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Archive for January, 2008

Moving Day

I’m beginning to copy some of the articles on ecumenism over to a new blog called “Eirenikon“, devoted solely to the topic of Orthodox/Catholic rapprochement. I am still setting things up there, so I ask your patience. At this point, Eirenikon is experimental, as I honestly don’t know how much time I will be able to devote to it. I will keep Cathedra Unitatis up as an archive, but I won’t be approving new comments for it.

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On Christian Unity

Two days ago began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity during which Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, knowing that their divisions constitute an obstacle to the reception of the Gospel, together implore the Lord, in a yet more intense way, for the gift of full communion. This providential initiative was born 100 years ago, when Father Paul Wattson started the “Octave” of prayer for the unity of all the disciples of Christ. Today for this occasion the spiritual sons and daughters of Father Wattson, the friars and sisters of the Atonement, are present in St. Peter’s Square and I greet them cordially and encourage them to pursue the cause of unity with their special dedication.

We all have the duty to pray and work for the overcoming of every division between Christians, responding to Christ’s desire “ut unum sint.” Prayer, conversion of heart, the reinforcement of the bonds of communion, form the essence of this spiritual movement that we hope will soon lead the disciples of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist together, the manifestation of their full unity.

This year’s biblical theme is dense with meaning: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). St. Paul addresses himself to the community of Thessalonica, which was experiencing internal clashes and conflicts, to remind them with insistence about certain fundamental attitudes, among which there stands out, indeed, incessant prayer. With this invitation of his, he wants it to be understood that from the new life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit there flows forth the capacity to overcome all egoism, to live together in peace and fraternal union, to bear in large measure the burdens and sufferings of others. We must never tire of praying for the unity of Christians! When Jesus, during the Last Supper, prayed that his disciples “be one,” he had a precise goal in mind: “That the world believe” (John 17:21).

The Church’s evangelizing mission, therefore, moves along the path of ecumenism, the path of unity of faith, of evangelical witness and authentic fraternity. As is done every year, on Thursday, Jan. 25, I will go to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with solemn vespers. I invite Romans and pilgrims to join with me and with Christians of all the churches and ecclesial communities who will take part in the celebration, to ask of God the precious gift of reconciliation among all the baptized.

May the Mother of God, whose appearance to Alphonse Ratisbonne in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate in Rome we remember today, obtain from the Lord the abundance of the Holy Spirit for all disciples in such a way that we can arrive at perfect unity and in this way offer the witness of faith and life that the world urgently needs.

Pope Benedict XVI (January 20, 2008)

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From Byzantine Ramblings comes the sad news of the falling asleep in Christ of a major voice for Orthodox-Catholic unity in our time, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop Elias Zoghby:

His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III, the Bishops of the Holy Synod of the Melkite Catholic Church, His Grace, Elias Rahal, Archbishop of Baalbeck, the Clergy and Faithful of the Eparchy of Baalbeck, His Grace, Bishop Youssef Joel Zraiy, Patriarchal Vicar of Egypt and Sudan, the Clergy and Faithful of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Zoghby Family and their relatives here and abroad, regret to inform you of the passing to the Lord of His Grace, Archbishop Elias Zoghby, on Wednesday, 16 January 2008.

Archbishop Zoghby was Dean of the Holy Synod of Melkite Bishops, Patriarchal Vicar Emeritus of Egypt and Sudan, and Archbishop Emeritus of Baalbeck.

Archbishop Zoghby’s Funeral will take place at St. Paul Basilica in Harissa, on Saturday, 19 January 2008, at 3:00 P.M. Sympathies will be accepted before and after the funeral service at St. Paul Convent in Harissa and on Sunday, 20 January 2008 at the Patriarchal Residence in Rabweh from 11:00 A.M to 6:00 P.M.

Archbishop was perhaps most famous for his controversial proposal known as the “Zoghby Initiative”, approved by the Melkite Holy Synod in 1995 (and politely rejected by the CDF under the presidency of Cardinal Ratzinger):

  1. I believe everything which Eastern Orthodoxy teaches.
  2. I am in communion with the Bishop of Rome as the first among the bishops, according to the limits recognized by the Holy Fathers of the East during the first millennium, before the separation.

Archbishop Elias was a prolific writer on the topic of Orthodox-Catholic relations, including his 1996 book Tous Schismatiques? (“Are We All Schismatics?”, printed in English under the slighly mistranslated title “We Are All Schismatics”). Two of his essays have been featured here: “The Desire for Christian Unity” and “Christian Unity Involves the Whole Church”. Eastern Christian Publications carries a small book of his entitled Ecumenical Reflections, as well as a biography of Archbishop Elias by Suzane Aboueid.

No matter what one thinks of his Initiative and ideas about Christian unity, I hope we can all join in prayer for the repose of his soul and that his memory may be eternal. O Christ God, with the Saints grant rest to the soul of your High Priest Elias in a place where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing, but everlasting life.

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The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity begins tomorrow, January 18, and ends on January 25. The custom was originated by two Anglican priests who advocated corporate reunion with Rome. Of late, the Octave has developed into a more general form of prayer for the reunion of Christendom, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. You can read more about the history of the Octave here, and about the founders of the Octave here.

I’ve often wondered what ecumenically-minded Eastern Orthodox might do during the Octave, especially now that it’s no longer merely a Roman Catholic or Anglo-Papalist custom. Most of the orders of prayer I’ve seen are really unsuitable for Orthodox use, both the older form (reflective of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic ecclesiology) and the newer forms (far too contemporary, not reflective enough of Eastern liturgical ethos and piety, and probably a bit more broadly ecumenical than most Orthodox would be comfortable with).

The website Ancient and Future Catholics presents a version of the Octave primarily devoted to the intention of Orthodox-Catholic unity, but with a secondary focus on the unity of all Christians and the conversion of non-Christians.

We believe the best way to achieve unity between Orthodox and Catholics is twofold: prayer and mutual understanding. This is also how we will accomplish greater unity with our Protestant brothers and sisters. On Ancient and Future Catholics we have always worked towards mutual understanding and now we want to make prayer for visible unity another primary focus. What better way to achieve that goal than to start with the octave of Christian unity? We have several suggestions for these 8 days. The first obvious activity is prayer. Each day we will post prayer suggestions, but above all, we must pray for visible unity between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and with other churches as well. Secondly, we will provide a reading from both Eastern and Western Christian writers. This purpose is to help each side become more acquainted with the riches involved in the Western and Eastern heritage. This will also include liturgical texts. Finally, we will give practical suggestions for better relations with individual Orthodox and Catholics, principles which apply also to our relationships with Protestants. Although we are primarily focusing on Catholic-Orthodox relations, our secondary focus will be prayer for the unity of all Christians and the conversion of non-Christians. This effort is not officially associated with any diocese or parish and we are loyal to the Magisterium and our bishops. We are simply laymen trying to live out our faith.

I particularly like the patristic readings assigned for each day. I’d imagine that this form of the devotion would be more accessible to the Orthodox, although, again, it would be better to have a form more reflective of Eastern ethos and piety (I wonder if the various families of Eastern Catholics have a form of prayer for the Octave?).

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An update

My apologies for the lack of activity here since the beginning of the Nativity Fast.

Cathedra Unitatis has been around now for a year (it premiered on January 12, 2007). I originally started the blog for a very selfish reason: I wanted answers to my own questions about the differing ecclesiological visions of Rome and the Eastern Churches. I wanted smart Orthodox and Catholics to come together and engage in an honest yet charitable dialogue on ecclesiology, and specifically, the issue of the Papacy and primacy in the Universal Church.

When I started the blog, I was an Orthodox convert seriously contemplating the possibility of coming into the communion of the Church of Rome. Today, a year later, I remain an Orthodox Christian, and I am determined to remain in this faith and communion until I die (a fact which will, no doubt, dismay both my Catholic friends and my Orthodox critics alike!).

The question now is whether to abandon the blog, or to keep it going albeit in a somewhat different form. I am still very interested in ecclesiology and the Papacy, but perhaps at this point the blog would work better as a place for discussion of Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement. It seems to me that ecumenically-minded Orthodox are woefully under-represented in the blogosphere (two exceptions being the wonderful blogs by Fr Gregory Jensen and Peter Gilbert).

I am grateful for your readership and especially for your insightful comments during the past year. I have learned a great deal, and I look forward to learning more from the discussions here, God willing.

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