Crisis Magazine has an interesting interview with Metropolitan Hilarion, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Vicar of the Moscow diocese, and chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations. He’s quote worth reflecting on in light of recent event here in the US.
Crisis Magazine: In a recent interview following your visit with Pope Benedict XVI at Castle Gandolfo, you mentioned how encouraged you are by the pontiff’s attention to the dialogue between the Catholics and the Orthodox. What, to your mind, are the greatest theological and hierarchical hurdles that stand between our two churches? What role can we, as laypeople, play in the greatly-desired unification of the East and the West?
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev: In dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church we proceed from the fact that this is a Church which has preserved apostolic succession in its hierarchy as well as having a doctrine on the sacraments which is very similar to our doctrine. It is also very important that both Orthodox and Catholics have the same moral foundations and a very similar social doctrine.
The theological differences between Rome and the Orthodox East are well known. Apart from a number of aspects in the realm of dogmatic theology, these are the teaching on primacy in the Church and, more specifically, on the role of the bishop of Rome. This topic is discussed within the framework of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue which has been taking place for several decades at sessions of a joint commission specially established for this purpose.
But today a different problem is acquiring primary importance – the problem of the unity of Orthodox and Catholics in the cause of defending traditional Christianity. To our great regret, a significant part of Protestant confessions by the beginning of the 21st century has adopted the liberal values of the modern world and in essence has renounced fidelity to Biblical principles in the realm of morality. Today in the West, the Roman Catholic Church remains the main bulwark in the defence of traditional moral values – such, for example, as marital fidelity, the inadmissibility of artificially ending human life, the possibility of marital union as a union only between man and woman.
Therefore, when we speak of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, I believe that the priority in this dialogue today should not be the question of the filioque or the primacy of the Pope. We should learn to interact in that capacity that we find ourselves in today – in a state of division and absence of Eucharistic communion. We ought to learn how to perceive each other not as rivals but as allies by understanding that we have a common missionary field and encounter common challenges. We are faced with the common task of defending traditional Christian values, and joint efforts are essential today not out of certain theological considerations but primarily because we ought to help our nations to survive. These are the priorities which we espouse in this dialogue.
I am convinced that the laity – both Catholic and Orthodox – can play and is already playing a most important role in this cause, each in his own place, to where the Lord has called him, by bearing witness to the values of the Gospel which our Churches preserve.