"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

Tuesday 11 March 2014


Orthodox Churches Will Hold First Ecumenical Council In 1,200 Years In Istanbul
Reuters  | by  Dasha Afanasieva and Tom Heneghan
my source:   The Huffington Post

ISTANBUL, March 9 (Reuters) - Patriarchs of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians ended a rare summit in Istanbul on Sunday calling for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine and denouncing violence driving Christians out of the Middle East.

Twelve heads of autonomous Orthodox churches, the second-largest family of Christian churches, also agreed to hold a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will be the first in over 1,200 years.

The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council, which the Orthodox have been preparing on and off since the 1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

As the prelates left a special service at Saint George's Cathedral, a woman in the crowd called out in Russian "Pray for Ukraine!" Two archbishops responded: "You pray, too!"

In their communique, the patriarchs called for "peaceful negotiations and prayerful reconciliation in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine" and denounced what they said were "threats of violent occupation of sacred monasteries and churches" there.

The Russian Orthodox Church, with 165 million members by far the largest in the Orthodox family, last month issued a statement along with Moscow's Foreign Ministry about what they said were attacks on revered historic monasteries in Kiev and Pochayiv in western Ukraine.

Russia has used the alleged threat to Russian-speakers in Ukraine, including the faithful of the Moscow-backed church there, to argue it has the right to intervene to protect them.

Closely aligned with President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine policy, the Russian church has a partner Ukrainian Orthodox Church mostly in the Russian-speaking east of the country that is loyal to the Moscow patriarchate.

There are two rival Orthodox churches mostly in western Ukraine, both meant to be Ukrainian national churches. Neither is part of the global Orthodox communion and the patriarchs' communique expressed the hope they would one day join it.


On the Middle East, the patriarchs denounced "the lack of peace and stability, which is prompting Christians to abandon the land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born."

They demanded the release of two prominent Syrian Orthodox archbishops kidnapped near Aleppo in April 2013.

Unrest in the Middle East over the past decade has killed or driven out large numbers of Christians, many of them Orthodox. Christians make up about 5 percent of the region's population.

Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian church's foreign relations, said before the meeting that "extremist forces (are) attacking Christians, exterminating them, kidnapping priests, bishops and nuns, destroying Christian churches and doing everything to make those who believe in Christ to leave the Middle East."

One of the main questions facing the 2016 council will be how to balance relations among the Orthodox now that the Russian church, after seven decades of subjugation under communism, has reemerged as an influential voice in world Christianity.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who will meet Roman Catholicism's Pope Francis in Jerusalem in May, is the senior-most Orthodox leader, but his Istanbul-based church is tiny, with none of the resources the large Russian church enjoys.

Despite the prestige of his post, he has no authority over other churches, unlike the power the pope has in Catholicism, the world's largest church with 1.2 billion members.

The communique stressed that all decisions at the council would be taken by consensus, a position the Russians strongly defended in preparations for the meeting.

The 2016 council will be held in Hagia Irene, a Byzantine church building in the outer courtyard of the Ottoman sultans' Topkapi Palace. Now a museum, it has not been used as a church since the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Orthodox Christianity links 14 independent churches, based in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. The Damascus-based church of Antioch and the Czech and Slovak church did not attend the meeting because of disputes with other churches. (Tom Heneghan reported from Paris; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
This interview took place at least eight years ago; but I don't think Metropolitan Hilarion's position has changed since then.   Just to continue the dialogue, I shall write a personal comment afterwards.- Fr David

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: Will the Ecumenical Ship Sink?

Q: Doesn’t membership in the World Council of Churches (WCC) obligate acceptance of its fundamental principles which contradict Orthodox ecclesiology?

Membership in the WCC does not require from any Church the recognition of all the other member churches of the WCC as churches in the literal sense of the word. This is stated in the foundational documents of the Council. If we call one Protestant community or another a “church,” which in our point of view has lost all the main traits of church-ness, then it is only because this community calls itself a church. Among the members of the WCC there are more than a few such groups, which in our view long ago lost the fundamental properties of church-ness or which never possessed them in the first place. We are speaking here of such properties as apostolic succession of the hierarchy, the mysteries, faith in the reality of the Eucharist, etc.

At the same time, the WCC is not simply a council of some charitable agencies or organizations with some church ties. This is a council of Christian communities which consider themselves churches and respect each other’s ecclesiological self-recognition. The respect Protestants hold for Orthodox ecclesiological principles is expressed in particular by the fact that the WCC does not accept church groups which, from the point of view of Orthodox, are schismatic (for example, the “Kiev Patriarchate”). The Orthodox Churches form a unified, almost autonomous group within the WCC, for whom 25% of the places in any leading organ of the Council are reserved. These 25% form a sort of “Orthodox lobby” which counteracts the non-orthodox majority. Included in the group of Orthodox member Churches in the WCC are the pre-Chalcedonian churches, which, though they are not in Eucharistic unity with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, share their theological, ecclesiological and moral positions.

Also, there are certain theological criteria in the WCC which are required for acceptance as Council member. A church group seeking membership in the WCC must confess faith in the Triune God-the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, confess Christ as God and Saviour, share the theological tenets of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Organizations that do not meet these criteria cannot become members of the WCC. Despite all the differing positions, viewpoints, ecclesiological tenets, moral principles between Orthodox and Protestants, faith in the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as God and Saviour remain as the platform which unites the member churches of the WCC.

Q: What is the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to the “branch theory?”

The attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church towards the “branch theory” is defined in no uncertain terms in the same document “Basic Principles of Towards the Non-Orthodox,” as follows: “The Orthodox Church cannot accept the thesis that despite historical divisions, the essential, profound unity of Christians allegedly remained inviolate and that the Church must be perceived as coinciding with the entire “Christian world,” that Christian unity exists above denominational barriers and that the fragmentation of the churches is simply a result of the imperfect level of human relations. This concept states that the Church remains one, but that this unity is insufficiently apparent externally. In this model of unity, the task of Christians is not seen as re-establishing lost unity, but expressing unity which exists and cannot be taken away. This model repeats the teaching borne of the Reformation of the “unseen church.” Just as unacceptable is the concept, connected with the above idea, of the so-called “branch theory,” which supports the normalcy and even providential nature of the existence of Christianity as separate “branches.” It would be difficult add to this definition.

Q: Why has the General Assembly in Porto Alegre gone practically unnoticed by Orthodox society?

I wouldn’t say that it went unnoticed. Some Orthodox and church- focused media outlets commented. One internet site posted a photo- gallery entitled “Hot sun, warm sea, the embrace of ecumenical friends.” There was no warm sea at Porto Alegre, of course: the city is two hundred kilometres from the sea. But the sun was indeed hot. There were long hours of meetings over the course of ten days, and tense discussions, and the exhausting flights of the delegates from Europe and Latin America and back. If anyone thinks that this is all entertainment and leisure, he is deeply mistaken. This is work – difficult work, draining and thankless. It is thankless because within the “ecumenical concordance” you are considered either a retrograde or a conservative, and they quarrel with you and criticize you, while “at home,” you are accused of betraying Orthodoxy for the mere fact of participating in such an event.

The photo-gallery on that site was aimed at demonstrating a deliberately anti-Orthodox and frivolous spirit of the event. For instance, the camera photographed a normal discussion: people sitting on a chair and talking. The caption, however, reads: “Orthodox delegates during an ecumenical prayer.” Or a photograph depicting Brazilian dancing (during breaks in the meetings, in fact, local dance groups did perform). The caption reads: “Fire worship becomes a mandatory rite of ecumenism.”

It goes without saying that when the Russian Orthodox Church’s participation in inter-Christian dialogue is portrayed by the press in this manner, there is a concrete aim in mind: to spur mistrust for the hierarchy, to coax schismatic feelings. Such propaganda, as a rule, comes from the various schismatic structures: for example, the Old Calendar Greeks, or the “alternative Orthodox structures” at home. In the past, such propaganda caused no small trouble in the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and I am truly happy that at the present time we have the opportunity to discuss this problem face to face, in open and good-willed dialogue.

Q: Why does the ROC/MP continue to participate in the WCC?

The Moscow Patriarchate continues to participate in the WCC for a whole series of reasons. Some of them I mentioned in my previous explanation. In deciding the question of whether to remain in the WCC or withdraw, the Moscow Patriarchate is guided by the following tenets of the “Basic Principles of the Attitude Towards the Non-Orthodox,” namely: “In the matter of membership in various Christian organizations, the following criteria are to be met: the Russian Orthodox Church cannot participate in international (regional/national) Christian organizations in which a) the by-laws, rules or traditions require a rejection of the teaching or traditions of the Orthodox Church; b) the Orthodox Church does not have the opportunity to bring testament that it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; c) the method of decision-making does not take into account the ecclesiological self-recognition of the Orthodox Church; d) the rules and procedures assume the force of “majority opinion.” The level and forms of participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in international Christian organizations must consider the internal dynamics, the agenda, priorities and character of these organizations as a whole. The scope and measure of the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in international Christian organizations is determined by the Hierarchy based on notions of benefit to the Church.”

At the present time, the WCC does not fall under any of the four categories listed as criteria which make the participation of our Church in an international Christian organization impossible. We recognize the fact that in the period between the Harare and Porto Alegre Assemblies, the WCC did everything possible to address the wishes and demands of the Orthodox Churches with full responsibility. In this situation, withdrawal from the WCC would have been unfounded.

This does not mean that the Russian Orthodox Church will always remain members of the WCC. This organization is evolving: today it suits us more, tomorrow it may suit us less. In that case, membership will once again be an acute problem, as it was in the mid-1990′s.

I would like to share one observation I made over my ten years of participation in the WCC and other inter-Christian dialogues. Today, the Christian world is more clearly divided into two groups. On one hand is the group of Churches which insist on the need to follow Church Tradition: this group includes, mainly, the Orthodox Churches, the pre-Chalcedonian Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. On the other end of the spectrum are those Protestant communities in which following Tradition was never the norm, in which there is a rapid liberalization of doctrine, of moral principles and church practice. The latter group includes in particular, the majority of Protestant communities of the North. The chasm between the “churches of Tradition” and the churches of a “liberal bent” is now so significant, and it is widening so quickly, that it is difficult for me to foresee how this “inter-Christian collegiality” can be preserved in the near future.

The fact that our church already broke dialogue with the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Church of Sweden attests to the fact that the inter-Christian community, if you will, is “bursting at the seams.” It is difficult to doubt that other Northern Protestant Churches will follow the lead of the American Episcopalians and Swedish Lutherans, and that soon the bonds will tear on a regular basis. In this case, one fine day, “the union of Protestants and Orthodox,” as the WCC is today, will simply not bear the weight of accumulated differences, and the “ecumenical ship” will sink.

There are now two obvious essentially-differing versions of Christianity — the traditional and the liberal. The abyss that now exists divides not so much the Orthodox and Catholics, or the Catholics and Protestants, as the “traditionalists” and “liberals” (with all the conventions of such labels). Of course, there are defenders of traditional values in the Protestant camp (especially in the Southern churches, that is, Africa, Asia, Latin America). But a liberal attitude prevails among the Protestants.

In this situation, I suppose that a consolidation is needed in the efforts of those churches which consider themselves “Churches of Tradition,” that is, the Orthodox, Catholics and pre-Chalcedonians. I am not talking about the serious dogmatic and ecclesiological differences which exist between these Churches and which can be considered within the framework of bilateral dialogue. I am talking about the need to reach an agreement between these Churches on some strategic alliance, pact, union for defending traditional Christianity as such — defense from all modern challenges, whether militant liberalism, militant atheism or militant Islam. I would like to underline that a strategic alliance is my own idea, not the official position of the Moscow Patriarchate.

We do not need union with the Catholics, we do not need “intercommunion,” we do not need compromise for a doubtful “rapprochement.” What we do need, in my opinion, is a strategic alliance, for the challenge is made to traditional Christianity as such. This is especially noticeable in Europe, where de-Christianization and liberalization are occurring as persistently as the gradual and unswerving Islamization. The liberal, weakened “Christianity” of the Protestant communities cannot resist the onslaught of Islam; only staunch, traditional Christianity can stand against it, ready to defend its moral positions. In this battle, the Orthodox and Catholics could, even in the face of all the differences accumulated over the centuries, form a united front.

The strategic alliance I propose must first of all defend traditional moral values such as the family, childbirth, spousal fidelity. These values are subjected to systematic mockery and derision in Europe by liberals and democrats of all types. Instead of spousal fidelity, “free love” is promoted, same-sex partnerships are equated with the union of marriage, childbirth is opposed by “planned families.” Unfortunately, we have serious differences in these matters with most Protestants, not to speak of fundamental theological and ecclesiological character.

I will use as example a conversation with a Lutheran bishop, held within the framework of a theological dialogue with one of the Northern Lutheran churches. We tried to prepare a joint document in the defense of traditional values. We began to talk about abortion. I asked: “Can we put in the joint document that abortion is a sin?” The Lutheran bishop responded: “Well, of course, we don’t promote abortion, we prefer contraception.” Question: “But abortion is in the opinion of your church, a sin, or is it not?” Reply: “Well, you see, there are various circumstances, for example, the life of a mother or child could be in danger.” “Well, if there is no threat to either the mother or the child, then is abortion a sin, or not?” And the Lutheran bishop could not concede that abortion is a sin.

What is there to talk about then? Abortion is not a sin, same-sex marriage is fine, contraception-wonderful. There it is, liberal Christianity in all its glory. Besides Orthodox Christians, only the Catholics preserve the traditional view of family values in Europe, and in regard, as in many others, they are our strategic partners.

Q: In your opinion, what forms of ecumenism are acceptable, and which are utterly unacceptable in church life?

Intercommunion is unacceptable, the performance of “ecumenical services” together with churches with which we do not have Eucharistic communion is unacceptable, the “branch theory” is unacceptable, unacceptable are any compromises in theological, ecclesiological or moral matters. Unacceptable is theological syncretism, when the foundations of the Christian doctrine are diluted, when the fundamental postulates of the Orthodox faith are questioned.

Allowable, and necessary, are those forms of inter-Christian dialogue which give the Orthodox Church the possibility of freely witnessing the truth in the face of the non-orthodox world. One shouldn’t forget what the “Basic Principles” states: “Witness cannot be a monologue, since it assumes the existence of listeners and therefore of communication. Dialogue implies two sides, a mutual openness to communication, a willingness to understand, not only an “open mouth,” but also a “heart enlarged” (II Cor. 6:11).

Source: The Official Website of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Leaving to one side what Metropolitan Hilarion says about the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the World Council of Churches, and concentrating on what he says about its relationship with the Catholic Church, it is not hard to see that  there is an approach that differs considerably from that of Metropolitan John Zizioulas of the Greek Orthodox Church.   He reflects the alarm of Patriarch Kiril of  and his hierarchy about the way the theological conversations are going.The Russian Holy Synod rejects the Ravenna document where Catholics and Orthodox have reached considerable agreement.   Instead, he proposes a strategic alliance between "the churches of Tradition" against the forces of secular liberalism, militant atheism and militant Islam.   Speaking positively, we should join forces to coordinate our energies in the "new evangelisation" of society.

He writes:
We do not need union with the Catholics, we do not need “intercommunion,” we do not need compromise for a doubtful “rapprochement.” What we do need, in my opinion, is a strategic alliance, for the challenge is made to traditional Christianity as such. This is especially noticeable in Europe, where de-Christianization and liberalization are occurring as persistently as the gradual and .unswerving Islamization.
The difference between Zizioulas and Alfeyev is expressed in the phrase, "We do not need union with the Catholics."   The Russian Orthodox authorities are putting this on hold.   Why?

  1. There is the reason given by Metropolitan John Zizioulas, that any authority recognised in the Pope would have to ceded to the Patriarch of Constantinople as " first among equals", and the two patriarchates are rivals. However, the only alternative to the papacy that is on offer is the rather unedifying spectacle of two patriarchates jostling for first place.   However, caritas urget nos to look for a better explanation.
  2. My problem is that I have no way into the minds of the Patriarch and of Metropolitan Hilarion; but I can put myself in their shoes and ask what would alarm me, from an Orthodox hierarch's perspective, whether I favoured communion with Rome or not.
  3. What would alarm me is that these talks may well succeed within a life time; and nothing would be worse than abandonment of Orthodox - Catholic relations, except for a premature agreement before the two churches are ready for it.   About a thousand years ago, Metropolitan Hilarion has said, both sides agreed that it had no need for the other.   Until both Churches realise in their guts that they need each other, enough to forgive past wrongs, enough to change the perspective that each has of the other, an agreement would work havoc on the unity of both Churches, especially in  the Orthodox Church.   You only have to read what the abbots of Mount Athos have to say about Catholicism or remember the protests by monks in Rhodes to realise that there is a long way to go.   However much you disagree with them, however xenophobic they may be, they are Orthodox too; and the first task of a bishop is to nurture the unity of the Church and oppose anything that might endanger that unity.   

  4. Also, these conversations are happening just at a time when the Russian Orthodox Church needs to direct all its energies and all its personel to the re-conversion of Russia.   For the first time since 1917, the State is supporting them, the people are willing, lots of good will but  an appalling ignorance of things Christian among the majority of the population.   It would be a terrible tragedy if the upheaval brought about by a Christian Unity that only some want would interfere with this golden opportunity to evangelise.

  5. The solution is not to abandon the search for Orthodox - Catholic unity, but to let the search for doctrinal unity take second place and to look for areas where, whatever the attitude to that unity, all can agree that Orthodox and Catholics need each other.   Metropolitan Hilarion suggests that opposing the advancing secularism and re-converting people in the New Evangelisation are tasks too big for either Church alone.  Hopefully, as long as each side respects the rules for churches not in communion, no one will feal his identity threatened by this collaboration, and all, little by little, will come to realise how much we need each other.   When, from needing each other we come to love each other, then will be the time for the theologians to take over. 
This requires patience from those Catholics and Orthodox who love each other already.   It also requires humility because both sides believe they are already living the fullness of Catholicity and know that the other side is lacking.   
Personally, I believe both positions are true, because the fullness of Catholicism comes from the participation on both sides in the sacramental life of the Church and that the Christ of the sacraments IS the fullness of Catholicism; and our lack comes from the fact that we are lungs that should be breathing together but are, in fact, breathing separately.  

We look at each other and see the other´s faults very clearly.   A papacy without synodality (a horrible word - I prefer the Russian word "sobornost") would not be acceptable to any Orthodox; but it is argued by some Orthodox that, for synodality to work, there is need of a "protos" to call it and to be a focus of its unity.   If "sobornost" is of the essence of the Church, based on its eucharistic nature, then it is of the essence of the Church that there be a "protos" wherever "sobornost" manifests itself, whether at a local, regional or world-wide level.   This justifies their rejection of the papacy that wished to exercise its Petrine authority independently of synod, but accepts a papacy, even by divine right,  that works within the context of the world-wide communion of bishops whose unity is also divinely willed.      This view coincides with the desire of Catholic reformers, and especially Pope Francis, who want to re-model the Church according to Vatican II, and it answers the Orthodox problem - which many voice when they are not disputing with Rome - that the regional Orthodox churches simply cannot act together as one body.   "Oh Father David," said Archimandrite Barnabas, "We Orthodox talk about ´sobornost´ most and practise it least!"   

Pope Francis says quite constantly that we must learn from what the Holy Spirit has taught the Eastern Churches and consider Eastern solutions among our options when striving to solve our own Western problems.   This, together with the often repeated opinion that the Orthodox should not be required by us to accept dogmas that have been proclaimed by popes or councils since the separation, means that the area of disagreement has been reduced, and the western councils and papal decrees would be reduced in status by that very fact.   Actually, both Pope Francis´ inclusion in our pastoral options the positions adopted by the Orthodox, and the idea that western decisions made since the schism are not binding on the Orthodox, are based on the same doctrine, that Tradition springs from the synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church and that it is chiefly expressed in liturgy; that the liturgy is the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity; that the universal Tradition takes shape and is chiefly expressed in various liturgical traditions; that all these traditions are the same Christian Mystery in depth, but answer different questions according to the situation of each church; and thus discrepancies has arisen due to schism.   Hence, Pope Francis recognises that Orthodox traditions are a true and authentic variant of the Tradition we have in common, even if we don't agree on all things

All this strengthens the Russian argument about the dangers of too hasty an optimism which can cause pain and disunity within the Orthodox Church (and, perhaps, the Catholic Church as well.)   Pope Francis too has emphasised that we must get to know one another before unity can take place.  In the end, unity will not be brought about by merely solving problems, but by a Spirit-filled ecclesial love of those who agree because they share the same Spirit-given vision.

Finally, this is the first time that I have heard the Pan-Orthodox Synod being called an ecumenical council.   Many would hold that it is history that decides whether a synod like this is an ecumenical council in the full sense of the word.


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