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Response to George Weigel

Bishop Demetrios (Kantzavelos)

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Bishop Demetrios responds to George Weigel's "Mount Athos Objects to Ecumenical Openness".

In regard to the article by George Weigel, "Reconciliation with Orthodox church is not simple," I would like to make the following observations from an Orthodox perspective.

I appreciate that the author considers reconciliation between the two sister churches, separated by many centuries of schism, to be an important subject. Unfortunately, in an attitude that may be widespread, he betrays a one-sided notion of what reconciliation means when he predicates this on a "reexamination within Orthodoxy of what a life-line to Rome might mean." He suggests that "Islamist pressures" may precede this.

"Islamist pressures" have not been and should not be the motivation for reconciliation between "sister" churches in schism. Indeed, when such pressures were present in the Byzantine era, moves to reunite East and West failed since their foundation was not love and concord in the Faith. For several centuries, Orthodoxy survived in Europe under the Ottoman yoke, and still survives as the faith of a minority in several nations of the Middle East where Islam is the faith of the majority. At times, there have been and continue to be persecutions overt or subtle, yet the Orthodox Church has witnessed to the truth and thereby survived. The only true motivation for reunion between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox Churches must be mutual faith, concord and love, "that they may be one" (John 17:11). Any other motivation -- economic, political or otherwise -- would only amount to a false union founded on the "cares of this life" (Luke 21:34) and not concern for the communion of the everlasting Kingdom.

Likewise, Orthodoxy does not require a "life-line to Rome" as the author suggests. While the author laments a lack of recognition of the canonicity of the Bishop of Rome by the monastics of Mount Athos, his own view of Orthodoxy is not substantially different. If Orthodoxy requires Rome for life and vitality, she must not be the living Body of Christ. This, of course, is an ecclesiological position that precludes viewing Rome and the Orthodox as true "sister churches." And this precludes reconciliation.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Weigel is correct to lament the continued distrust and suspicion of Rome present in some parts of the Orthodox Church. However, he is incorrect to think that schism with Rome is integral to the self-identity of Athonite monasticism in particular or Orthodox Christians in general. The history of mutual distrust, suspicion, violence, recrimination and even persecution is too complex to dismiss. In Eastern Europe (including the Ukraine as well as Greece), cultural memory lingers far longer than in the West (especially our own nation), and the pain of schism -- while not defining of one's own tradition -- cannot go unnoticed. Mr. Weigel admits this pain is felt even among Roman Catholics in the region. But the protest of the Athonite monks reflects not only a caution arising from such pain, but primarily the "different theological sensibilities" to which Mr. Weigel refers. One of these is our sense of communion that transcends national boundaries and "certain ethnic communities." The plight of our fellow Orthodox is shared by us all, regardless of geographic location.

Simply put, Mr. Weigel does not understand Orthodox sensibilities or attitudes, cultural or theological. This is a reason that schism grew in the first place. While Orthodox may be more conscious of the lack of communion with Rome, this may not be so negative as Mr. Weigel implies. This means, at least, perception of the problem. Perhaps the thought of "how one stands vis--vis the Patriarch of Constantinople" and other Orthodox primates should be on the minds of more Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. Perhaps then the absence of "one lung" will be recognized as a debilitative condition, while the necessity of communion and reconciliation with Rome's sisters will be felt to be a serious need. Without the perception of brokenness, there can be no change of mind. Without the perception of need for change, without the desire to fill the absence, reconciliation will not occur.

Bishop Demetrios (Kantzavelos) of Mokissos is the Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago.

Posted: 27-Apr-07

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