What Can We Do to Achieve Unity Between Catholics and Orthodox?
An early draft of this paper was presented at the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR) Meeting at San Rafael’s Roman Catholic Church, Rancho Bernardo, California, 01 May 2010. The SSJC-WR is an ecumenical organization of laity and clergy of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches which works to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by Jesus Christ.
And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one (Jn 17:11).
“When Christ asked the one who was to become the first among the apostle, then called Simon Bar-Jona, “. . . who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15). Simon answered: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16: 16-18). The Eastern Orthodox Church has always considered this “profession” of the Divinity of Jesusi to be the ‘rock,’ the foundation, of all who are members of His Church. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not speak of plural Churches, i.e., that He would found many Churches, but my Church, singular. He would found one Church. The Church is one.
This is the way the apostles thought of the Church. Consider St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1:7), addressed: “To all God's beloved in Rome ” “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus ” was St. Paul’s initial greeting to the Church of Christ at Corinth (1Cor 1:2). A similar greeting leads off his second Epistle to the Corinthians. This is so because, as Christ is One, we, as members of His One Body, are one. St. Paul teaches the Romans (12:14: 4-5): “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” St Paul states this with even more precision in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1Cor 10:17). We could say the church, the assembly,ii is the Eucharistic Body of Christ. We partake of His one Body and Blood, and we are one with Christ and each other.
The Old Covenant: The Prefigured Church
The Church is outside of time and yet encompasses all time. In the Old Covenant, the Church, a great mystery, was present but hidden. The Old Testament Church is described by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos (1998) “as manifestations of the incarnate word.” The spirit, or breath (ruach, YHWH) of God, moved the earth. The writer of Genesis (1: 1-2), tells us: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” The inspired author goes on (2:7): “ then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The psalmist also acknowledges the Spirit: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me” (Ps 50:10-11).
Christ was hidden from Moses in the burning bush. “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Ex 3:2). Vlachos (1998) tells us that St. John Chrysostom considered the righteous, the prophets, the judges of the Old Testament were members of the Church because “they too knew Christ.” In iconography, the Orthodox Church puts halos around these holy ones as they have interiorized the light of Christ. At the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor Moses and Elijah were encircled by light:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’ (Mt 17: 1-5).
The Church incarnate in the New Covenant
In the New Covenant we have the manifestation of the incarnate Christ, the incarnate Word (Logos). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1: 1-4,14). This took place through the action of the Holy Spirit. As St. John the Evangelist points out: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1: 17). The understanding of the meaning of Christ’s teachings, His Gifts, His Church would come at Pentecost, as He promised the Apostles: “And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (Jn14: 16-18).
This was fulfilled fifty days after the Resurrection, ten days after Christ ascended to His Father, when the Apostles and Disciples were in the upper room: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance“ (Acts 2: 1-4). The Kontakion for the Liturgy for the Feast of Pentecost focuses on the unity brought about by the Holy Spirit on the new Church at this mystical event: “When the High One descended, confusing tongues, He divided the nations. And when He distributed the fiery tongues He called all to one unity. Wherefore, in unison we glorify the most Holy Spirit.” The inspired Holy Apostle Paul would rightly understand and state: “There is one body and one Spirit.” (Eph 4:4).
The Post-Pentecost Church
After Pentecost the Apostles understood Christ’s words: “And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 18-20). The apostles, the twelve, and the seventy and their successors spread out from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire and even beyond, preached Christ and ordained overseers-elders (episkopoi-presbyters) for the various communities of Christians.
McGuckin (2004) notes that “The writers of the late first and early second centuries, such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius sketch out a picture where churches were governed by a council of elders (probably, originally, simply the old and wise of the communities), from whose number one served as president of the liturgical assembly and had special organizational responsibilities.” McGuckin also notes that “in certain large cities such as Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, this movement toward a single overseer happened more quickly than elsewhere after the fourth century Presbyters came more and more to have charge of smaller churches separate from the cathedral.”
Zizioulas (2001) notes that the early Church saw herself as “mystical and sacramental.” Thus “each Church and each Bishop was . . not part of the a whole but the whole itself Each bishop is a successor of all the apostles and of Peter himself. To each bishop can be applied St. Augustine’s description “the servant of the servants of God” (McGuckin, 2004).iii Zizioulas considers ‘parishes’ (presbyterates) to be a spatial distribution of the Eucharistic throne. Liturgically, this is described in the prayer at the breaking of the lamb (the specially prepared bread to be consecrated) at the time of Communion: “Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God, who is divided yet not disunited; who is ever eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifies those who partake thereof.”iv
The Eucharist may be the center of the unity of Christians and thus a necessity, but it is not sufficient for understanding the meaning of Church. It has always been understood that the unity of the one Eucharist must also be accompanied by the unity of doctrine or orthodoxy. This twofold unity in understanding the Church is essential. It should also be understood that the Church not only encompasses those on earth but all those righteous, the saints who have passed on to eternal life, and also the totality of the heavenly powers, the various choirs of angels. Once again, the light of Christ which they have absorbed by being in union with Him is depicted in iconography by the glowing halo surrounding both angels and saints.
Post-Constantinian Church Structure
After Constantine (c. 275-337 AD), the Church structure became more akin to Roman body politic. Episcopal function, in addition to its sacramental character, became more administrative and juridical. Bishops of politically influential cities “came to have greater influence” (McGuckin 2004) over bishops of neighboring areas. Episcopal titles such as Patriarch and Metropolitan emerged, giving witness to these governing functions. Ecclesiastically this also included the establishment of the leadership of synods and the consecration of bishops.
As canonized in the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in the East, there came to be four Patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem; in the West there was only one, Rome. This single seat of episcopacy in the West, with the additional administrative function of the bishop and the secular political vacuum of the breakup of the Western Roman Empire, would have much to do with the development of a sovereign Roman Papacy. With multiple Patriarchates, the East tended to maintain the broad as well as the local synodal structure of the episcopacy.
The Sin of Disunion
In a recent Zenit interviewv Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev stated: “As one of my close friends, a Roman Catholic hermit and theologian, said, ‘it is sin that divided the Churches and it is sanctity that will unite them again.’ The legacy of saints and martyrs is common to both Churches – both have centuries-old experience of martyrdom and sanctity.” This sinfulness and its effects, the witness of disunion, the scandal it portrays to the world, the mockery of Christ it depicts, must be acknowledged by all, from the highest levels of the Church hierarchy to the grassroots of the royal priesthood of the laity. Not all have the same function in working toward metanoia, a change of mind, and then toward action that will heal the sin and infirmity of disunion and bring about re-union.
In this regard, Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov quotes the Eastern Patriarchal Encyclical of 1848: “With us innovations cannot be introduced either by patriarchs or by the Councils; for with us, the safeguarding of religion dwells in the whole body of the Church Lay persons are not judges of the faith [they are] defenders of the faith [e.g. Arianism]..the promulgations of doctrinal definitions is the charism proper to the episcopate.” But all must desperately desire reunion, intensely pray for reunion and untiringly work for reunion based on the gifts, function and ministry they have in the Church.
History has borne witness that the road to reunion will not be easy. Not all issues are equivalent in terms of being dogma or custom. Only a united Council of Western and Eastern Churches would decide these matters. However, the issues which initiated division and continue to divide these Churches include:
- West: focus on the unity of the Persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit
- East: focus on the individuality of the Persons: the monarchy of the Father, who begets the Son and from whom the Spirit proceeds.
Adam’s sin and its consequence
- West: Original Sin — “Christ by His death redeemed mankind from sin and its bondage. In baptism the guilt of original sinvi is wiped out and the soul is cleansed and justified again by the infusion of sanctifying grace. But freedom from concupiscence is not restored to man, any more than immortality; abundant grace, however, is given him, by which he may obtain the victory over rebellious sense and deserve life everlasting.”vii [satisfaction is given to God, thus removing the guilt of mankind and ensuing punishment].
- East: Ancestral Sin — Man himself separated from God and rejected God’s ever offered grace. God never separated Himself from mankind, by his love and mercy sent the Old Testament prophets, saints and Christ Himself.viii Mankind inherited a tendency toward sin and death. “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned “ (Rm 5:12).
- West: justification from sin and guilt
- East: theosis, deification (“partakers of the divine nature. 2Pt 1:4)
- West: A disunited Western Europe, numerous small kingdoms and duchies. A strong papacy the consolidating force.
- East: The strong consolidating factor: The Emperor. He convened councils; at times appointed ecclesiarchs. Not unfounded is the Western charge of ‘caesaropapism.’ix
Primacy – in general. The role of the local “primos” in ecclesiastical governance is based on:
- West: Juridical, legalistic arrangements.
- East: Eucharistic Unity.
- West: The Pope has Primacy of jurisdiction. Necessity of Papal approval for doctrines and canons.
- East: The Pope is the “First among equals. Necessity of Conciliar agreement,
- West: Papal Infallibility (when speaking ex cathedra) a dogma
- East: a unilateral innovation
Unilateral Doctrinal Proclamations
- West: Papal Infallibility (when speaking ex cathedra), Assumption, Immaculate Conception
- East: No new doctrinal proclamations
- West: Bread to be consecrated without azymes, (yeast), Prayers are offered based on the merits of the saints. There is an, indistinct (indirect) epiclesis (calling down the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine into Our Lord’s Body and Blood).
- East: Necessity of Bread to have azymes (linking the Eucharistic sacrifice to the Resurrection – (riseness), Prayers are offered thorough the intercession of the saints. There is a distinct epiclesis (calling down the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine into Our Lord’s Body and Blood).
- West: reliance on St. Augustine
- East: reliance on the Greek and Desert Fathers
- West: Scholasticism: “intellectual wisdom and discursive knowledge,” (Meyendorff, 1974).
- East: An antinomy: God is unknowable by our intellect, but His energies can be experienced in the heart. Balance of antinomies, e.g., the Crucifixion cannot be separated from the Resurrection, or vice-versa.
- West: Reparational asceticism – mortification to satisfy Divine Justice. Friars: ‘poor humiliated Jesus;’ devotio moderna The Imitation of Christ -emotionalism of sorrow and suffering (mortification); Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) – psychological secular asceticism. Sacred Heart of Jesus: Focus on separate aspects, e.g. Crucifixion alone.
- East: “Continuity with the spirituality of original monasticism ” 5th-6th Centuries: Holistic; affecting every aspect of life; all Christians called to interiorized monasticism (Evdokimov 1998).
FilioqueX (the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son)
- West: “Filioque” added to the Creed of Nicea by the Western Church in the late 6th Century to combat Arianism. The Spirit’s Procession, (from the Latin: procedere “coming forth” “movement forwards”), is designated in a more general sense.
- East: The Creed of Nicaea cannot be changed.xi In addition the Filioque is a fundamental change in understanding of Trinitarian relationship: ekporeuesthai (ekporeusis): the connotation of ultimate origin.
The Crusades: Sack of Constantinople (1204) and disestablishment of Greek Tradition Christians.
- West: Crusades seen as needed to Free the Holy Land from Islam. Post-Crusades control of territory by establishment of Latin Patriarchate.
- East: Victims of a bloody hypocritical act. A Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem: an affront to Council of Chalcedon, an attempt to dislodge the Orthodox Patriarchate and disrupt geographic unity of all local churches around the Eucharist and their Bishop. (The Latin Patriarchate and Eastern Catholic Patriarchates continue in existence despite contemporary apologies by the Latins for the Crusades (e.g.: Pope John Paul II apology for the Crusades to the Archbishop of Greece.
Council of Ferrara-Florence (1439). This council was conducted in the shadow of some non-theological as well as tangential Western theological issues. In the East there was the Ottoman threat to takeover Constantinople. In the West there was the threat of the breakup of the Church from the Hussites and similar groups. In general, it marked the end of conciliarity in the West and facilitated the development of the Protestant movement.
- West: Statement of the Council: “The Roman bishop is universal primate; he is successor of blessed Peter the full authority to shepherd and govern the universal Church. . .”vicar of Christ” head of the whole Church.” (Nicholas, 2010). The rejection by the Orthodox East by this doctrine, eventfully led to the Union of Brest in 1596 (Uniatism) which Alfeyev (2006) explains: “gave birth to the ecclesiastical structures which are still in existence and whose recent revival [Latin Bishops in Moscow territory] contributed to the aggravation of the situation in the Catholic-Orthodox relationship.”
- East: Never ratified this Council. Attended by a small number of Eastern bishops, “the representative character of the Byzantine delegation was only formal — the delegation, in fact, had been selected from among the tiny elite of Constantinople, which by then as moribund city of fewer than 50,000 inhabitants.” (Meyendorff, 1974). Under the leadership of Mark, Metropolitan of Ephesus, who refused to sign the Council document,xii stating the Roman Church persisted in heresy and schism [the Pope: “Vicar of Christ,” Roman insistence on: purgatory, Filioque, omission of the epiclesis.xiii After the unexpected death of the Patriarch of Constantinople (Joseph II), days later, the other delegates said the Council would have to be ratified by an Eastern synod. The synod never occurred and the accord was broadly denounced by clergy, laity and most civil authorities. Support remained by the Eastern Emperors who desired the West’s aid in defending Constantinople. Mark, declared a saint, is greatly revered in the East to this day.
Uniatism: “The major drawback of Uniatism is the fact that it definitely and finally established the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodoxy. It did this by creating a Catholic hierarchy in parallel to the Orthodox hierarchy.” (Zoghby, 1981)
Signs of Hope as the 21st Century Begins
As the 21st century began there were several hopeful developments for reunion:Vatican II: The partial text from the official English translation of the Vatican II text is below. I have highlighted the respectful and hopeful phrase: “sister Churches.” It was explained to me that in Vatican documents, the word Church, with a capital “C” indicates some sense of the existence of a true Church, a successor of the Churches founded by Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, on the leadership of the apostles, with the gift of the graces of the Holy Mysteries.xiv On the other hand, the word church with a small “c” indicates a community, which, although affirming some of Christ’s teachings, had a significant break with the apostolic Churches founded by Christ. In this category would be the ecclesial communities of the reform movement in the West.xv:
Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
The Special Consideration of the Eastern Churches
For many centuries the Church of the East and that of the West each followed their separate ways though linked in a brotherly union of faith and sacramental life; the Roman See by common consent acted as guide when disagreements arose between them over matters of faith or discipline. Among other matters of great importance, it is a pleasure for this Council to remind everyone that there flourish in the East many particular or local Churches, among which the Patriarchal Churches hold first place, and of these not a few pride themselves in tracing their origins back to the apostles themselves. Hence a matter of primary concern and care among the Easterns, in their local churches, has been, and still is, to preserve the family ties of common faith and charity which ought to exist between sister Churches [emphasis added] Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature and through concelebration, their communion with one another is made manifest These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are linked with us in closest intimacy. Therefore some worship in common (communicatio in sacris), given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not only possible but to be encouraged.”xvi
A list of statements of the various meetings of the Commission available in English is listed in the Endnotes. These were gathered from the Vatican website. xvii I will simply summarize below the most important actions and outcomes of the Commission, favorable and unfavorable.
- Balamand Statement (1991): The spirit of Balamand: “Orthodox Churches are those which have been stated by the Second Vatican Council and have been put into practice by the Popes who have clarified the practical consequences flowing from these principles in various documents published since then. These Churches, then, should be inserted, on both local and universal levels, into the dialogue of love, in mutual respect and reciprocal trust found once again, and enter into the theological dialogue, with all its practical implications missionary apostolate which has been called "uniatism", can no longer be accepted either as a method to be followed nor as a model of the unity our Churches are seeking. . It is in this perspective that the Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches recognize each other as Sister Churches, responsible together for maintaining the Church of God in fidelity to the divine purpose ”xviii
Among the practical rules outlined at Balamand: “Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, no longer aims at having the faithful of one Church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox. [Religious freedom would be violated when, under the cover of financial assistance, the faithful of one Church would be attracted to the other, by promises, for example, of education and material benefits that may be lacking in their own Church. In this context, it will be necessary that social assistance, as well as every form of philanthropic activity, be organized with common agreement so as to avoid creating new suspicions.]”
Lack of Implementation of Balamand
Nichols (2010) points out “The text, entitled “Uniatism, Method of Union of the Past and the Present Search for Full Communion,” was well intentioned but underwent the unfortunate fate of pleasing no one.” There was opposition from Romanian and Ukrainian Greek Catholics. Some local Orthodox Churches also opposed the statement, but from the Orthodox viewpoint the major problem was “it did not solve the present problems related to the coexistence of the Greek Catholics and the Orthodox”(Alfeyev. 2006).
Failure of Further Meetings
Several other meetings and discussions were planned, one in Rome in 1997 and one in Arriccia in 1998. Agreement was reached that the existence of Greek Catholic structures along side of Orthodox Churches was ecclesiologically ‘abnormal.’ One point, “the universal jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome,” was unacceptable to the Orthodox. (Alfeyev, 2006). A follow-up meeting in Baltimore, was “heated” on both sides and ended with no agreement or plans for another meeting of the joint commission.
"Aspects on the Doctrine of the Church"xix released by the Vatican in 2007: “However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.”
In a psychological reflection on this document entitled The Tragedy of the Vatican's Recent Declaration on the Roman Church I wrote: “The [Document] expressed concepts of Roman supremacy in language not heard for years. A spirit of loving dialogue and mutual healing cultivated over the last half century and especially in the last decade is being sorely tested.” I went on to say:
That is one reason why [this] statement from the Vatican is so troubling. It seems to dismiss the one issue on which the Orthodox cannot compromise. Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria,xx the Russian Orthodox Church representative on the International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches wrote not long ago: Historically, the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the Christian Church, from our point of view, was that of honor, not jurisdiction — the jurisdiction of the pope of Rome was never applied to all the churches there can be no compromise whatsoever on papal primacy.” This led to an unfortunate exchange of labeling “sister Church” deficiencies. Representing the Orthodox tradition, then Bishop, now Archbishop Hilarion said: "We, the Orthodox, believe that, being not in communion with them, the Roman Catholic Church lacks something in its condition” (Morelli, 2007a).
Latin Apostolic Administrations in Russia
In 1989 an Apostolic Administration was established in Russia purportedly to serve Russian Latin Catholics. By 2002 this had grown to four Dioceses under an ecclesiastical province which was perceived by the Orthodox as a notable bureaucratic escalation of jurisdictional powers. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev (2006) notes this aggravated “a deep crisis” between Rome and Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church viewed this move by the Roman Pontiff as an active, stage-like strategy of “conquest’ of Russia. Archbishop Hilarion notes: “It consisted not only of the expansion of Catholic parochial structures, but also of various missionary, educational and charity projects. Sometimes these projects were carried out contrary to the wishes of the Orthodox Church and at its expense.”
The conciliar structure of Orthodoxy could be considered a two-edged sword. On one hand, it ensures doctrinal, moral and liturgical uniformity because intercommunion is only possible if such uniformity exists. Individual Orthodox churches have to be ‘orthodox’ to be Orthodox. In a sense they compete with one another to be as ‘orthodox’ as possible. This has led Catholic theologian Fr. Aiden Nichols, O.P. (2010) to comment on the need for Rome to be united with the Orthodox Church. Nichols writes: “In the face of her own numerous theological liberals and the innovationist tendencies of churchmen (and churchwoman) in various portions of her far-flung “Western” patriarchate Catholicism’s grasp of the historic Christian tradition can only be strengthened by the accession of Orthodoxy to communion with Rome.” Fr. Aiden specifically points to the transcendence of revelation versus human reason, the defense of Trinitarian and Christological dogma, salvation (more than temporal), “classical liturgical life,” Mariology and the saints, the threefold apostolic ministry instituted by Christ (in the same sex “as the Incarnate Word”), monasticism, and asceticism.
On the other hand, Orthodoxy is open to the influences of personal egoism and nationalistic jingoism. Three examples of intra-Orthodox discord come to mind. In the 20th century the emerging of two Estonian Orthodox jurisdictions: the majority of Estonian Orthodox being in the province of the Moscow Patriarchate; the smaller Estonian Orthodox jurisdiction being under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The second example is the ultra-Hellenistic position of some in the Greek Orthodox Church, also a great divisive element within Orthodoxy. Based on my service as Chairman of the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling of the Antiochian Archdiocese in North America, which serves as a pastoral resource of Orthodox throughout the world,xxi I can personally attest to clergy and laity who have sought consultation because they were accosted, marginalized and discriminated against because they were not Greek or not Greek enough.
Some Greek jurisdiction priests have been summarily dismissed from their parishes for such infractions as allowing English in the liturgical services or admitting non-‘Greek’ Orthodox as parishioners. I have had abused laity and clergy convey to me they that have been told outright by higher Church authorities that “to be Orthodox is to be Greek.” Because of the charity of Christ, and “the glory of the grace of the priesthood” (St. Silouan the Athonite as quoted by Alfeyev, 2002), and psychologist ethics (confidentiality) I cannot reference any sources for these communications.
An even more egregious example of Greek Patriarchal triumphalism can be seen in regard to an upcoming meeting of the bishops of the Orthodox Diaspora, in North America. In a report posted by the Greek Newspaper The National Herald (2010 04 20),xxii the Constantinoplitan Patriarchate “appears angry [about the] decision to include the OCA (former Russian Metropolia,) to which the Patriarchate of Moscow gave autocephalous ecclesiastical status despite the clear directive [from Constantinople] not to include them.”
Speaking from a pastoral and psycho-spiritual perspective this is a tragedy. It bespeaks of spiritual hypocrisy, a sell out to power and politics, thus serves as a scandal to Orthodox Christians, to all who call themselves Christians and to those in the secular community as well. It gives appearances of a deliberate, or at the very least a misguided attempt to thwart the unity prayed by Christ, for His Church in His priestly prayer noted above. (Jn 17:11). In contrast to this malicious witness is the exemplary modeling for unity is the untiring workxxiii of Metropolitan Philip, Primate of the self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. His attitude and deeds are something which should be emulated by all Orthodox Christians, be they: Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Archbishops, Priests, Deacons and those of the Royal Priesthood of the baptized..
Toward the Reunion of the Western and Orthodox Church
Resumption of dialogue
The members of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church resumed dialogue at a meeting held in Ravenna, Italy in October 2007. The discussion focused on the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church. Emphasis was on the topics of ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority in the Church. The commission announced that the theme for the ensuing plenary session will be: “The role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the first millennium.” The nature of the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome is a core issue in achieving full communion.
While this may be considered a hopeful sign, two footnotes at the end of the official document serve to put a damper on ecumenical optimism. Both footnotes highlight a related fundamental divergence in ecclesiology between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. “Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasize that the use of the terms “the Church”, “the universal Church”, “the indivisible Church” and “the Body of Christ” in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks.
From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church “subsists in the Catholic Church”xxiv (Lumen Gentium, 8)xxv; this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.”
A Potential Reconciliation Mindset: The question of Councils and Creed
In an article on the Orthodox view of the Ecumenical Councils Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev (2006) points out the historical complexity of the understanding of the Church on the Ecumenical Councils and the manner of the reception of the Councils by the Church. The Councils were not considered the highest ecclesial authority; the local church had to accept the teaching and often matters were also settled locally. Many Ecumenical Councils were not accepted either automatically, immediately or passively; the whole church community, laity, monks and theologians had to affirm the promulgations. Archbishop Hilarion concludes “the decision point was not the council itself but the inter-Orthodox consensus about its reception.” The local church also had to “assimilate” a Council in practice.
According to Archbishop Hilarion, a refinement of understanding and interpretation (not abolishing or revising dogma) of the Ecumenical Councils, even in current times, affirms the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church. As an example, the 4th and 5th Ecumenical Councils refined the teachings of the 3rd Council, just as the 5th Council refined the teachings of the 4th.
St. Basil the Great’s position on the acceptance and proclamation of the Nicene Creed by Church leaders might serve as an example and model for Church reunion today. Archbishop Hilarion (2006) points out: “there were notable theologians who called for Eucharistic communion based on a certain “minimum” which did not demand absolute dogmatic formulations.”
For example, St. Basil held firmly to the teaching that the Holy Spirit was “true” God. However, to promote peace and facilitate communion, he proclaimed the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, albeit only quite indirectly. As quoted by Archbishop Hilarion, St. Basil states: “Let us seek nothing more, but merely propose the Nicene Creed let us demand also that the Holy Spirit not be called a creature beyond these things I think nothing should be insisted on by us the Lord who worketh all things unto good to such as love Him will give [anything else needed].”
The interpretation is that St. Basil considered “different churches have different levels of theological awareness.” In such case, communion through God’s grace could facilitate acceptance of what was previously unacceptable. In such cases, for St. Basil, church unity was so important as to demand compromise and “condescension” (oikonomia). Once again, St. Basil as cited by Archbishop Hilarion, points out a path to reunion: “it is good to unite what has been separated to condescend to the weaker, whenever we can do so without causing harm to our souls.”xxvi
The Orthodox viewpoint, as apprehended by Archbishop Hilarion is that local churches act on an historical stage, “making their decisions independently, and the universal church is the totality of local churches that act independently, although in agreement with each other.” This is an agreement not based on an administrative or judicial structure, but on “unanimity” of understanding by the local churches, of the teachings of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit. An example of this applied toward the reunion of the Oriental Orthodox with the Eastern Orthodox Church: the Oriental Orthodox could be asked to affirm that the Christological teachings of the Council of Chalcedon do not contradict the teachings of the Pre-Chalcedonian Church.
Praxis: Another potential pathway toward reunion
In previous essays I have written extensively on threats to Christ’s Teachings and Apostolic Tradition by the secularism, post-modernism, feminism, relativism, indifference and political correctness which has invaded modern society (Morelli, 2005a,b,c,d; 2006a,c,d; 2007a,b; 2008a,b; 2009a,b,c). I have consistently pointed out that the marginalization of God and the disenfranchisement of religion have allowed for the establishment of a broken global society without a moral compass.
Among the more egregious societal sins are: Abortion, adultery, alcoholism, anger, blasphemy, child abuse (physical, psychological, sexual or neglect), contempt, deceit, drug addiction, evil speaking (talking about someone even if true), fornication, gossip, harshness, hate, hypocrisy, idolatry, insider trading, kidnapping, kickbacks, lust, lying, negligence, not caring for the environment, pre-emptive unjust warfare, same sex marriage, smoking, spousal abuse, torturing and/or belittling prisoners, using others for money, power or sex, vengeance (national and personal) (Morelli, 2006b).
Many Protestant communities of the West cannot be relied on to combat this brokenness. In fact, they are part of the problem. They have abandoned the ancient Sacred Traditions of the Church founded by Christ on His apostles. They have altered and redefined the fundamental teaching of Christ to conform to the secular culture. The effect of this sell-out is not only not to preach the Gospel as Christ, has taught us, but also to produce a greater alienation from both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which can be perceived as outright scandal and hypocrisy by the non-Christian world. “It has also undermined the common Christian witness to the secularized world.” xxvii
A strategy to combat both militant secularism and modernist Christianity and their moral vicissitudes, proposed by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, may well also be a step toward the path of reunion of the Apostolic Churches, East and West. Based on the Catholic and Orthodox Churches’ common reliance on Sacred Tradition (and Scripture in Tradition; (Morelli, 2009c), apostolic succession, recognition of the Holy Mysteries and, as Archbishop Hilarion so eloquently phrases, “the solidarity between the Catholics and the Orthodox on major points of moral teaching, including questions of family ethics, human sexuality, bioethics etc It is against this background that I have repeatedly suggested that a Catholic-Orthodox Alliance should be formed.”xxviii The purpose of the alliance would be a united confrontation against Godless secularism, morality and values in the global world of the 21st Century.
The Possible Psychological Effects of a Catholic-Orthodox Alliance
A classic series of psychological studies (e.g. Sherif & Sherif, 1953, Sherif, Harvey, White, & Sherif, 1961) on the effect of alliance on conflict resolution was done some years ago. The prototypic experiment started with two groups of subjects (pre-teen boys in summer camp) which were split into two groups. In the first phase of the experiment, the initial groups were divided into two geographically separated camp areas so that neither group knew about the other.
Within a few days each group named themselves; leaders emerged and each group did all camp activities solely within their respective groups. In the second phase the groups met each other and were engaged in competitive camp activities such as various sports and games. A high level of hostility soon emerged between the groups. In the last phase of the study various “integrative” activities between the groups were introduced. These activities involved pleasant social engagements such as shared dinners, movies and other recreational activities. These integrative attempts failed to lower hostility and conflict. However, one activity did succeed in conflict reduction and heightened respect between group members. A task was introduced which required cooperation between the two groups in order to succeed. A truck loaded with needed and desirable camp supplies was broken down and needed the collaboration and joint operation of both groups to bring the truck into the camp. The authors of such experiments concluded that super-ordinate needs can transcend intergroup conflict.
Applying the findings of these well-known, respected and replicated social psychological experiments, I suggest that Archbishop Hilarion’s proposal of a Catholic-Orthodox alliance can succeed if all members of our Churches can be convinced of the importance of combating secularism, and that the success of furthering Christ’s teaching for the deification, the salvation of all mankind God created, can only be accomplished if the member Churches collaborate and cooperate as did the experimental groups.
Enhancing Church Alliance: Toward Resolving Current Conflict
Making the Alliance work: Threat perception
A careful study of the conflict reduction studies will reveal that general “integrative” activities between conflicting groups did not ameliorate hostility or promote unity. It was only when a common threat to the welfare of both groups was introduced that attenuation of hostility commenced. For our Churches, this means all, from the royal priesthood of the baptized to the threefold priesthood, bishops as arch-pastors, our priests and pastors and our deacons, at the head of the laity, have to perceive the great seriousness and threat of the evils of politically correct, post-modern, relativistic, secular society.
A passionate perception of threat
This means awakening a passionate sense of the threat so that it produces an internal psycho-spiritual revolution that sparks a fervid call to action to combat this threat on all fronts: in government, in politics, in the community, in the parish churches, in the home (the domestic church), and among ourselves as individuals totally committed to Christ. Indifference (Morelli, 2008a) is, and will be, the greatest challenge to this needed psycho-spiritual revolution. The sense of threat must be so strong that the Alliance of the Apostolic Churches promotes a global clash of cultures: The Culture of Christ versus the Culture of Godless Society. All of us have to have the fervor of St. John the Baptist: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Mt. 3:3). We must become radical, revolutionary Christians.
Permit me to give some examples. The technological advances in modern society, have been nothing short of amazing. The fact that our God-given intelligence has given us television, computers, smart phones, etc., is the fruit of mankind’s fulfilling God’s command: “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over all the earth ” (Gen 1: 26). So, television is good in and of itself, but a newscaster taking off an item of clothing after each report until stripped bare is deplorable, as is programming depicting promiscuity and same-sex marriage. Computers could be a blessing, but posting pictures of teens physically beating themselves or others to death, or posting explicit sex encounters is reprehensible. A Smartphone can be such a useful communication tool and time saver, but stalking others for financial or sexual gain is condemnable. The collaboration and cooperation of all Apostolic Churches — the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches — is essential in this culture combat. We must become moral allies against the axis of brokenness (Morelli, 2006b).
Beyond the Alliance
As God’s grace builds on nature, so does the work of the separator, the divider, the evil one. St. Maximus the Confessor taught: "the grace of the most Holy Spirit does not confer wisdom on the Saints without their natural intellect as capacity to receive it." Goodness and wisdom is granted to man by his "volitive" faculty, so that what He (Christ) is in His essence the creature may become by participation" (Philokalia II). The evil one, on the other hand, is the source of disorder. The devil does not function as God's opposite, but only as a liar and destroyer - as one who distorts God's truth and violently deconstructs God's created order. St. John wrote that, "the devil has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). He shed more light on the nature of the devil and his evil in a conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees: "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).
The deception, deceit and camouflage of the evil one was well known by C.S. Lewis (Morelli, 2005d). The Evil One is cunning and often comes in disguise. C.S. Lewis (1961) in his famous work , The Screwtape Letters, has the senior supervising devil telling the devil-novice: "Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.” In another place Lewis has the senior devil say: “. . . if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those , the more lukewarm [indifference, Morelli, 2008a] he is, the better. And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred [between parties].” And with brilliant insight Lewis pens the words of the senior devil on how the evil one want Christianity to be used: “Certainly we do not want Christianity to flow over into their political life we do want men [to] treat Christianity as a means to their own advancement You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game.”
It’s All About: Pride, Pride, Pride
A caveat! I am not writing doctrinally or canonically, because I am not ordained to the episcopacy. My comments are meant to cultivate a mindset and heart-set (metanoia) that I pray would be adopted, from Patriarchs down to all in the Royal Priesthood of the Baptized, in order to respond to Christ’s priestly prayer “that they may be one,” (Jn 17 :11) and as St. Paul (1Tim 6: 12) counseled, to “fight the good fight” against the evil one who is the separator and divider. That is, to provide fertile psycho-spiritual soil in which full communion of all the Apostolic Churches may begin to flourish.
It has to start with the combat against pride of which St. John Cassian writes: “the demon of pride [the] most sinister demon, fiercer than all ” (Philokalia I), and which St. John of the Ladder (1982) describes as “a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men.” We know there is personal pride, the great spiritual fathers of the Church have written on this many times, and we also know, as St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Wheeler; 1977) tells us: “There is also the pride of this world ”
My previous comments about the factors in intra-Orthodox dissension are surely applicable to the divided Churches. Pride can be displayed by individuals, the laity, monks, the ordained (deacon, priest, bishop) and by Churches themselves. Some examples of factious pride cloaked as righteousness: a Church official (lay or ordained) may not want to give up an office; an archbishop or metropolitan may not want to be ‘demoted’ to being a mere bishop; a Patriarchate may not want to lose the current rank order it has, or may want to impose a higher status and power than in Tradition; a Church with a national identity may perceive its national culture as commensurate with the Church itself; a Church that was wronged by a sister Church, even hundreds or a thousand years earlier, may want to hold on to the wrong instead of forgiving and reuniting in Christ; a Church may identify another Church with a political enemy it had in the past and be closed to changing their viewpoint. In these examples both personal and Church jingoism can readily be seen.
Healing, It’s All About: Humility, Humility, Humility
One reason for the lack of unity is told to us by St. James (4:6): "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." As St. Dorotheos writes, “Before anything else we need humility.” St. Isaac of Syria tells us: “Humility is the robe of divinity: for when God the Word became incarnate He put on humility and thereby communicated with us by means of our human body. Accordingly, everyone who is truly clothed in humility will resemble Him who descended from the height, hiding the radiance of His greatness and covering up His glory by means of His low estate.” It will take great humility to overcome the pride of ethnic clannishness, jurisdictional exclusivity, fear of strangers, differences in language, inconsequential differences in liturgical practice and the like.
All the baptized — the laity, monks, the threefold ordained priesthood, who all have put on Christ — have to really put on Christ. To accomplish this they must pray. St Dorotheos (Wheeler, 1977) tells us: “to pray all the time is clearly the antidote to [all] pride.” To work toward unity, we have to first fervently pray for a fiery passionate desire for unity, and then to pray for the grace to combat personal and ecclesial pride, to acquire humility and to be motivated, tempestuously if necessary, to take the action steps to effectuate reunion. We need a spiritual and psychological uprising, a unity revolution. We need to pray for great zeal.
Zeal opposing the sin of disunion. Zeal opposing the secularist, post-modernist, feminist, relativist indifference and political correctness which has invaded modern society. We have to pray to zealously perceive these modern movements as threats to Christ’s teaching, to the Church and to the salvation of all. We have to have the zeal to form an alliance of Apostolic Churches to combat this threat. We have to develop the zeal to fervidly call and work for full communion of our Apostolic Churches.
Examples of the zealousness of the righteous Prophets and Holy Apostles
Moses in the book of Exodus (32: 19-21) writes of his own zeal. When coming down from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Tablets of the Law from God Himself and seeing the Hebrew people worshiping the golden idol “Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it upon the water, and made the people of Israel drink it. And Moses said to Aaron, "What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?"
Consider David’s courage, diligence and zeal in standing up to the Philistines: "You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand ”(1Sam 17: 45-46).
The Prophet Elijah proclaims his own zealousness for the Lord: “. . . the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He said, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thy altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." And He said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord" (1Kg 19: 9-11).
Consider St. Luke’s account of the zeal of a follower of Christ, who proclaimed Christ’s teaching even though he had not yet been given the baptism of Christ Himself: “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent [zealous] in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue ” (Acts 18: 24-26)
Examine how St. Paul’s instructions to the Romans (12: 9-12) can be a model for our own zealous commitment to Church reunion: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Indeed we must have “a zeal for God.” (Rm 10: 2)
Our vocation as Christians in the 21st Century
The common enemy of the followers of Christ in today’s world is the marginalization of everything that is Christ—His teachings, His Church, His very existence. We, who are the Body of Christ, have to perceive this threat and zealously unite together in active combat.
Action Steps to Combat Secularism
Similar to the seminal psychology studies on conflict resolution discussed above, we must find joint combat strategies to overcome the Godless secularism that is attacking Christ and His Church, and which is a serious threat to the salvation of ourselves and our loved ones as well as of all mankind. The alliance Archbishop Alfeyev suggests must be more than good intention and pious sentiment. Members of the Apostolic Churches have to find creative ways to humbly, and with great zeal, do the work of moral alliance. Let us recall the words of St. James: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” (Jas 2:14). What might be some “works” of our Christo-centric moral and value alliance? Of course, I encourage all to become a zealous and active member of the Society of St. John Chrysostom.xxix This and all we do would have to reflect the spirit of St. John the Baptist in today’s age:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mt 2: 1-6).
Our wilderness may be no further than our own parish churches, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our news media, our Politicians. Some examples.xxx of what we can do: start joint Catholic/Orthodox alliance activities such as: action committees, book clubs, conferences, e- mail action groups, lecture groups, pilgrimages, right-to(all)-life action groups, social events, study groups.
Our Final Goal: That All be United to Christ
This is not our final goal. We must follow Christ’s injunction: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 18-20).
The next step in our goal is to unite all our Apostolic Churches, then all who call themselves Christians, then on to all mankind. The final goal of Christ’s Church one and united together is to be united together with Christ Himself. In the words of St. Isaac the Syrian (Alfeyev, 2000): “Amid ineffable splendor the Father raised Him [Christ] to heaven, to that place where no created being had trod, but to which He had, through His own action, invited all rational beings—-angels and [mankind]—-to that blessed Entry, in order to delight in the Divine Light in which was clothed that Man who is filled with all that is holy, who is now with God in ineffable honor and splendor.”
Christ’s Divinity is Hidden: But Must be Seen in Us
We have to keep in mind that when the Jews asked Christ (Jn 14:8): “ ‘Show us the Father’” Jesus’ immediate reply was: “Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov’s comment: “God has come, but it seems He does not want us to perceive His Divinity.” But we also know that Jesus revealed more of the Godhead to the Apostles before his Passion Death and Resurrection. During Christ’s last discourse to the Apostles, part of His priestly prayer at the Last Supper, He responded to Philip in the presence of the Apostles, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” We of the Apostolic Churches are now the Body of Christ, visible to the world. Our cross is to unite, to “fight the good fight” (1Tim 2:12) against our Godless world and to re-establish all in Christ. Can we not pick up our Cross?
And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (Jn 10:16).
But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1Cor 6: 17).