"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, 8 August 2013


Pope in a Minefield

Past the first-hundred-days mark, impressions of Jorge Bergoglio's papacy suggest it's being widely experienced as an excitement -- a wave of yet undetermined proportions, nowhere near its crest. In the process, the man continues to stymie a trailing chorus of soothsayers. 

Yet, with acceptance of the yoke, this first Jesuit pope became heir to a multitude of unenviable challenges -- including deed to the minefield of Christian ecumenism.

At a time when forces warring under the banner of secularism find a convenient, if de facto, partner in those doing so in the name of Islam, the need for Christian unity to rise from the soil of genuine reconciliation, has never been more urgent. The minefield Francis is obliged to tread must, therefore, be cleared. 

The scandal is that for centuries, the sine qua non of this project has been a hostage of the wounded relationship between Latin and Orthodox Catholicism. 

With roots of the challenge running tangled and deep, it is imperative for the urgency to jump beyond the worthy world of ecumenical specialists, and catch fire amongst a people schooled in the challenge, its stakes, and their own critical role in it. 

In his, My Journal At The Council, Yves Congar registered a kindred exhortation on the eve of Vatican II, "Christian public opinion must force the Council to exist in fact, and to achieve something." (Italics mine) 

It may seem ironic then to claim as indispensable the acknowledgment that there is no such thing as the Catholic or the Orthodox Church. 

As the Bible is a library, discerned by Tradition to be one integral book, the Church too, has always been a communion of churches, that as one, extends the Body of Christ in space and time. Jerusalem in communion with Antioch; Antioch with Alexandria; Alexandria with Rome, Rome with Constantinople -- all in a mutual fealty whose anchor is Peter. 

The arrangement has never been in essential dispute -- even after the culmination of the Great Schism in 1254. Indeed, as Kallistos Ware reminds, during the Council of Florence, (1438-39), which sought to repair the breach, ten months were spent grappling with the issue of the filioque, and ten days addressing the subject of papal primacy. Some seven hundred years hence, the situation is nearly reversed. 

While it would be stretching to claim dogmatic issues present no impediments to communion, Walter Kasper, former President of the Vatican's own Council for Christian Unity, maintains that it is the role of Peter today that poses the largest obstacle. 

In this regard, the pontificate of Benedict XVI proved a mixed bag, with omission of the title, "Patriarch of the West," from the Annuario Pontificio, emblematic of some unfortunate puzzlements. 

Of course, the deed Francis holds makes him but co-owner in the minefield. As partners, Orthodox leaders have a surfeit of reasons to join him in a spirit of heroic humility. Here too, the climbing is steep. 

In recent years, gatherings of Catholic-Orthodox commissions have raised a window onto contours of intra-Orthodox discord that appear to run along more jurisdictional than theological lines. 

A formidable dimension of that discord is political in character, global in scope, and observable right now on the North American continent. To depict it as a kind of "proxy war," waged by parent churches, would be extreme, but the analogy does, at times, present itself. 

The issue that brings matters to quickest focus has to do with episcopal overlapping. That is, in any given place, there may well be a multiplicity of active bishops from across the spectrum of jurisdictions. 

Violation of so fundamental a canon constitutes no less than a diminishment of Orthodoxy and its evangelical witness. Dedicated men and women continue the struggle to set things right, but despite a steady flow of high-minded pronouncements, Congar's call to achieve something has yet to be fulfilled. 

Parent churches typically exert major influences on progeny in the various stages of diaspora. However, what happens in America may ultimately exert that influence in the other direction. 

Among those churches, the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates stand preeminent. Coincidentally, or perhaps in consequence, their rapport has not always modeled the fraternal warmth we might expect. Ukraine is a case in point. 

As in other places that have endured Ukraine's depth of tragedy, history is not just a subject in the curriculum. It is a specter, encountered daily, on every corner, haunting with memories of war, and the particular grief of a Soviet system linked indelibly to Moscow. 

In that capital today, Vladimir Putin's courtship of its Patriarch, and the latter's reciprocal embrace, is viewed by some as restart to a Byzantine fusion of cross and crown unique in the modern Orthodox world, and cornerstone to the dream of a reconstituted Russian empire. 

It's no secret that for Mr. Putin, Ukraine is a theory, indulged on Russian soil, with a sovereignty leased for as long as its landlords deem useful. On this, Patriarch Kirill seems in sync with his counterpart. 

Cardinal Koch
Ukraine is "A laboratory of ecumenism."
With the anniversary marking the baptism of Kievan-Rus on the horizon, Kirill announced to Ukraine's four principal churches that Moscow would be taking full charge of related events. Except for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), all seem agreed that Kirill's position represents an ominous presumption. 

Sadly, there's not much more they do agree on -- beyond the Councils, Creed, and sacraments. Just last week factions within the UOC-MP appealed to both Moscow and Kiev government leaders to intervene in what is depicted as a drawn out coup within that church. We might marvel then at the optimism of Kasper's successor, Cardinal Koch when referring to Ukraine as, "A laboratory of ecumenism." 

"We do not have unity because there are those who do not want it." This pungent assessment comes courtesy of Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), a body whose existence is an exceedingly sore point in relations between Rome and Moscow. And, it is with the UGCC that we return to Pope Francis. Through Shevchuk, we return to him in a personal way. 

Ukraine's Greek Catholic Church is the largest Eastern church in communion with Rome, reunited at the Council of Brest in 1596, whence the pejorative, Uniates, derives. Up to the moment the Soviet ban ended, it had been the longest-suppressed religious body in the world. 

With a history too complex to treat here, of pertinence is the UGCC's role as a relentless engine of Ukrainian nationalism. Thus, as Pope Francis looked out from the balcony of St. Peter's, beyond urbis et orbis, it didn't take long for him to see where Moscow stood. 

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, appeared eager to preempt any notion Francis might have of enhancing the position of the UGCC in the Ukrainian "laboratory," warning, No good could come of it. Oxford-educated Hilarion is a young, highly accomplished, English-speaker, said to enjoy genuinely cordial relationships with Western church figures. One wonders, therefore, just how much of his warning to Francis is a function of obedience to superiors. 

As the world is discovering, Francis too is cordial. He is also courageous. And to a greater degree than predecessors of recent memory, he has a deep affection for the Ukrainian Catholic Church. 

Since his election, we have learned that Jorge Bergolio experienced what he regards as the precious mentorship of Fr. Stephan Chmil, a priest of the UGCC from whom he gained intimate acquaintance with the Ukrainian Church. What is also emerging -- and of potentially tremendous significance -- is Francis's relationship with Sviatoslav Shevchuk. 

As a "baby bishop," Shevchuk was sent to Argentina where Bergolio took his own turn at mentoring. By all accounts, the two became close, and remain so. The fact that an icon given by Shevchuk was among the few possessions that crossed the Atlantic to grace the new pope's apartment, suggests something of their bond. 

In March, 2011, at the age of 40, Shevchuk was entrusted with leadership of the UGCC worldwide. As major archbishop of such an important church, he is patriarch in all but the title Rome has denied his predecessors as a cost of improving relations with Moscow. And though the UGCC has borne the weight of this subordination patiently, there is a sense that the sand in the hourglass of that patience may be down to its last grains. The bond between Pope and Archbishop then, puts Francis in a delicate position. 

In terms of overarching intentions, Francis has so far chosen to engage largely through the language of gesture -- a spontaneous, compelling, self-disclosure, that can sometimes feel like water bursting forth from desert rock -- catching us parched and unprepared in equal parts. 

But, are there, in fact, any clues to what Francis has in mind with respect to ecumenism? Maybe. 

Metropolitan Hilarion
To begin, Francis is making clear that he understands his office to be rooted squarely in his function as bishop of Rome. It is the title he uses most when referring to himself, and which has been given priority of place in the new Annuario Pontificio. 

As gestures go, this one is big, pointing to an ecclesiology that is authentically Catholic, and particularly suitable to Orthodoxy. 

Next, at the installation of Francis, the list of Orthodox leaders in attendance was noteworthy. Patriarch Kirill chose to send Metropolitan Hilarion in his stead. A gesture in itself, it managed to highlight the presence of Bartholomew I, successor to such as St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Nazianzus, and who as Ecumenical Patriarch is regarded as primus inter pares within the Orthodox communion. 

Furthermore, during the installation liturgy, Francis restored the tradition of proclaiming the Gospel in Greek -- language of the early church, the New Testament, and parentally, of Orthodoxy itself. 

Something I've not yet heard mentioned is that across the Tiber -- a short cab ride away -- sits the Pontificio Instituto Orientale, the preeminent academic contact point between ecclesial East and West. Founded and run by Francis's own Jesuit order, the contributions made by this Institute would be difficult to exaggerate. It has formed generations of scholars from around the world, many of whom have gone on to leadership roles in the various churches. Francis is undoubtedly familiar with its extraordinary service to the Church, and its value as a resource going forward. 

Lastly, there is his friendship with Shevchuk. 

In the Middle East and Africa today, ancient churches are suffering persecution on a staggering scale, with obscene regularity -- and with scant notice from a press loath to identify perpetrators or contextualize motives. In the face of this, the various Christian churches are demonstrating a powerful capacity to rise above divisions. 

In North America, and the West generally, forces press a campaign to bully the culture into accepting that "religious freedom" is somehow a contradiction in terms - wherein the viability of one element requires extinction of the other. Incredibly, codification of this aberrance is already under way. A handful of years ago such a claim would have been dismissed as histrionic. Today, it is a story unfolding by the headline. 

In this environment, few things are capable of seizing the world's attention, or providing the Body Of Christ the singular opportunity to move beyond its shameful impasse. An ecumenical council is such a thing. 

Is it impossible to believe -- or hope -- that Francis would convene one? Or invite every patriarch to meet as a body with Peter in order to achieve something?
We shall see. In the meantime, destruction advances, mocking the divide between Latin and Orthodox Catholicism. Most of all, it is emboldened by mines planted in God's vineyard by those of us who would call ourselves Christian. 

Tim Kelleher is the new media editor for First Things.

Divisions in the Orthodox Church are holding up ecumenical dialogue
 my source: Vatican Insider

                                                     Patriarch Bartholomew I
The Russian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan Hilarion has put certain conditions on theological dialogue and rifts between the Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople are to blame for this. They are having to open their eyes to the pastoral conversion suggested by Pope Francis.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the reason why dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches has been proceeding at baby step pace with long stand-by phases is to be found in the Orthodox playing field, characterised by reservations and divisions. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations confirmed this yet again in a recent interview with KNA news agency. During the interview, Metropolitan Hilarion clearly aired his dissatisfaction at the work being done by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church – the body in charge of appeasing the two Churches on the pressing question of primacy and the exercise of authority in the Church. Metropolitan Hilarion is the top representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow in the commission and yet the tone of distance he has got across in some statements, has not gone unnoticed. “We are wrong to try to present the theological traditions of our Churches as united at the highest level,” he said. Theological dialogue must not conceal but highlight the differences between Christian denominations.

Hilarion’s remarks are further proof of the low opinion Moscow has of the joint Commission for theological dialogue. In the first plenary assembly he attended on the subject of primacy and authority in the Church, held in Ravenna in 2007, the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church walked out in protest against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople’s decision to invite representatives of the Estonian Church to join the Orthodox delegation. The Estonian Church left Moscow’s jurisdiction after the fall of the Soviet Union. Last November a meeting held by the Commission’s small committee in Paris, ended without an agreement being reached, after representatives of the Patriarchate of Moscow refused to sign a document that dealt with the issue of primacy in a more theological and less historical–ecclesiological light.

The current adversities in theological dialogue are largely a side-effect of underlying conflicts that have always existed in the Orthodox Church. The politically and numerically preponderant Patriarchate of Moscow has persistently encouraged an alliance with the Catholic Church on ethical issues but has shown little interest in engaging in dialogue over theological questions. According to the Russians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, would like to play Orthodox “pope”, gaining jurisdictional powers that are not in line with the ecclesiological concept of Eastern Christianity. Meanwhile, Russia’s revival as a super power is reigniting “imperialist” sentiment in the Patriarchate of Moscow.

But the dispute within the Orthodox Church  will have to face the new season of change introduced by Francis’ Catholic Church sooner or later. Bartholomew I’s presence at the Bishop of Rome’s inauguration mass and his invitation to Francis to visit Jerusalem in memory of Paul VI’s visit to Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago were highly symbolic gestures. The modus operandi of Peter’s current successor could help heal a mistrust that goes back generations. Francis’ reference to Russia’s literary great, Dostoevkij on the flight back from Rio did not go unnoticed in Russia. “When one reads Dostoevskij, you get a feel for Russia’s spirit, the Eastern spirit. This will do us a lot of good. We need this renewal, this breath of fresh air from the East, this light from the East,” The Pope had said. With his sensus Ecclesiae and his seductive apostolic fervour, Pope Francis could find new words to speak to the hearts of the Catholic Church’s Eastern brothers. In doing so he would bring primacy issues into perspective and show everyone that the only way to achieve unity is to embrace the mission Christ entrusted his Church with, as brothers.


thanks to Jim Forest

WHEN Pope Francis became the first Jesuit pontiff, there was a surge of interest in a religious fraternity which, like it or loathe it, has played a significant role in world history, from Asia to Latin America. And as people soon realised, it is quite hard to make generalisations about the Society of Jesus, except that its members tend to be brainy, versatile, even chameleon-like, with a capacity for travelling to distant lands and empathising deeply with the local culture and language.

To see the sheer diversity of the Jesuit experience, consider four members of the society who gained prominence in the late 20th century. Pedro Arrupe, from Spain's Basque country, was head of the fraternity from 1965 to 1983, a time when many of its members, especially in Latin America, veered sharply to the left. Under his guidance, the Jesuits adopted a manifesto which committed them to "promote justice and enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless." Defying threats from right-wing death squads, he kept a large contingent of Jesuits in El Salvador, six of whom would ultimately be killed. When illness forced him to retire, Pope John Paul II overruled his choice of successor, an implied rebuke which many Jesuits resented.

Klaus Luhmer was a distinguished educationalist and head of a university; he was an advocate of Montessori teaching methods which aim to bring out pupils' innate gifts. Hugo Enomiya Lassalle was a practitioner of Buddhist meditation techniques who qualified as a Zen master. He began advocating the idea that Christianity and the Zen tradition were compatible, but the Vatican reined in his publishing. Hubert Schiffer followed a more classical form of Catholic pietism; he became a leading member of a movement that urged frequent use of the rosary prayers.

So...four utterly contrasting lives? In fact, they have one big thing in common, besides being Jesuits. They were all in Hiroshima exactly 68 years ago, on August 6th 1945. In total there were eight Jesuits in or near Hiroshima at the time. In accordance with the church calendar, they were expecting to spend the day commemorating the moment in the New Testament when Jesus is said to have appeared before three followers with "his face shining like the sun and his raiment white as the light". Instead, they witnessed a different blinding flash and each responded in his own way. Father Arrupe drew on his medical training to help set up a makeshift hospital for the wounded and dying. Years later, as head of Japan's Sophia University, and until his death in 2011 at the age of 94, Father Luhmer would recall seeing victims "with skin hanging off their bones in strips" and hearing their muffled cries of "water, water...". The future Zen specialist, Father Lassalle, was carried on a stretcher by Father Luhmer to a Jesuit premises on the outskirts of the city. Despite serious injuries, Father Lassalle recovered and later led the construction of a World Peace Memorial Cathedral in Hiroshima. Father Schiffer was one of four Jesuits living near the centre of the devastation who somehow escaped without injury; he ascribed their survival to a miracle.

Most of us know the meaning of a life-changing moment. But what sort of change that moment will bring about....well, that can vary, to say the least.

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