Monday, May 6, 2013

Further Thoughts on Catholic-Orthodox Relations

source: Reuters
In the conclusion of my last post, a review of Fr. Adrian Fortescue's The Early Papacy, I suggested many of the events the author adduces as examples of Papal primacy in the ancient Christian days ought to figure into ecumenical dialogue between the Catholics and Orthodox. As someone who worships at a Melkite parish and who is interested in liturgical matters, you might say I have some extra interest in affairs with the Eastern Orthodox.

A thousand years ago the filioque and the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist were the main causes of controversy. Nowadays, no Easterner who knows Latin can seriously believe the filioque is heretical, nor do many think the use of unleavened bread invalidates the Sacrament. The modern issue is the role of the Pope of Rome within the universal Christian body. There are some less apparent issues involved here: the Patriarch of Constantinople has been called the "Ecumenical Patriarch" for some time, but the Russian Patriarch and the Russian Church have been the major movers within Orthodoxy in recent years. Yet, I would be more interested in dialogue concerning micro-level issues which I think are more important than the Papacy. If both sides are honest, the faith of the Fathers will define the role of the Pope.

The Pope has very little to do with the daily life of most Catholics, except when we pray for him. What might impact, or impede, attempts at unity might be social and personal practices. What immediately comes to mind:
  1. De-centralized Orthodox social teaching, which has led to much silence on Life matters and a general concession on the matter of birth control.
  2. The Orthodox practice of ecclesiastical divorce. An Orthodox person can marry up to three times, although the second and third wedding would be penitential services and exclude the crowning rites. Is there any justification for this? Might require some meditation. One Eastern Catholic priest I know indicated he would be willing to give Communion to an Orthodox divorcer because said person can receive in his own church, but would still continue the Catholic Church's policy with Catholics.
  3. Jurisdiction of local bishops. What would happen here? The Melkites and Antiochian Orthodox might have a fun time with this one.
  4. What about Western private devotions and revelations? The Eastern Christian devotions are very liturgical and not very private in nature—akathist being a prominent example. How do these churches preserve their own identity without disparaging those who have different devotional lives?
  5. Accepting converts. Eastern Catholics usually follow Roman Catholic policy in accepting most protestant baptisms and simply confirming. The Orthodox sometimes baptize, sometimes confirm, and, when the convert is a clerical of some kind, might accept by "vesting." This needs to be addressed.
  6. Those Roman episcopal conferences. They are a mess. Perhaps we could discourage our own clergy from these conferences and return to a patriarchal understanding of hierarchy. Maybe the idea of an archbishop could once again have substantial meaning in the West.
These areas appear to my poor mind as needing some attention in future conferences and discussions.

Happy Bright Week to any Orthodox readers!

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