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Archive for September, 2007

I just came across a fascinating new blog, De Unione Ecclesiarum, written by a Greek Orthodox scholar who is working on a book about Patriarch John IX (Bekkos) of Constantinople (+1297), an early advocate of Orthodox-Catholic reunion. He explains the purpose of his blog as follows:

De unione ecclesiarum, meaning “On the Union of the Churches,” is the title of one of John Bekkos’s theological writings. It is actually an abbreviated Latin translation of a full title which, in the original Greek, goes like this: Περι της ενωσεως και ειρηνης των της παλαιας και νεας Ρωμης εκκλησιων, “On the Union and Peace of the Churches of Old and New Rome.” John Bekkos wrote this work, in all likelihood, shortly after the beginning of his patriarchate, i.e., sometime during the years 1275 or 1276 (though internal evidence leads me to think that he added some sections to it after this). This was during the time of the “Union of Lyons”: Bekkos wrote this work in defense of an ecclesiastical union between the Greek and Latin Churches which had just taken place, which he hoped would bring an end to the schism of the Churches which had already lasted some two hundred years, a schism which, in Bekkos’s view, lacked genuine theological grounds and had been the occasion of the ruin of his people.

As it happens, the Union of Lyons did not last for more than eight years. Bekkos was condemned by local synods at Constantinople in the years 1283 and 1285, defrocked, excommunicated, and died in prison in the year 1297 … Another attempt to heal the schism of the Churches, at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-39), also failed: although some Eastern Christians accepted that union, the majority rejected it, and continue to do so. The division of the Churches, which in Bekkos’s day had lasted already two hundred years, is now closing in upon a millennium. And, although with God all things are possible, anyone who thinks that this division of the Churches is near to a commonly acceptable solution must be accounted exceedingly naive.

So why a blog titled “De unione ecclesiarum”? If it is not the view of the author of this blog that a union between the Churches is imminent, what good does it do?

Like many things to be found on the blogosphere, this blog arises out of somewhat self-serving purposes. It is, in part, an attempt by its author to get some writing done on a book he is struggling to finish; it is also an attempt by the same author to address issues which have been troubling him for many years. The question of the division of the Churches is, obviously, not only an historical question, but a question of discerning Jesus’ presence and will here and now. The weight of a thousand years of hatred, violence, and misunderstanding can easily deform the soul, making it cynical and slothful, preventing it from seeking truth, from acknowledging truth where it sees it, and from acting upon the truth that it knows. The author of this blog recognizes these deformations in himself. He is not always certain of the solution to historical and theological questions; he is quite certain that cynicism and the breeding of contempt are a bad response. This blog has been begun in the hope that it might make cynicism and contempt a little less prevalent, in himself and others.

I look forward to following this blog, and especially to reading the blogger’s book when it’s published!

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A prayer request

From the ByzCath Forum via A Conservative Blog for Peace comes some very sad news:

Please fervently pray for Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos, head of the Western Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. His Eminence has recently announced that he has been diagnosed with leukemia and is under treatment in a Chicago area hospital.

[Archbishop] Vsevolod has been a major figure in Catholic-Orthodox relations for the last 20 years as a bishop, a member of the US Orthodox-Catholic bishop’s consultation, and the Orthodox Co-patron of the Society of St. John Chrysostom and Co-founder of the Orientale Lumen Conferences in 1997.

He has written two extensive books on the ecumenical dialogue, and given numerous speeches and talks on Catholic-Orthodox relations. I have accompanied him on numerous visits to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and three private audiences with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, where he has been warmly received.

Please remember him in your prayers that he recovers from this difficult disease and can return to fostering Church unity for which is he is so well-known.

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Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The interpretation we have sketched is, as it were, a key which unlocks the mind of the council and of Leo. The proof that it is the true key is that it can be turned, and than an intelligible meaning is thereby opened. The rival interpretations are as keys that will not turn: they meet with obstacles which they cannot pass – they do not fit the lock. But the former possesses over them these not inconsiderable advantages, that it contradicts no utterance of the council and they do; this is not irreconcilable with the immemorial tradition of the Church, and they are; it accounts for the absence of any objection on St. Leo’s part to these particular words; it gives a good reason why he should entertain no objection to the words in themselves; it is inconsistent with no established fact of history; and no other interpretation will harmonise with the language used towards the Pope in the letters in which his assent is entreated.

It is a most certain fact of history that Peter and Paul did give Rome the primacy – “the place in which the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul continually sit in judgment,” says the Council of Arles eleven years before Nicaea – and also that they gave it to Rome “because it was the Imperial City,” and that St. Leo himself devoted an entire sermon on the great Festival of these Apostles to the reassertion of this immemorial and unquestioned tradition, and that no one had ever said otherwise. These things being so, we are unable to see how any reasonable critic can draw any other conclusion than ours, unless he is driven to do so by the unkind necessities of his position. The attitude of the Pope towards the canon as a whole, not only in what he does not say, but also in what he does, appears to confirm the validity of our argument. He does not deny the assertion regarding the reasons which actuated “the Fathers,” but in respect to Alexandria and Antioch he denies the application. Whatever were the reasons which caused St. Peter to grant special distinction to these two sees – and the reasons, no doubt, were they secular greatness and geographical position – still, the distinction having been thus granted, their subsequent ecclesiastical greatness was due to their connection with St. Peter, and not to the reasons which actuated him.

It only remains to be said that the Pope finally annulled the canon by virtue of the authority of St. Peter, which the canon is supposed by opponents implicity, if not explicitly, to deny to him. His words in his letter to Pulcheria are as follows: “Those things agreed on by the bishops contrary to the rules of the holy canons drawn up at Nicaea, in union with the piety of your faith, we do annul, and by the authority of the Blessed Apostle Peter do, by a general definition, make utterly void” – “Consensiones vero episcoporum sanctorum Canonum apud Nicaeam conditorum repungnantes, unita nobiscum vestrae fidei pietate, in irritum mittimus, et, per auctoritatem Beati Petri Apostoli, generali prorsus definitione cassimus.” The Emperor Marcian accepts the refusal and praises the Pope because he stands out as the one who, “by guarding the ecclesiastical canons, has suffered no innovation upon ancient custom and the order agreed upon of old.” And finally Anatolius himself writes to submit to the Pope’s decision, “in order that, by obeying you, I might fulfil those things which have seemed good to your mind. For be it far from me to oppose whatsoever was commanded me in those letters.” And the letter concludes with the words previously quoted: “Gestorum vis omnis et confirmatio auctoritati vestrae beatitudinis reservata est.” The final word, therefore, of the Patriarch of Constantinople himself upon the question is a humble acknowledgement that not even a General Council could give him the precedency he desired for his See without the assent and confirmation of the Sovereign Pontiff.

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Bucharest, Sep. 13, 2007 (CWNews.com) – Metropolitan Daniel of Moldavia and Bucovina has been elected the new Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The new Romanian Orthodox leader replaces Patriarch Teoctist, who died on July 30 at the age of 92. Patriarch Teoctist had acted as host to Pope John Paul II in 1999, during the first visit of a Roman Pontiff to a traditionally Orthodox country.

Metropolitan Daniel has maintained friendly relations with Catholic Church leaders– particularly Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna– and is regarded as a strong proponent of ecumenism. His election was welcomed by members of the country’s Catholic minority.

The newly elected Orthodox Patriarch, who has shown a special interest in developing a Christian media presence, was chosen over Metropolitan Bartolomeu Ananaia, a prelate regarded as less friendly toward Catholic interests. In recent years Romanian Catholics have frequently clashed with their Orthodox neighbors over the ownership of parish properties that were seized from Eastern-rite Catholic congregations during the years of Communist rule and handed over to the Romanian Orthodox clergy.

The Romanian Orthodox Church is the second-largest body in the Orthodox world, after the Russian Orthodox. Roughly 20 of Romania’s 23 million people are Orthodox.

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Part I | Part II | Part III

We must, therefore, interpret the hoi pateres, Patres, of the canon to mean the Apostles and their successors; the Apostles as the original donors, their successors as bearing witness to what was handed down. This is no forced interpretation, for the expression is often used in this sense, and has a right to be considered on its own merits, apart from the important fact that an interpretation of the words of the canon which does not include the Apostles is impossible on independent grounds. St. Leo himself very frequently uses the word in the sense we have indicated. “The rule observed carefully by our Fathers,” he writes to Dioscorus, meaning, as he explains, the rule made by Peter and handed down by his successors. “The authority of custom which we know comes down from the Apostles’ teaching,” he says in the same letter. “The traditions of the Fathers,” paternal traditions, he calls them in his letter to the bishops of the Council of Chalcedon; “what has become fixed in our custom as derived from the form of paternal tradition;” “the rules of the Fathers” (regulae, or, constituta Patrum); all these expressions mean one thing to the Pope, namely, that which was deposited in the Church by the Apostles and has been handed down by those who took their place. But this is a quite common usage.

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Part I | Part II

The most significant and important point of all is that the Pope St. Leo himself saw no attack on the Privilegia Petri in the canon. The principle on which the bishops based the canon did come under his notice; for amongst the many reasons he gave for rejecting it was this, that the See of Constantinople ought not to deprive Alexandria and Antioch of their place as second and third sees, because it was not an Apostolic foundation and they were. The See of Alexandria, he tells Anatolius, cannot be stripped of the dignity which it had received on account of Mark, the disciple of Peter, notwithstanding the apostacy of Dioscorus; nor could Antioch, where Peter preached and where the Christian name first arose, lose its rank as third. And yet in none of his letters, in which he recites the many objections to the “innovation,” does he take any exception to the words which assert that his own See of Rome owed its rank to the secular greatness of the city: “Etenim sedi senioris Romae” (or, “throno antiquae Romae”) “propter Imperium civitatis illius” (or, “quod privilegia tribuerunt” (reddiderunt) – so run the Latin versions of these oft-quoted words. “Leo himself,” says the late Canon Bright, who failed to perceive the immense significance of the admission, “was content to denounce it, not on account of St. Peter’s prerogatives, but in the name of the Council of Nicaea.” And the late Canon Carter, a leading Anglican authority, also says: “Rome did not oppose the decree as derogatory to herself.” These admissions appear to concede our point, which is that the decree neither denied nor was intended to deny the Petrine privilege of the Holy See, and that therefore it did not and could not mean that the Pope’s position was based merely on ecclesiastical consent.

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Part I

The Council committed itself in precise and definite terms to the belief that the Pope was the inheritor of the privileges of St. Peter, and head of the Church by Divine right. Passing by the well-known and significant cry of the assembled Fathers on hearing the Pope’s letter to Flavian, “Peter hath spoken by Leo (dia Leontos),” let us turn to the sentence of deposition pronounced by the Papal legate on Dioscorus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and subscribed by every bishop at the council: “Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, Archbishop of the great and elder Rome, by us (his legates) and this present most holy Council (di himon kai tes parouses hagiotates sunodou), in union with the thrice-blessed and all-honoured apostle Peter, who is the Rock and support (petra kai krepis) of the Catholic Church and the foundation (ho themelios) of the orthodox faith, has deprived (egumnosen, Leon being the subject) him of his episcopate, etc.” …

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