The latest issue of the Europaica Bulletin presents a number of interesting Orthodox reactions to the recent ecclesiological statement of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Both Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk (Moscow’s ecumenical representative) and Bishop Hilarion of Vienna (Moscow’s representative to the European institutions) are positive in their assessment of the document. They are 100% correct that this statement is “honest” and “brings nothing new” – that is, the document is truly indicative of the Catholic Church’s self-understanding. Of course, as Orthodox prelates committed to the exclusive ecclesiological claims of their own communion, they do not agree with Rome’s claims, and in fact they remark that “everything contained in the Catholic document rightfully applies to the Orthodox Church”! I welcome this fresh honesty from representatives of both sides. Just as Kirill and Hilarion do not fault Rome with being honest about her own claims, no one should fault the Orthodox for being honest about their claims.
And then there are some more cranky Orthodox responses to the document – responses that I don’t entirely understand, since, again, both communions are crystal clear about their exclusive ecclesiological claims. Patriarch Teoctist of Romania was “stunned” by the document, which he regards as “brutal.” The Patriarch’s claim that the document expresses the viewpoint that Rome “does not even recognize us as a church” is strange, since the document affirms the complete opposite. Coptic Pope Shenouda III’s response is even more bizarre, and as with the Romanian Patriarch, one wonders whether he actually read the document before ranting about it.
Archpriest Lawrence Cross’s comment is interesting to me. First of all, I have no idea if the Archpriest is an Orthodox or an Eastern Catholic [Update – He is a Greek Catholic]. Secondly, I very much disagree with the Archpriest characterization of the document as “an appalling ecumenical gaff” and “woefully ignorant.” Kirill and Hilarion, eminent representatives of the Russian Church, do not seem to think so, thinking the statement to be truly conducive to “honest theological dialogue” (that is, true and authentic ecumenism). Third, I am intrigued by the Archpriest’s description of the Orthodox position on papal primacy: “The Orthodox already acknowledge that the primacy in the universal Church was awarded to the successor of Peter in Rome.” Do any Orthodox here take issue with this statement? I simply do not find general agreement among Orthodox as to meaning or validity of the basic concepts of “primacy,” “universal Church” or a “successor of Peter in Rome.” Perhaps I’m mistaken. Fourth, it’s hard to see how the document is rooted in “rooted in an ultramontane past.” As Kirill and Hilarion point out, the Orthodox, who cannot be accused of an “ultramontane past,” make similar exclusive claims about themselves (and in fact, one could argue that the Orthodox claims are far more exclusive). And, lastly, I don’t read the document as “allowing” or granting ecclesial status to the Orthodox. It seems to me that Rome, through this document, is simply restating the fact that she has always recognized that the Orthodox churches are true local or particular churches (possessing priesthood, sacraments, and all the ordinary means of salvation), only in a tragic state of schism from the Apostolic See of Peter.
I wish I read German well enough to be able to interpret the comments by Cardinals Kasper and Schönborn.