"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

Saturday 30 August 2014


In 1970, Father Oscar Romero was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Upon his consecration as a bishop, Romero adopted “To be of one mind with the Church” as his episcopal motto. 

Today, 34 years after his assassination at the altar and 17 years after Pope St. John Paul II approved his cause for canonization, bestowing upon him the title “Servant of God,” the Church has decided that Romero was indeed “of one mind with the Church.” 

During his plane ride home from South Korea on August 18, Pope Francis confirmed that he had lifted a prudential block on Romero’s cause, paving the way for his beatification in the near future.  

“There are no doctrinal problems and it is very important that it is done quickly,” said the Holy Father. “For me, he is a man of God.” 

Pope Francis was actualy confirming news that had come out last year, though that may have not been noticed by most of the Catholic world. In April 2013, during a Mass honoring the 20th anniversary of the death of Bishop Antonio "Tonino" Bello, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, prefect of the Pontifical Council for the Family and postulator of Romero’s cause, declared that, “Just today … the cause of the beatification of Monsignor Romero has been unblocked.”

A few months later, in July, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), announced that an examination of Romero’s doctrinal orthodoxy had been completed and that the CDF had no objection to the cause moving forward. 

“I see Oscar Arnulfo Romero as a great witness of the faith and a man who was thirsty for social justice,” said Cardinal Müller at the time, noting that as early as 2007 Pope Benedict XVI said he thought Romero “worthy of beatification.”

These developments are of particular importance to Catholics in Central and South America, especially the poor, who view Romero as a champion of their cause for social, political and economic justice.  Devotion to Romero has flourished among El Salvador’s poor since his assassination, and he is frequently referred to throughout Latin America as San Romero de América: Saint Romero of America.

Romero was born in 1917 in El Salvador’s district of San Miguel. He was educated in a minor seminary in San Miguel, the Salvadoran national seminary in San Salvador, and at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained in 1942. For the first 25 years of his priesthood, Romero served in ordinary roles, mostly in the Diocese of San Miguel: parish priest, pastor, and seminary rector. He also served as secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of El Salvador, and editor of the archdiocesan newspaper, Orientación in San Salvador.

But in 1970, with his appointment as an auxiliary bishop, Romero’s life and priestly career got on the fast track. In 1974, he was appointed as bishop of Santiago de Maria, a remote diocese in an impoverished rural part of the country. Then, in 1977, Romero was made Archbishop of San Salvador. At the time, his elevation was cheered by elites, who viewed him as a traditional cleric likely to defend their political and economic domination of the country. It is easy to see why El Salvador’s power elites were inclined to trust Romero. He had staked out a reputation as a traditional churchman who avoided direct involvement in politics and vigorously defended the magisterial teaching of the Church. 

But the murder of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, a friend of Romero’s who had been working to organize the rural poor, changed something in Romero. Grande was shot and killed along with two others less than a month after Romero assumed the chair of San Salvador. An official statement put out by Romero’s Archdiocese said, "The true reason for his death was his prophetic and pastoral efforts to raise the consciousness of the people throughout his parish. Father Grande…was only slowly forming a genuine community of faith, hope and love among them, he was making them aware of their dignity as individuals … It is work that disturbs many; and to end it, it was necessary to liquidate its proponent.”

Then, as now, El Salvador was a desperately poor, densely populated country marked by grotesque economic inequality. For generations, a tiny elite class of landowners had conspired with the government and foreign corporations to appropriate the natural wealth of the country while keeping the majority of Salvadorans poor. Attempts at reform in the 1960’s and 70’s resulted in a ferocious backlash by the landowners and their allies in government and the military. That backlash included brutal repression of the Church whenever it spoke out against injustice and violence. 

This was the political environment in which Oscar Romero assumed his responsibilities as Archbishop of San Salvador. He began to speak out on behalf of the poor, decrying the violence of death squads and private militias, calling for political and economic reforms that would bring some measure of dignity to both campesinos – rural peasants – and the urban poor. For his efforts, the government redoubled its persecution of the Church. As Romero wrote in 1980:

In less than three years, more than 50 priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs—they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands …

A key date in the evolution of events was October 14, 1979. On that day a group of current and former military officers called the Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG) deposed the president and took power in a coup d’etat. The coup was welcomed by, among others, the United States Government, which immediately began providing the new government with military aid, much of which found its way into the hands of private death squads and paramilitary groups. Romero famously wrote a letter to US President Jimmy Carter, begging him to stop supporting the JRG. His pleas were ignored.

On Sunday, March 23, 1980, Romero preached a sermon at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior in which he called upon Salvadoran soldiers to fulfill their responsibilities as Christians and refuse orders that violated the human rights of the people. 

I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.

The following day, March 24, Romero celebrated Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital. Most of those attending were nuns from a nursing order. As he elevated a chalice filled with the just-confected Precious Blood, a gunman shot Romero from the back of the chapel. He died almost immediately. At his funeral Mass six days later, nearly a quarter of a million people crowded the area around the cathedral, which apparently enraged the JRG, which opened fire on the crowd, killing between 30 and 50 mourners and wounding scores of others. 

Almost immediately, Romero’s legacy was the subject of dispute, both within and outside the Church. Those on the political right charged him with being a Marxist and a supporter of violent revolution. Those on the left appropriated his memory as an apostle of liberation theology. 

In fact, he was neither. As the writer Filip Mazurczak has said, “While the left has come to glorify Romero, right-wing politicians in El Salvador have accused him of inspiring leftist guerrilla violence. In reality, Romero sought a peaceful solution to El Salvador’s troubles. In his third pastoral letter, written in 1978, Romero condemned leftist guerrilla violence as ‘terrorist’ and ‘seditious.’ In the fourth letter written one year later, the archbishop of San Salvador reminded the nation that violence was justifiable only in extreme situations when all other alternatives have been exhausted, citing Catholic just war theory.”

Romero’s own words buttress Mazurczak’s assertion. “Marxism is a complex phenomenon,” wrote Romero in a pastoral letter. “It has to be studied from various points of view: economic, scientific, political, philosophical and religious. One has, moreover, to study Marxism in terms of its own history. What the church asserts … is that insofar as Marxism is an atheistic ideology it is incompatible with the Christian faith. That conviction has never changed in the Church’s history. In that sense, the church cannot be Marxist.”

In the same letter, Romero also noted that the charge of Marxism is often cast at contemporary Christians merely seeking justice. “Worldly interests try to make the Church’s position seem Marxist,” he wrote, “when it is in fact insisting on fundamental human rights and when it is placing the whole weight of its institutional and prophetic authority at the service of the dispossessed and weak.” 

For all his focus on the poor, Romero rejected Marxism’s crude taxonomy of class division. “We are not demagogically in favor of one social class,” he said, “we are in favor of God’s reign, and we want to promote justice, love, and understanding, wherever there is a heart well disposed.”

Far from being a Marxist, Romero was in fact a Catholic priest with a deep commitment to the magisterial teaching of the Church and a deep, thoroughly orthodox spirituality. He came late to the struggle of El Salvador’s impoverished majority because his abiding concerns were spiritual and ecclesial, not economic or political. 

Romero was first and always a follower of Jesus Christ, and that discipleship characterized his life as a pastor, as well as his martyrdom. Three weeks before he was gunned down, Romero composed the following prayer during an Ignatian retreat. Not only is it prescient regarding the brutality of his death, it reveals in Whom he placed his confidence and love: 

Thus do I express my consecration to the heart of Jesus, who was ever a source of inspiration and joy in my life. Thus also I place under his loving providence all my life, and I accept with faith in him my death, however hard it be. I do not want to express an intention to him, such as that my death be for my country's peace or our Church's flourishing. Christ's heart will know how to direct it to the purpose he wishes. For me to be happy and confident, it is sufficient to know with assurance that in him is my life and my death, that in spite of my sins I have placed my trust in him and I shall not be confounded, and others will carry on with greater wisdom and holiness the works of the Church and the nation.

Mark Gordon is a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 30 years and they have two adult children.

Friday 29 August 2014


Friday, 4 April 2014

The Pan-Orthodox Council, Ukraine Crisis and Christian Unity | Interview with Metropolitan Hilarion | NCRegister.com
Scroll down for the NCR interview. 

It always bears repeating that Metropolitan Hilarion is not speaking objectively, or in a spirit of  dialogue. His job consists in: skillfully advancing the interests of the Patriarchal See of Moscow and the Churches over which it presides in the task of prevailing over those which it does not; presenting itself as the de facto leading See of Orthodoxy, in parity with the leading See of Catholicism, namely that of Rome. Thus he characterises Catholicism only as Roman-Latin and characterises Byzantine Christianity as distinctively and essentially Orthodox, rendering Greek-Catholics as unauthentic products of so-called Uniatism.

Unfortunately, his expressions of ecumenism towards the Catholic Church are  neither ecumenical in method or spirit, nor are they based in evidenceable fact. First, the term "Uniatism" is offensive to Eastern Catholics. It is an inaccurate description of their integrity, history and ecclesiological principle - union with the See of Rome in good conscience. This has no place in Christian ecumenism. Dialogue begins with respect that is mutual - respect for the Russian Orthodox Church presupposes Russian Orthodoxy's respect for others. Each Church has a right both to describe itself in its own terms and for its profession to be accepted in good faith, even if disagreed with. If this is not starting point, then other avenues of dialogue cannot proceed very far. 

At the 2013 Busan Assembly of the WCC, the Metropolitan arrived prior to and left after his own speech, causing offence among Protestants for allowing no space for exchange over the novel views he expressed, that the purpose of Orthodoxy's involvement in ecumenical bodies is to witness to Orthodoxy and thus to call those in error to "return" to it. As St Francis de Sales, the greatest pastor of reconciliation for those attracted to the Reform, observed of the work of certain aggressive anti-Protestant activists among his fellow Catholics, "The bee achieves more by its honey than by its sting." In this case, what Metropolitan Hilarion does not say, as he portrays Eastern Catholic Ukrainians as a problem erected by the Catholic Church, is that the rest of Orthodoxy accepts the fact of Eastern Catholics and respects the fact that dialogue with the Catholic Church is not confined only to Roman Catholics (as is acceptable to Moscow), but must embrace all. Indeed the International Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches fruitfully makes use of the participation of a Greek Catholic bishop and consultants from Eastern Catholic clergy and scholars.

Secondly, the policy and practice of proselytising among Orthodox, with a view to convert them either to Latin or to Eastern Catholicism, under the immediate jurisdiction of the Roman Curia -  has been repeatedly forbidden even if, admittedly, belatedly in some cases, and finally repudiated as a method of proposing ecclesial communion. (cf the Balamand Statement at the Seventh Plenary Session of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in 1993, which set this out as firmly belonging to a damaging and discarded past). The Metropolitan, in all truth, should refer to this being the real position.

Third, successive Popes have legislated for the Universal Catholic Church to protect, enhance and ensure the integrity, rights and prerogatives of Eastern Catholic Churches. This legislation recognized that they are not subject to the Latin Church but canonical self-ruling (sui iuris) Churches in their own right, under their own Heads and Synodal jurisdictions, in mutual communion with each other and the Latin Church, as well as with the Bishop of Rome as universal pastor. This is the true position that Metropolitan Hilarion ought in justice to acknowledge in making his argument.

Fourth, the Moscow Church has - if truth be told - not been above planning to make its own "Uniate" arrangements for embracing within its communion Western Christians of Latin Rite, largely from disaffected Anglican, Old Catholic and Roman Catholic backgrounds.

Fifth, historical fact demands acknowledgment that, for over a thousand years, there have been ample instances of Byzantine Christians being in communion with the See of Rome, sometimes fluidly at the same time as being in communion with those with whom Rome itself was not itself in communion. Examples of these Churches may be found in southern Italy through the Middle Ages and into the modern period, the former Bulgarian patriarchal Church of Ohrid, the patriarchate of Antioch in the 18th century, and across the lands of Middle Europe, among those dependent not on the Russian Church but on the Mother Church in Constantinople.

Sixth, the Union of certain Byzantine Churches, recognised as daughters of Constantinople (eg in modern day Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary and Romania etc) arose not - as alleged - as a result of Latin missionary proselytism but because the territories came under the permanent control of Catholic rulers. Note that in the same period, the Latin patriarch, the Pope, invited Orthodox bishops to ordain clergy and care for the Byzantine population of southern Italy, which is hardly evidence of a Romanisation or Latinisation or Uniatist policy.

Seventh, when the Union of Brest was concluded, there is no historical basis for asserting that the Kyivan Church of the Rus people somehow left the Russian Church. Kyiv was under Constantinople and not the newly-minted Moscow patriarchate. If anything, the Union was a recognition of loss of the bond of communion with Constantinople, not the lands to the East, which only received recognition - from Constantinople - of canonical autocephaly markedly later.

Eighth, historical evidence requires the ecumenist, such as Metropolitan Hilarion, to acknowledge that resentment of the existence of other churches, from which one's own is in breach (or vice versa), in terms of insisting on an ecumenism of return and submission, is hardly conducive to acceptance, compliance, or the supposedly desired unity. In England, for instance, the Church of England has long given up this attitude to the Methodists, Baptists and Reformed. Instead, the evidence is that the Greek Catholic Churches in Middle and Eastern Europe, far from being anomalous, have been highly populous, numbering many hundreds of thousands in modern day Belarus, Romania, across the old Habsburg empire and to this day in Ukraine, as well as in Russia proper - and that the Russian Church and Tsardom actively suppressed and persecuted them across history. This was perpetuated under the Soviet government, which confiscated property from the Greek Catholics and awarded it to the Orthodox, as well as suppressing their monasteries, dioceses and other organisations, while enforcing conversion from Catholic communion to membership of the Russian Orthodox Church on the clergy and faithful against their will under pain of prison or death. For there to be a healing of memories, this truth has to be accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate, if there is to be mutual forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation that can lead to union once more.

And, ninth, the unity that the Russian Orthodox Church desires with the Catholic Church would have to be with the Catholic Church as it is - not the picture that Moscow projects upon it: the Catholic Church is not "Roman" - the use of the Roman Rite is only part of the story, since there are Milanese, Syrian, Chaldean and other parts of the Catholic Church too. And this includes the Greek Catholic Churches which are integral to it.

Tenth, Metropolitan Hilarion speaks of the disadvantage to the Orthodox Church in western Ukraine at the hands of the activities of the Greek Catholic Church there. But prior to the Sovietisation of Ukraine and the post-World War II unification of the West with the starved, murdered, plundered and colonised East, there were NO Orthodox dioceses in Galicia. These were all foundations of Stalin, who instructed the Moscow Patriarchate to proselytize and later absorb all Greek-Catholics into its fold. Greek-Catholic hierarchs were condemned to the gulag by Soviet military tribunals on charges which, surprisingly, included "opposition to the Russian Orthodox Church." With the collapse of the Soviet Union, after 40 years of persecution and oppression, Greek-Catholics reclaimed a portion, but not all, of their own churches. At the present time, the Moscow patriarchate is free to organise and function in the west of Ukraine and has indeed retained not a few of the properties and other infrastructure it came by through expropriation at the hands of atheist enemies of the Cross of Christ. Its persistent resentment at the mere existence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is inexplicable - this has taken nothing and no one that belongs to any one else; it has coerced no one against his or her conscience.

Eleventh, the true problem for the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine is that it does not command the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful, any more than its actions have won over the Ukrainian Catholics, whose collective memory is of Russian state oppression and foreign control in religion. For it is a minority Church. Most Ukrainian Orthodox, rather than being controlled by Russians in Moscow, choose to belong to a church with its own patriarch and synod in Kyiv - even at the price of being recognised by no one else. Leaving aside the question of personalities, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church mostly desired its own autocephaly after Ukraine's independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union - and liturgy in the Ukrainian language and Russian, not just Old Church Slavonic - and its Metropolitan was deposed, leading to the present split. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is attempting and hoping for the repair of this division and the highly charged personal animosity between Church leaders in Kyiv and Moscow. But for the Moscow patriarchate to recognise the autocephaly of a reunited Ukrainian Orthodox Church would be to lose almost half of its own adherents and resources.

Twelfth, by their fruits shall ye know them. When Russia annexed Crimea at the end of a gun barrel, Russian Orthodox clergy threatened Ukrainian Orthodox churches, their clergy, bishop and property; and three Ukrainian Catholic priests were arrested, with a lie from Russia that they were proselytising the Orthodox. In fact they were ministering to Catholics living or stationed there. Besides, by no means all Ukrainians profess the Christian faith after decades of state atheism and modern consumerist secularism, so there can be nothing amiss with any mission work among them, a duty laid on all followers of Christ. The truth is that the present crisis has drawn Ukrainian people of faith closely together - Ukrainian Catholics, Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox, Muslim Tatars, Jews and Protestants (like the acting President, for instance, a Baptist minister) - and, throughout, it has been the Churches together, the people, clergy, monks and bishops of all the Churches, Greek Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox belonging to the minority Moscow patriarchate included, who have been working and praying for peace to prevail. It is unworthy of the Metropolitan not to tell the whole of this truth and to cast his fellow Christians as though they were agents of discord or dissension, when they are demonstrably vocal ministers of reconciliation. (Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman with Fr Athanasius McVay)

An interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Department of External Church Relations.

Edward Pentin, 3 April 2014

Where does the Russian Orthodox Church stand on the crisis in Ukraine? And why is a Pan-Orthodox Council planned for 2016? To find out answers to these and other questions, the Register interviewed Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk, the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church and a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow. A noted theologian, Church historian and composer, Metropolitan Hilarion also shared in this April 2 email interview his thoughts on the current status of Catholic-Orthodox relations.

How important for the Orthodox Church is the Pan-Orthodox Council planned for 2016? Is it to be seen as something similar to Vatican II in the history of the Catholic Church?

The Pan-Orthodox Council is important in that, after the era of ecumenical councils, it will be the first council representing all the Orthodox Churches recognized today. For the last 12 centuries, there were councils of various levels attended by representatives of various Churches, but this one will be the first Pan-Orthodox Council to be convened in this period.

This council is a fruit of long work carried out by local Orthodox Churches for over 50 years. It is hardly appropriate to compare it with Vatican II, because their agendas are utterly different. Besides, we do not expect it to introduce any reforms making a substantial impact on the life of Orthodoxy.

Patriarch Kirill said that the Pan-Orthodox Council should deal with such issues as the expulsion of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa, the cult of consumerism, the destruction of the moral foundations and the family, cloning and surrogate motherhood. How important are these issues for you, and would you also like other themes, such as unity with the Catholic Church, included in the council’s agenda? 

These statements by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill reflect the position of the Russian Orthodox Church, whereby the Pan-Orthodox Council’s agenda needs to be supplemented with themes topical for today’s society and requiring a response from the world Orthodoxy. Besides, there is a list of 10 themes on which documents have been drafted by the local Orthodox Churches during the many years of preparatory pre-council work. All Orthodox Churches have already reached unanimity on eight of them, and, after some improvement, these documents will be submitted to the council. Among them is also the theme of the Orthodox Church’s attitude to the continuation of dialogue with other Christian confessions, including Catholicism.

Could you further explain why this council is needed, and why now?

The development of conciliar mechanisms on the pan-Orthodox level is desired by all Orthodox Churches. This desire motivated the Churches from the very beginning to participate together in preparations for the council, which began in 1961, at the Pan-Orthodox Conference on Rhodes Island. Now, as this preparatory work is approaching completion, the council is planned to convene in 2016, if some unforeseen circumstances do not prevent it.

Russia’s policy in Ukraine has provoked serious protests in the West. What is the position of the Orthodox Church? Do you view the West’s policy over this issue as wrong? 

The Russian Orthodox Church embraces Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and people of many other nationalities. The spiritual unity of our nations has stood the test of time for centuries. The present political crisis in Ukraine can hardly change anything, in this respect. The position of the Russian Orthodox Church cannot be conditioned by a particular policy: Indeed, the faithful of our Church are adherents of various political views; they are citizens of many states.

The closer we are to God, the closer we are to one another. The faith in Christ and love of Christ unite, not divide, people. We have never divided our flock on national grounds.

What is a tragedy for Ukraine is the blood of many people spilt in February in Kiev. Both divine and human justice demands that this disaster should be put under immediate and comprehensive investigation. However, European politicians have no unity of opinion on this issue, just as on many other issues concerning the further destiny of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. In this situation, the role of the Church is not to pronounce big words, but to pray and be compassionate.

Some maintain that the Orthodox Church and the Russian state are too close to each other. How true is that, and in what measure do these relations affect the life of the Church and its wholeness (or the opposite), especially in such matters as Ukraine’s sovereignty? 

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state maintain mutually respectful relations, based on the principles of cooperation and non-interference in each other’s affairs. But similar relations are maintained by our Church with many other states as well, in whose territory she carries out her mission. The Church is the body of Christ that lives according to God-established laws and follows the spiritual and moral values manifested in Divine Revelation. Her ministry is focused on the care for her flock, protection and promotion of traditional moral principles in private and social life and on religious education.

The Russian Orthodox Church and the state do not interfere in each other’s affairs. It does not mean, however, that the Church can be indifferent to the development of the situation in Ukraine. Kiev is the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy and its original center, since it is the place from which Eastern Christianity began spreading. … The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, while being fully independent administratively, is an integral part of the local Russian Orthodox Church. That is why the pain of the Ukrainian faithful is our own pain. We are deeply disturbed by the manifestations of aggression towards our Ukrainian brothers and sisters perpetrated by extremists. In these days, we lift up prayers that the civic confrontation in Ukraine may be stopped as soon as possible, so that the Ukrainian people may return to peaceful life.

You have done much with regard to the development of Orthodox-Catholic relations. What are your hopes for the future? Could a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch take place under the present Pope Francis, or was it more probable under Pope Benedict? 

True, I had to be engaged a great deal in the dialogue with the Catholic Church both in the years when I headed the Secretariat for Inter-Christian Relations in the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations and when I, in my capacity as bishop of Vienna and Austria, served in a Catholic country, maintaining relations with representatives of the Catholic Church in Austria and Hungary. Now, as head of the Department for External Church Relations, I come to Rome each year, where I met first with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI and, now, have met twice with Pope Francis. I also regularly meet with leaders of various units of the Roman Curia.

Today, we, as the Orthodox and Catholics, encounter similar problems in the world, and our positions on many issues coincide, to a considerable extent.

The Orthodox-Catholic dialogue has been carried out on various levels: pan-Orthodox in the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches and in the bilateral format as the Moscow Patriarchate conducts dialogue with Catholic bishops’ conferences in some countries. Theological dialogue has been held for 33 years now, and its achievements are obvious, as is obvious the existence of certain differences in our doctrines.

However, the most important, though not the only, issue dividing the Catholics and the Orthodox concerns the problem of primacy in the universal Church. The difference in its understanding, once, was one of the reasons that led to a division between the Western and Eastern Churches.

In the East, the pope of Rome was recognized as the successor of St. Peter, and the See of Rome occupied the first place among patriarchal thrones, in accordance with ecumenical councils’ actions. However, at the same time, the Eastern Church saw the bishop of Rome as “the first among equals” (primus inter pares) and never ascribed to him special powers, as compared to those of primates of other Churches.

Along with theological differences proper, there is the so-called “non-theological factor of the division.” These are the historical memory of the past controversies and conflicts and a great deal of mutual prejudices, and, unfortunately, some problems which have arisen in the modern period of history.

Still, the Orthodox and the Catholics can work together on many issues. There is a mutual understanding between the Russian Church and the Roman Catholic Church in social and economic ethics, traditional morality and other problems of today’s society. Our position on the family, motherhood, the population crisis, bioethical issues, on problems of euthanasia and many other issues basically coincide.

This agreement makes it possible for our Churches to bear, already now, our common witness to Christ in the face of the secular world. We have a very positive experience of organizing Orthodox-Catholic events, both in the area of the protection of moral values and the area of cultural cooperation.

Today, there is a real interest that both sides show in the fruitful development of bilateral dialogue between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches. As for a meeting of the primates of our Churches, it is quite possible, but it needs to be carefully prepared. We did not exclude that we could arrange it under Pope Benedict, but we had no time to do it. I do not see why it could not be arranged under Pope Francis.

Already, last autumn, it seemed to me that the sides were ready to begin preparing it. But the events in Ukraine have thrown us much back, first of all, because of the actions of the Greek Catholics, who are seen by the Roman Catholic Church as a “bridge” between East and West, whereas we see them as a serious obstacle to dialogue between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

It is no secret that the “Uniatism” was and is a special project of the Roman Catholic Church, aimed to convert the Orthodox to Catholicism. With the help of the secular authorities, the “Uniates” have acted for many centuries to the detriment of the Orthodox Church, capturing Orthodox churches and monasteries, converting ordinary people to Catholicism and oppressing the Orthodox clergy in all possible ways. This was the case in the Polish Lithuanian Principality after the 1596 Union of Brest, and this was the case at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s in western Ukraine.

In the present civic confrontation, the Greek Catholics have taken one side, entering into active cooperation with the Orthodox schismatic groups. The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, together with the head of the so-called Kiev Patriarchate, paced the U.S. State Department offices, calling the American authorities to interfere in the situation and to put Ukraine in order. The Greek Catholics have in fact launched a crusade against Orthodoxy.

In the Vatican, we are told that they cannot influence the actions of the Greek Catholics because of their autonomy. But to distance itself from these actions is something the Vatican is reluctant to do. In these circumstances, it became more difficult to speak of a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow in the near future. We need to wait until newly inflicted wounds are healed. Nevertheless, we do not lose hope that the relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics will be normalized.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-pan-orthodox-council-ukraine-crisis-and-christian-unity/#ixzz2yu19NFAo

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is one of the Orthodox theologians I most enjoy reading.   Moreover, I would share his anxiety that the Orthodox - Catholic theological discussions may come to a premature agreement if I thought this was about to happen.   I agree with him and his patriarch that we should put more emphasis on growing in knowledge and trust of each other by collaboration in the New Evangelisation.  By finding joint solutions and working together to reverse the trend towards secularism, we may grow in a friendship between us which large numbers of Catholics and Orthodox have never experienced.   The kiss of peace precedes the common proclamation of the Creed because, in Christianity, the basis of common understanding is love, first God's love for us, and then our our love which is a sharing in his as a eucharistic people.   Metropolitan Hilarion says somewhere that, about a thousand years ago, both sides decided they could do without the other.   We will truly understand each other only when we realise we need each other.   

However, why do his statements on Catholic-Orthodox relations show no influence whatsoever of his fellow Orthodox theologians in the Orthodox-Catholic discussions?   Why does he speak as though they have never taken place?   Is it because the theologians are often Greek, and we have become embroiled in a Byzantine power game?

Having said that, I don't understand him when he as an historian, fails to  distinguish between history and propaganda - I would have thought his Oxford education would have taught him the distinction.   David Bentley Hart seems to have benefited more.  

I realise that, in the bitter conflict, some Catholics may well try to proselytise, just as Orthodox have done.   Nevertheless, he accuses Catholics of doing what he must know Orthodox have also been doing, often using an atheistic regime to support their efforts.   He also fails to recognise that, in the Ukraine, many of the peace efforts have been done by people right across the ecclesiastical divide.   He says that Orthodox in Western Ukraine are having a hard time; but he does not acknowledge that Latin Catholics and Greek Catholics have had a hard time in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; nor does he acknowledge that these are isolated incidents on both sides, in a country where, on the whole, away from the fighting,  relations between ordinary Orthodox and Catholics have been  good, some would say, far too close. In other words, he does not know the difference between news and propaganda.   Why cannot he sift and interpret modern data in the excellent way he interprets data in the life of St Symeon the New Theologian, for example.   He has opened himself wide to receive the rebuff of Father Mark Woodruff

Thursday 28 August 2014


It is no secret that the quest for Christian unity has come upon hard times. As a Catholic, one’s first duty is to make it clear that the Catholic Church is neither wearied nor disillusioned about the quest for unity. To the visible unity of the one Church of Christ, understood as full communion, the Catholic Church is, as the present pope and his predecessor have repeatedly said, irrevocably committed. Irrevocably , as in unshaken and unshakeable. I have sometimes observed, only half-whimsically, that the only thing lacking for full communion between East and West is full communion. It is a goal so very close and yet, or so it seems, so very far. 

For Catholics, recent years have made full communion with Protestants seem a receding hope. This is notably the case with the Lutherans and the Anglicans, with whom ecumenical dialogue once appeared to hold such high promise of reconciliation. The hope for unity among all Christians is also formidably challenged by the fissiparous growth of thousands of new Christian communities in the Global South. 

Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, however, there are powerful continuities of apostolic ministry, doctrine, and devotion that bind us together in our division. It is between us that the wounds in the Body of Christ began, and it is not unreasonable to believe that it is between us that the healing must begin. Catholicism and Orthodoxy have a unique responsibility as stewards of an understanding of ecclesial unity that is faithful to the apostolic tradition from which all authentic Christianity is derived. 

We have no sure plan or program for the healing of the division between East and West. We have only the imperative, the call to obedience to the will of Christ. Fr. Alexander Schmemann was fond of saying that ecclesial reconciliation between East and West would require a pan-Orthodox council and, he added, a pan-Orthodox council is an eschatological concept. In a similar vein, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has written over the years that hope for full communion among all Christians partakes of the eschatological. We must, he says, be open to a mighty movement of the Holy Spirit, which we cannot anticipate and which we most certainly cannot schedule or control. But to speak of the eschatological is not to despair. On the contrary, eschatology is filled with hope and entails our readiness to respond to the unforeseen and unforeseeable breaking-in of possibilities not of our own devising. We work, we pray, we hope, we wait. In ecumenism, as in all endeavors that surpass our direction, readiness is all. Faithfulness is all. 

Faithfulness is commitment”irrevocable commitment. Once, in conversation with John Paul II, I asked him, “When you were elected pope, and not knowing whether your pontificate would be long or short, what was the one thing that you most wanted to achieve?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Christian unity.” He then went on to explain why Christian unity means, first of all and above all, reconciliation between East and West. The healing must begin where the divisions began. This understanding was set forth in 1995 in the great encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint ”“That They May Be One.” Ut Unum Sint, together with the decree on ecumenism from the Second Vatican Council, forms the magna carta of the Catholic Church’s irrevocable commitment. 

Truth to tell, many Orthodox, like many Protestants in the West, do not need to be persuaded that Rome is irrevocably committed to ecclesial unity. That is precisely what they worry about. The Catholic Church is often seen as the threatening giant of the Christian world. Of the more than two billion Christians in the world, over half are Catholic and, for all the diversities and tensions, they are united through a vast network of ministries and institutions under the leadership of the bishop of Rome. There is an understandable fear, reinforced by long and bitter memories, of Rome’s “ecclesiastical imperialism.” There is the understandable suspicion that, for the Catholic Church, ecclesial reconciliation means ecclesial capitulation by non-Catholics. Such fears and suspicions were centuries in the making, and it may be centuries before they are overcome, if they are ever overcome entirely. 

Writing in First Things in March 2001, the Orthodox theologian David Hart put it bluntly: “As unfair as it may seem, to Orthodox Christians it often appears as if, from the Catholic side, so long as the pope’s supremacy is acknowledged, all else is irrelevant ornament. Which yields the sad irony that the more the Catholic Church strives to accommodate Orthodox concerns, the more disposed many Orthodox are to see in this merely the advance embassy of an omnivorous ecclesial empire.” 

I am convinced that the dynamic that drives the Catholic Church’s irrevocable commitment to Christian unity is not an exercise of power or desire for aggrandizement, never mind ecclesiastical conquest. Quite the opposite is the case. It is not power but weakness that impels the quest for unity. That is to say, the Catholic Church frankly admits that she cannot be fully what she claims to be apart from other Christians and, most particularly, apart from the Orthodox. Remember John Paul’s frequent references to the Church once again “breathing with both lungs,” East and West. That is a metaphor, but it is not merely a metaphor. We need one another to be fully who we are. 

It is different with the self-understanding of the various Protestant denominations and ecclesial ­communities. They generally have a different ec­clesi­ology, a different understanding of what it means to be the Church. They believe, as indeed do Orthodox and Catholics, in the “invisible Church” of all believers, living and dead, but here on earth their churches are viewed as human constructs of voluntary association. While most of them agree that greater unity among Christians, in terms of understanding and cooperation, is highly desirable, it is not necessary to being what they believe they are. An exception must be made for some Anglicans, such as those in the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, but it seems increasingly, and sadly, obvious that they do not represent the future of the Anglican communion. 

For Catholics and Orthodox, it is very different. While it is true that the sacramental fullness of the Church is present in every rightly ordered particular or local church, the constitution of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is comprehensive, as in universal. The Church is the apostolically ordered community of faith and worship through time until the end of time. That understanding is grievously violated and weakened by our disunity, depriving each of us of spiritual gifts intended to be shared with all. This, combined with obedience to our Lord’s will that we be visibly one, is the driving dynamic of the Catholic Church’s irrevocable commitment to Christian unity understood as full communion. 

To be sure, there are Catholics, as there are also Orthodox, who are content to say that theirs is the one true Church, and, in their inflated sense of self-sufficiency, they reject the ecumenical imperative. For them, ecumenism is too often an optional interest to be indulged only up to the point that it threatens to disturb their contentment with the way they are. This way of thinking is alien to the ecclesiology of both Catholic and Orthodox Christians”for whom the Church, as apostolically constituted by our Lord himself, is in its visible unity to be the witness through time of God’s saving purposes for all mankind. Our divisions are a skandolon , a stumbling block, a snare, and a trap, an evidence of our disobedience. For this reason, Ut Unum Sint repeatedly insists that genuine ecumenism requires conversion. John Paul writes:

 Here once again the Council proves helpful. It can be said that the entire Decree on Ecumenism is permeated by the spirit of conversion. In the Document, ecumenical dialogue takes on a specific characteristic; it becomes a “dialogue of conversion ,” and thus, in the words of Pope Paul VI, an authentic “dialogue of salvation.” Dialogue cannot take place merely on a horizontal level, being restricted to meetings, exchanges of points of view, or even the sharing of gifts proper to each Community. It has also a primarily vertical thrust, directed towards the One who, as the Redeemer of the world and the Lord of history, is himself our Reconciliation. This vertical aspect of dialogue lies in our acknowledgment, jointly and to each other, that we have sinned. It is precisely this acknowledgment which creates in brothers and sisters living in Communities not in full communion with one another that interior space where Christ, the source of the Church’s unity, can effectively act, with all the power of his Spirit, the Paraclete.
John Paul, like his predecessor Paul VI, candidly acknowledged that the primacy of Peter, established by Christ for the unity of his Body, has, in the eyes of many, become a chief obstacle to reconciliation. He therefore asked the churches not in communion with Rome to join with the bishop of Rome in seeking “to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” 

The response to this invitation has been, to put it gently, mixed. In 1999, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission published a noteworthy document, “Authority in the Church,” which recognized the need for a primacy in the universal Church and recognized also the ways in which Rome has supplied that need in the past. Regrettably, recent developments have raised the question of whether the members of that commission are re­flective of the identity and direction of the Anglican ­communion. 

As for the Orthodox, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at one point flatly stated, to the surprise of many, that Christ gave Peter no higher authority than that given to all the apostles. At a symposium in Rome in 1997, however, several Orthodox theologians addressed the Petrine ministry, with Prof. Dumitru Popescu suggesting that there are four main, and not mutually exclusive, interpretations of the words of Jesus in Matthew 16, “You are Peter.” The first is that Peter himself is the rock on which Christ would build his Church; the second is that the promise is given to all the apostles who share Peter’s confession of faith; the third is that the rock is the faith confessed by Peter; and the fourth is that the rock is Christ himself, whom Peter confessed. 

After tracing the history of these different interpretations, Propescu suggested: “Orthodoxy accepts a ­primacy of the bishop of Rome, but a primacy of service.?.?.?.?The government of the Church is synodal or collegial. The experience of the papacy can be of great importance for Christian unity but, in order to be accepted by everyone, it has to be exercised in the context of an ecclesiology which situates communion both at the visible level and at the invisible level of the Church, that is, which relates communion to the institutional aspect of the Church.” In making the distinction between the two aspects of the Church, communion and institution, Propescu referenced the great Dominican ecclesiologist Yves Congar. 

At the same symposium, Metropolitan John of Pergamon (John Zizioulas) declared that it would be a grave error to reduce the pope’s primacy to his status as patriarch of the West. “Such an understanding of the Roman primacy,” he said, “would lead to a scheme of division of the world into two parts, the West and the East.” Among other problems, that leaves unaddressed the question of who holds primacy over parts of the world that were unknown at the time of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. In Propescu’s view, a universal primacy would be not only useful but also necessary in a unified Church governed by an ecclesiology of communion. Such a primate, he explained, would be “the President of all heads of churches and the spokesman of the entire Church in promulgating decisions reached by consensus.” 

In another contribution to the symposium, Nicolas Lossky of Saint Sergius in Paris contended that the primacy of Rome cannot be reduced to a mere primacy of honor, which, he says, means “practically nothing.” Primacy and conciliarity, he says, necessarily imply each other. Were communion to be restored between Rome and the Orthodox churches, Rome could again serve as the final court of appeal in disputes among bishops. Most Orthodox theologians, he believes, would accept the primacy of Rome as it was exercised during the first millennium. 

The most thorough response to the invitation of John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint is that of Olivier Clement, also of Saint Sergius, in his 1997 book translated under the title A Different Rome? An Orthodox Reflects on the Papacy . As Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote, “This book, solidly rooted in the Orthodox tradition, is, I suspect, almost exactly the kind of response for which Pope John Paul II was hoping.” Dulles connects Clement’s argument to the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar and notes that “In any discussion of office and primacy, care must be taken not to let that one question dominate the whole field of ecclesiology.” Balthasar, it will be remembered, distinguishes four archetypal dimensions of the Church: the Petrine, representing hierarchical office; the Pauline, representing charismatic mission; the Johannine, representing contemplative love; and the Marian, representing virginal fruitfulness and the universal call to holiness. Since he is addressing the primacy, Clement naturally accents the Petrine, but he keeps all four dimensions in play. 

In his Trinitarian theology, Clement depicts the Church in familiar terms as the House of the Father , the Body of the Son , and the Temple of the Holy Spirit . 
The universal Church exists as a plurality of local churches, in each of which the whole Church is mystically present. This is, of course, in full accord with the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium , which says, “The Church of Christ is truly present in all legitimate local congregations of the faithful which, united with their pastors, are themselves called churches in the New Testament.” As the council added in its decree on bishops, in each diocesan church “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is truly present and operative.” 

Clement holds, as does Vatican II, that the primacy accorded to Peter is primacy within, not over, the college of bishops. He insists that the preeminence of Rome from early times was based not on geographical, political, or economic considerations but on the persons of Peter and Paul, who conducted their ministries in Rome and there died as martyrs. He holds that the three famous Petrine texts”Matthew 16, Luke 22, and John 21”clearly accent the person of Peter. While Peter is reprimanded by the Lord and on one occasion rebuked by Paul, this is nothing to the point, since it is never suggested that Peter and his successors are without sin. Indeed, John Paul writes in Ut Unum Sint , “It is important to note how the weakness of Peter and of Paul clearly shows that the Church is founded on the infinite power of grace.” 

Clement is a master of the patristic tradition and marshals an extraordinary collection of testimonies from the early centuries to the transmission of Peter’s office of primacy to the bishops of Rome. The testimonies to the primacy extend well into the second millennium, as is evident in the distinguished Byzantine theologians of the eleventh, twelfth, and even fifteenth centuries who were critical of popes precisely because they held them responsible, as the successors of Peter, for the direction of the universal Church. It is by no means adequate, says Clement, to describe this merely as a primacy of honor or to say that the pope is “the first among equals.” 

But the primacy is always to be exercised collegially. This truth, says Clement, was obscured by Vatican I but recovered by Vatican II, which, he says, restored to the episcopal ministry its full sacramentality and reestablished the common responsibility of pope and bishops for the leadership of the universal Church. This correction was crucial to the establishment of the “dialogue of charity” initiated by Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople and the later dialogue of the “mixed commission” that, whatever the difficulties encountered, must be viewed as a sign pregnant with hope for eventual reconciliation. 

One notes that the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI have continued to build on the initiatives of Paul VI. While Benedict has not to date issued new teaching documents on the Catholic Church’s relationship with the East, one notes that he, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was John Paul’s closest collaborator in statements such as Slavorum Apostoli (1985), Euntes in Mundum (1988), Orientale Lumen (1995), and, of course, Ut Unum Sint . While Clement’s book was published eight years before the election of Benedict, the trajectory of Catholic teaching and action that he examines with critical appreciation has only accelerated in subsequent years. 

At the same time, Clement is critical of certain developments in Orthodoxy. He is most particularly critical of the autocephalism of national churches that became a prominent feature of Orthodoxy in the past two centuries. Catholics will recognize disturbing parallels with Gallicanism, which practically withdrew French churches from their allegiance to Rome for several centuries, along with similar nationalistic movements in Germany and Austria. The papal revival of the nineteenth century entailed the rejection of what might be described as a Western version of autocephalism by which nationalism and civil government controlled the direction of the Church. In the West, this circumstance was called, and many still call it today, the ancien régime , but of course there was nothing ancient about it. It was, rather, a distorted moment of history in which nationalism and the unbridled ambitions of nation states radically disordered the apostolically constituted leadership of the Church of Christ. 

Fr. Schmemann wrote that “the need for and the reality of a universal head, that is, the bishop of Rome, can no longer be termed an exaggeration. If the Church is a universal organism, she must have at her head a universal bishop as the focus of her unity and the organ of supreme power. The idea, popular in Orthodox apologetics, that the Church can have no visible head because Christ is her invisible head is theological nonsense. If applied consistently, it should also eliminate the necessity for the visible head of each local church, i.e. the bishop.” Schmemann continued: “The principle of autocephaly has indeed been for the last few centuries the unique principle of organization in Orthodoxy and, therefore, its ‘acting’ canonical rule. The reason is clear: ‘Autocephaly’ with this particular meaning is fully adequate to the specifically Eastern form of Christian ‘nationalism,’ or reduction of the Church to the ‘natural world.’ . . . All the deficiencies in the ecclesiological conscience of the East can be ascribed to two major sources: the close ‘identification’ of the Church with the state . . . and religious nationalism. Both explain the unchallenged triumph of the theory of ‘autocephaly.’” 

The contentions, suspicions, and rivalries generated by autocephaly sometime lead Catholics to view Orthodoxy with a certain condescension. As David Hart explained, “Often Western Christians, justifiably offended by the hostility with which their advances are met by certain Orthodox, assume that the greatest obstacle to reunion is Eastern immaturity and divisiveness. The problem is dismissed as one of ‘psychology,’ and the only counsel offered is one of ‘patience.’ Fair enough. Decades of Communist tyranny set atop centuries of other, far more invincible tyrannies have effectively shattered the Orthodox world into a contentious federacy of national churches struggling to preserve their own regional identities against every ‘alien’ influence, and under such conditions only the more obdurate stock survives.” 

Fully aware of such dynamics, Olivier Clement nonetheless insists on the special role of Peter in the New Testament, the “mystery” of the presence of Peter and Paul in Rome, and the “presidency of love” that ancient Eastern authorities consistently attributed to the Church of Rome. It was, Clement believes, an anti-Catholic hysteria that swept over Eastern Orthodoxy that poisoned the atmosphere so that the fifteenth-century Union Council of Florence was misrepresented as a council of capitulation. Like Hart, he discerns a disturbing degree of such anti-Catholic hysteria in some parts of Orthodoxy only recently freed from the ­Soviet imperium. 

At the same time, Clement is sharply critical of aspects of the Catholic Church, and some of his criticisms must be taken to heart by Catholics. He highlights historical instances in which popes failed to be fully faithful to the “faith once delivered to the saints,” even if they did not invoke the fullness of their authority in support of error. And, of course, Catholics will agree on the exaggerated claims some popes made for their office during the Middle Ages, especially with respect to their authority over the secular realm. And nobody should want to deny that, in reaction to the Protestant schism of the sixteenth century, the Catholic Counter-Reformation sometimes too narrowly construed the Church in jurisdictional and legalistic terms, which stifled the many charisms of the Holy Spirit. 

In Catholicism, the patristic revival of the early twentieth century, advanced under the banner of ressourcement , did much to correct the narrowly institutional ecclesiology that had dominated for several centuries, lifting up a more organic understanding of the Church as the Mystical Body. These changes, drawing heavily on the previously neglected wisdom of Orthodoxy, contributed to the much richer and livelier ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. Without that ressourcement associated with figures such as Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Yves Congar, it is hard to see how Vatican II could have done justice, as it did, to a complex and coherent ecclesiology in which the Church is understood both as a visible community of hierarchical order and as an invisible community of grace animated by the Holy Spirit. 

Nobody should deny that the Catholic Church has at times treated the Eastern churches with insufficient respect and even hostility. In his book After Nine Hundred Years , Yves Congar showed how hostilities on both sides were frequently driven by political and cultural conflicts. In the Middle Ages, the papacy was too much a party of the Carolingian Empire in its rivalry with Byzantium. Nonetheless, Leo III and his successors, fearing a break with the East, resisted the pressure of Western emperors to insert the filioque ”the teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son”into the creed. Finally, in the ninth century, the papacy relented and accepted the filioque on the grounds that it was theologically orthodox, it guarded against Arian tendencies, and it was in harmony with the sense of the faithful at prayer, as experienced in local churches over three or four centuries. Today, in the Catholic understanding, the filioque is no longer a church-dividing issue, and it is of great importance to note that the Eastern-rite ­churches that are in full communion with Rome do not include the filioque in the creed. 

Yet there are so many memories that reinforce bitterness and alienation. Historians dispute precisely who did what to whom and why, but among such memories is certainly the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. When he visited Athens on May 4, 2001, John Paul II addressed Archbishop Christodoulos with these words: “Some memories are especially painful, and some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds of hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret. How can we fail to see here the mysterium iniquitatis at work in the human heart?” 

As Cardinal Dulles writes, “It is important for Catholics and Orthodox to review the past together, listen respectfully to one another’s stories, and recognize the faults and errors of their own forebears.” Only after such a candid and painful review, says Dulles, “can we begin to construct a common history in which the past of the other community becomes, at least to a significant extent, our own past. Only then can we hope to achieve a common future.” 

From the Catholic perspective, one is tempted to say that the only thing lacking for full communion with the Orthodox is full communion. If there are doctrinal differences, they are few, and one can see the way not around them but through them. To be sure, there are understandable anxieties about the relationship between primacy and “jurisdiction.” Vatican II, and the statements of John Paul and Benedict, make clear that the pope governs as a bishop among bishops, not as an emperor or king. In statements on reconciliation with the East, there is no suggestion that papal jurisdiction as it is exercised in the West is a condition for full communion. In these and other matters, it is suggested that such ecclesial reconciliation would in some ways resemble the “undivided Church” of the first millennium rather than the Catholic Church of the second ­millennium. 

There is, of course, the question of the ecumenical councils that the Orthodox do not recognize as being ecumenical. One remembers, however, that the West did not view Constantinople I (381) or Nicea II (787) as being ecumenical, and for understandable reasons. But they were subsequently approved by Rome and became, so to speak, ecumenical after the fact. Dulles writes: “The dogmatic decrees of the Western ecumenical councils purport to declare truths that should be accepted by all Christians on the basis of divine revelation. But unless or until these councils have been received in the East (as re-read in the light of Oriental tradition), their decrees cannot be binding on Orthodox believers. Full communion, as I understand it, will require the acceptance by both Catholics and Orthodox of all the dogmas that are held by the other community to be matters of faith.” 

Here, too, one can agree with Orthodox theologian Fr. John Erickson who has written that, in order to reach unity, we cannot simply return to the “undivided Church of the first millennium.” Neither Catholics nor Orthodox could live with an agreement that simply ignored the developments of the last thousand years. This does not mean that it is necessary to agree on all these developments. The definition of infallibility by Vatican Council I, for instance, is a major obstacle. Clement writes that Orthodox and Catholics must “proceed to a common reflection on decisions made in the centuries of division, and especially on a re-examination of the dogma of 1870, already partially balanced by Vatican II.” 

It does seem possible that we could agree on revealed doctrine while, as Cardinal Dulles suggests, “allowing certain secondary questions to stand as matters for theological discussion.” Already, for instance, there would seem to be no essential dogmatic disagreement on the procession of the Holy Spirit as that is presented by the filioque question. And it seems possible that the Orthodox could agree on the Bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter with a primacy of teaching and ruling authority along the lines suggested by Ut Unum Sint . This assumes that there would be accommodations and differences with respect to how that authority is exercised in the East and the West, and, quite ­likely, different ecclesiological opinions that would be in the realm of theological discussion and would pose no obstacle to full communion. 

We do not know how much time we have. It is possible that, in the larger picture of God’s purposes in history, we are the early Church. As Dulles notes, it took fourteen centuries for Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians to begin to realize that they were fundamentally in agreement about the divinity and humanity of Christ. “We may hope that the deep wounds mutually inflicted on each other by Orthodox and Catholics at the dawn of the second millennium will not take fourteen centuries to heal.” 

I cited at the outset the view of Alexander Schmemann and Joseph Ratzinger that reconciliation between East and West can seem an eschatological horizon. This is not an excuse for procrastination or indolence. On the contrary, eschatological hope is reason for temporal urgency. Such hope underscores that what we do or fail to do matters eternally. Because it is the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we be one, our present work for reconciliation matters ­eternally.

Richard John Neuhaus is editor in chief of First Things . This article is adapted from a lecture delivered this summer at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, New York.

This has been chosen as the first of three articles on "Reconciling East and West" because it is easily one of the best Catholic articles in print on the subject.   The second is about the views of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev which shows we still have a long way to go.   The third is on the position of the Pope, and is by me.   It will argue that, just as the Church as a perfect society has a certain truth but is inadequate within an ecumenical context which needs to go deeper and see the Church as Communion, this being the context in which we can see and understand the Church as a society, so, we will argue, the role of the pope must also first be seen within a sacramental context before it can be understood as having universal jurisdiction and teaching authority.   It will argue the law is completely different within an ecclesial context from the law in a civil context because, while secular law needs the necessary physical force to back it up, Christ gave no such force to the Church. It has no mandate to use imprisonment, fines etc.  Its force gains its strength from God's love for us which we share and reciprocate in the Eucharist..   Certainly, the Church as a sacramental organism requires it to be a society, and the Church as a universal communion requires acceptance of the petrine ministry;  but the Church as a society can only function by giving priority to, allowing itself to be shaped by and be limited by its sacramental nature; and the petrine ministry can only function legitimately within the same context, allowing other ministries to operate as fully as possible for the common good, especially that of the bishops who are just as fully successors of the Apostles as the pope is: it is a primacy based on love, not on physical force.

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