"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

Friday 27 October 2017


Over the course of the past century, Augustine’s theology has been generally regarded by Orthodox as problematic at best and disastrous at worst. This is perhaps most obviously true where Augustine’s trinitarian thought is concerned, for it was in his treatise On the Trinity that Augustine so influentially advanced what one might call an early formulation of the filioque (i.e., the claim the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father). By doing so, John Romanides and other Orthodox have argued, Augustine infected the Western tradition to follow him with the disease of “filioquism,” a disease whose theological repercussions extend far beyond the narrow domain of pneumatology. Indeed, for Romanides and his ilk, the filioque is not so much an isolated doctrinal error as it is a corrosive agent whose effect is to erode the trinitarian foundations upon which Christianity stands.

While not all Orthodox have been as extreme in their pronouncements as Romanides, Eastern theologians as noteworthy and influential as Vladimir Lossky have nevertheless shared Romanides’ overarching conviction that the broadly Augustinian pneumatology of the West poses a grave threat to Orthodoxy. In particular, according to both Lossky and Romanides, the filioque is fundamentally incompatible with theosis (“deification,”or divine-human communion), the doctrine at the very heart of Orthodox thought and practice. The verdict is therefore clear: a choice must be made between the (mutually exclusive) doctrines of filioque and theosis.

This is a claim, however, which has been called sharply into question by recent scholarship on Augustine. (One thinks here not only of the Western “New Canon” Augustine scholarship that has risen to prominence in the past two decades but also of the Orthodox Readings of Augustine volume published by Fordham in 2008.) For in Augustine’s own writings, as David Meconi and others have demonstrated, we find precisely what Romanides and Lossky thought impossible: namely, a robust account of theosis coinciding with a “filioquist” pneumatology. Still more remarkably, for Augustine these commitments are neither in tension with nor ultimately separable from one another. On the contrary, I will suggest in this essay, Augustine’s “filioquism” plays a crucial role in informing and even motivating his account of theosis.


To properly assess the relationship between filioque and theosis in Augustine’s thought, it is necessary to understand why he embraces the former (broadly defined) in the first place. Why, in other words, does Augustine feel compelled to defend the Spirit’s procession from not only the Father but also the Son?

The answer to this question has to do with Augustine’s broader understanding of God’s work in salvation history. From Augustine’s perspective, there is an intimate link between the missions carried out by the trinitarian persons in history and the relations enjoyed by Father, Son, and Spirit in eternity. Which is to say, in more contemporary theological terms, that Augustine regards the economic Trinity as a revelation of the immanent Trinity, such that we can infer truths about the latter on the basis of the former.

This being the case, Augustine considers it of great theological significance that the Spirit was both sent into the world by the Father and imparted to the Church by the Son (Jn 20:22). This is to be taken as an indication that the Spirit’s procession is something in which both the Father and the Son are “involved”—albeit in distinct senses. Just as the Spirit was sent into the world primarily by the Father and secondarily by the Son, so too can we say that the Spirit proceeds principally from the Father but also—in a derivative but crucial sense—from the Son.

Such a claim has important implications for how Augustine understands the Spirit’s distinctive role in the life of the Trinity. As the person whose distinctive trait it is to proceed from the Father and Son, the Spirit should be understood as a “bond of love” mutually given and received by those from whom it proceeds. Thus, while remaining one in essence with the Father and the Son, the Spirit functions uniquely in the Trinity as an agent of interpersonal union, i.e., as a person whose very “personality” consists in uniting Father to Son and Son to Father.

It is against the backdrop of these trinitarian reflections that the importance of the Spirit for Augustine’s account of theosis can at last be appreciated. For if it is the case that the Spirit’s work in history mirrors its activity in the Trinity, it would seem natural for the Spirit to function as an agent of union between human persons as well as divine ones. Augustine embraces this implication wholeheartedly: being by nature an agent of interpersonal union, the Spirit’s unique mission in salvation history is to establish union between human beings and the Trinity.

Such union amounts, for Augustine, to nothing less than theosis. For the love which God pours into the hearts of the redeemed is the very same love which unites Father and Son—that is, the unitive love which simply is the Holy Spirit. Through the indwelling of the Spirit, humans are thus joined both to the Spirit and to the divinity which it shares with the Father and Son. The Spirit is therefore not only the bond of love uniting Father and Son, but also the deifying love whose indwelling renders human beings “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).

Augustine goes on to attach a robust ecclesiological dimension to this account of theosis. For while he considers it wholly legitimate to speak of individual humans being united to the Trinity, he sees fit also to stress that such union can only ever be realized in the life of the Church. The reason for this is simple: the Spirit that is poured into the hearts of the redeemed is the very same Spirit that unites human beings to one another and glues them together as the one body of Christ. Upon unifying the body in this fashion, moreover, the Spirit draws it into union with its divine Head—that is, with Christ Himself. In this way the Church is joined collectively to God the Son while its members are enabled to partake individually of the divine nature He shares with the Father and Spirit. Theosis is thus a reality accomplished by the Spirit at both individual and ecclesial levels: by uniting human beings to one another, the Spirit unites them also to God.

What is crucial to note in all this is that the doctrines of filioque and theosis at no point compete with one another in Augustine’s theology. On the contrary, it is precisely because Augustine understands the Spirit to function as an eternal agent of union between persons that he is led to advance a robust account of salvation as divine-human communion, i.e., as theosis. Far from precluding the doctrine of theosis, in other words, Augustine’s “filioquism” leads him to affirm it in the strongest possible trinitarian and ecclesiological terms.

This should give us pause, I think, before we pronounce too sweepingly on the theological consequences of filioquism—or on the allegedly insurmountable differences between Eastern and Western theology more broadly. And perhaps even more importantly, it should remind us of just how indispensable and enduringly relevant Augustine remains as a guide for Orthodox theologians in the present. For not only is his formulation of theosis considerably more robust and sophisticated than those of his contemporaries, it also addresses in advance many of the ecclesiological and trinitarian questions with which Orthodox theologians have themselves been preoccupied in the past two centuries. Whatever his shortcomings and limitations, Augustine was a saint and teacher of the highest order. His theological witness is one that Orthodoxy cannot afford to ignore.

Christopher Iacovetti is a graduate student in theology at the University of Chicago.

A longer version of this essay has been published in Modern Theology.

*Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

A Romanian Orthodox monk in Scotland
on Orthodoxy and continuity: Excellent!


Wednesday 25 October 2017


The Elephant in the Room

The basic problem between the Catholic and Orthodox churches is that, when the schism happened neither church was aware of any breach on its part with the tradition that it had faithfully received and lived since apostolic times, and neither believed that it was rejecting any doctrine it had previously taught. Each side blamed the other for any infidelity to the apostolic truth and have continued to do so

The other part of the problem was the complete inability of both sides to be able to see the point of view of the other side, the total absence of empathy.  This was also true with the Nestorians and Monophysites.   In our conversations with churches representing these "heresies", it has been found by both Catholic and Orthodox theologians that differences are often due to differences in vocabulary, perspective, and culture, rather than a real difference of faith.  I am not denying the existence of real heresy, but am suggesting that much misunderstanding has been caused by lack of true love on both sides and misunderstandings have sometimes hardened into heresies or support for real heretics because 'the enemy of my enemy must be my friend.' 

The Liturgy of the Orthodox East has an important insight when it puts the kiss of peace before the singing of the Creed, so that all may recite with one mind.  The basic reality of the Church, and hence the basic reality of our membership of it is communion in ecclesial love when the love that binds us together is a reflection of the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, our common understanding of the Faith is based on ecclesial love, as is the authority of those who make the rules and the obedience of those who obey them.

Lack of ecclesial love hides the nature of the Church and leads inevitably to injustice.  We must remember that St Isaac the Syrian, much admired by everybody nowadays, was a Nestorian by ecclesiastical allegiance.  It is also true now: the complete inability of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev - one of my favourite theologians - to understand what it has felt like being a Greek Catholic in the Ukraine since 1945, nor to see what kind of image the Russian Orthodox Church has projected in the Ukraine during and since the fall of Communism, with priests divorcing their wives to become patriarchs, with clergy moonlighting as KGB agents, sending  back regular reports on each other as well as on other Christians to the atheist authorities, on collaborating with Russian political policy etc.

  It is impossible to put an exact date on the schism between East and West because of the piecemeal way that the schism took place.  The mutual excommunication of the patriarch of Constantinople and the pope in 1054 is only a date of convenience.  Russian Orthodoxy was in communion with Rome long after Rome's breach with Constantinople and, even after that, the Archbishop of Kiev took Rome's side at the Council of Florence.   Relations between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy in Southern Italy varied from generation to generation; and even in Greece, Jesuit missionaries sometimes asked permission of the local bishops before hearing confessions.  In Syria, Egypt etc, lay people have habitually simply ignored the schism, while priests have helped each other out in an emergency.  There is a schism, but its theological meaning is not clear, and there is a difference of opinions on both sides of the divide as to its implications.

However, because there has been no sense of departure from the Apostolic
Tradition on either side of the schism, both churches went away from the schism believing that the other had fallen away; which means that both churches could agree with this note, added to the Ravenna Document (2007) by the Orthodox:

 Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasise that the use of the terms “the Church”, “the universal Church”, “the indivisible Church” and “the Body of Christ” in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks. From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church “subsists in the Catholic Church” (Lumen Gentium, 8); this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.

Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church believe that their own communion is the "one, true, holy and Catholic Church", while the other is in schism.  This fact I am calling the "elephant in the room".

However, since Vatican II, there has been a new ecclesiology based on the theology of the Fathers which brings new light to this teaching: it is called eucharistic ecclesiology.   Its starting point is "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church."

Those who argue in favour draw a conclusion:   The Catholic Church is centred on the Eucharist, as are the Orthodox Churches, therefore the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are Sister Churches that, by their very nature,should be one in loving communion because they beat with the same heart which is the Eucharist.

Those who are against it, like Father Peter Heers and many Russian Orthodox, argue that the doctrine of "sister churches" contradicts the note from the Ravenna Document which we have quoted above and is heretical, being a reformulation of the Anglican Branch Theory, rejected by both Orthodox and Catholics: instead of three branches there are now "two lungs".

In this essay which supports eucharistic ecclesiology and Orthodoxy and Catholicism being sister churches, I will argue that eucharistic ecclesiology is Orthodox in origin and not Anglican and first came to light in the Institut Saint-Serge, the Russian Orthodox theological institute in Paris and is associated with Nicolai Afanasiev; that doesn't contradict the note in the Ravenna Document but puts Catholic and Orthodox counter-claims in a new context where we can seek to reconcile them; that, on the contrary, the vision of the Church as being made up of a number of totally autocephalous patriarchates with no organisational connection between them is the closest thing there is to the Anglican Branch Theory; that eucharistic ecclesiology requires corrections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy and lights up the way to unity.

In order to give us an idea of eucharistic ecclesiology, here is a brilliant summary, taken from "Orthodox Ecclesiology in Outline", published by the Orthodox Christian Information Center.   This understanding of the Church is, since Vatican II, as much Catholic as Orthodox:

The grace of the Trinity is the starting point for understanding the nature of the Church, and especially for her unity in multiplicity, as the Holy Spirit shares one life and one being. The three distinct and unique Persons are one in life and in nature. Similarly, the Church exhibits a parallel multiplicity of persons in unity of life and being. The difference between God and the Church is that, in the former, multiplicity in unity is the truth, whereas in the latter, this is only a participation in the truth. In patristic language the former is ousia, while the latter is metousia. The unity of the three divine Persons in life and being is, therefore, the prototype of the unity of the Church’s persons in life and in being. As Christ Himself says in His prayer for the Church: "even as Thou O Father are in me and me in Thee, so they may be one, that the world may believe that Thou has sent me." The mark of unity is collegiality and love, and not subordination. Orthodox Triadology, based on the grace of the Trinity, supplies the basic ontological categories for Orthodox ecclesiology. The Church is an eikon of the Holy Trinity, a participation in the grace of God.
The Church of Christ

How does the Church participate in God’s mystery and grace? How is metousia Theou ("participation in the essence of God") achieved? How does the Church become an eikon of the Holy Trinity? The answer, in its simplest form, is contained in the phrase "in and through Christ." Christ has established the bond between the image of the Triune God, and that which is made after the image, namely, the Church, mankind. In Christ we have both the eikon and the kat eikon ("that which is according to the image"). Hence, we must say that the Church is the Church of the Triune God as the Church of Christ. The link between the Holy Trinity and Christology, that is, between theology and economy, demands a similar link in ecclesiology. The Church is in the image of the Triune God, and participates in the grace of the Trinity inasmuch as She is in Christ and partakes of His grace. The unity of persons in life and being cannot be achieved apart from this economy of Christ, and we here encounter what the New Testament calls the "Body of Christ."Christ is the Head of the Church and She is His Body. It is from this Christological angle that we better understand the multiplicity in unity which exists in the Church. This angle of the Body of Christ is normally connected with the divine Eucharist, because it is in the Eucharist that the Body is revealed and realized. In the divine Eucharist we have the whole Christ, the Head, and the Body, the Church. But the Eucharist is celebrated in many places and among many different groups of people. Does this then mean that there are many bodies of Christ? This is not the case because there is one Head, and one eucharistic Body (His very body which He took up in the Incarnation) into which all the groups of people in the different places are incorporated. It is the Lord Himself who is manifested in many places, as He gives His one Body to all, so that in partaking of it they may all become one with Him and with one another. "In that there is one bread, the many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread." The many places and the many groups of people where the eucharistic Body of Christ is revealed do not constitute an obstacle to its unity. Indeed, to partake of this Body in one place is to be united with Him who is not bound by place and, therefore, to be mystically (or "mysterially," or "sacramentally") united with all. This is how St. Athanasius explains the prayer of our Lord that the apostles may be one. "... because I am Thy Word, and I am also in them because of the Body, and because of Thee the salvation of men is perfected in Me, therefore I ask that they may also become one, according to the Body that is Me and according to its perfection, that they, too, may become perfect having oneness with it, and having become one in it; that, as if all were carried by me, all may be one body and one spirit and may grow up into a perfect man." And St. Athanasius concludes: "For we all, partaking of the same, become one Body, having the one Lord in ourselves." What is given in one specific place is something which also transcends it, because of its particular perfection, that is, its being Christ’s risen body. The different eucharistic localities, with the eucharistic president (the bishop), the clergy, and the participants (the people) constitute or reveal the whole Church. It is a local church, and yet she reveals the catholic mystery of one Church. The one Church of Christ is equally and fully in all these localities because of the one, perfect Eucharist, the one Lord, and the one Body.

Of course, there are differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy; otherwise, a union would have already taken place; but, in the above quotation, there is no difference.

Now, let us look at what is meant by "sister churches" by attending to a quotation from Archimandrite Robert Taft:

The new Catholic “Sister Churches” ecclesiology describes not only how the Catholic Church views the Orthodox Churches. It also represents a startling revolution in how the Catholic Church views itself: we are no longer the only kid on the block, the whole Church of Christ, but one Sister Church among others. Previously, the Catholic Church saw itself as the original one and only true Church of Christ from which all other Christians had separated for one reason or another in the course of history, and Catholics held, simplistically, that the solution to divided Christendom consisted in all other Christians returning to Rome’s maternal bosom.Vatican II, with an assist from those Council Fathers with a less naïve Disney-World view of their own Church’s past, managed to put aside this historically ludicrous, self-centered, self-congratulatory perception of reality. In doing so they had a strong assist from the Council Fathers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church whose concrete experience of the realities of the Christian East made them spokesmen and defenders of that reality.
The argument is this:

Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church. In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, "‘The Church is the celebration of the Eucharist: The Eucharist is the Church; they do not simply stand side by side; they are one and the same."  As the Orthodox summary of eucharistic ecclesiology states:
In the divine Eucharist we have the whole Christ, the Head, and the Body, the Church. But the Eucharist is celebrated in many places and among many different groups of people. Does this then mean that there are many bodies of Christ? This is not the case because there is one Head and one eucharistic Body (His very body which He took up in the Incarnation) into which all the groups of people in the different places are incorporated. It is the Lord Himself who is manifested in many places, as He gives His one Body to all, so that in partaking of it they may all become one with Him and with one another. "In that there is one bread, the many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread." The many places and the many groups of people where the eucharistic Body of Christ is revealed do not constitute an obstacle to its unity. Indeed, to partake of this Body in one place is to be united with Him who is not bound by place and, therefore, to be mystically (or "mysterially," or "sacramentally") united with all.
The whole Church is in Christ, and Christ is present in each Eucharist; therefore, to partake of this Body in one place is to be united to Christ in all.   Whatever the schism has done, it remains true that the Eucharist is the central reality in the Catholic Church as well as in the Orthodox Church; therefore, in both churches it is the Lord Himself who is manifested in many places, as He gives His one Body to all, so that in partaking of it they may all become one with Him and with one another. "In that there is one bread, the many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread."  For this reason, the schism does not stop us from being sister churches.

In eucharistic ecclesiology, the local church that celebrates the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is the source of Tradition which was first preached by the Apostles and disciples who were sent by Christ.  Although Tradition has a single source in Christ, it has been formed by the synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church in different places, within churches with different cultures, languages, and histories.  Tradition at its most basic is, therefore, pluriform in its cultural expression, languages, and history.  At the same time, in every place, culture, language and diverse historical experiences, authentic Tradition manifests the same Christ. Thus, Christian unity is a unity in diversity.

In eucharistic ecclesiology, the unity that Christians enjoy with one another is a Unity of identity.  Each Eucharist makes the eucharistic assembly the body of Christ; but although Mass is celebrated in many places, there are not many bodies of Christ but only one. Just as hundreds of consecrated hosts can be placed in one ciborium, and each is the body of Christ and all of them together are the body of Christ; so it is with the Church: every eucharistic assembly is body of Christ and the church on a diocesan, regional and universal level is body of Christ based on our dwelling in Christ through the Eucharist.

Our unity in Christ is a reflection of the Holy Trinity, "even as Thou O Father are in me and me in Thee so they may be one, that the world may believe that Thou has sent me." (Jn 17, 21)   We are brought up into the presence of the Father through the veil which is the flesh and blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our participation in the life of the Trinity as a Eucharistic community that gives shape to the Church as an institution at a local, regional and universal level.

When Pope Francis said that the only authority that exists in the Church is service and the only power is the power of the Cross, he implies the enormous difference between civil authority based on power to enforce it and ecclesial authority based on love that reflects the presence of the Holy Spirit that transforms relationships through participation in the Eucharist.   The Civil and ecclesiastical law may use the same language, but they are very different, as Jesus himself taught.

Eucharistic Ecclesiology does not contradict the Ravenna Document, even when both churches agree on its basic tenets.   It puts the counter-claims in a new context.  It does extend recognition of local and regional churches as participators in the fullness of Catholicism which is the eucharistic Christ; but, at a universal level there is disagreement.  Catholics would say that the reality of universal Christian unity cannot be adequately expressed by a group of autocephalous churches that jostle with one another for power like nation states and live their Christian lives as parallel but relatively isolated institutions. Catholic unity in its engagement with each other reflects the life of the Trinity; and, as an expression of God's reign,  it must transcend nationality and all other divisions and limitations that, when not transcended, keep fallen humanity locked up in the Tower of Babel.  Thus, the Letter to Diognetus says of members of the Church:
"Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle....While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one's lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign."
While Orthodox reject the papacy, they present nothing really credible to take its place, only a loosely knit group of patriarchs, often representing different national traditions who often squabble among themselves.  I don't think the writer of the Letter to Diognetus would have recognized them!

On the other hand, in the past we Catholics have projected the papacy as a kind of divine right monarchy; and Orthodox have rightly considered this to be a kind of ecclesiastical worldliness. Catholics did not distinguish between civil law and ecclesiastical law sufficiently, even though Jesus in his teaching was very clear about the difference, and it often acted as one world power among others, although with special privileges.  Also, everything was centralized in the Vatican: unity was stressed at the expense of diversity.
On the Ravenna Document
by Met. Kallistos Ware (Orth)

On the Ravenna Document
by Mgr. Paul McPartlan (Cath.)

Eucharistic ecclesiology requires corrections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but corrections that are more faithful to the core of their traditions than their customary practice. The key word for change is "communion", in Greek, "koinonia," in Russian, "Sobornost".  The Church is communion, koinonia, sobornost.  The implications of communion as a basis for understanding primacy and the Church at a universal level are worked out in the Ravenna : Document (2007) and the most recent "SYNODALITY AND PRIMACY DURING THE FIRST MILLENNIUM" published at Chieti in 2016.

Both sides, Catholic and Orthodox, advocate a regular synod to best express Catholic communion, called to exercise universal authority under the direction of a protos or presiding primate.  Pope Francis called the "Synod on the Family."  He said in October 2015,
“The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his church in the third millennium,” the pope said Oct. 17:
 “A synodal church is a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”
Francis, members of the Synod of Bishops on the family, theologians and other guests dedicated a morning to marking the anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s institution in 1965 of the synod as a forum for sharing the faith and concerns of the world’s Catholics, reflecting together and offering counsel to the pope.
Referring to the Greek roots of the word “synod,” Francis said: 
“walking together -- laity, pastors, the bishop of Rome -- is an easy concept to express in words but is not so easy to put into practice.”
In fact, before Francis spoke, five cardinals, an archbishop and the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church spoke about the blessings and challenges of the synod process over the past 50 years. They agreed that while the synod’s methodology has improved over the past five decades, there still is work to do.

“We must continue on this path,” Francis told them. “The world in which we live and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, requires from the church the strengthening of synergies in all areas of its mission.”
The Orthodox had their "Holy and Great Council" in Crete in 2016.  At its ending, the bishops said the following:
"The Orthodox church, faithful to the unanimous apostolic tradition and her sacramental experience, is the authentic continuation of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as confessed in the Creed and confirmed by the teaching of the Church Fathers," the Orthodox representatives said in a final message.
"The Orthodox church expresses her unity and catholicity in council -- conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path," the message continued."The church does not involve herself in politics -- her voice remains distinct, but also prophetic, as a beneficial intervention for the sake of man. Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our church adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of citizens and the need for constant self-criticism."

Both the Catholic and Orthodox synods met with opposition: Catholic prelates who expected the synod to act just like the Vatican and Orthodox prelates wary of handing over any authority from their autocephalous, independent selves.  Both synods plan to hold further ones, even though the Orthodox one became caught up in the usual Moscow-Constantinople rivalry.   Both Catholic and Orthodox hope to improve in the future.

Lastly, we must demonstrate the ecclesiology that starts with, "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church" is very different from the Anglican Branch Theory.

Firstly, after Pope Francis attended the Armenian Orthodox Mass during his visit to Armenia, he said,
We have met, we have embraced as brothers, we have prayed together and shared the gifts, hopes and concerns of the Church of Christ,” 
Francis told Karekin on Sunday, after taking part in an Orthodox Divine Liturgy staged at the headquarters of the Apostolic Church in Etchmiadzin:
“We have felt as one her beating heart, and we believe and experience that the Church is one,” he said.

He said that, even though he could not communicate, he felt the beating heart of the Catholic Church in the Eucharist, and that, in that experience, Catholics and Armenians together, "We believe and experience that the Church is one."

It is an assertion of absolute unity in Christ through the Eucharist that is contradicted by the schism.  It is an urgent challenge to Catholics, Armenians and anyone else who finds themselves in this position, like Fr Peter Heers and the Greek Orthodox, to try to solve the problems that keep us apart.  It doesn't justify the schism but shares out both the blame and the responsibility and obligation to love one another that the Eucharist implies and, within the context of ecclesial love, to jointly seek the solution.  Schism contradicts the deepest self of every church that is involved.  Schism must be tackled because it makes the Church invisible to the world.  Only unity in love makes it visible to  ordinary people (Jn 17, 21)

The Dogmas of Vatican I & Eucharistic Ecclesiology
Pope Pius IX
This is the ecclesiology, basically, of Vatican I:
a) that Christ founded His Church as a visible and perfect society;

b) that He intended it to be absolutely universal and imposed upon all men a solemn obligation actually to belong to it, unless inculpable ignorance should excuse them;

c) that He wished this Church to be one, with a visible corporate unity of faith, government, and worship; and that

d) in order to secure this threefold unity, He bestowed on the Apostles and their legitimate successors in the hierarchy — and on them exclusively — the plenitude of teaching, governing, and liturgical powers with which He wished this Church to be endowed.

It is the Gospel as seen and interpreted by lawyers, all about laws, powers, rights, and obligations.  True enough, but, because it is all about law, it cannot get to the very heart of the Gospel about a love which is away above anything that can be codified in any law, whether we are talking about God's love for us or about our answering love for him.  This legal approach, therefore, leaves us with so many unanswered questions that it is better to choose another approach.

We have seen the feeble attempts to explain our salvation in terms the cultural attitudes and man-made feudal laws of the Middle Ages, and we have put these explanations besides the love of the Father and how He meets humankind in the midst of all its sin, not as an accomplice but as a victim in Jesus Christ, and, like the father of the prodigal son, how he holds out his arms to embrace us.  Again, how do we codify the two commandments that sum up all the law and the prophets, to love God with all our heart and all our mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, without damaging them?   How often should we forgive our neighbour?  Seven times?  No, important as the Law is, the Gospel goes beyond the exigencies of Law as it does with God's offer of salvation!

  If the legal approach cannot get to the heart of the Gospel, it cannot get to the heart of the Church, which Vatican II identifies as the Eucharist.

What, then, is the status of the two dogmas?

Here is the dogma on the universal jurisdiction of the pope:
2. Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world. 
It is important to note that the Council states that, even though "by divine ordinance, the Roman Church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other Church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman Pontiff is both episcopal and immediate," it takes nothing away from the power of the local bishops who also rule as successors of the apostles, having been appointed by the Holy Spirit:
   This power of the Supreme Pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the Supreme and Universal Pastor; for St. Gregory the Great says: "My honor is the honor of the whole Church. My honor is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honor, when it is denied to none of those to whom honor is due." 
 The Dogma of Papal Infallibility says this:

9. Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.
So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.

I am not going to defend or refute these dogmas, merely to discuss their status in a Catholic Church which is made up of sister churches.  These apostolic churches belong to each other by their very nature because the whole Christ has manifested himself in the Eucharist of each from apostolic times to the present day, even though they have become separated by human weakness and sin.  This has led each church to look at itself and to see the whole Church, which is true because Christ is present, and then to misjudge the others, failing to see Christ there too.
"Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church."

Hence, as Catholics in full communion with Rome, we look at Vatican I and accept it as an authoritative expression of the apostolic faith as we have received and lived it. It is a product of Tradition which is our ecclesial life as Catholics down the ages and is formed by the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church.

On the other hand, there are other traditions, other versions of the common Tradition, that do not accept these dogmas and consider the papacy and its claims to be the biggest hindrance to unity.  They too have an orthodox Christian faith, with beliefs forged in the synergy of the Holy Spirit and the Church which is centred on the Eucharist.  Why do they differ from us, and what are we going to do about the difference?

Truths about living the faith, whether on a personal or ecclesial level, never come into existence as abstract propositions.  They all arise out of concrete experience lived in a particular set of circumstances.   Thus, when we live our lives separately and our experiences diverge, then it is likely that our insights into living the Christian Mystery will also diverge, not completely because we share in the same Mystery, but in those areas that reflect the differences.  The papacy is one of these areas.I am not going to support the papacy in this article.  It is simply sufficient to quote from the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue at Chieti in 2016:
6. 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 the 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.
The meeting in Chieti of Catholic and Orthodox experts agreed that the dogmas on the papacy reflect a western and not an eastern tradition.  I think it is because the East relied on the emperors to foment the unity of the Church worldwide and thus could concentrate on other things, while the emperor had little or no effective authority in the West and the chaos that replaced Roman rule made it imperative for Rome to accentuate its authority as successor of St Peter for the sake of the unity and reform of the Church in the West.  Those who opposed this authority were largely against reform and were defending their own corruption.   When the reforming popes turned their attention to the East, they assumed the same corrupt reasons among the Eastern bishops, while the Eastern bishops assumed the popes were being arrogant.

Pope Francis: Reunion without pre-conditions

For those of us who really believe that the western tradition is correct and that the papal ministry really is part of God's plan for the Church, we must also accept the validity of the Orthodox objections as the fruit of the eastern tradition.  For us, the Orthodox- Catholic dialogue between the two traditions is of the utmost importance, especially the balance between primacy and synodality.
 Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Orth.)
on Papal Primacy

Already this dialogue is changing the way the Catholic Church is doing things.   We hope that one day, it may change the way the Orthodox do things because they have no real and credible alternative to the papacy in place at a universal level.  This has been admitted by some Orthodox theologians.  The squabbling between Moscow and Constantinople is hardly edifying and looks squalid when compared with recent popes.

For the moment, we must recognize that according to the wider Catholic Tradition, a papacy or any other kind of primacy is unacceptable without a corresponding synod.  Pope Francis said:
.It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”.(12) It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).The Synod of Bishops is the point of convergence of this listening process conducted at every level of the Church’s life. The Synod process begins by listening to the people of God, which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office”,(13) according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet”. The Synod process then continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they need to discern carefully from the changing currents of public opinion. On the eve of last year’s Synod I stated: “For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us”.(14) The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as “pastor and teacher of all Christians”,(15) not on the basis of his personal convictions but as the supreme witness to the fides totius Ecclesiae, “the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church”.(16)

All this is at least in part the fruit of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue which is helping us to see our own tradition in the light of that of the East.

As the popes and orthodox have decided to base their dialogue and, we hope, eventual reunion on the position of the papacy's relationship with Orthodoxy in the first millennium, we must remember that, until Vatican I, the popes could fulfill their Petrine functions without universal agreement on the meaning of the papacy and without the Vatican I dogmas to support them.  This was why Cardinal J.H. Newman believed the papal dogmas were unnecessary and were likely to cause problems which were also unnecessary.  If reunion occurs between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the situation of the first thousand years is likely to happen again.

Friday 20 October 2017


my source: The Department of External Relations R.O.C.
On 22 September 2017, an international symposium on the Christian Future of Europe took place at the residence of Russia’s Ambassador to Great Britain. The keynote address was delivered by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations.
Image result for 22 September 2017, an international symposium on the Christian Future of Europe  in the russian embassy in the uk.

Your Eminences and Your Excellencies, dear Mr. Ambassador, conference organizers, and participants,

I cordially greet all of those gathered today at the Russian Embassy in London to partake in this conference dedicated to the question of the future of Christianity in Europe. This topic is not losing any of its relevance but is also resounding ever anew. Experts believe that today Christianity remains not only the most persecuted religious community on the planet, but is also encountering fresh challenges which touch upon the moral foundations of peoples’ lives, their faith, and their values.

Recent decades have seen a transformation in the religious and ethnic landscape of Europe. Among the reasons for this is the greatest migration crisis on the continent since the end of the Second World War, caused by armed conflicts and economic problems in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. According to figures by the European Union agency Frontex, more than 1.8 million migrants entered the EU in 2015 alone.[1] Figures from the UN International Migration Report show that the number of migrants in Europe has increased from 49.3 million people in 2000 to 76.1 million people in 2015.[2] According to research by the UN International Organization for Migration, throughout the world, about 1.3 percent of the adult population, which comprises some 66 million people, in the forthcoming year intend to leave for another country in order to live permanently there. Approximately a third of this group of people – 23 million – are already making plans to move. 16.5 percent of potential migrants who were questioned responded that the countries at the top of their list are Great Britain, Germany, and France.[3]

The other reason for the transformation of the religious map of Europe is the secularization of European society. Figures in a British opinion poll indicate that more than half of the country’s inhabitants – for the first time in history – do not affiliate themselves with any particular religion. 2942 people took part in an opinion poll conducted in 2016 by Britain’s National Centre for Social Research: 53 percent of those who responded to the question on religious allegiance said that they do not belong to any religious confession. Among those aged from eighteen to twenty-five, the number of non-religious is higher – 71 percent. When similar research was carried out in 1983, only 31 percent of those questioned stated that they did not belong to any confession.[4]

We can see an opposite trend in the Eastern European countries, in particular in Russia. A July opinion poll conducted in Russia by the Levada-Center showed a sharp decline in the number of atheists and non-believers from 26 percent in December 2015 to 13 percent in July 2017.[5] This, of course, does not mean that all the remaining 83 percent are practicing believers. Many defined themselves as “religious to some degree” or “not too religious”, but nevertheless affiliated themselves with one of the traditional religions. However, the number of people who define themselves as being “very religious” is growing steadily.

The contemporary state of religious life in Russian society is directly linked to the tragic events of one hundred years ago. The historical catastrophe of 1917 embroiled Russia in a fratricidal civil war, terror, exile of the nation’s best representatives beyond the confines of their homeland, and the deliberate annihilation of whole layers of society – the nobility, the Cossacks, the clergy and affluent peasants. They were declared to be “enemies of the people,” and their relatives were subjected to discrimination and became the “disenfranchised,” which forced them to the edge of survival. All of this terror took place under the banner of a communist ideology that fought ferociously against religion. Millions of believers were subjected to the cruelest of persecution, harassment, discrimination and repression – from mockery and dismissal in the workplace to imprisonment and execution by firing squad. The Church in those years produced a great multitude of martyrs and confessors for the faith who, as St. Paul said, “were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment” (Heb 11.35-36).

Discussion on the future of Christianity in Europe is impossible without understanding the prospects for the survival of religiosity among its inhabitants.  Research carried out by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Cornwell Theological College, USA, indicates that the number of Christians in Europe will be consistently falling: from 560 million people in 2015 to 501 million by 2050.[6] The calculations of the Pew Research Center are more pessimistic and foretell a reduction in Christians in Europe from 553 million people in 2015 to 454 million people by 2050.[7]

These are alarming prognoses, but they reflect the current trends in the transformation of the religious picture of Europe, and they cannot be ignored. Some are suggesting that, unless special force is applied, Europe cannot simply cease to be Christian on the grounds that Europe has for many centuries been Christian. I would like to remind you all that in Russia before 1917 nobody ever proposed that the collapse of a centuries-old Christian empire would happen and that it would be replaced by an atheistic totalitarian regime. And even when that did happen, few believed that it was serious and for long.

The modern-day decline of Christianity in the western world may be compared to the situation in the Russian Empire before 1917. The revolution and the dramatic events which followed it have deep spiritual, as well as social and political, reasons. Over many years the aristocracy and intelligentsia had abandoned the faith, and were then followed by common people. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia spoke of this in January 2017: “The fundamental rupture in the traditional way of life – and I am now speaking… of the spiritual and cultural self-consciousness of the people – was possible only for the reason that something very important had disappeared from peoples’ lives, in the first instance those people who belonged to the elite. In spite of an outward prosperity and appearance, the scientific and cultural achievements, less and less place was left in peoples’ lives for a living and sincere belief in God, an understanding of the exceptional importance of values belonging to a spiritual and moral tradition.”[8]

In the immediate post-war years, Christianity played a huge role in the process of European integration, which was viewed in the context of the Cold War as one of the means of containing the expansion of atheist propaganda and communist ideology. The Vatican relied in its anti-communist propaganda upon European unity, upon the Christian democratic parties of Western Europe. The latter firmly believed that Western civilization is closely tied to Christian values, and had to be defended from the communist threat. Pope Pius XII supported the creation of a European community as “Christian Europe’s historical mission.”

The first president of the Federal Republic of Germany Theodor Heuss said that Europe was built on three hills: the Acropolis, which gave her the values of freedom, philosophy and democracy; the Capitol, which represented Roman legal concepts and social order; and Golgotha, i.e. Christianity.[9] It must be noted too that the founding fathers of the European Union were deeply religious men – for example, the French foreign minister Robert Schuman, the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Konrad Adenauer and the Italian foreign minister Alcide De Gasperi.

And when half a century after the creation of the European Union its constitution was being written, it would have been natural for the Christian Churches to expect that the role of Christianity as one of the European values to have been included in this document, without encroaching upon the secular nature of the authorities in a unified Europe. But, as we know, this did not happen. The European Union, when writing its constitution, declined to mention its Christian heritage even in the preamble of the document.

I firmly believe that a Europe which has renounced Christ will not be able to preserve its cultural and spiritual identity. For many centuries Europe was the home where various religious traditions lived side by side, but at the same time in which Christianity played a dominant role. This role is reflected, particularly, in the architecture of European cities which are hard to imagine without their magnificent cathedrals and numerous, though more modest in size, churches.

A monopoly of the secular idea has taken hold in Europe. Its manifestation is the expulsion of the religious worldview from the public expanse. Article 4 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion and Belief, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1981, affirms that “All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.”[10]

The architects of the secular society have seen to the legal aspect of the issue: formally one can confess any religion, but if one attempts to motivate one’s actions through religious belief and freedom of conscience and encourage others to act in accordance with their faith, then at best one will be subjected to censure, or at worst to criminal prosecution.

For example, if one is a doctor and refuses to perform an abortion,[11] or euthanasia,[12] by referring to one’s religious principles, then one is breaking the law. If you are a Protestant pastor and live in a country in which same sex unions are legal, then you have little chance of refusing this couple the right to a church wedding while remaining unpunished by the state. Thus, for example, the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven recently stated that all pastors of the Church of Sweden ought to be obliged to perform church weddings for same-sex couples, adding that “I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests.”[13]

         Such political figures are the complete opposite to those who were at the foundations of the European Union, and this type of rhetoric, in my view, is suicidal for the continent of Europe. The legalization of abortion, the encouragement of sexual promiscuity, and the systematic attempts to undermine family values have led to a profound demographic crisis in many European countries. This crisis, accompanied by an identity crisis, will lead to a situation whereby in time other peoples will inhabit Europe with a different religion, a different culture and different paradigms of values.

         Often the language of hatred in relation to Christians is used when Christians insist on their right to participate in public affairs. They enjoy the same right as much as it is enjoyed by adherents of any other religion or by atheists. However, in practice, it is not like this: dozens of instances of discrimination against Christians on the grounds of their beliefs are registered every year. These instances are highlighted by the media and become a topic of public discussion, but the situation as a whole does not change as a result.

In modern-day Europe militant secularism has been transformed into an autonomous power that does not tolerate dissent. It allows well-organized minority groups to successfully impose their will on the majority under the pretext of observing human rights. Today human rights have in essence been transformed into an instrument for manipulating the majority, and the struggle for human rights into the dictatorship of the minority in relation to the majority.

Unfortunately, we should note that these are not isolated incidents, but an already formed system of values supported by the state and supra-national institutions of the EU.

In a situation where we have aggressive pressure of the groups which propagate ideas unacceptable from the perspective of traditional Christian morality, it is essential to unite the Churches’ efforts in opposing these processes, to act jointly in the media, in the sphere of legal support, as well as in propagating common Christian values at all possible levels. It is important that the Churches share their experience in this sphere, and develop cooperation between church human rights organizations and monitoring centers.

I believe it important that Christians of Europe should stand shoulder to shoulder to defend those values upon which the life of the continent has been built for centuries, and that they should view the afflictions and dismay of Christians throughout the world as their own.

[1]          Frontex Risk Analysis Network Quarterly Report. Q4 2015. http://frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Risk_Analysis/FRAN_Q4_2015.pdf

[2]          International Migration Report 2015. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/PopulationDivision.


[3]          Measuring Global Migration Potential, 2010–2015. Issue No. 9, July 2017. http://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/gmdac_data_briefing_series_issue_9.pdf

[4]          Число неверующих в Великобритании впервые превысило 50%. http://www.bbc.com/russian/news-41154931

[5]          https://www.levada.ru/2017/07/18/religioznost

[6]          http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/StatusofGlobalChristianity2017.pdf

[7]          http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

[8]          Presentation by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill at the opening of the XXV Nativity Educational Readings http://www.patriarchia.ru/db/text/4789256.html

[9]          Христианские церкви и европейская интеграция: параметры взаимодействия. http://orthodoxru.eu/ru/index.php?content=article&category=publications&id=2012-09-17-1&lang=ru

[10]        http://www.un.org/ru/documents/decl_conv/declarations/relintol.shtml

[11]        http://www.intoleranceagainstchristians.eu/case/medical-directors-dismissal-reversed.html

[12]        Catholic care home in Belgium fined for refusing euthanasia. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/07/04/catholic-care-home-in-belgium-fined-for refusing-euthanasia/

[13]        http://www.intoleranceagainstchristians.eu/case/swedish-prime-minister-priests-should-perform-same-sex-marriages.html

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