walk out of sessions as a sign of disagreement with what was happening. We always very firmly oppose attempts to erode the differences that exist between us.
“We don’t need any compromises. We need cooperation and collaboration. And within the framework of the theological commission, we could discuss the differences that exist between us not in order to find a compromise, but in order to clarify our differences and the things we have in common. It could so happen that in the course of discussion we realise that in some doctrinal aspects we are actually closer than seemed to be before – and this will be a rapprochement. But just the opposite could happen: we may see the differences that we have never noticed before.
“The theological dialogue should be allowed to take its course; it may or may not lead to some results. Meanwhile, cooperation that is built on a systematic basis and that is founded on the fact that we share many of the same tasks and challenges should be developed at the same time.”
It was hoped that this approach would not subject the Orthodox Church to the strains that were being caused by the theological talks, but would further the movement of Christian unity more quickly, so that an atmosphere would eventually be created in which theological dialogue would not cause the problems that it does now.  Even more important, by mutual help between Catholic and Orthodox churches, both churches will have more resources against the rampant secularism of our time.   The Russians knew that this would appeal to Pope Benedict XVI because they know and respect him.   On Facebook, here is Metropolitan Hilarion again (click here).

The initiative has already been enthusiastically accepted in Rome from which has come the suggestion that the Orthodox form a European equivalent to the European Synod of Bishops that can treat with the Catholic authorities on an equal footing.
There is another side to it.   The Russians wish to use this alliance so wanted by the Vatican, together with the hope of a visit by the Pope to Moscow, to entice the Vatican into doing something about the Greek Catholic Church in the Ukraine. 

This church is advancing all the time.   It is even said that more Greek Catholics go to church on Sunday in the Ukraine than Orthodox loyal to Moscow!   These advances are largely due to the fact that many of the Orthodox of the Ukraine were forced into Orthodoxy by Stalin's police, resented it, and  now their grandchildren can do what they want (see CHRISTIAN UNITY III).  The Orthodox do not seem to be able to see that they are partly responsible for the situation by their collaboration with the Communist regime, and that Moscow has not earned the affection of the Ukrainians in recent history.   Instead, they blame the situation on efforts of Catholics to convert Orthodox.   While there must be instances of this, as there must be instances of Orthodox trying to convert Catholics, seeing the hostile relationship between the two sides, this is not the main reason, nor is the hostility general.

Unfortunately, there are signs that the Vatican has, at least partially, given into temptation.   There are many thousands of Greek Catholics from the Ukraine in Italy, but they are yet to have their own eparchy as in Britain.   A papal nuncio recently visited a Ukrainian parish where the congregation was told four times during the course of the ceremony that they were an obstacle to closer relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.   What does the papal nuncio want the Greek Catholics to do about it?   What right allows Vatican authorities who have never suffered for the faith to disparage a martyr Church like the Greek Catholics of the Ukraine?   Meanwhile, with many signs of being blessed by God, with many vocations, a relatively new university  with a high reputation, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church continues to advance among descendants of reluctant converts to Orthodoxy and with unchurched Ukrainian intellectuals who are negotiating their way out of atheism..   Greek Catholics have as much right to be themselves as we have to be Latin Catholics in England; and the sooner both Moscow and the Vatican accept this, the better.

We began this post with the account of the White Rose; how Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox were united by a common goal, discovered they were motivated by a common faith and, together, helped each other on the path to holiness.   This initiative from Moscow of an alliance between Catholicism and Orthodoxy to defend the Christian heritage of Europe, to promote Christian values and to oppose rampant secularism is an expansion of the same idea.   As long as Catholics and Orthodox do not makes demands that the other side cannot in conscience accept, and treating Ukrainian Greek Catholics as though their church is in some way inferior to other Catholic churches is one such a demand, then it should benefit both churches enormously.   We can unite in asking Alexander Scheroll, after February 7th SAINT Alexander Scheroll, to pray to God for the success of this initiative.

next:  CHRISTIAN UNITY V: a Catholic View of Orthodoxy by Aidan Nichols O.P. and an Update on Catholic-Oriental Orthodox relations.   (Sorry for being late with today's post which should have been published on Tuesday, within the Octave; but someone needed my computer with greater urgency than I did - it is called "community life".

1 comment:

jrxadventure said...

Sir, as I read your post, it seems to me that one of the goal of ecumenism is unity. However I strongly believe that true spiritual unity is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He came for us, died for us, rose again and is coming again. In Him alone can we be re-united with God for there is no other name given under heaven for us to be saved but only by the name Jesus Christ. He is the only mediator between God and man and there is no other.

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