Archive for December, 2007

While I was gone …

I’m catching up on interesting posts bearing on Orthodox-Catholic relations on some of my favorite blogs. Here are some of the juiciest highlights:

From Fr Gregory Jensen’s ‘Koinonia’ comes a smorgasborg of excellent posts on Orthodox ecumenism:

Some More Thoughts on Ravenna (November 16, 2007):

Reading through the Ravenna statement on ecclesiology, I find it to be well balanced and consistent with an Orthodox understanding of the Church. Rightly understood, and the document addresses this, there is not a single primacy in the Church, but rather primacies. Moving from the “bottom up,” each primacy becomes part of a synod with its own primate, who in terms is in another, more expansive synod with its own primate, etc. Moving from the “top down,” these different levels of primacy nest in each other—each primate having a responsibility to care for the primacy of those in the “lower” level … As I have said in other venues, before the Great Schism can be healed we—Orthodox Christians and Catholics—must desire reconciliation. For that desire to be born in our hearts we need at least some mutual understanding or sympathy for each other’s ecclesiology. On that score, I think, the Ravenna document represents a significant advance in Catholic/Orthodox ecumenical relations.

Answering Critics (December 12, 2007):

Ecumenical work is not something that can be engaged in simply out of a personal interest—one needs to have the blessing of the Church in order to represent her in ecumenical contacts. It is, I would suggest, a vocation, a ministry to which one is called by Christ and which must be confirmed by the Church. There are those in the Church who Christ calls to help heal the wounds on the Body of Christ. Much like the priest in confession, ecumenical healing requires that we examine ourselves and our respective communities carefully. This is done not simply to root out sin but also to uncover God’s hidden mercy in the midst of human failings and shortcomings. As presented in [the Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church Toward the Other Christian Confessions], ecumenical work participates in the larger therapeutic work of Christ and His Church.

Conversion or Reconciliation? (December 13, 2007):

This therapeutic approach to ecumenicism is rooted, I would argue, in the more general, therapeutic approach of Eastern Church to the spiritual life. In my experience, the Orthodox tendency to see Christian faith and morality in therapeutic terms is very powerful. For many Roman Catholics and Protestants however, the therapeutic emphasis of Orthodoxy is one of the most attractive and life-giving aspects of Holy Tradition. It is with some irony then that when the topic turns to ecumenicism many Orthodox Christians, especially in America, eschew any language that suggests that reconciliation or healing is what is called for in our conversation and witness to Christians in other confessions. The bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate however take the high road and refuse to acquiesce to those strident and sectarian voices that would counsel a simplistic reduction of ecumenical work to “us” vs. “them” or “Orthodox” vs. “heterodox.” Instead, BPA challenges Orthodox Christians to foster the reconciliation of non-Orthodox Christians with the Church. Speaking of reconciliation is more appropriate because, as we have seen, the bishops argue that the grace of Christ is not absent from non-Orthodox confessions. Indeed central to any Orthodox ecumenical witness is the conviction that “In spite of the rupture of unity, there remains a certain incomplete fellowship which serves as the pledge of a return to unity in the Church, to catholic fullness and oneness.” (1.15)

Dialog and Self-Criticism (December 14, 2007):

The remedies for relativism and triumphalism are the same: not only knowledge of the faith of the Church, but also a commitment to dialog that is rooted in both an openness to others and a spirit of self-criticism ground in Christ’s call to His Church to always empty herself of any pretention and self-confidence.

An Incomplete Communion: Ecclesiology or Anthropology? (December 17, 2007):

In the early Church, it is worth noting, this acknowledgement of a limited communion is never taken to be a rejection of the catholic nature of the Church as such. Nor did it turn the grace of God into something “free floating” and divorced from the Body of Christ. The emphasis, I would suggest, in a partial or incomplete communion is not on a rarified view of the Church, but an attempt to take seriously human freedom in response to divine grace. Though they have implications for ecclesiology, statements about an incomplete communion, or so it seems to me, are fundamentally statements about anthropology. I would suggest that, in speaking about incomplete fellowships, the bishops are making statements about the human person, and even concrete human communities, in whom they can recognize at least a partial communion with Christ and His Body the Church. They pass over in silence the ecclesiological status of these communities because their concern is anthropological and not about ecclesiology as such. The tension they are trying to maintain is between God free bestowal of His grace and human freedom to respond to that grace. Though in varying degrees, both of these are essential to communion with Christ and His Body the Church.

Transcending Relativism and Triumphalism (December 18, 2007):

Overemphasize our similarities and you fall into a relativism that denies any real difference between Christian confessions and, indeed, between Christians and non-Christians. Overemphasize our differences, however, and you fall into a triumphalism that makes the Church a sectarian group radically divorced from the very human family that Christ joins Himself to and for which He suffers and dies. In both cases, the catholic (kata + holos, or wholeness) nature of the Church is lost.

Do We Wish to be Reconciled? (December 19, 2007):

While I can’t speak for Catholics and Protestants, at least among the Orthodox (myself included I am ashamed to say), there are many who prefer a divided Christendom. It is simply easier not to have to deal with the many questions that seem to be tearing western Christian confessions apart. We happily exist in splendid isolation. Alas, this isolation is, as Fr Alexander Schmemann points out, is only possible if we stay in our grace proof chancelleries and rectories. Yes, we can keep “alive”—like some spiritual Disneyland—the glories of Byzantium and Holy Rus and our separation from Western culture and Christendom, but at what cost? How much of Orthodox resistance to a reconciled Christendom reflects a commitment to the Gospel and how much narcissism? How much of our talk about “conversion,” is simply in the service of requiring that “you” change and conform yourself to “me.” How much of our profession of faith is simply a way to excuses us from any real self-examination. To speak of reconciliation means not simply that “you” change, but that “we” change, that “I” change together with “you.” Even if that change is not dogmatic, it does mean making room in my parish for new people with their own problems and struggles. But oh, how this disturbs the “peace.” … So I ask myself again: Are we, Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians willing to take seriously the task of reconciliation not simply with one and other, but with Christ? If the answer is “No” how can we then claim to be faithful to Christ? As St Basil reminds us, fidelity to Christ demands of us above all this “one aim—to bring back into union [those] Churches [and Christians] that have been severed from one another.” (Letter, 114).

From Mike Liccione at ‘Sacramentum Vitae’, more fascinating back-and-forth on the Ravenna document:

Ravenna: The latest chapter in Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism (November 17, 2007):

As evinced by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio, as well as other pertinent documents since that council closed, the Catholic Church has undergone and fostered the development of ecclesiological doctrine in such a way as to give an account of how the [Eastern Orthodox] and [Oriental Orthodox] relate to “the Church,” which is said to “subsist” in the Roman communion as a perduring whole … But something analogous does not seem to have occurred in Orthodoxy. We have Zizoulas’ eucharistic ecclesiology, which dovetails somewhat with Ratzinger’s theology of communio and has clearly influenced the Ravenna proceedings. But further progress in Orthodox ecclesiology is necessary if the process embodied by Ravenna is to continue. What direction could and should such progress take?

Orthodoxy on churches outside “the Church” (November 2o, 2007):

What I’m calling for, in effect, is the sort of development in Orthodox ecclesiology that has occurred, within living memory, in Catholic ecclesiology. Any such development would, of course, assume that the Eastern-Orthodox communion is “the” Church, with the question being how other churches relate to her—just as the Catholic Church sees herself as “the” Church, with the question being how other churches relate to her. Even so, one should not assume that Orthodoxy as a whole will come to see non-Orthodox churches, especially the Catholic Church, in a way that would be a mirror image of how the Catholic Church has come to see non-Catholic churches, especially the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communions. I know of nothing to rule out that happening, but expecting it to happen would be presumptuous. Yet I believe it can be safely said that if Orthodoxy did develop greater clarity about the ecclesial status of non-Orthodox bodies, especially the Catholic Church, then the possibilities of ecumenism would be more clearly understood on both sides. And clarity about that could only constitute progress—even if the possibilities thereby exhibited would not please everybody.

Orthodox (non?)-ecclesiology, continued (November 21, 2007):

What I think it reasonable to seek directly from the Orthodox side is greater clarity about its own ecclesiology. If such clarity were forthcoming, that would not necessarily improve the prospects for unity; for all I know, it might worsen them; for if the Athonites turn out to speak for Orthodoxy, then the prospects for reunion, at least on the collective level, are dim indeed. If Athonite ecclesiology truly is the ecclesiology of Orthodoxy, then the only thing left for the Catholic Church to do is die. Of course, for all I know, Orthodox ecclesiology could develop along lines similar to that which is manifest in Vatican II’s teaching for Catholics. That would hold out more favorable prospects for collective reunion.

Getting perspective on ecumenism (November 21, 2007):

Is all the negativity about ecumenism I’ve been sensing of late just myopic on my part? The Internet, whose discussion forums breed even more logomachy than they allow, can darken the vision and mood of almost anybody who spends much time on it. I see the temptation to succumb to that as an invitation to spiritual combat—or, if you prefer, to a form of ascesis that must occasion a deepening of prayer. Indeed, when it comes to ecumenism, the Internet negativity one senses can be surreal in a way that I’ve only encountered regularly before in reading transcripts of full-blown exorcisms.

From Hieromonk Maximos at ‘The Anastasis Dialogue’:

Power, Power, Power (November 19, 2007):

The whole problem with the primacy is issue is not who has it but what primacy is. It’s about how authority works in a Church founded on the ultimate refusal of power, the kenosis of the Son of God. Does there really need to be an “arbiter” whose final word ends all disputes, as the Roman side claims? Or is the real guarantor of Truth the Spirit at work in Scripture, Sacrament and the Saints as the Orthodox aver? My view is that the final solution, from which we are intellectually, emotionally and culturally very far, will come about only when the notion of “hierarchy” is rescued from the power-political prison into which it has been placed since the cultural triumph of nominalism sealed by the Reformation and Enlightenment. Only then will we be in a position to understand the mystical, sacramental symbolic weight of apostolic authority that witnesses to, without recourse to worldly strategies of domination, what the Areopagite calls “the most conspicuous fact of theology — the God-formation of Jesus amongst us.”

The Ochlophobist on Ravenna (November 20, 2007):

Lurking behind this ecclesiology (and yes, that’s what it is—and not an “undefined” one, as is argued, but an ill-defined one) is, in my view, a kind of crypto-protestant “me and Jesus” attitude. Not everyone who cries, “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church does not exist solely in relation to Christ; it is also the means by which Christ extends Himself through the Spirit to all creation. The world matters; for its sake the God who so loved it sent his only Son into it, not to condemn it but so that it might be saved. Askesis and repentance are not just things we do for ourselves, to secure our own salvation. They are the ways by which we become co-workers with Him for the sake of the All. That seems a good enough reason for those ecumenical meetings, with or without the wine. And it certainly seems a good enough reason to think twice before sneering at those who attend them.

The askesis of ecumenism (November 26, 2007):

If the fathers of the Holy Mountain mean what they say, then the fact that they pray daily for, “the peace of the whole world, the welfare of the holy Churches of God and for the union of all” makes them, in the truest sense of the word, ecumenical. This means that all their acts of personal and corporate asceticism have an ecumenical dimension. They pray and fast not only for themselves but also that this prayer may be fulfilled. I’m not just playing with words. Yes, I am trying to re-define “ecumenism” away from the idea that it’s about professional theologians, conferences and junkets. I’m even trying to re-define it away from those of us who actually believe the Churches are already in a fundamental sense united. I want the word to mean what it ought to mean: faith in the salvation of the peopled world, the oikumene, through Christ Jesus and the need to witness to this salvation throughout that world. So yes, by acting as our kathartic conscience, the ecumenists of Athos are as essential to the work of re-union as the optimists of Bari and Geneva; perhaps more so.

From Wei-Hsien Wan, at ‘Bumi Dipijak’:

Christian Unity and the Renunciation of Autonomy (November 16, 2007)

The continued separation between the Churches is in part the furtherance of the quest for autonomy that began in Eden. History has wounded us, and we’ve numbed ourselves by writing the other out of every day life. Between East and West is the lie that we do not need each other, and this, perhaps, is the greatest chasm and the thickest wall. If it is true that we long for reunion and not simply discussions about it, then it seems to me that we must first repent by unmasking this. That way, when we actually sit down to talk about things that really do stand in the way of our living together, we can at least see each other face to face. If not, we’ll have to stand before the dread judgment seat of Christ and defend ourselves with that primordial lame duck of questions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

A Jagged Little Pill (November 28, 2007):

… [w]hat do we have in common with those “vagabond” apostles of Christ, Paul, Peter and the others? And the hierarchs, charged with communicating the life of Christ to men, would one day, with the connivance of emperors, arrogate to themselves the right of life and death over the children of God, unscrupulously executing those who did not share their opinions and the letter of their faith, forgetting that faith is a gratuitous gift of God. These are not the type of men who would gather believers around the crucified Jesus and the Eucharistic table and who would bring about communion of hearts and spirits, as enjoyed by the first Christian communities. It is necessary to seek this communion from the “little brothers” and the “little sisters” of Jesus Christ, either in hidden cloistered life, or in the midst of the world, in obscure and daily labor of fathers and mothers who generously bear the concerns of a family, living from day to day. No, Christian unity would not be brought about by pastors of the churches, of whom it is written: “Awake, O sword against my shepherd, … says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered” (Zech 13.7). – Archbishop Elias Zoghby

From Peter Gilbert at ‘De Unione Ecclesiarum’:

Why Read Bekkos? (December 20, 2007):

Given that so much of Orthodox dogmatic theology has in fact taken shape in conscious opposition to Bekkos’s thought, can an examination of that thought now serve any irenic purpose, or only a polemical one? If a restoration of communion between Catholics and Orthodox is to be achieved, it would hardly appear to be possible now upon the theological grounds on which Bekkos would have established it … Why then read Bekkos, if his thought is so tied to a theology that the Churches are trying to get beyond? First of all, any attempt to get beyond something has to be very careful; it is always possible that what one seeks to get beyond is something one never quite understood correctly in the first place. That, I suspect, is the case with at least some of the criticisms of Bekkos’s thought. And even if those who read Bekkos continue to wish to get beyond him, I would hope that at least, by reading him, people who make it their business to criticize the West would learn to be a little more charitable towards this much-maligned Greek of the thirteenth century, who had the audacity to hope for a world in which Christians would not hate each other, and who sought with all the resources of his faith and intellect to bring that world into being. Is it too much to hope that such a world might still come about? Perhaps one reads Bekkos to reawaken the notion of that possibility.


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Memory eternal!

I interrupt my Advent fast from blogging to report some sad news: the falling asleep in Christ of His Eminence, Archbishop Vsevolod of Skopelos, Eparch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). From  his brother bishops in the UOC-USA:

It is with a profound depth of sadness that we hereby inform you of the repose, this evening of 16 December 2007 in the 80th year of his earthly pilgrimage, of His Eminence Archbishop Vsevolod, Eparch of the Western Eparchy of our Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Titular Hierarch of Skopelos of the Holy Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.  His Eminence was stricken with a serious illness just a few months ago and was released only recently from rehabilitation to participate in the celebration of his 20th anniversary of episcopal consecration and his 80th birthday.  This celebration took place at his Cathedral of St. Volodymyr in Chicago, IL with the presence of his brother Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs, his family from the United States and Ukraine and his beloved spiritual children, the clergy and faithful of the Western Eparchy, of which he served a Eparch since 1997.

Archbishop Vsevolod is well known amongst the world’s ecumenical leaders and in particular the on-going dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.  He has represented our Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in all his ecumenical activities, in particular over the past ten years in repeated attempts to bring about ecclesiastical unity in his native Ukraine.

We express our deepest sympathy to his surviving sister, Ilaria Krejer of San Diego, CA and her children and other family members in Ukraine, at this difficult time and we offer our prayers that our Heavenly Father will embrace them in His warmth and comfort as these difficult moments pass.

One of His Eminence’s essays, on Primacy and Conciliarity, has been featured here at Cathedra Unitatis (part one, part two, part three and part four). It comes from a very interesting two volume anthology of works by His Eminence on Orthodox-Catholic relations, called We Are All Brothers. I understand that there is a third volume entitled We Are All Brothers, which is a festschrift of essays by prominent Church leaders and theologians in honor of Archbishop Vsevolod on his eightieth birthday and twentieth anniversary of episcopal consecration. Both volumes are highly recommended, and are available from Eastern Christian Publications.

Give rest eternal, O Lord, in blessed repose, to the soul of Thy departed servant, and make his memory eternal!

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