"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

Sunday 30 April 2017


5 Things to know about Coptic Christians
A Coptic monk in the Monastery of Saint Bishoy, the most famous Coptic Orthodox monastery in Egypt. It is located in Wadi El Natrun (the Nitrian Desert), about 100km north and west of Cairo, Egypt. The monastery was founded by Saint Bishoy in the fourth century AD and is surrounded by a keep, which was built in the fifth century AD to protect the monastery against the attacks of the Berbers. (Thanks, Wikipedia)
Who are these sisters and brothers suffering persecution for Christ?

From the Aleteia archives:

With the news of the terrible bombing during Divine Liturgy in a Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, December 11, 2016, attention is being drawn again to the sufferings of Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Who are these Coptic Christians? What do we share with them?

1. The Coptic Church is among the oldest Christian communities in the world.

Coptic Christians trace the founding of their church to a missionary journey by the evangelist St. Mark in the year 42. According to tradition, Mark spent his last days in Alexandria, then the capital of Greek-influenced Egypt and a center of knowledge and culture in the Mediterranean world. The first converts he made were the native Egyptians known as Copts for the language they spoke, which was the last surviving form of ancient Egyptian. (The word Copt is rooted in the ancient Egyptian word that describes a person from Egypt.)

2. Since the 5th century, the Coptic Orthodox Church has been out of communion with Rome and with the Eastern Orthodox churches. The Coptic Catholic Church, a tradition that split off at the same time, is today in full communion with Rome.

The divisions occurred over complex points of theology (particularly the understanding of the nature of Christ) and authority following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Coptic Orthodox Church is autocephalic (its own independent church). It has followers among Egyptian immigrants to other countries in Africa and around the world, including the US, and “daughter churches” in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and is in communion with the Oriental Orthodox churches. The Coptic language, which was written using Greek letters, remains the official liturgical language of the church, but over the centuries has been gradually replaced by Arabic, the vernacular of modern Egypt. Coptic Orthodox Christians, like many other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians, follow the Julian calendar, with Christmas celebrated on January 7. Today, the Coptic Orthodox Church is headquartered in Cairo at St. Mark’s Cathedral (next door to the chapel where the bombing occurred), although the symbolic center of Coptic Christian life remains Alexandria.

The Coptic Catholic Church is headed by a Patriarch (bishop) who pledges obedience to Pope Francis. Coptic Catholics celebrate their own liturgical rite, and continue to use the Coptic language for Mass. The Coptic Catholic Church also traces its origins to St. Mark and Alexandria, but is today headquarted in Nasr City, a suburb of Cairo, at the cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt.

3. The Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox is known as the Pope.

Before the divisions in Christianity between east and west, the patriarch (or head bishop) of the Coptic See of Alexandria was considered, by reason of the church’s age, primer inter pares (“first among equals”). By tradition, the first Patriarch of Alexandria was ordained by St. Mark himself. Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch has been called pappas (“Father”) for generations, and today the Orthodox Patriarch carries the title of Pope. Pope Tawadros II succeeded to the office in 2012 after the death of Pope Shenouda III. Bishop Tawadros was selected by having his name chosen by a blind child from among ballots containing the names of three candidates. Pope Francis considers Pope Tawadros II his brother in Christ, and called him directly to offer sympathy and prayers after Sunday’s bombing.

4. Coptic Christians gave us the first school of catechesis and the blessing of the monastic tradition.

Under the Copts, Alexandria gave rise to a catechetical school where Christian doctrine took shape. Many of the early Church fathers lived or studied in Alexandria, joining the Greek philosophers and Jewish scholars who already made the city their home. Besides catechetical studies, the school taught humanities and mathematics. Its library contained carved wood texts with raised letters so the blind could study – long before the invention of Braille. The desert fathers of Egypt began the heremitic and monastic traditions that would later inspire St. Basil of Cappadocia in the East and St. Benedict in the West.

5. Coptic Christians have undergone persecution at various times throughout history.

After the Council of Chalcedon, Coptic Orthodox Christians suffered persecution at the hands of Byzantine Christians who considered them heretics. Many were tortured, imprisoned, and killed, but the Coptic Orthodox remained faithful to their understanding of Christology. With the rise of Islam and the Umayyad conquest of Egypt, most of the population retained their Coptic Christianity at first. Later the taxation and limitation of opportunities that were the price of being Christian under Islamic rule drew many Egyptians to convert to Islam. Gradually, Egypt became a Muslim-majority country, and today Coptic Christians represent only 10%-20% of the population. Since the rise of Islamic militarism, however, Copts (both Orthodox and Catholic), like other Middle Eastern Christians, have come under violent attack from terrorist groups.


Relations between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches 
my source: CNEWA (Papal Agency)

The Oriental Orthodox Churches accept the first three ecumenical councils, but rejected the Christological definition of the fourth council, held in Chalcedon in 451. Today it is widely recognized by theologians and church leaders on both sides that the Christological differences between the Oriental Orthodox and those who accepted Chalcedon were only verbal, and that in fact both parties profess the same faith in Christ using different formulas. This new understanding was the result of official meetings between Popes and heads of Oriental Orthodox Churches, and unofficial meetings of theologians sponsored by the “Pro Oriente” Foundation in Vienna, Austria.

The work of the first Pro Oriente meeting in 1971 laid the groundwork for a historic Common Declaration signed by Pope Paul VI and Coptic Pope Shenouda III in 1973. Avoiding terminology that had been the source of disagreement in the past, the declaration made use of new language to express a common faith in Christ. Since that time Popes and Patriarchs have repeatedly asserted that their faith in Christ is the same. In their 1984 Common Declaration, Pope John Paul II and Syrian Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas stated that past schisms and divisions concerning the doctrine of the incarnation “in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith” because the disputes arose from differences in terminology and culture. As a result of all this, it can be safely said that the different Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Christological formulas are no longer a reason for division.

Progress has also been made in the area of ecclesiology. Both sides clearly recognize each other as churches, and the validity of each other’s sacraments. In their 1984 common declaration, Pope John Paul II and the Syrian Patriarch even authorized their faithful to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick in the other church when access to one of their own priests was morally or materially impossible. Until 2001, when a similar accord was reached with the Assyrian Church of the East, this was the only reciprocal agreement of this type.

In the midst of these contacts, a commission for dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church was set up in 1973, a dialogue with the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in October 1989, and another with the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in 1991. A national consultation between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox as a group in the United States has been meeting since 1978. This was the only example of such a dialogue anywhere in the world until 2003 when the Catholic Church and all the Oriental Orthodox churches agreed to establish a formal theological dialogue at the international level. So far it has met twelve times and has published two agreed statements: “Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church” (2009) and “The Exercise of Communion in the Life of the Early Church and its Implications for our Search for Communion Today” (2015).

The Catholic-Oriental Orthodox relationship has already proved its importance by providing an example of how past disagreements over verbal formulas can be overcome. This was not done by one side capitulating to the other, but by moving beyond the words to the faith that those words are intended to express. Catholics and Oriental Orthodox now agree that, by means of different words and concepts, they express the same faith in Jesus Christ.

.APRIL 12, 2017 12:00AM EDT
Egypt: Horrific Palm Sunday Bombings
State of Emergency Risks More Abuses

In Tanta, a city in the Nile Delta 95 kilometers north of Cairo, a man wearing concealed explosives managed to pass through a security check outside St. George’s Church and detonate himself near the front pews, killing at least 28 people and wounding 77, according to media reports. In Alexandria, church security camera footage showed another bomber trying to enter St. Mark’s Church through an open gate and being directed toward a metal detector guarded by police officers. When an officer stopped the man, he detonated his explosives, killing at least 17 people and wounding 48.

Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was inside St. Mark’s Church but was not harmed, according to the Interior Ministry

Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.

Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’....(see article)

Blood and Water Unite Catholics and Copts, Pope Francis Tells Egyptian Church
photo: abc news
The persecution of Christians and Baptism give divided Churches reason for solidarity

Coptic Christians are the spiritual children of those in the Church who separated in the fourth century, taking a different view of the nature of Christ. As such, they are classified as Oriental Orthodox, as opposed to Eastern Orthodox, and the relationship between Rome and Alexandria has been turbulent at times over the centuries.

But today, both blood and water give Copts and Catholics reason for solidarity: the water of Baptism and the blood of martyrdom.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis wrote to the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, celebrating the fact that “after centuries of silence, misunderstanding and even hostility, Catholics and Copts increasingly are encountering one another, entering into dialogue, and cooperating together in proclaiming the Gospel and serving humanity.”

The letter was occasioned by the 43rd anniversary of the first encounter between Pope Paul VI and Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, an annual observance that has come to be known as the Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics.

The relationship has certainly become more important in the past few years, as militant Islamism throughout the Middle East has threatened Christian communities. Even before the Islamic State group burst onto the international stage, Coptic churches throughout Egypt had been subject to attacks. But the dramatic images of ISIS militants leading 21 orange-clad Copts along a beach in Libya and then beheading them surely prompted Francis to write that he thinks and prays for the Christian communities in Egypt and the Middle East every day.

“So many [Middle East Christians] are experiencing great hardship and tragic situations,” the Pope wrote. “I am well aware of your grave concern for the situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, where our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious communities are facing daily trials. May God our Father grant peace and consolation to all those who suffer, and inspire the international community to respond wisely and justly to such unprecedented violence.”

Noting the ongoing efforts of an international dialogue between Catholics and Oriental Orthodox, Pope Francis said the two Churches are “able even now to make visible the communion uniting us.”

“Copts and Catholics can witness together to important values such as the holiness and dignity of every human life, the sanctity of marriage and family life, and respect for the creation entrusted to us by God,” Francis wrote. “In the face of many contemporary challenges, Copts and Catholics are called to offer a common response founded upon the Gospel. As we continue our earthly pilgrimage, if we learn to bear each other’s burdens and to exchange the rich patrimony of our respective traditions, then we will see more clearly that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

“In this renewed spirit of friendship, the Lord helps us to see that the bond uniting us is born of the same call and mission we received from the Father on the day of our baptism,” the Pontiff continued. “Indeed, it is through baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church.”

Francis and Tawadros met for the first time three years ago, marking the 40th anniversary of the meeting of their predecessors.

Popes Francis, Tawadros II sign declaration to end controversy over rebaptism

The deceleration seeks “not to repeat baptism” when converting from one church to the other
source: Daily News
my source: Pravmir.com
Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church signed a declaration on Friday during the former’s visit to Egypt, agreeing that rebaptism should not be held for Christians wishing to convert from one church to the other.

The declaration, published by the Vatican, stated, “today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus.”

Ishak Ibrahim, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), explained that rebaptism had been one of the main doctrinal differences throughout the past 15 centuries, in which churches did not acknowledge one another.

“Baptism is considered one of the seven sacred sacraments of Christianity; it symbolises how a person is reborn when joining Christianity,” Ibrahim clarified, adding that Christians went through baptism only once in their life during their early childhood, hence, when churches did not acknowledge the baptism of one another, a person had to go through rebaptism if they wanted to transfer from the Catholic Church to the Orthodox or vice versa.

“The declaration’s importance lies in its symbolism and the message within, which shows that churches are able to coexist,” he added. “I believe that the majority of Christians will not oppose the declaration. Of course there will be opposition, but I don’t think it will result in any severe consequences.”

Researcher Marianne Sedhom from the Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies described the consequences of the declaration as “merely theological,” explaining that it would have minimal impact on citizens but rather unified churches.

Friday’s agreement will end the previous standards that were practiced under late Pope Shenouda III, who asserted that one had to undergo rebaptism if one was not baptised in an Orthodox Church, according to state-owned newspaper Al Ahram.

Wednesday 26 April 2017


In this post I shall attempt to express the attitudes, ideas, difficulties and theological positions of some of those on both sides of the Orthodox-Catholic divide who take part in the ecumenical dialogue.  This is not meant to be a polemical essay; hence, I shall not be dealing with the Orthodox anti-ecumenical opposition. 

 We shall start with a short homily of Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow:


The Patriarch begins by saying that he was enthroned on the feast of St Mark of Ephesus who was the only bishop not to sign with the other Orthodox bishops at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-9).  The Byzantine emperor wanted western military help to protect Constantinople from the Moors, and thus sought the help of the pope.  According to Patriarch Kirill, St Mark said:
 union must not be motivated by fear;
union cannot take place motivated by mere pragmatism;
and, most importantly, union cannot take place in such a way as to bring about schism.  This council crushed the unity of the Orthodox world.

I was consecrated bishop on the feast of the Victory of Orthodoxy and was enthroned on the feast of St Mark of Ephesus.  I cannot see this as mere coincidence. I am here to protect the purity of the Orthodox faith and to oppose any heresy or shame. 

Before commenting on this, I think it would be a good idea to read some passages from the brilliant essay by the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart called "The Myth of Schism":

...That said, doctrines do divide us, and I think that, in the nature of things, the Eastern church inevitably has a keener sense of this. I have among my Roman Catholic theologian friends, especially those who have had little direct dealings with Eastern Christianity, some who are justifiably offended by the hostility with which the advances of the Roman Church are occasionally met by certain Orthodox, and who assume that the greatest obstacle to reunion of the churches is Eastern immaturity and divisiveness. The problem is dismissed as one of ‘psychology’, and the only counsel offered 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 confederacy of national churches struggling to preserve their own regional identities against every ‘alien’ influence, and under such conditions only the most obdurate stock survives.

 But psychology is the least of our problems. Simply said, a Catholic who looks eastward should find nothing to which to object, because what he sees is the Church of the Seven Oecumenical Councils (but—here’s the rub—for him, this means the first seven of twenty-one, at least according to the definition of Oecumenical Council bequeathed the Roman Church by Robert Bellarmine). 

When an Orthodox Christian turns his eyes westward, however, he sees many elements that appear novel to him: the filioque clause, the way in which papal primacy is articulated, Purgatory, etc. Our divisions do truly concern doctrine, and this problem admits of no immediately obvious remedy, because both churches are so fearfully burdened by infallibility. And we need to appreciate that this creates an essential asymmetry in the Orthodox and Catholic approaches to the ecumenical enterprise. 

No Catholic properly conscious of the teachings of his Church would be alarmed by what the Orthodox Church would bring into his communion—he would find it sound and familiar, and would not therefore suspect for a moment that reunion had in any way compromised or diluted his Catholicism. But to an Orthodox Christian, inasmuch as the Roman Church does make doctrinal assertions absent from his tradition, it may well seem that to accept reunion with Rome would mean becoming a Roman Catholic, and so ceasing to be Orthodox. Hence it would be unreasonable to expect the Eastern and Western churches to approach ecumenism from the same vantage: the historical situations of the churches are simply too different.
For David Bentley Hart, when we look at the differences between Catholic and Orthodox theology, simply as theology, they are not absolute differences. Some are due to differences of vocabulary, some are complementary, while, with others, we can simply allow the two theologies to correct one another.  

The problem is dogma, not dogma in general, but all the Catholic dogmas defined after the split..  Dogmas do not drop down, ready made, from heaven. They belong to a process of gradual articulation and refinement and the need to formulate them arises in a particular intellectual and historic environment.  However, Orthodoxy and Catholicism have developed in very different environments,  have had different experiences, and have had to solve different problems.  Hence there are Catholic dogmas that have no place in Orthodox tradition.  To accept them, an Orthodox has to go outside his tradition into someone else's.  This implies that their Tradition is somehow defective and that reunion means "becoming Roman Catholic"; and this they don't accept. On the contrary, they consider their own church to be the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" listed in the Nicene Creed.  Hence this short sermon by Patriarch Kirill:

This sermon states the Orthodox doctrine that it is the Catholic Church, and he opposes it to modern liberalism which believes that one Christian church or community is as good as another. With a little adaptation, we would, of course, agree with the Patriarch.

Is there any possibility of union when both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church each claims to be "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the Creed?  Is there any possibility of union when the Catholic Church has dogmas that the Orthodox cannot accept?  Is there no alternative to the choice between the anti-ecumenists like Father Peter Heers and wishy-washy Anglican liberals?


St Mark of Ephesus
of Ephesus
With St Mark of Ephesus and Patriarch Kirill, we must rule out any reunion based on fear or on mere pragmatism and apostolic efficiency, or in such a way that it will breed more schism.  I suggest that, for the Patriarch of Moscow, the latter danger is greatest.  I suspect that he is afraid that the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue may reach agreement before the Orthodox Church is ready for it.  An agreement too soon could well cause schism.  Indeed, there are Orthodox bishops who leave the Patriarch of Constantinople out of the dyptichs in the Liturgy because he is infected with "the ecumenical heresy"!  Better, that Catholics and Orthodox work together on tasks that are uncontroversial, and get to know and love each other before agreement is reached.

 We must remember that they have had no Vatican II; and that, before Vatican II, the ressourcement theologians in France, as well as their Orthodox counterparts, covered their ecumenical discussions with a discreet silence, because both church authorities believed ecumenism to be inspired by doctrinal indifferentism.  I once asked a Russian Orthodox archimandrite (he was Welsh actually, but belonged to the R.O.C. and lived in Paris) why V. Lossky, who was so sublime and profound in his exposition of Orthodox theology was so downright silly when it came to Catholic theology.  He gave me a wry smile and said, "Well, you see, Father David, he had to write passages like that because Orthodox theologians in Russia and other Orthodox countries suspected all the Orthodox in France of being infected with Romanism.  If he didn't write passages highly critical of Catholicism, they wouldn't have taken him seriously as an Orthodox theologian."   Vatican scholastic theologians  were just as  xenophobic. 

 What gives us hope for the future is the copernican revolution in our understanding of the Church which took place in Vatican II.  In their dialogue over decades with the Orthodox Russian theologians of Sainte-Serge, the ressourcement theologians in France accepted from the Russians the idea of Eucharistic Ecclesiology.  This explains, better than any other theological theory why the words of Father Lev Gillet are correct.  Father Lev knew both Catholicism and Orthodoxy from the inside.  He wrote:

The whole teaching of the Latin Fathers may be found in the East, just as the whole teaching of the Greek Fathers may be found in the West. Rome has given St. Jerome to Palestine. The East has given Cassian to the West and holds in special veneration that Roman of the Romans, Pope Gregory the Great. St. Basil would have acknowledged St. Benedict of Nursia as his brother and heir. St. Macrina would have found her sister in St Scholastica. St. Alexis the "man of God," "the poor man under the stairs," has been succeeded by the wandering beggar, St. Benedict Labre. St. Nicolas would have felt as very near to him the burning charity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Seraphim of Sarov would have seen the desert blooming under Father Charles de Foucauld's feet, and would have called St. Thérèse of Lisieux "my joy." (Fr Lev Gillet)

Eucharistic Ecclesiology tells us that where the Eucharist is, there is the Church in its fullness, because Catholicism in its fullness is Christ who is fully present in each eucharistic celebration.  There is only one Eucharist, celebrated many times, in which the whole Mystery of Christ is celebrated as a present reality; and the local eucharistic community is the fullness of Catholicism made visible in one place. When I celebrate Mass, all other celebrants in whatever place or time in history concelebrate, and all participants participate with me and my local community.

 The local eucharistic liturgical celebration is also the source of all the Church’s powers, as Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document of Vatican II on the Liturgy says.   Hence Tradition arises out of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church operating in the liturgy.  

Tradition is not something that comes out of a central place like Rome or Byzantium, but is shaped in diverse ways by the spiritual traditions of different places, even though all versions have a common source in apostolic preaching, and all share in the mind of the same Christ.  For these reasons, true Catholicism is a diversity in which it is possible to discover unity.  The unity is constantly being discovered and strengthened by the practice of  ecclesial love, the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, except when ecclesial love gets swamped or obliterated by worldly concerns or diabolical pride or prejudice - the devil uses our limitations.

This process has not always been plain sailing.  There is the case of the Assyrian Church of the East.  They are in schism and are Nestorians.  Applying the principles of Orthodox anti-ecumenist hardliners, they are a non-church, with sacraments that don't work.  Yet they are the church of St Isaac the Syrian who is completely orthodox, who would have been a credit to Mount Athos, if history could be changed.  At the time of the great councils, the Assyrian Church was culturally, politically and physically cut off from the Byzantine/Roman Church, speaking Aramaic rather than Greek, belonging to the Persian Empire  rather than Byzantium, and placed by Persia where they could have no contact with their brethren in Roman Syria.   No one invited them to the councils.  They heard of and accepted the Council of Nicaea only 85 years after it was held.  The Council of Ephesus was  somewhat unscrupulously managed by the Church of Alexandria and left no wiggle room for the Church of Antioch, and hence for the Assyrians; and, while Chalcedon was meant to address the concern of both Alexandria and Antioch, it didn't satisfy either, because neither church had any means in their own languages of adequately  distinguishing "nature" from "person".  Hence, the Assyrians rejected both councils.

Nevertheless, Roman theologians went behind the different formulations and found this fundamental coherence in Christ between the classical Catholic/Orthodox definitions of Ephesus and Chalcedon, on the one hand, and the formulations of the Assyrian Church.   The result was the Christological agreement signed by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Mar Dinkha in November 1994.

Based on the teaching that the sources of Tradition are found in the liturgical life of churches founded on apostolic preaching which had their own formulations, and that among the diverse formulations their is an inner coherence because they all are insights into the mind of Christ, and that this coherence is expressed in concrete language, finding this inner coherence meant that the Assyrian Church has kept its apostolic Tradition intact.  Thus, in 1991, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity declared:
Secondly, the Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession. The Assyrian Church of the East has also preserved full Eucharistic faith in the presence of our Lord under the species of bread and wine and in the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. In the Assyrian Church of the East, though not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are thus to be found "true sacraments, and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist" (U.R., n. 15).

Father Emmanuel Clapsis of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology writes:
It would be impossible for us to reach any convergence on the significance of the bishop of Rome if our consultation were to begin with a comparison of classic Roman Catholic and Orthodox views of the papacy. Our common reflection on this issue must be situated in the common ecclesiology of communion that our respective churches have begun to share, especially after Vatican II.[30] In 1974 our consultation stated: "The Church is the communion of believers living in Jesus Christ with the Father. It has its origins and prototype in the Trinity in which there is both distinction of persons and unity based on love, not subordination."[31] It also affirmed that the eucharistic celebration "both proclaims the most profound realization of the Church and realizes what it proclaims in the measure that the community opens itself to the Spirit".[32] This kind of ecclesiology leads to an affirmation of the full catholicity of the local church ‑ provided it lives by the Spirit of God which makes it the living body of Christ in communion of love with other local churches that share the same faith and life pattern. Within the unity of the local churches, "a real hierarchy of churches was recognized in response to the demands of the mission of the Church"[33] without, however, the fundamental equality of all churches being destroyed."

Let us now look at a little bit of history that has been mutually agreed by both sides:

Steps Towards A Reunited Church: A Sketch Of An Orthodox-Catholic Vision For The Future

In the first paragraph of our excerpt, it shows that both sides agree on the early church seeing the whole catholic church made visible in the local eucharistic assembly

3. Divergent Histories.  The historical roots of this difference in vision go back many centuries.  Episcopal and regional structures of leadership have developed in different ways in the Churches of Christ, and are to some extent based on social and political expectations that reach back to early Christianity.  In Christian antiquity, the primary reality of the local Church, centered in a city and bound by special concerns to the other Churches of the same province or region, served as the main model for Church unity.  The bishop of a province’s metropolitan or capital city came to be recognized early as the one who presided at that province’s regular synods of bishops (see Apostolic Canon 34).   Notwithstanding regional structural differences, a sense of shared faith and shared Apostolic origins, expressed in the shared Eucharist and in the mutual recognition of  bishops, bound these local communities together in the consciousness of being one Church, while the community in each place saw itself as a full embodiment of the Church of the apostles.

In the Latin Church, a sense of the distinctive importance of the bishop of Rome, as the leading although not the sole spokesman for the apostolic tradition, goes back at least to the second century, and was expressed in a variety of ways.  By the mid-fourth century, bishops of Rome began to intervene more explicitly in doctrinal and liturgical disputes in Italy and the Latin West, and through the seventh century took an increasingly influential, if geographically more distant, role in the Christological controversies that so sharply divided the Eastern Churches. It was only in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, during what is known as the Gregorian reforms, that the bishops of Rome, in response to centuries-old encroachments on the freedom and integrity of Church life by local secular rulers, began to assert the independence of a centrally-organized Catholic Church in a way that was to prove distinctive in Western society.  

Gradually, a vision of the Church of Christ as a universal, socially independent single body -- parallel to the civil structure of the Empire, consisting of local or “particular” Churches, and held together by unity of faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome -- developed in Latin Christianity, and became, for the West, the normative scheme for imagining the Church as a whole. 

Even in the Middle Ages, however, this centralized vision of the universal Church was not shared by the Orthodox Churches.  In April, 1136, for instance, a Roman legate – the German bishop Anselm of Havelberg -- visited Constantinople and engaged in a series of learned and irenic dialogues on issues dividing the Churches with the Byzantine Emperor’s representative, Archbishop Nicetas of Nicomedia.   In the course of their conversations, Nicetas frequently expresses his love and respect for the Roman see, as having traditionally the “first place” among the three patriarchal sees – Rome, Alexandria and Antioch – that had been regarded, he says, since ancient times as “sisters.”  Nicetas argues that the main scope of Rome’s authority among the other Churches was its right to receive appeals from other sees “in disputed cases,” in which “matters which were not covered by sure rules should be submitted to its judgment for decision” (Dialogues 3.7:  PL 1217 D).  Decisions of Western synods, however, which were then being held under papal sponsorship, were not, in Nicetas’s view, binding on the Eastern Churches.  As Nicetas puts it, “Although we do not differ from the Roman Church in professing the same Catholic faith, still, because we do not attend councils with her in these times, how should we receive her decisions that have in fact been composed without our consent --  indeed, without our awareness?” (ibid. 1219 B).  For the Orthodox consciousness, even in the twelfth century, the particular authority traditionally attached to the see of Rome has to be contextualized in regular synodal practice that includes representatives of all the Churches.
From this text we notice that both sides accept the ressourcement theologians premise that solutions to modern problems can be sought in Tradition, in this case in the first thousand years of the Church’s existence when East and West were one.

They also recognise that the way Tradition is shaped reflects the historical experience of particular churches, even though, to be recognised by the universal Church, the deeper coherence in Christ of these diverse forms must be discovered. 

Another document is of great importance, the Chieti Document of 2016.   Here is an exerpt:

The Local Church
8. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of which Christ is the head is present in the eucharistic synaxis of a local church under its bishop. He is the one who presides (the ‘proestos’). In the liturgical synaxis, the bishop makes visible the presence of Jesus Christ. In the local church (i.e. a diocese), the many faithful and clergy under the one bishop are united with one another in Christ, and are in communion with him in every aspect of the life of the Church, most especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. As St Ignatius of Antioch taught: ‘where the bishop is, there let all the people be, just as, where Jesus Christ is, we have the catholic church [katholike ekklesia]’.(4) Each local church celebrates in communion with all other local churches which confess the true faith and celebrate the same Eucharist. When a presbyter presides at the Eucharist, the local bishop is always commemorated as a sign of the unity of the local church. In the Eucharist, the proestos and the community are interdependent: the community cannot celebrate the Eucharist without a proestos, and the proestos, in turn, must celebrate with a community.
9. This interrelatedness between the proestos or bishop and the community is a constitutive element of the life of the local church. Together with the clergy, who are associated with his ministry, the local bishop acts in the midst of the faithful, who are Christ’s flock, as guarantor and servant of unity. As successor of the Apostles, he exercises his mission as one of service and love, shepherding his community, and leading it, as its head, to ever-deeper unity with Christ in the truth, maintaining the apostolic faith through the preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments.
10. Since the bishop is the head of his local church, he represents his church to other local churches and in the communion of all the churches. Likewise, he makes that communion present to his own church. This is a fundamental principle of synodality.

It goes on to tell us of the importance of the regional churches. The:

The Church at the Universal Level

15. Between the fourth and the seventh centuries, the order (taxis) of the five patriarchal sees came to be recognised, based on and sanctioned by the ecumenical councils, with the see of Rome occupying the first place, exercising a primacy of honour (presbeia tes times), followed by the sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, in that specific order, according to the canonical tradition.(11)
16. In the West, the primacy of the see of Rome was understood, particularly from the fourth century onwards, with reference to Peter’s role among the Apostles. The primacy of the bishop of Rome among the bishops was gradually interpreted as a prerogative that was his because he was successor of Peter, the first of the apostles.(12) This understanding was not adopted in the East, which had a different interpretation of the Scriptures and the Fathers on this point. Our dialogue may return to this matter in the future.

It is a principle of ressourcement theology that something that was allowed or differences that were tolerated over a considerable time within Catholic Tradition cannot be permanently disallowed or become intolerable by ecclesiastical decree.  It was this principle that was cited by Pope Benedict XVI for allowing the celebration of the Tridentine Mass.  He argued that ecclesiastical authority, even the authority of the pope, is a servant of Tradition and not its master.  He said that he did not have the power to permanently forbid the Tridentine Mass, anymore than he had the power to permit female bishops and priests.

This principle, when applied to the dogmatic decrees on the papacy as well as to any other dogma that has been formulated in western Catholic tradition without a corresponding tradition in the Orthodox East, means that they are not teachings that we can ask the Orthodox to accept.  The only thing necessary would be "the numerous Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church would have to 'explicitly recognize each other as authentic embodiments of the one Church of Christ, founded on the apostles'” ( Joint statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation (2010).)  As we have seen above, we have seen Rome recognising the Assyrian Church,  "the Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession."   We have seen frequent references to Catholic and Orthodox churches as "sister churches"  We must take such phrases seriously and move towards union with greater confidence; but we must also take the fears of the Patriarch of Moscow and "hasten very slowly" towards our goal.

That does not mean that all problems are solved.  On the contrary, new problems emerge.  What is the theological status of our “ecumenical” councils since the schism?  Remember that authentic tradition arises from the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church operating in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist.  Hence, once we recognise the authentic nature of Eastern and Oriental churches, we also recognise the authenticity of their traditions.  An ecumenical council should reflect the underlying unity of all the traditions in the one, universal Tradition; and the opposite is also true: an ecumenical council, once accepted, should become a permanent part of each of the regional traditions.

  In this context, whatever the legal status in Catholic canon law, the ecumenical councils of the West lack the quality of universality, as they do not represent all the traditions.  However, they do represent the authentic western tradition and are products of the synergy between Church and the Spirit in the western Mass.

  My suggestion is that western ecumenical councils express the truth under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but lack the balance and fullness that they would have had if no schism existed.  They therefore cry out for the ecumenical treatment they are receiving.

If a comparison is made between current papal teaching of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis on the papal office and the ecumenical documents that have come out of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, you will be astonished at the influence of the latter on the former.   Orthodox-Catholic dialogue is helping us to become more Catholic, not less Catholic.   I hope that, one day, the Orthodox will see that Orthodox-Catholic dialogue will  help the Orthodox to become more Orthodox, not less.

Monday 24 April 2017


Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Coffins are carried to the funeral of Egyptian Christians killed in Palm Sunday bombings.

Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.

“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

So also did millions of Copts, recently rediscovering their ancient heritage, according to Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt which subtitled and recirculated the satellite TV clip.

“In the history and culture of the Copts, there is much taught about martyrdom,” he told CT. “But until Libya, it was only in the textbooks—though deeply ingrained.”

The Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Coptic Christians in February 2015. CT previously reported the message of forgiveness issued by their families and the witness it provided.

“Since then, there has been a paradigm shift,” said Atallah. “Our ancestors lived and believed this message, but we never had to.”

Copts date their liturgical calendar from 284 AD, the beginning of the Roman persecution under Diocletian. Troubles with pagan and Muslim rulers have ebbed and flowed over time, but in his Easter message Pope Tawadros lauded the Coptic Orthodox as a “church of the martyrs.”

This history returned with a vengeance in 2010, when the Two Saints Church in Alexandria was bombed on New Year’s Eve. Copts poured out into the streets in anger, presaging the Arab Spring. In the months that followed, Muslims rallied around them and defended their churches.

Nearly seven years later, the nation has grown weary. The Palm Sunday twin suicide bombings killed more than 45 people and are the second ISIS attack on Christian sanctuaries in five months. Twenty-nine people were killed in a suicide bombing at the papal cathedral in Cairo in December. This week, ISIS attacked the famous St. Catherine’s monastery on the southern Sinai peninsula.

All three Christian denominations canceled Easter Sunday festivities, and the Orthodox postponed the reception of condolences. The state declared a three-day period of mourning and held an Easter service for the injured in a military hospital. Muslims reacted in shock and sympathy.

But while signs flutter in public squares about national unity, the visible outpouring of solidarity appears far less.

The atmosphere has changed, said Amro Ali, a Muslim assistant professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo (AUC).

“Among everyone there is now a sense of melancholy,” he said. “The bombings are part of a larger trend where things are just crumbling.”

Following the bombings, the government reimposed a state of emergency (in effect almost every year since the 1980s), expanding police and military powers. Ali connected the mood to the crackdown on activists and the deteriorating economy, but said the Coptic state of depression was more acute.

Many Christians supported current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the popular military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned President Mohamed Morsi in the hope they would be protected, he said. However, such support has not been provided.

But even in death, the Copts forgive.

For example, the night of the bombings, Orthodox priest Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, his words were broadcast on the popular Coptic TV station Aghaby.

“I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is,” said George, addressing the terrorists. But then turning to the church, he said, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them?

“If they know that God is love and experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”

Clearly the Coptic heritage and Jesus’ teaching have an impact on the aggrieved. But will the “never” ever come? Is the scandal of forgiveness wasted?

Soul and Church

Forgiveness is necessary for the individual to overcome the pain of trauma, said Ehab el-Kharrat, a licensed psychiatrist, former member of parliament, and an elder at Kasr el-Dobara Evangelical Church (KEDC) in Cairo. But the traumatic impact and subsequent forgiveness have also overcome Coptic lethargy, reviving the church.

“The Coptic community is definitely in defiance,” he said. “The services of Holy Week have doubled in attendance, and the churches are flowing out into the streets.”

Under heavy security presence, the traditional Easter Eve service passed peacefully. As per Orthodox tradition, priests in a darkened sanctuary quietly reenacted the Resurrection with an icon of the buried Christ. Previously entombed on Good Friday, light then burst forth as the curtain to the altar was opened and an icon of the risen Christ was paraded through the church.

But the Coptic defiance is not only against an enemy outside, according to Bishop Thomas of Qusia. It is also against the Enemy within.

The Libyan martyrs were a turning point, he said, as Copts watched the victims call out to Jesus in their moment of death. In his Orthodox diocese 170 miles south of Cairo, many have since repented of sin and changed the focus of their life, making faith a priority.

“Martyrdom is linked to the Christian life. To carry your cross and follow him,” said Thomas. “Since we are united to Christ, in this life we are his image.

“As he forgave, so must we.”

The martyrs have set an example, he said, but have also left a great responsibility to the church. Christians must fight fear, keep their joy, and strive for justice. While the struggle is not against flesh and blood, forgiveness does not mean giving up one’s rights.

“It is nice to hear about national unity and that we are all part of one family,” Thomas said. “But it must be based in equality and citizenship.”
For the bishop, justice includes the education system, such as removing texts that buttress discrimination. It also applies to the rule of law, such as prosecuting crimes committed against Copts.

Church and State

But the message of forgiveness can complicate the traditional dual role of the Orthodox church in religion and politics. It bears a difficult burden, forced to defend both national unity and Coptic safety, said Nader Shukry, a journalist and expert in Coptic affairs.

“The Coptic problem is not new,” he told CT after returning from a village in Minya experiencing fresh sectarian troubles. “It is built on the old patterns of ‘reconciliation’ following conflict. And the Copts as the weaker party will always pay the price.”

Shukry visited Kom al-Loufy, 140 miles south of Cairo, where police permitted village Christians to perform Maundy Thursday prayers in a private home. But under their guard, local extremists pelted Copts with stones and burned uninhabited properties. No one was arrested.

“Copts have to act as citizens,” Shukry said, “and allow the church to be a spiritual institution, in which forgiveness is an appropriate response.”

Ali said the state is very happy to have the church be responsible for the problems of its flock. It is just part of what he called a “disemboweled sense of citizenship.”

And in the perpetuation of this pattern of injury, forgiveness, and patience, Kharrat, the KEDC elder, said the government has long been shortsighted. It has chosen to appease the anger of Muslim mobs, being confident that Christians would not cause major difficulties.

Early efforts by young Copts to demonstrate for equal rights and against church attacks during the revolution were a headache for the government, he said. The most prominent movement, the Maspero Youth Union, was ended forcefully: literally crushed under military tanks, previewing the eventual crackdown against most post-Morsi activism.

Kharrat hopes there can be a revival of nonviolent Coptic protest. But of the latest bombings, many believe ISIS is trying to spur on reciprocal religious violence, as it did in Iraq between Sunni and Shia.

“There is great relief the Copts are not hitting back,” he said.

State and Society

But if the example of forgiveness has yet to transform the state, is there hope it will transform society? Kharrat said it already has.

“The families of the martyrs are promoting a worldview that is 180 degrees contrary to that of the terrorists,” he said. “The great majority of Egyptians now carry deep respect for the Copts, who are viewed as patriotic people of faith.”

And Ali, the Muslim AUC professor, is among the admirers.

“Cynics might say that Copts are not in the position to forgive, as they have no power,” he said. “But as an individual, I find it a brave act, and we need more on every level.

“There has been so much hurt in this country, and there is no sense of forgiveness in the body politic.”

Like Ali, Atallah is aware of possible cynicism. Young Christians feeling oppressed over the loss of rights might view the teaching of forgiveness as an opiate, he said.

But instead, he situates the example of the martyrs within a larger cultural struggle over the nature of Egyptian Islam.

Muslims had Christian ancestors, he said, and the Coptic heritage is strong. This helps sanitizes religion into principles emphasizing love, forgiveness, and doing good.

Middle Eastern culture, however, is based on honor and shame, demanding revenge. And Wahhabi-style Islam is an import to Egypt.

Within this clash of cultures, Atallah said many are now witnessing Christian forgiveness, and find it to be exactly what the country needs.

Besides frustrating the extremists who want to provoke the Copts, Christians like the widow of Faheem are winning over Muslims as well. “Their testimony is like a domino, with incredible ramifications in the country,” Atallah said. “It will keep Egypt from becoming like Lebanon during its civil war.”

The spiritual ramifications run even deeper for Bishop Thomas, who has recently received many unexpected visits of sympathy and solidarity from local Muslim sheikhs and charity workers.

For the past 15 years, his school in Qusia has been a home of civic engagement for Muslims and Christians, discussing ethics and childrearing for the sake of their kids. But now Muslims are asking about other issues altogether.

“When people see this attitude from Christians and the church, they ask themselves, ‘What kind of power is this?’” he said. “But with this witness we must also declare the message of Christ, which we are fulfilling—literally. We may not see the response immediately. But we will in the near future

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