"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

Wednesday 8 May 2013


“Among Orthodox believers we do not observe primarily a docile submission to the Church’s hierarchy, nor a tendency to make an assiduous study of the word of God. The distinctive characteristic of Orthodoxy is to be found in an ardent desire for an immediate contact with the heavenly world. Furthermore this is not a desire for an individual contact, but for a universal churchly contact, not something in the written language of theory and reflection, but something living, real, direct. Consequently the center and heart of Orthodox religious life is the worship of God in church. Orthodox Christians are not over-worried by the absence of preaching, nor, and this  is really regrettable, with contradictions between life and practice and the commandments of the Lord; but without the Church of God, without the Church’s worship, life becomes empty. Lack of concern for the Church, and its worship, its singing, is considered among the Orthodox as  a sure sign of lack of religious fervour, as the renunciation of Orthodoxy. In church the believer is aware of being surrounded by the inhabitants of heaven, a faith which the prayers of the liturgy themselves express. ‘When we are it the church of thy glory, we feel that we are in heaven.’”

Serge Chetverikov
from The Tradition of Life, Romanian Essays in Spirituality and Theology

by Fr David

This paragraph shows us Catholics how much we have to learn from the Orthodox, and, by its silences, how much the Orthodox have to learn from us.

Vatican II, in its constitution on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium has this to say:
. For the liturgy, "through which the work of our redemption is accomplished," [1] most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek....

ch.1, 8:   8. In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle [22]; we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory [23].
There is much talk of the "reform of the reform" , very often by people who are totally against the Novus Ordo and simply want things put back to where they were.   In support of this, they would selectively quote Pope Benedict XVI out of context, as though he were one of them.   Nevertheless, you only have to read those two paragraphs to realise that the Novus Ordo only manages to liturgically portray some of the insights of Vatican II and has so far failed to do justice to all of them.   Perhaps such a task was too big for the liturgists of one generation to tackle; and the "reform of the reform", while recuperating some of treasures of the old rite which were too hastily discarded, is yet to express with clarity the eschatological dimension.   Here the old rite won't help because this perspective was lost long before Vatican II, in the high Middle Ages.   This is in contrast to the liturgical tradition of the Eastern Churches who dramatically portray in the Liturgy that in the Mass, heaven and earth join forces in Christ to worship God.  

 As you read in the above passage on the heart and centre of Orthodox religious life, the centre of attention is the worship of God in the Divine Liturgy where heaven and earth become one.   This dimension of the Eucharist has been so neglected in the West that people have thought they have been faithful to Vatican II while not even noticing the heavenly dimension of the Eucharist as taught by Vatican II, even though it was written down in black and white in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Yet our participation in the heavenly liturgy is a theme in the Letter to the Hebrews and forms the very context for John's revelation in the Apocalypse. In the Letter to Diognetus (date between 130 - 200AD), the author writes:
 "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."
By the Letter to Diognetus, both Catholics and Orthodox are found wanting, the Orthodox by their nationalism, and Catholics because of their insufficient awarenes of being more really citizens of heaven than citizens of this world. Yet these limitations are built into our respective understandings of the Church which reflect our different histories.   The Orthodox have come to accept as normal its division into regional patriarchates, without a universal primate; and the Catholic Church came to see itself as a "perfect society" which is held together by the pope as source of all jurisdiction.   This latter emphasis on the Church as a perfect, supranational society  tended to supplant the idea of the Church as the body of Christ that embraces heaven and earth, and this affected our understanding of the spiritual life, of the sacraments, especially of the Eucharist. 

However, we have had Vatican II, and one of the groups most influential in the Council was the group that wanted to get an insight into modern problems by going back to th original sources; and, for instance, instead of interpreting church history from the point of view of 19th and 20th century Catholicism, they wanted to interpret 19th and 20th century from the point of view of the first thousand years.   Not only did they make an important contribution to the documents of Vatican II, two of them became popes!   If continuity into the future is important in the "hermeneutic of continuity" advocated by Pope Benedict, continuity with the  Church of the Fathers is also just as important.   This group had close ties with Orthodox theologians stationed in Paris.   They did not resolve the schism because the pre-suuppositions of each side were too far apart for that, but they did strengthen each other's resolve.

You may object that vision of the Eucharist as a participation in the heavenly Liturgy is really an Orthodox emphasis and not a Western one; but, when the late Father Alexander Schmemann, even though he was Orthodox, wanted to illustrate this teaching with liturgical texts in his book "The Eucharist" , he chose to use the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer I, as one of his principal texts, because  the participation by the eucharistic assembly in the heavenly liturgy is a main theme.  It even sees the consecration as our offerings of bread and wine being carried by an angel to the altar on high; and we are brought into communion with the saints in heaven.

However, it is true that this consciousness of Christ uniting in himself heaven and earth, present as he is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, and on earth in his body the Church, tended to be replaced by a two-storey universe. The first storey is the Church as the perfect society, united by jurisdiction under the pope,  left behind by Christ in this world, which celebrates the sacraments as acts of Christ in this world; and  heaven is the second storey, the place we go to when we die.   There was no room for the emphasis on Liturgy as our participation in heaven and heaven's participation in the life of the Church, and it ceased to be reflected in the Liturgy.   For this reason, we cannot look to the pre-Vatican II rite to restore this understanding to its proper place. We must go back to the Church of the Fathers.   This will  require further changes in God's good time.     

It is not just simply a matter of bringing in new rubrics and inventing new liturgical gestures and practises: it is bringing into the open, into our conscious minds and hearts, the heavenly dimension of our religion that  was so explicit in the early Church, the Church of the martyrs, and has remained implicit in all we believe about Christ, the sacramental life, and the Church.   To bring this to the fore will modify our Christian lives at many levels, even at the very centre of our being, in our hearts.  It is in our inmost heart that we must change, before we even begin to think of changing rubrics.   Indeed, if we are changed inwardly, whatever the changes to the liturgy may be might well become obvious.  Our first task is to acquaint ourselves with  Orthodox spirituality in order to regain a living awareness of our citizenship of heaven.   From there, the changes will spring from our own life of Grace, and not be a merely superficial copying from another tradition.   We need to breathe with both lungs to be better ourselves.

I imagine that all I have said will get considerable agreement from Orthodox readers.   However, far less will agree with what I have to say next, because it is easier to see the speck of dust in the eye of our neighbour than to see even a speck of dust in our own; and they haven't yet been shaken up with the equivalent of Vatican II.   If we have to breathe with both lungs, East and West, to be even more faithful to ourselves, so they too need to breathe with both lungs in order to be faithful to their own tradition.   This is fairly clear from the passage I have quoted at the beginning of this post.

It is not that I am advocating that we should preach to the Orthodox from across  the Great Divide.   The best idea came from the present Patriarch of Moscow, that we should work together for the evangelisation of Europe, get to know and love one another and, in that atmosphere, learn from one another.   There is the need to catechise the faithful, not just give them the sacraments and hope that the liturgy will teach them.   Modern secular man no longer knows the language of the liturgy.   I have heard this as a complaint from people who have heard it from Russian and Greek Orthodox lay people.   Catholic social doctrine is another field where the Orthodox could learn.   Preaching is another crying need, especially where the people have grown up in a Communist society. 

 I think a close encounter of Orthodox and Catholics, without either trying to dominate or browbeat each other will be an encounter that heals us both.  Each will appreciate his own tradition even more, but it will be a tradition enriched by humbly learning from the other.   Orthodox will be even more glad to be Orthodox, and Catholics will rejoice at being Catholics; and the witness of both together before the secular world and other religions will be much stronger and and effective than either is alone.     Then, in God's good time, we will recognise our identity in each other: then Orthodoxy and Catholicism wil be one while remaining in many ways different.   After all, Christ is in our midst!

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