An insider’s view of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue

From the blog The Divine Life by Eric Sammons (h/t: Eirenikon):

Last night I attended a talk by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware entitled “An Insider’s View: Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Today”. Metropolitan Kallistos is a member of the Joint Coordinating Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which is the official committee charged with ecumenical talks between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches at the highest levels.

Kallistos gave a very informative and engaging talk. After reviewing a brief history of the Joint Committee, he then focused on its work over the past few years. He noted that the last official dialogue about reunion – the Council of Florence in the 15th century – spent months discussing the filioque and purgatory, but only 10 days on the role of the pope in the Church. Now there is a recognition by all parties that the papacy is in fact the most significant obstacle to unity, so the Committee has decided to focus on that.
Me with Metropolitan Kallistos

The most significant document that the Committee has produced is the Ravenna Document (2007), in which the Orthodox participants, for the first time, acknowledge the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome. As the Metropolitan emphasized last night, this was incredibly significant. Of course, what “universal primacy” means is still hotly debated.

(In fact, one of the most telling moments of the night was the final question. Someone ask Kallistos what the Orthodox mean, in practical terms, by “universal primacy”. How would it actually be practiced in the real world? The Metropolitan responded by noting that the Orthodox are very clear on what universal primacy is NOT, but have not really decided on what it IS.)

Another topic the Metropolitan discussed was the three levels of authority in the Church, as emphasized by the Ravenna Document: local, regional, and universal. He lamented the fact that the Western Church has practically ignored the regional level, and stated that a reclamation of that understanding in the West was necessary for a true understanding of universal authority within the Church. As a Western Christian, I admit that I have never had much appreciation for regional authority within the Church, so I’ll have to consider that more in-depth myself.

An important aspect of how authority is practiced in the Church, both in the East and the West,  is the concept of “protos”, which means “first”. The Church is hierarchical, and therefore in every grouping in the Church, there must be a “protos”. For example, the bishop is the “protos” of his diocese. The Patriarch is “protos” among the bishops in his patriarchy. The pope is “protos” among all the bishops in the universal Church. Both Catholics and Orthodox accept this structure. But what does it mean to be “protos”? How is that role exercised? Metropolitan Kallistos pointed out Apostolic Canon 34 as a model for the role of “protos” in the Church. Apostolic Canon 34 states,

The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent…but neither let him (who is head) do anything without the consent of all.

It should be obvious that the problem arises from the second part of that Canon. In fact, this appears to be in direct conflict with Vatican I, which states that “definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable”. But Metropolitan Kallistos is hopeful that this Canon will be a way in which the Church can find a mutually agreeable means for the pope to practice universal primacy.

Metropolitan Kallistos also mentioned the recently leaked draft from the Committee about the papacy in the first millennium, which I analyzed here. He was very disappointed that the draft was leaked and felt strongly that the person who leaked it, thus breaking an agreement of confidentiality, should be removed from the Committee, if discovered. While respecting the need to honor a confidentiality agreement, I asked him if the very practice of confidentiality in this situation is healthy. After all, the reason the Council of Florence failed to bring about union was because the common people in the East rejected what was presented to them as a done deal. They had no involvement in the process. Would it not be better to make the Joint Committee more open to the public, thus allowing more people to be invested in it, and therefore making it more acceptable to the members of the various churches?

Kallistos agreed that it is vitally important that the leaders of the churches make these discussions a reality in the pews, and admitted that they had not done a good job of that. He asked how many people in the audience had actually read the Ravenna Document, and only about 10-15% of the audience had (and this was an audience deeply engaged in this issue). He did think it important to keep the discussions confidential during the process of creating a document, for many things in the draft might be eventually rejected and he saw no point in people getting upset about something that might eventually getting discarded. A valid point, but personally I think in today’s interconnected world more openness would be beneficial.

All in all, it was a wonderful talk, and I hope and pray that Metropolitan Kallistos is blessed with many more years of service to the Church.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: -1 (from 1 vote)
An insider's view of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
  • Adam Sheehan

    Hi Fr. Gregory,

    I am asking a huge question… so I tailor your answer as you see fit.

    Where does the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church need to “fess-up” respectively?

    I realize I am asking an Orthodox Priest this question so I would expect you (and the other commenters) to be tougher on Rome in your answer.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Adam Sheehan

    Hi Fr. Gregory,

    I am asking a huge question… so I tailor your answer as you see fit.

    Where does the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church need to “fess-up” respectively?

    I realize I am asking an Orthodox Priest this question so I would expect you (and the other commenters) to be tougher on Rome in your answer.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com/ David

    As someone who “chose” (choice is at the heart of heresy, but my circumstances made choice necessary) Orthodoxy over Rome for some very concrete reasons… frankly I cannot hope for any sort of communion with the Bishop of Rome (though I have great respect for him and for many catholics). Such a communion would make me question the established hierarchy in the East. I just don’t worry about Catholics. I know God loves them and I leave it to him to care for them.

    Strangely I do not have this opinion about the so-called Oriental Churches, whom I am not gifted enough to discern the necessary discrimination. Is the Copt icon of Christ blessing with the old fingering really enough to forever separate us? Sorry, that’s probably off-topic.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

      David,

      It is not choice that is at the heart of heresy but pride. We must always choose–even to decide not to follow my own will is itself a choice–the question is what do I chose and am I willing to have my choices purified by grace?

      Adam,

      Let me see if I can answer your question briefly.

      What each Church must fess up to is the beauty and wisdom of the other Church and its need for the gifts the other is able to bring out in it. Hows’ that?

      In Christ,

      +FrG

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com David

    As someone who “chose” (choice is at the heart of heresy, but my circumstances made choice necessary) Orthodoxy over Rome for some very concrete reasons… frankly I cannot hope for any sort of communion with the Bishop of Rome (though I have great respect for him and for many catholics). Such a communion would make me question the established hierarchy in the East. I just don’t worry about Catholics. I know God loves them and I leave it to him to care for them.

    Strangely I do not have this opinion about the so-called Oriental Churches, whom I am not gifted enough to discern the necessary discrimination. Is the Copt icon of Christ blessing with the old fingering really enough to forever separate us? Sorry, that’s probably off-topic.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

      David,

      It is not choice that is at the heart of heresy but pride. We must always choose–even to decide not to follow my own will is itself a choice–the question is what do I chose and am I willing to have my choices purified by grace?

      Adam,

      Let me see if I can answer your question briefly.

      What each Church must fess up to is the beauty and wisdom of the other Church and its need for the gifts the other is able to bring out in it. Hows’ that?

      In Christ,

      +FrG

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com/ David

    There a curious admission of your eccelsiology in that post somewhere.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

      David,

      Created as we are in the image of God, it is in the nature of the human person to be self-revelatory. All that a person does makes manifest the person’s faith–how could it be otherwise? Even if I lie, by that act I reveal the truth that I am a liar. And within this revelation is a deeper one still, that I do not have faith in truth but see it as an enemy, a threat that shames.

      And if I inquiry a bit more of myself I realize that for reasons that are not entirely clear, I do not experience my own humanity as a gift from the hand of a loving God.

      So yes, in this post, as in every post, my ecclesiology is revealed because it this post, as in every post, I am revealed. :)

      In Christ,

      +FrG

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com David

    There a curious admission of your eccelsiology in that post somewhere.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

      David,

      Created as we are in the image of God, it is in the nature of the human person to be self-revelatory. All that a person does makes manifest the person’s faith–how could it be otherwise? Even if I lie, by that act I reveal the truth that I am a liar. And within this revelation is a deeper one still, that I do not have faith in truth but see it as an enemy, a threat that shames.

      And if I inquiry a bit more of myself I realize that for reasons that are not entirely clear, I do not experience my own humanity as a gift from the hand of a loving God.

      So yes, in this post, as in every post, my ecclesiology is revealed because it this post, as in every post, I am revealed. :)

      In Christ,

      +FrG

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com/ David

    I wasn’t marveled at the fact that there is revelation in the instance of participating the mystery of someone else’s energia, but rather the content of the revelation. But you certainly know how to entertain me. I must have underestimated the proportion of such revelation to you in my past posts.

    As for whether or not it’s proper to call Rome a Church (regardless of what she calls us) that is, as they say, above my pay grade. My mind contains several contradictory opinions on the matter all of which have repugnant corollaries and I remain unsettled even in myself. I’ll just agree with whatever my bishop says though I’ve never heard him speak on the topic.

    As a secondary point, I am curious how many priests are willing to be controversial online. Both for the consideration of controversy itself, and for the particular matters they discuss. It was only a few months ago a priest wrote online that they would commune anyone who had a trinitarian baptism. The post has since been taken down. But I would have thought that such a statement is precisely why the Church has procedures for defrocking a priest.

    I’m not claiming you are being controversial here, as I’m actually the one drawing attention to this point and not you.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com David

    I wasn’t marveled at the fact that there is revelation in the instance of participating the mystery of someone else’s energia, but rather the content of the revelation. But you certainly know how to entertain me. I must have underestimated the proportion of such revelation to you in my past posts.

    As for whether or not it’s proper to call Rome a Church (regardless of what she calls us) that is, as they say, above my pay grade. My mind contains several contradictory opinions on the matter all of which have repugnant corollaries and I remain unsettled even in myself. I’ll just agree with whatever my bishop says though I’ve never heard him speak on the topic.

    As a secondary point, I am curious how many priests are willing to be controversial online. Both for the consideration of controversy itself, and for the particular matters they discuss. It was only a few months ago a priest wrote online that they would commune anyone who had a trinitarian baptism. The post has since been taken down. But I would have thought that such a statement is precisely why the Church has procedures for defrocking a priest.

    I’m not claiming you are being controversial here, as I’m actually the one drawing attention to this point and not you.
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://palamas.info/ Fr Gregory Jensen

    David,

    You are a REALLY GOOD GUY! Thank you! :)

    Archbishop Hiliarion of the Moscow Patriarchate has said that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches acknowledge each others sacraments/mysteries. This is the view as well of the Ecumenical Throne. I cannot speak about the other patriarchates though it is my understanding that the MP/EP’s view is consonant with Antiochian practice in the Middle East as well as in Romania and the Ukraine.

    Accepting baptism and ordination (and so the Eucharist) as celebrated in the Catholic Church is to affirm a fundamental, and still existing if imperfect communion between the two Churches. This is my view and will remain my view until the Church gathers in Ecumenical Council and tells me it ain’t so.

    This is why I think there are many who argue that there is no sacramental grace outside the visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church–they do not want to admit an even imperfect communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and the various communities that arose after the Reformation.

    But once we accept baptism outside the Church as ours we acknowledge as well that that Protestant or Catholic is in someway already a member of the Body of Christ.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://palamas.info Fr Gregory Jensen

    David,

    You are a REALLY GOOD GUY! Thank you! :)

    Archbishop Hiliarion of the Moscow Patriarchate has said that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches acknowledge each others sacraments/mysteries. This is the view as well of the Ecumenical Throne. I cannot speak about the other patriarchates though it is my understanding that the MP/EP’s view is consonant with Antiochian practice in the Middle East as well as in Romania and the Ukraine.

    Accepting baptism and ordination (and so the Eucharist) as celebrated in the Catholic Church is to affirm a fundamental, and still existing if imperfect communion between the two Churches. This is my view and will remain my view until the Church gathers in Ecumenical Council and tells me it ain’t so.

    This is why I think there are many who argue that there is no sacramental grace outside the visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church–they do not want to admit an even imperfect communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches and the various communities that arose after the Reformation.

    But once we accept baptism outside the Church as ours we acknowledge as well that that Protestant or Catholic is in someway already a member of the Body of Christ.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com/ David

    Now see I have you fooled again. “REALLY GOOD GUY” is not a phrase I would self-ascribe. I am a fool and a sinner, more likely to be virtuous by chance than design.

    When I first approached the Orthodox Church I think I said something to myself of the effect of, “I’ll end up the most ecumenical Orthodox.” And I meant ecumenical in the commonly most disapproved of sense. I have since run into some existential problems with my initial impulse. There are “facts on the ground” which complicate such a vision. Even the facts of my own conversion (having to be baptised, which testifies to certain things about the thing I called baptism earlier in my life) create barriers that no such vision can pass through.

    I heard it once said that everyone is related to the Church, some folks just have a dysfunctional relationship to it. It is possible that Rome and the Orientals all preserve the faith once for all delivered by the Saints and that politics, egos and substantive but not salvific barriers have been erected over the centuries.

    I suppose I could even discount flawed teachings from each of these communities and their leaders just as I could expect that my bishop is surely wrong about something. (I once asked a priest on-line if he didn’t harbor some secret private heresy and he dismissed me, but there’s clearly differences of opinion on many topics even among the most obedient monks and studied theologians.) I am certainly wrong about a great many things, but Rome would have to dispose of some whoppers that would prove problematic for them. It is much easier for a man to repent.

    There are some very technical discussions I would love to have with a theologian on the matter of the existential nature of the Eurcharist, for example. What truth does the Church testify to by communing someone and not someone else? Does a bishop violate his own office communing some one “outside” the visible bounds of the Church or does he existentially alter those bounds?

    There are thousands of tiny questions with very big implications if not carefully handled. There are some slippery slopes to be avoided as well. It’s one thing to talk of Copts and Romans, it’s another thing to talk about Anglicans that pray to “Mother God” or Calvinists who reject synergy or even non-Trinitarian Protestants. (All this while I remain sympathetic to C.S. Lewis’ words put into the Aslan’s mouth to Emeth the Tash worshipper in The Last Battle.)

    All of this is complicated long before we talk about “invisible” Churches or branches or any other construct made to attempt to explain the current state of affairs for those who believe the confession of Peter concerning Jesus of Nazareth.

    Even if a council were to gather and proclaim certain truths about the visible Church, councils aren’t trustworthy in their own time. They too must be tested against history as it unfolds in the life of the Church. Robber councils have come and gone.

    So I put my faith in the Holy Spirit to draw all men to Christ to the glory of the Father and ignore the schemes (no matter how noble) of men (no matter how Saintly or learned).
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com David

    Now see I have you fooled again. “REALLY GOOD GUY” is not a phrase I would self-ascribe. I am a fool and a sinner, more likely to be virtuous by chance than design.

    When I first approached the Orthodox Church I think I said something to myself of the effect of, “I’ll end up the most ecumenical Orthodox.” And I meant ecumenical in the commonly most disapproved of sense. I have since run into some existential problems with my initial impulse. There are “facts on the ground” which complicate such a vision. Even the facts of my own conversion (having to be baptised, which testifies to certain things about the thing I called baptism earlier in my life) create barriers that no such vision can pass through.

    I heard it once said that everyone is related to the Church, some folks just have a dysfunctional relationship to it. It is possible that Rome and the Orientals all preserve the faith once for all delivered by the Saints and that politics, egos and substantive but not salvific barriers have been erected over the centuries.

    I suppose I could even discount flawed teachings from each of these communities and their leaders just as I could expect that my bishop is surely wrong about something. (I once asked a priest on-line if he didn’t harbor some secret private heresy and he dismissed me, but there’s clearly differences of opinion on many topics even among the most obedient monks and studied theologians.) I am certainly wrong about a great many things, but Rome would have to dispose of some whoppers that would prove problematic for them. It is much easier for a man to repent.

    There are some very technical discussions I would love to have with a theologian on the matter of the existential nature of the Eurcharist, for example. What truth does the Church testify to by communing someone and not someone else? Does a bishop violate his own office communing some one “outside” the visible bounds of the Church or does he existentially alter those bounds?

    There are thousands of tiny questions with very big implications if not carefully handled. There are some slippery slopes to be avoided as well. It’s one thing to talk of Copts and Romans, it’s another thing to talk about Anglicans that pray to “Mother God” or Calvinists who reject synergy or even non-Trinitarian Protestants. (All this while I remain sympathetic to C.S. Lewis’ words put into the Aslan’s mouth to Emeth the Tash worshipper in The Last Battle.)

    All of this is complicated long before we talk about “invisible” Churches or branches or any other construct made to attempt to explain the current state of affairs for those who believe the confession of Peter concerning Jesus of Nazareth.

    Even if a council were to gather and proclaim certain truths about the visible Church, councils aren’t trustworthy in their own time. They too must be tested against history as it unfolds in the life of the Church. Robber councils have come and gone.

    So I put my faith in the Holy Spirit to draw all men to Christ to the glory of the Father and ignore the schemes (no matter how noble) of men (no matter how Saintly or learned).
    .-= David´s last blog ..Life after Death =-.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)