Thanks to Tod K who sent me a link to a new report on the most recent round of Catholic/Orthodox theological discussions looking at the question of the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium. I’ve been away from my desk and so the internet for a few days so I haven’t had a chance to check the different press releases until this morning. So thank you Tod for your email.
As for my view, I would agree with think Metropolitan John Zizioulas that reconciliation will require “an adaptation from both sides.” For the Orthodox Church this means coming to appreciate more fully the universal level of the Church. Historical circumstances, and especially advances telecommunications and travel, have brought all the local or territorial Churches into greater contact with each other than ever before. What might once have been a local decision of, say, the Church in Russia now is known, and has an effect on, the Church in Greece or the United States.
On the other hand, as Zizioulas points out, in is also important for the Catholic Church to come to a fuller appreciation of the importance of the synodal structure of the Church. This is I think the flip side of the effects of globalization. Yes, the Church must learn to speak with one voice–even some form of a centralized voice–but this can’t happen at the expense of the local Church. Just as economic globalization has proven to be both a bless and a threat to local cultures, so to a universal voice is both a blessing and a threat to the local Church. What is needed is a balance of the local and the universal levels. If I may hazard a judgment, I think the conflict we often see between Catholic and Orthodox Christians reflect each Churches have overemphasizing one ecclesiological pole at the expense of the other.
So for the Orthodox what seems to matter most is the authority (and, let’s be honest, sometimes the autonomy and independence) of the local Church. This has led to a patchwork of often mutually exclusive pastoral practices (e.g., how to receive Christians from other tradition) that undermine our witness as one Church. On the Catholic side, however, I also see all manner of abuses–again often liturgical in nature–that are tolerated as long as they don’t challenge papal authority. Yes, to be sure, I have oversimplified the matter but I think my basic observation is legitimate for that it can be rightly criticized in the details.
The thing that most catches my attention though is the sheer sociological and psychological complexity of a reconciliation between the two Churches. True reconciliation (and for that matter, true repentance and forgive) as it always does, changes radically changes how I relate not only to God and my neighbor but also myself. So I wonder, how will reconciliation change how each Church sees and understands itself?
I don’t know the answer to this but I am terribly interested to see what develops in the coming years.
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