Ecclesial principles regarding

Orthodox-Catholic communion

in Russian en Francais


 In the last two years, within the Catholic world and particularly due to the efforts of Pope John Paul II, a special emphasis has being placed on the preparation and the celebration of the turn of the millennium. The pontiff's vision and hopes for the year 2000 have a very central ecumenical wish; the common celebration of the Holy Eucharist by Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, a 'communio in sacris' and the re-establishment of full communion between the Churches of the East and the Churches of the West, in particular with the Church of Rome. One might wonder if the hopes of the Holy Father are utopian or in vain, or if they are hopes that are a century or even a millennium too early. And many do wonder. They wonder because there often seems to be no hope on the ground level. People wonder as it seems that it is only the Pope who has the courage to make the necessary ecumenical sacrifices. It seems that he alone has widened his vision and his heart to grasp the reality of the critical situation in the (one) holy, (catholic-universal) and apostolic Church, that is in the Mystical Body of Christ.

 The one and universal Church

 In the present ecumenical climate a critical question must be asked of Catholics and that is, whether the Orthodox Churches are part of this Mystical Body of Christ or not. Do they belong to the One Church, founded by Jesus Christ or not? There are certainly some sectors within Catholicism that would answer this question negatively. There are others, especially those who have had real experiences of Orthodoxy who would quickly affirm that the Orthodox Churches are a part of the Mystical Body of Christ. There are others who tend also to an affirmation because they know the serious theological and ecumenical consequences of negating. The particular weakness of such people is that they affirm theoretically but in the day to day life of the Church they tend to a practical negation.

 This variety of opinions might be understood by considering the change in attitudes and terminology regarding the Catholic vision of the Orthodox Churches, and the evolutionary process within ecclesiology that was placed in motion with the documents of Vatican II, regarding Ecumenism and the Church. Before the Council the Orthodox Churches were considered and termed as schismatic. Afterwards they are referred to as Sister Churches, not in full communion with the Church of Rome. The blame for this lack of full communion is partially attributable to the Catholic Church.

 The word 'church'

 In order to promote the realisation of the Holy Father's hopes, it is necessary to overcome the various equivocal meanings of the words 'church' and especially the word 'catholic/Catholicism'. Subsequently, our understanding of the separation-schism which occurred nearly a thousand years ago must be re-examined. The word church can have two basic meanings (strict sense),that of local church (diocese) of which there are thousands, and that of the Universal Church of which there is only one and which is represented in each of the local churches. Another meaning of the word 'church' is with reference to certain Christian Traditions, united around Patriarchs or metropolitans. Such Patriarchal or autocephalus Churches, however are not 'local churches', nor the 'Universal Church'. Examples of such Churches are the Russian (Orthodox) Church, the Maronite Church, the Latin Church, the Anthiochian (Orthodox) Church, the Greek (Orthodox) Church, etc.

 The word 'catholic'

 The signification of the word 'catholic' has also become somewhat confused. It is usually used and understood wrongly in a way meaning the Latin Church (Roman Catholic), an ecclesial reality that identifies with the Western Patriarchate governed by the Bishop of Rome. More than often the word 'Catholicism' has this meaning. The second meaning of the word 'catholic' and consequently 'Catholicism' refers to all Churches in full communion with Rome, whether they be of the Latin, Byzantine, or some other Christian Tradition. While 'Catholicism' justly describes this reality, it is questionable whether the word 'catholic', meaning 'universal', identifies strictly with this same reality. If we return to the original question: Are the Orthodox Churches (in the sense of local Churches) part of the 'universal', that is 'catholic' Church or not. Again, there will undoubtedly be the same three answers.

 Separation within the Church

 The challenge for Catholicism, especially in places where there is real contact with Orthodoxy, is to affirm and to grow in the conviction that the local churches of Orthodoxy also belong to the holy, universal (catholic) and apostolic Church. However, in order for Catholicism to evolve in this direction it is fundamental that the break down in communion between the Local Churches of the East and those of the West, between the Patriarchate(s) of the East (Byzantium) and the Patriarchate of the West be viewed in a post conciliar light. The pre-conciliar mind understood this break down in communion and process of separation, as placing the Orthodox Churches outside the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The conciliar developments are certainly interpretable as implying that this separation was a separation within the Church and not a separation from the Church (in ecclesiae et non ex ecclesiae).

 If this premise is accepted, then the One and Universal Church, the Mystical Body of Christ must be conceived and explained as consisting of both the Christians of the Western Patriarchate and those of the various ('Catholic' and 'Orthodox') Patriarchates and autocephalus Churches.

 Communion between the Churches

 From the position of Catholicism, the relationship between the Orthodox Churches and the Church of Rome, as well as with all the churches within Catholicism, is a relationship of 'communion'. Accordingly, the innovation of the second Vatican Council is the affirmation that the Orthodox Churches are not 'out of communion' with the churches of Catholicism but are rather in a relationship of 'imperfect communion'.

 Inter-church communion

 The term 'communion', also carries with it some ambiguities when considered from an ecclesiological point of view due to the fact that there are different types of 'inter-church communion'. Accordingly, within Catholicism there are basically two types of 'central' communion. First there is that which exists between Latin local churches and the Bishop of Rome, who is their Patriarch on the one hand (patriarchal communion) and is the Primate on the other (communion with the Primate). The second type is that which is at play between non-Latin churches and the Church of Rome (communion with the Primate). This latter instance of communion can be of two types. It can be, on the one hand, the communion that exists between the various local churches of other Christian traditions with the Church of Rome. On the other hand, it can be that type of communion that exists either between Patriarchs or Patriarchates and the Patriarch and Patriarchate of the West.

 However the mystery of ecclesial communion is not only 'central'. There exists the communion between metrapolinates and their suffragan sees (metropolitan communion) and then, a specific type of communion which can exist between individual local churches (particular communion), that is, between one diocese and another.

 Spiritual communion

 However, there is a danger of thinking that the different forms of inner-church communion are the only forms of communion. The most important type of communion for any local church as for the Universal Church as a whole is communion with God. Second to this most sublime form of communion, is the spiritual communion that exists between the Church or the local churches, on earth with the saints and angels in heaven. Thirdly, there is the spiritual communion of the Church and churches on earth with the deceased who as of yet have not attained heavenly bliss. Because 'spiritual communion' is founded upon true faith, hope and Christian charity, it is also possible to speak of a communion of faith, one of hope and one of charity.

 Orthodox-Catholic communion

 It is essential today that Catholics, realise that the Orthodox Churches enjoy full communion, through faith, through apostolicity and through the fullness of the sacramental life that they possess. One might simply say that they are in full communion with God. However, through this real communion, the Orthodox Churches are also in communion with the local churches of Catholicism, as also with the Church of Rome. Consequently, it is necessary to acknowledge another form of inter-ecclesial communion, that is the communion that exists between the local (and patriarchal) churches of the East and the local churches of Catholicism. Thus one might speak of 'Orthodox-Catholic communion', a communion which is real but is deficient or imperfect because it lacks certain qualities of the inter-church communion as experienced within Catholicism as also of the inter-church communion (sobornost') of the Orthodox ecclesial experience.

 Imperfection in communion

 While the imperfection at hand does not appertain to the communion of faith, it does have visible theological roots, which are revealed in the problematics of the filioque, the Immaculate Conception and the conceptions of purgatory and of primacy. Often behind these various theological difficulties there are to be found different anthropological and cultural ways of viewing both the natural and the spiritual, ways which through history have become somewhat narrow, and which as of yet have not clearly understood each other.

 The gravity of imperfect communion finds its place in the context of the liturgy, with a mutual exclusion of the names of the bishops or patriarchs of the other tradition from the Eucharist prayers. Likewise, there is a serious imperfection in the lack of canonical communion between the churches. This deficiency is witnessed in both the division and in the lack of respect that is frequently shown in connection with the canonical rights of other religious traditions.

 Imperfect communion within Catholicism

 The deficiency in Catholic-Orthodox communion, which is a result of human sinfulness and weakness, as well as of cultural differences and ignorance, is less severe than the imperfections that are some times to be found within the area of inter-church communion within Catholicism itself. Thus, in many parts of the first world, there are local churches which have less communion with the Church of Rome, than the Orthodox Churches do. This can be witnessed in those local churches where there has been a general acceptance of ideologies and world-visions that are contradictory to the faith. Such a phenomenon can be observed in places where the sacraments have been given hetrodox meanings due often to anthro-centrism or naturalism. It can also be seen in the bitterness expressed by many Catholics, with respect to the Pope and the Church of Rome, a bitterness that contrasts radically with the over all sense of respect shown to both the Bishop and Church of Rome by the members of Orthodoxy. Similarly, one would wonder how perfect is the spiritual communion which some local churches have with God, with the saints and angels in heaven or with the souls of the faithful departed. These deficiencies in the various types of communion within Catholicism are subsequently much more serious and much more imperfect than the weaknesses at play in 'Orthodox-Catholic communion'.

 Establishing full communion

 The desire for a mature and perfect 'Orthodox-Catholic communion' is to be found within almost every dimension of both traditions. However, the various theological trends, be it within Catholicism or within Orthodoxy not only desires such fullness of communion in different ways, but the nature of full communion is often conceived very differently. Thus, the very conservative dimensions of Orthodoxy would see this unity as being possible only if all Catholics were to embrace Orthodox traditions, some would even suggest a need to repeat some of the various sacraments. For conservative Catholics, this communion is conceived as "total submission' to the Pope, a type of submission which these very Catholics tend to avoid or criticise whenever the Pope differs from them on certain issues.

 Such conceptions are, however, contrary to the conception of 'full communion' between the Churches, as officially promoted by the Pope, and to the Orthodox conception of 'sobornost'. However, what the practicalities of either a full communion or sobornost' between the Churches will be, can not be easily nor adequately determined. Although, one can say what this full communion will not consist of, it would seem from the many ecclesiological and ecumenical view-points, that as of yet, no one is really capable of saying what this will be, and what the Church will be like after her interior oneness is healed from the wounds suffered in the past. Subsequently, the process of establishing full communion is very delicate and somewhat in the dark concerning plans for the future.

 Modelling 'full communion'

 From an ecumenist's point of view, it is important to stress that the model for 'full Orthodox-Catholic communion' can not be the 'inter-church communion' that exists within the Western Patriarchate. The reason for this, is that the local Latin churches have a daughter-like relationship with the Church of Rome. They are churches that are of the same tradition, the same liturgy, theological methods and the same canonical structuralizations as the Church of Rome. The Churches of the East are of different cultural, theological, spiritual and canonical milieus. Consequently, the type of 'inter-church relationship' in the context of full 'Orthodox-Catholic communion', can not be modelled upon the 'inter-church relationships' which are at play within the Latin Church.

 The suggestion of using the model of communion represented by the 'inter-church relationship' that exists within Catholicism between the Eastern Churches and the Western Church is also very questionable. Originally this relationship-model was not one of communion but was rather, one of uniatism. This uniate model belongs to a pre-conciliar mentality in so far as it damaged the ecclesial harmony that must exist in any particular ecclesial tradition, between the canonical and the various elements of culture, theology and spirituality. Historically, the Eastern Churches which established unity with Rome were strongly subjected and at times badly violated by the various forms of latinization that took place. Until the Council, the 'Greek Catholic Churches' were considered, within Catholicism, as being inferior to the Latin Church and they were accordingly treated. With the Decree on the Oriental Churches and even more practically with the introduction of the 1991 Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, a phenomenon of 'de-unitising' of these churches has begun. Thus, the mode of their relationship with the Church of Rome is under going its own evolution. Consequently, the Eastern Catholic Churches can not suffice as an ecclesiological model, let alone as an ecumenical one.

 Dynamics towards full communion

The concept of 'communion' necessarily implies a two way and mutual relationship. Thus, full communion between Orthodoxy and Catholicism demands such a relationship. In this sense, it is essential that Catholicism also grows in communion with and towards the Orthodox Churches. The effort of the Church of Rome must, however, be more than a call or an invitation to be one, as such an attitude would be at heart pre-conciliar and reflect ideas of uniatism rather than communion. The effort must therefore, be outgoing, both giving and receiving.

 A further danger is to regard full-communion as something that does not exist until it happens, or until some sort of concord is signed. It is of utmost importance to conceive 'full communion' as a final point of an evolution or a growth in communion, from an imperfect relationship to a less imperfect, from a less perfect to a perfect. If the achieving of full communion is not seen in this way, then various possibilities of improvements and instances of growth will be disregarded as they do not fit an ideal of full communion. The more the idealistic conception of full communion, which inhibits growing-communion, is overcome, the easier it will be for the various traditions to allow Providence and the Guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead the Churches towards full communion. In the end this fullness must be founded in the Divine and not in mere human efforts or ideals.

 Developing ecumenical ecclesiology

 One of the principal weaknesses in Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism is the failure, to develop a practical or an applied 'ecclesiology of communion'. The lack of such an ecclesiology has not only meant that within Catholic-Orthodox communion, the 'imperfection' has been over stressed and the 'communion' has been terribly under-emphasised. The challenge for ecumenical ecclesiology, therefore, is for it to overcome its own serious imperfections and deficiencies. The greatest need at the present time, so that Orthodox-Catholic communion can evolve towards greater perfection, is for Catholicism to radically revise its ground level contact with Orthodox local churches, particularly with regard to canonical structuralization in those areas that are predominately of Eastern (Orthodox) tradition and culture.

 The great blind-spot of Catholic ecclesiology is the unciriticized use of the 'American model', whereby in the one geographical area there can be many bishops with ritually distinct flocks. While the development of the American model is very understandable from an historical point of view and from the various pastoral and ecclesial needs of migrating populations, it is contrary to both Biblical and Patristic ecclesiology, according to which, there can be only one bishop in one geographical area identified with an individual and distinct local church. The failure to re-examine and re-evaluate the application of this model, particularly in the Orthodox countries of eastern and south-eastern Europe implies that Catholicism, while striving towards the oneness of the Universal Church, simultaneously violates the oneness of the local church, both in theory and in practise. If such a violation might be understandable, with respect to those who consider the Orthodox local churches to be outside the Mystical Body of Christ, it is unforgivable for those who propose that there already exists a deep Orthodox-Catholic communion, even though it might be still imperfect.

One of the positive events in the last years, was the choice of Rome not to establish diocesan structures within the canonical territory of Russian Orthodoxy. The ecclesial mode of an 'apostolic administration' consequently avoids the use of the 'American model' and therefore the establishment of parallel hierarchical structures. If the experience of the 'apostolic administration' model proves ecumenically successful, particularly in Russia, it could be hoped that Latin ecclesial structures in other Orthodox areas, such as Eastern Ukraine, Serbia and Greece might be reformed into apostolic administrations.

 Developing the concept of 'Apostolic Administration'

Since both the concept and the reality of the apostolic administration are very new, it is still very undeveloped and capable of evolving in different ways and into various possible forms. It is essential that the apostolic administrations which exist within Orthodox territories be given a radically ecumenical form, so that the perfection of communion be achieved within the context of Orthodox-Catholic relations. The failure to take this direction and to make the many and maybe difficult ecumenical sacrifices that will be necessary, would imperfect and damage the already existing Orthodox-Catholic communion.

 One ideal form of Orthodox (local church)-Catholic (apostolic-administration) communion that could be striven towards might consist in the canonical establishment of a 'mutual caring' for the Latin faithful living within the boundaries of Orthodox local churches. In this way the local bishop could be the episcopal pastor of both his own Orthodox faithful as well as of the faithful of the Latin tradition living in his diocese. Hence, responsibility for the pastoral needs of the latter and all externals of the various Latin parishes or communities would be placed under the episcopal paternity of the local bishop. However, it would be simultaneously necessary that the inner affairs unique to the Latin Tradition, to the Roman Rite, administration of the Sacraments and the application of Canon Law, would fall under the responsibility of an apostolic administrator, who acting in the name of the Pope, Patriarch of the Latin Church, would seek to nurture those aspects of ecclesial life that are proper to the Latin tradition.

 In those areas of the world where there have already been established many over-lapping local churches which care for faithful of various religious traditions and cultures a similiar solution might be proposed. It might be possible to speak of co-churches, whereby a local church is built without discrimination against any particular tradition or rite around the Christian faithful in a particular area and a bishop. The bishop, as head of the one local church could then entrust the faithful of the various rites or traditions to an auxialiary bishop of the same rite. Within Catholicism there are already some structures which are modelled around national and cultural distinctions. Even in the last few years the establishment of Tridentine-rite parishes within the Latin rite dioceses demonstrates pastoral awareness without disturbing the unity of the local church.

 Similarly, the situation of multiple patriarchs in certain ancient patriarchal Sees, especially in Jerusalem, Anthioch and Alessandria bares witness to disunity rather than unity. This problem might find a solution in the development of concepts such as, 'patriarchal administrators' or 'sub-patriarchs', who might represent their proper rite and tradition present in any particular patriarchate.


 If apostolic administrations or vicariates were allowed to develop in this ecumenical direction, it is felt, that such a possible evolution would pave the way for solving the ecclesiological problematic which has arisen from the acceptance of the American model and the establishment or repetition of patriarchs. It is essential that the unity and identity of each and every local church be respected and fostered. It is only in this way that the unity and identity of the catholic, that is the universal Church can be fostered. In taking on such an ecumenical commitment, Catholicism would have made a major effort in communicating with the Eastern Churches. She would demonstrate her confidence and trust in them, she would be healing the hurts of the past, she would be entering into deeper inter-church communion with the local churches of the East and furthering the inner unity of the One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church.

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