The Communio article

October 29, 2009

I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf.

The Patriarch at Fordham

October 28, 2009

Yesterday the Patriarch of Constantinople was in New York to receive an honorary doctorate of laws at Fordham University; I drove up to the Bronx to attend the ceremony. I had brought with me my camera, and, while I was there sitting in the University Church, listening to the various dignitaries give their speeches, I remembered that the camera has a feature that records sound and video, which I had never tried using before. So I attempted to record the Patriarch’s address. Unfortunately, there was enough memory in the camera only to record about three quarters of the address; my transcription of that recording is given below. In one or two places, I cannot be sure that I interpreted the Patriarch’s words correctly; I have made note of these places by footnotes.

I will preface my transcription with the official order of ceremonies, and with the text of the citation that was read aloud by the Reverend Robert B. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, upon the Patriarch’s receiving of his honorary degree.


Musical Prelude Solemn Entry | Richard Strauss
Rejoice, O Mother of God | Sergei Rachmaninoff
The Cherubic Hymn | Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov
Processional Ti Ipermacho, traditional Orthodox hymn
Welcome Stephen Freedman,
Senior Vice President / Chief Academic Officer
Invocation His Excellency Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan,
Archbishop of New York
Greetings from the University The Reverend Joseph M. McShane, S.J.,
President of Fordham University
Greetings from the Holy See His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan,
Papal Delegate of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Conferral of the Honorary Degree Joseph M. McShane, S.J.
John N. Tognino,
Chair, Fordham University Board of Trustees
Musical Interlude Polychronion, traditional Orthodox hymn
The Fordham University Choir
Robert Minotti, Director
Address Discerning God’s Presence in the World
His All Holiness Bartholomew,
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
Benediction His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios,
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
Recessional The Great Gate of Kiev
from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky

CITATION
His All Holiness Bartholomew,
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch

“War in the name of religion is war against religion.”
—HIS ALL HOLINESS, ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW

Since his enthronement in 1991, His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, has been an apostle of peace. Not the peace of the earthly city, which, as St. Augustine made clear, was simply a temporary cessation of violence; but the peace of which Christ spoke when He assured His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14: 27). This peace is the communion that Christ shares with God the Father. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit it becomes possible for all of God’s creation to share in the peace of divine-human communion. As a missionary of the peace of Christ, His All Holiness carries forward the apostolic legacy of his renowned predecessors: Saint Andrew, the First-Called Apostle; Saint Gregory the Theologian; Saint John Chrysostom; and Saint Photios the Great, who commenced the conversion of the Slavic people.

His All Holiness’ tireless efforts to repair the brokenness of creation caused by human avarice have earned him the beloved epithet “the Green Patriarch.” He has constantly proclaimed to the global community the sacramental potential of all creation; that the Holy Spirit, as the Orthodox Prayer of Pentecost states, “is everywhere present and fills all things.” God is present in creation, but the beauty of the divine glory is only experienced when humans relate to their fellow creatures in a Eucharistic spirit. His All Holiness has embodied this presence to the world both as minister of the Eucharist, in which his authority as “First Among Equals” throughout Orthodox Christianity is most visible, and through his tireless efforts to protect the waters of the world by organizing environmental symposia regarding the Black Sea, the Danube River, the Baltic and Adriatic Seas, and, most recently, the Mississippi River.

As spiritual leader of more than 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world, the Ecumenical Patriarch has worked in close and brotherly association with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. These three Holy Fathers have recognized that the Christian mission to be an image of divine-human communion and an apostle of peace to the world is hindered by the schism between the “sister churches.” The Ecumenical Patriarch has welcomed Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and has visited the Vatican on numerous occasions, signaling his commitment to the reconciliation of the two churches through a dialogue of truth and love.

As a Christian leader in a non-Christian country, His All Holiness has championed human rights, especially the right to religious freedom and economic equality. He has initiated peace and reconciliation efforts throughout the world; he has visited Muslim countries and met with their leaders; he has visited Israel and met with the World Jewish Congress. The Ecumenical Patriarch spearheaded the Berne and Bosphorus Declarations condemning violence in the name of religion. Both in word and in deed, the ministry of His All Holiness is truly ecumenical, bringing the peace of Christ to the far corners of the Earth.

For his remarkable service to the world community and for the principles that he continues to uphold, we, the President and Trustees of Fordham University, in solemn convocation assembled and in accord with the chartered authority bestowed on us by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, declare His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, Doctor of Laws honoris causa. That he may enjoy all the rights and privileges of this, our highest honor, we have issued these letters patent under our hand and the corporate seal of the University on this, the 27th day of October in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine.


The Patriarch’s address: Discerning God’s Presence in the World

Fr Joseph McShane, esteemed members of the board of trustees, and beloved brothers of the Society of Jesus, ἐξοχότατοι κυρίου πρέσβεις [1], most learned professors and students, distinguished guests, beloved children and people of God:

It is with sincere gratitude that we accept this invaluable honor of being received into the doctoral college of this esteemed Jesuit school; we welcome this privilege as a recognition of the sacred ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an apostolic institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, throughout retaining its see in Constantinople. Yet, our Church is no worldly institution. It wields no political authority. Instead, it leads by example, coordinating Pan-Orthodox Christian unity by virtue of a primacy of love and honor, a ministry emanating from its supra-national authority. This universal consciousness gave rise to the first seven ecumenical councils, articulating the symbol of faith or Nicean Creed, and established the New Testament canon. It also gave birth to churches from the Caspian to the Baltic, and from the Balkans to Central Europe. Today its jurisdiction extends to the Far East, Western Europe, Australia and America. Of course, this ecumenicity constitutes both an ancient privilege and a lasting responsibility, demanding an open ministry within our own communities, communions, among other Christian confessions, as well as towards the world’s faith-communities. Within our ecumenical initiatives, the International Theological Dialogue with our sister Church of Rome, instituted in the ’60s as the Dialogue of Love, and continued today as the Dialogue of Truth, comprises our foremost encounter of speaking the truth in love, “Caritas in Veritate,” as it is the title of the recent encyclical of his Holiness the Pope.

A concrete example of this encounter here at Fordham is the Orthodox Christian Higher Studies Program, which is the first of its kind at a major university in the United States, as it is already said. This program complements the existing annual Orthodoxy in America lecture, and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and demonstrates a practical synergistic spirit, modeling for Orthodox and Roman Catholics everywhere a shared common purpose, based in truth and in love.

Nevertheless, our purpose this evening is not to outline to you the manner in which the ecumenical imperative defines our Church, but rather, to inspire in all of you the primacy of ecumenicity, or the value of opening up in a world that expects us always to be prepared to give an answer to everyone that asks us to give a reason for the hope within us: διδόναι λόγον παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι περὶ τῆς ἐν ἡμῖν ἐλπίδος.

In this regard, we would like to draw your attention to three dimensions of opening up, or ecumenical consciousness. One, opening up to the heart. Two, opening up to the other. And three, opening up to creation.

Opening up to the heart (the way of the spirit).

As faith communities and as religious leaders, it is our obligation constantly to pursue and persistently to proclaim alternative ways to order human affairs, ways that reject violence and reach for peace. Human conflict may well be inevitable in our world, but war certainly is not. If the twenty-first century will be remembered at all, it may be for those who dedicated themselves to the cause of tolerance and understanding. Yet, the pursuit of peace calls for a reversal of what has become normal and normative in our world. It requires conversion (μετάνοια, or “metanoia”), and the willingness to become individuals and communities of transformation. The Orthodox Christian spiritual classics emphasize the heart as the place where God, humanity, and world may coincide in harmony. Indeed, the Philokalia underlines the paradox that peace is gained through witness, through μαρτυρία, received not as passivity or indifference to human suffering, but as relinquishing selfish desires and acquiring greater generosity. The way of the heart stands in opposition to everything that violates peace. When one awakens to the way within, peace flows as an expression of gratitude toward God’s love for the world. Unless our actions are founded on love, rather than on fear, they will never overcome fanaticism and fundamentalism. In this sense, the way of the heart is a radical response, threatening policies of violence and politics of power. This is why peacemakers threaten the established law [2]. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount, ἡ ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους ὁμιλία τοῦ Κυρίου, shaped the pacifist teaching of Leo Tolstoy, whose work, The Kingdom of God is Within You, was opened [3] by the writings of the Philokalia, and, in turn, profoundly influenced both the nonviolent principles of Mahatma Gandhi and the civil rights activism of Martin Luther King. Sometimes, the most provocative message is loving our enemy and doing good to those who hate us.

Some may announce the “End of Faith,” or the “End of History,” blaming religion for violent aberrations in human behavior; yet never was the peaceful protest of religion more necessary than now. Never was the powerful resistance of religion more critical than today. Ours is the beginning, not the end, of either faith or history.

II. Opening up to the other (the way of dialogue).

This is why the inter-religious gatherings, initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are crucial for paving the way toward peaceful coexistence between the world’s peoples. Such dialogue draws people of diverse religious beliefs and cultural traditions out of their isolation, instituting a process of mutual respect and meaningful communication. When we seek this kind of encounter, we discover ways of coexisting in spite of our differences. After all, historical conflicts between Christians and Moslems are normally rooted in politics, and not in religion. The tragic story of the Crusades is a telling example, bequeathing a legacy of cultural alienation and ethnic resentment. Speaking, then, of an inevitable and inexorable “Clash of Civilizations” is incorrect and inappropriate, especially when such a theory posits religion as the principal battleground on which such conflict is doomed to occur. National leaders may provoke isolation and aggression between Christians and Moslems, or else demagogues may mobilize religions in order to reinforce national fanaticism and hostility. However, this is not to be confused with the true nature and purpose of religion. Christians and Moslems lived alongside each other during the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, usually supported by their political and religious authorities. In Andalusia, Spain, believers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam coexisted peacefully for centuries. Such historical models reveal possibilities for our own pluralistic and globalized world.

Moreover, any theory about the “Clash of Civilizations” is invariably naive, inasmuch as it oversimplifies differences between peoples, cultures, and religions. How ironic that religion promotes a more liberal position than the realism of a political scientist!

The visit in November 2006, on the occasion of our patron’s feast, the Feast of St. Andrew, by Pope Benedict XVI, our elder and beloved brother, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul) was historical not only for relations between the Eastern and Western Churches, but also for Christianity and Islam. The then-newly elected pope continued a tradition established by his predecessors, the late Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who both visited the Phanar, in 1967 and 1979 respectively. Requiescant (both) in pace. We affectionately recall how Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, an extraordinary leader of profound vision and ecumenical sensitivity, a tall man with piercing eyes, would resolve conflict by inviting the embattled parties to meet, saying to them, Come, let us look one another in the eyes. This means that we must listen more carefully, look one another more deeply in the eyes. As St. Nilus of Ancyra wrote (ὁ Ἅγιος Νεῖλος Ἀγκύρας): “You are a world within the world. Look inside yourself, and there you will see God in the whole of creation.” Each of us comprises a living icon to the divine Creator, and we are, furthermore, always, whether we know it or not, closer to one another, in more ways than we are distant from one another, closer than we might ever suspect, or even imagine.

And the last point: Opening up to creation (the way of the earth).

Speaking of icons, when it comes to God and creation, leads us to our final point. For nowhere is the sense of openness more apparent than in the beauty of Orthodox iconography and in the order of God’s creation. In affirming sacred images, the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (787)…. [4]

* * *

[1] I.e., “most-exalted priests/emissaries of the Lord.” Probably, in particular, a reference to the Papal Delegate, His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan.

[2] The recording here was a bit unclear; it is possible that the Patriarch said “world,” not “law.”

[3] Again, the recording was a bit unclear. It is possible that he said “authored,” not “opened.”

[4] Unfortunately, at this point my camera ran out of space for recording video. What I recall was the final point the patriarch made in his address, summing up the whole of it: “Openness to the heart, openness to the other, openness to creation. Without these, there is no true discerning of God’s presence in this world.”

An Autumn Day

October 26, 2009

The word “glorious” is not a word I use lightly or often. Yesterday was a glorious autumn day in northern New Jersey. After an utterly miserable Saturday, muggy and rainy, that concluded with a tropical downpour, complete with lightning and gale-force winds, I awoke yesterday morning and got ready for church. In driving west, on a bright, clear morning in which the roads were still wet, it struck me that the western hills, with their variegated foliage, seemed to be covered with a kind of multicolored quilt, or perhaps with one of the afghans that my great-aunt used to crochet, in this case one made out of orange, red, yellow, and green yarns. And, as my Aunt Anna made such blankets, not merely for the utilitarian purpose of keeping warm, but from other motivations as well, including a love towards her family, a desire to make something beautiful that would be preserved by succeeding generations, and probably also out of an implicit or explicit gratitude to her Creator who gave her this gift, so similarly the beauty of an autumn day seems naturally to involve deeper factors besides merely the biological mechanism whereby the trees annually lose their chlorophyll.

So far as I know, there is no other area in the world where the trees put on such a spectacular autumn display aside from the Northeastern United States and Southern Canada. (It is not for nothing that the maple leaf is on the Canadian flag.) I don’t know what was the reaction to it of the people who first came to settle here from Europe where, by and large, autumn foliage is more subdued; I can imagine that, at first, their minds were focused on the much more immediate business of survival in a harsh and unfamiliar world. But, at some point, they must have taken notice of it and reflected upon it.

In the book The Botany of Desire (2001), the author, Michael Pollan, presents a kind of thought-experiment in which he argues that plants may be less completely passive in their relations with the animal kingdom than we usually give them credit for. As flowering plants decidedly employ colors, scents, and nectar to entice insects to perform for them the work of pollination, so (the author argues) plants may deploy similar qualities to induce other animals — human beings — to cultivate them.

As an instance of this, Pollan gives the example of the apple tree and how it came to be cultivated in North America by a nineteenth-century entrepreneur named Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman), who planted thousands of these trees and turned a handsome profit from them, capitalizing upon the human desire for sweetness and intoxication (apples were consumed, at this time, mostly in the form of hard cider). The author’s thesis seems to demand that this transformation of the American landscape be seen less as the clever business practice of a personally eccentric entrepreneur than as the apple tree’s own biological cunning in inducing the human species to propagate it.

Presumably, that argument fails in the case of the autumn spectacle of the American Northeast. For, although it is certainly true that some people plant trees because of their autumn foliage, it nevertheless remains true to say that the autumn spectacle of the American Northeast is in no real sense the result of human cultivation. The trees were here putting on their annual show before anyone, Yankee or Amerindian, was here to take notice of it. Nor does the changing of colors of the leaves have any immediate function to play in the trees’ propagation, comparable to the role the coloring of flowers plays in the natural propagation of flowering plants. From a strictly biological point of view, it is not clear what function such a fiery display of color fulfills; trees elsewhere seem to get along quite well without it.

If one is going to apply the thesis of a botany of desire — the thesis, that is, that plants act in such a way as to induce animals, including man, to do for them what they cannot do for themselves — to the phenomenon of the Northeast’s autumn display, it seems to me one will be forced to attribute to these plants something like foresight. The maples, oaks, birches, elms, etc. of the American seaboard must have gotten wind from their brethren in the Old World that a human tribe was eventually going to arrive that, of all human tribes, was utterly unique in its shortsightedness and destructive potentiality; in preparation for this future event, and to avert impending disaster, the trees learned to clothe themselves in fiery apparel before the winter set in, so that, when these newcomers would arrive and would begin denuding the landscape for winter fuel and for other purposes, at least some of these human beings would remember the trees’ beautiful, fiery clothing and would take care not to cut all of them down.

(On the other hand, in the article Autumn leaf color in the Wikipedia, I read of certain more prosaic explanations for the phenomenon: one possibility being that the brilliant red colors are meant to discourage aphid infestation; another, that they are supposed to outfox the camouflage mechanisms of herbivores — although why then wouldn’t the herbivores have adapted to the adaptation? — another, that anthocyanins, responsible for red-purple coloration, protect leaves “against the harmful effects of light at low temperatures” — although this raises the question of why trees should expend so much biological energy upon protecting parts of the organism that are about to be dropped. Another point made in the article is that the extreme variegation of the North American tree landscape, relative to that of Europe, has to do with the fact that, in North America, more tree species were able to survive the ice ages by emigrating south in advance of the glaciers, whereas in Europe, pushed to the Mediterranean, many species simply died off.)

Whatever explanation one adopts for the phenomenon of autumn leaf color, it seems to me that the most obvious and, in some ways, rational account for the changes in autumn color is that this spectacle of nature is, like all beauty, natural and moral, a declaration of the glory of God; it is a gift of the Creator, a ray of his own perfection, and is meant to draw the creature back to him in love, thanksgiving, and contemplation.

Postscript: Also, yesterday, the New York Yankees won the American League pennant, which is another good reason for people in New Jersey to give thanks.

I never met David J. Melling, the author of the following essay. He lived in Manchester, England, apparently taught at the university there, was a communicant at a Greek Orthodox church, and, besides authoring a lucid introduction to Plato and being one of the editors of The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, wrote a short, readable introduction to Byzantine Chant notation that is available online (http://www.scribd.com/doc/4766762/Reading-Psalmodia). For some years, he hosted an Orthodox webpage, titled Arimathea, that was notable for its sanity and unpretentious learning. A few years ago I learned of his death. A brief notice of his funeral is given on the webpage britishorthodox.org:

Abba Seraphim attended the funeral and burial of David John Melling (1943-2004) at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation of God at Salford, Manchester, on 28 September 2004, where His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira presided. Speaking afterwards, Abba Seraphim praised the indefatigable work of David Melling, who not only worked tirelessly to make the Orthodox faith and tradition accessible to British people, but was also an energetic and zealous worker for the Greek community in Manchester, among whom he was greatly loved and respected. “He was also a firm friend to the Coptic Orthodox Church as well as other Oriental Orthodox communities and he did much to give practical support to the implementation of the dialogue between the two families. With his own deep commitment to Orthodoxy as well as his expert knowledge and understanding of non-Christian faiths he promoted deep affection and mutual respect where, sadly, suspicion and hostility too often result.”


This past weekend, while working on my computer and examining old files, I found the following essay by him, which I had copied off the internet on June 16, 1997. Because David Melling’s Arimathea page is no longer up and running, and, more importantly, because the essay still deserves to be read, I publish it here.


(Photograph of David Melling; added, 8 September 2012, Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos. Thanks to Mr. Derek Jackson, of Manchester, England, for sharing this picture of his friend.)


SCHISM and COMMUNION

Early in his ministry as a Non-Juror Anglican priest, the saintly William Law published a sequence of “Letters to a Lady inclined to enter the Church of Rome.” (1732-3) His advice to the Lady was that she, like other laymembers and junior clergy of the Anglican Church, was in no way responsible for the schism separating her and her fellow Anglicans from the Greek and Roman Churches. There is, he argued, no way of escaping the reality of schism, since every history determines that each of us is “necessarily forced into one externally divided part, because there is no part free from external division.” The divisions cannot be escaped by simply changing one’s ecclesiastical allegiance, he tells her, since that action resolves the schism with the Church entered at the price of schism with the Church abandoned. He counsels her to stay where she is, but to love the Greek and Roman Churches with the same love she has for her own Church. Law attributes the schism that divides the Churches to “the unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors on both sides.” He sees schism as caused by the failings and shortcomings of hierarchs, and as something affecting only the external reality of the Church’s life. Law is not, of course, writing of all kinds of schism. His position flows from the belief that the Roman, Greek and English Churches, whatever their differences in theological tradition and styles of worship, are alike in being effective means of attaining “christian holiness.” He does not have the same positive view of any Christian bodies which are merely human institutions and lack the full means of sanctification.

In Eastern Christian tradition, schism between ecclesial communities is not always read as William Law reads it. Eastern theology has tended to stress the intimate unity of faith and sacrament and to see schism as a sign of heresy. Roman Catholic theology, on the other hand, has generally distinguished more sharply between schism, in which both the separated communities may be fully orthodox and retain a full sacramental life, and formal heresy which involves the rejection of the Church’s dogmatic teaching. Roman Catholic sacramental theology has tended to regard heretical sacraments as invalid by reason of heresy only in those cases when the heresy explicitly denied the Church’s dogmatic teaching about the sacraments. The consequence of such a denial is obvious: a heretical priest who does not believe in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Real Presence or the Apostolic Succession can hardly be the presiding minister at a Divine Liturgy, consecrating this bread and this wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ, since that is precisely what he does not believe he is authorised to do and what he believes does not come about even when a Catholic or Orthodox priest celebrates the Mass. Roman Catholic tradition differs from Eastern Orthodox in the relative status it accords the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In Catholic theology, the infallibility attaching to the dogmatic definitions of the Councils is sharply distinguished from the relative degree of authority accorded their disciplinary and legal decisions. Orthodox Christians would not normally go so far as to claim the disciplinary canons of the Ecumenical Councils are absolutely immutable and irreformable, but tend to see them as reformable only by the authority of another Ecumenical Council.

This attitude to the legislation of the Ecumenical Councils explains in part the bitterness of the schism between Old Calendarists and New Calendarists in the Greek world. The Old Calendarists have consistently and vehemently denied the right of Patriarchs, Hierarchs and local synods to alter the calendrical arrangements laid down in the canons of the Council of Nicaea. Given the nature of what they see as a grave breach of Orthodox ecclesiastical discipline, some, but not all, Old Calendarists have gone further, and invoking the authority of St. Basil the Great, have seen New Calendarists not only as schismatics, but as a religious body whose sacraments are devoid of grace. Interestingly, this schism as the Old Calendarists see it does indeed conform in part at least to William Law’s characterisation of schism, since what the Old Calendarists object to is precisely what they see as high-handed, unlawful and unreasonable action by the Church’s hierarchs. This was equally an issue in the schism between the Old Believers and the Russian Orthodox Church. In both cases, what was judged by their opponents to be the illegitimate use of Hierarchical authority to alter the calendar in the one case, the service books in the other, was interpreted not merely as imposing on the Church untraditional and objectionable legislation, but also as signifying a drift into heresy that made schism both inevitable and a matter of inescapable duty. William Law, however, in speaking of the schism between the Roman and English Churches emphasises that the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims of the governors” were on both sides. An authoritarian and assertive Papacy had found its own claims reflected in the distorting mirror of Henry VIII’s assertion of his own divine right to rule as “Supreme Head” of the English Church. The Old Believers and Old Calendarists reflect the position not of the Vatican in relation to the Church of England, but of the Catholic Recusants, loyal to the religion they inherited from their fathers and mothers, and unable to accept the changes imposed by state authority. Conservative dissent is always an embarrassment to church authorities. It is not obvious exactly how one can become a heretic by standing fast on yesterday’s orthodoxy.

Law’s argument that schism as such is fundamentally a matter of the external reality of the Church is of particular significance if we attempt to interpret the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The mutual excommunications of 1054, while furnishing a fine example of the “unreasonable quarrels and unjust claims” which Law identifies as the fundamental cause of schism, were neither the origin nor the legal basis of the schism. Had they been so, the lifting of the excommunications by the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch would have brought the schism to an end. It continues. The schism between Catholics and Orthodox continues, yet the full ecclesial life of both Churches also continues. While the absence of external institutional unity may be a cause of suffering and something to deplore, it has not prevented either Church from producing a rich crop of saints, from engaging in Apostolic missionary work, from serving the needy, from finding within its own spiritual resources the means for renewal.

The notion that Western and Eastern Churches were ever identical in theology, ritual and social life, is pure fantasy. Theological differences existed in the days when the Church of the Roman Empire was a legal unity. The typically Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin as inherited guilt is to be found in the doctrinal canons of the early sixth century councils of Carthage and Orange, and the latter council even went so far as to condemn the typical Eastern view that what is inherited from Adam and Eve as a consequence of their sin is our mortality. The dogmatic canons of the latter council were confirmed by Pope Boniface II. Eastern and Western Churches had different rules concerning the bread to be used in the Eucharist, different rules for fasting, clerical celibacy, the ordination of eunuchs, and later, the legitimacy of fourth marriages and the permissibility of divorce even during the period when the Churches were in full communion.

The schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches did not begin, nor was it completed in 1054. Indeed, one wonders at exactly what point in history many communities realised they were in schism from the other church. The failed reunion councils, the intrusion of Latin bishops in the wake of the Crusades, the sack of Constantinople and the profanation of Hagia Sophia in 1208 and the consequences of the Fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks all helped crystallize out a pattern of relations that still managed to retain some fluidity even into the seventeenth century. The establishment of Eastern Catholic jurisdictions in the Patriarchate of Antioch and in the east of Poland helped considerably to confirm the external separation of the two Church institutions. The external separation spread and became firm. But what changed in the life of ordinary parishes? Some experienced a shift in hierarchical authority. Some experienced the arrival of new religious orders. In traditional Orthodox and Latin Catholic communities nothing took place. The life of the local Church carried on as before. Where things did change, it was not as a direct result of the schism, but as a result of the local changes taking place in the life of one Church or the other — e.g., the implementation of the reforms of the Council of Trent.

The heart of the life of every Catholic or Orthodox church, is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. In the Liturgy we find ourselves called to communion with Our Lord, to eat mystically His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine, to become one with Him, to be incorporated in Him. Our communion with Christ draws us into the life of the Holy Trinity. It is by the Power of the Holy Spirit He became a human being; it is by the Power of the Holy Spirit that the mystery of the Eucharist incorporates us in Christ. The Liturgy we celebrate here in our churches is an image of the Eternal Liturgy of the Court of Heaven. The barriers between Heaven and Earth are broken as the power of the Holy Spirit makes this holy table the Throne where the Son of God becomes present amongst us. Christ is “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek” [Heb.5, 6] the one true High Priest of all humanity. He is the Son and Word of God, Who has put on our humanity so that we may share His Divinity. He is the one perfect Sacrificial Victim who “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” [Heb.9, 26] He offers Himself once and for all, not in the sanctuary of the earthly Temple, but entering “into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” [Heb.9, 24] His death on Calvary is the visible historical realisation of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In the Eucharistic Liturgy, the same High Priest is present offering Himself to the Father for us, and inviting us to the Mystic Feast where He Himself becomes our food and drink so that we become one with Him, becoming by His grace what He is by nature. The Son of God offers Himself to us to make us too children of God. But we stand in separate churches, hear different priests recite the ancient words of the anaphora, communicate from separate chalices. To that extent, precisely to that extent, the schism between Catholics and Orthodox is real. But we communicate together in the Body and Blood of the one Anointed, we put on the one Christ in Baptism and are incorporated in the one Anointed in the Mystical Supper. It is our communion with Him, and in Him with one another that is the fundamental basis of our relation to each other. In the most basic and the most important sense, we are in communion with one another and always have been. In Him we are in communion with each other in a sense far more important than that in which, because of the schism between the churches, we are separated. We are united in Christ by His Holy Spirit, and divided outwardly by the inherited habit of schism.

Understandably in this century of ecumenical politics and ecclesiastical bureaucracy, there is a broad pattern of exploratory discussions and negotiations underway aimed at the removal of the scandal of schism. Whatever may be agreed by such a path, for the Orthodox it will be necessary to find the consent of the Church in a way other than by Patriarchal or Synodical decree, unless the decree be that of what is recognised as an Ecumenical Council. The immediate response of the Monks of Mount Athos to the recent agreement between representatives of the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox makes clear exactly what problems such negotiations will face. The theologians and hierarchs involved in the Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox discussions have published a report that shows a true spirit of conciliation and mutual acceptance. Unfortunately, it proceeds from and addresses the mind-set of those who are prepared to see the proceedings of Ecumenical Councils in their historical and political relativity, and are ready to renegotiate relations amongst Churches without demanding formal acceptance of the dogmatic definitions of the Seven Councils. There may be many Orthodox who share such an outlook: they do not include the Holy Epistasia of Mount Athos or the many thousands who will stand in solidarity with the Athonite Community in seeing the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils as infallible and irreformable, as divinely inspired, and as the only possible basis for unity.

A process of growing together based on mutual trust and respect offers a much more realistic model for future developments than the repetition of ancient errors by the construction of eirenic but ambiguous documents and the validation of proposals for reunion by Patriarchal fiat or Synodical decree. Face to face, local communities can experience for themselves the reality of their oneness in Christ — or they can discover precisely the opposite. The zeal for full union will come from mutual knowledge, shared experience and profoundly respectful love: it can also come from the vivid awareness of the reality of our present communion with each other in Christ. That is not to say the hierarchs have no role in promoting the removal of schism. Pope John Paul II has made a major personal contribution in the last few months with the two letters Orientale Lumen and Ut Unum Sint. Sadly, the publicity given the second of these encyclicals has almost totally overshadowed the first, a document of immense importance for Catholic-Orthodox relations, emphasising, as it does, the need for Western clergy and theologians to become far better acquainted with the Eastern tradition of theology and Christian worship. Indeed, the Encyclical shows a warm sympathy for and a profound awareness of Eastern theology. It also offers an unusual opportunity for Orthodox and Eastern Catholics to co-operate in responding to the Pope in creating opportunities for Western brethren to learn more of our shared Eastern tradition. Co-operation between Orthodox and Eastern Catholics may seem an odd thing to recommend. For many Orthodox “Uniatism” remains an offensive and illegitimate method of Vatican proselytism. Whatever the truth of such a charge, there is a need for Orthodox Christians to face the challenge of the deep loyalty to Rome shown by many Eastern Catholic communities, even in the face of contemptuous treatment by Latins, even of appalling humiliations, the ultimate being that revealed by the late Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV when he disclosed, that in the aftermath of the then patriarch’s opposition to the definition of Papal infallibility at the first Vatican council, His Beatitude had been forced to the ground before the Papal throne while Pius IX placed his foot on his head. Loyalty in the face of such provocation merits at least astonished respect.

The draft agreement between Catholic and Orthodox theologians reached at Balamand in 1993 proposes a helpful way forward here, in proposing a formal rejection by the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, of “proselytizing among the Orthodox.” Once it becomes clear to the Orthodox that this commitment is serious, (and at the moment that is very far from clear) the possibility will grow of precisely the open and co-operative dialogue between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that the Balamand agreement envisages. It has, however, to be recognised that in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches there remain zealots and integrists who will defend forever a maximalist ecclesiology which leaves no room for any ecumenical activity whatsoever, since it sees schism as defining the boundaries of the Church of Christ, outside of which there exist heretical conventicles devoid of sacramental grace. In the Orthodox Church such interests still have a powerful voice, as Patriarch Bartholomaeos has discovered to his cost, facing demonstrations protesting against his brotherly relationship with the Pope, and denunciation of him as trying to drag the Orthodox Church into union with Rome.

There are, indeed, specific problems in the relation of Catholic and Orthodox Churches that the present Ecumenical Patriarch’s very public role has made vividly evident to many Orthodox. The Ecumenical Patriarch’s role as senior hierarch of the Orthodox communion is far more fragile than his public image sometimes suggests. In Rome he may look like the Eastern counterpart of the Pope, and the vigour with which he has exercised and even developed his role in the Orthodox Church may give plausibility to that image, but the fact remains that he is not the linear superior of the chief hierarchs of other autocephalous Churches, but only the first among equals among them, and that is something very different. Orthodox tradition, moreover, has never recognised any hierarchical role above that of the local bishop as of divine authority. Any higher layer of authority and responsibility derives from Synodical or sometimes even state decision. There is nothing inevitable or immutable in the Primacy of Constantinople. Nor can the Ecumenical Patriarch assert his authority to guarantee the Orthodox Church’s acceptance of the policy he espouses. The same arguments that establish the ecclesiastical and human origin of the patriarchates are deployed by Orthodox to reject Catholic claims of divine institution for the Roman Papacy, and of course to reject any claims to Papal supremacy. (Not, of course, to the Primacy of Rome, that is a quite different and relatively uncontroversial matter.) It is, then, very helpful to see the Pope is clearly aware that his own office as interpreted by Vatican theologians and canonists is experienced by Christians of other traditions as a major obstacle to unity. In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint he calls for a “patient and fraternal dialogue” on the nature and exercise of his primacy. This is a welcome and helpful development.

Progress in extricating ourselves from the bad habit of schism involves a reappraisal of what is central to our Christian heritage and what is transitory and peripheral, what is essential and what is merely a matter of cultural tradition. When we return to the heart and centre of our faith, we find ourselves together in Christ. If we lose the living awareness of our oneness in Christ and identify ourselves simply in terms of a particular community’s history and interests, we find a chasm yawning at our feet. The full flourishing of the spirit of schism is not merely external separation and institutional rivalry, its fruit can be tasted at the point where religious identity becomes a means of justifying political and ethnic conflict.

Fr. John Santor posted a question yesterday to my translation of St. Basil’s Sermon to the Rich, asking if I could direct him to the passage where Basil says something like the following, “You with a second coat in your closet, it does not belong to you. You have stolen it from the poor man who is shivering in the cold.” I looked for this passage today, and I think I have found it, not word for word, but very much the same thought. I post the text here, since it seems to me it deserves to be read by as many people as possible.


From St. Basil the Great, Homilia in illud dictum evangelii secundum Lucam: «Destruam horrea mea, et majora ædificabo:» itemque de avaritia (Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A).

Οὐχὶ γυμνὸς ἐξέπεσες τῆς γαστρός; οὐ γυμνὸς πάλιν εἰς τὴν γὴν ὑποστρέψεις; Τὰ δὲ παρόντα σοι πόθεν; Εἰ μὲν ἀπὸ ταυτομάτου λέγεις, ἄθεος εἶ, μὴ γνωρίζων τὸν κτίσαντα, μηδὲ χάριν ἔχων τῷ δεδωκότι· εἰ δὲ ὁμολογεῖς εἶναι παρὰ Θεοῦ, εἰπὲ τὸν /276C/ λόγον ἡμῖν δι᾽ ὃν ἔλαβες. Μὴ ἄδικος ὁ Θεός, ὁ ἀνίσως ἡμῖν διαιρῶν τὰ τοῦ βίου; Διὰ τί σὺ μὲν πλουτεῖς, ἐκεῖνος δὲ πένεται; Ἢ πάντως, ἵνα καὶ σὺ χρηστότητος καὶ πιστῆς οἰκονομίας μισθὸν ὑποδέξῃ, κἀκεῖνος τοῖς μεγάλοις ἄθλοις τῆς ὑπομονῆς τιμηθῇ; Σὺ δέ, πάντα τοῖς ἀπληρώτοις τῆς πλεονεξίας κόλποις περιλαβών, οὐδένα οἴει ἀδικεῖν τοσούτους ἀποστερῶν; Τίς ἐστιν ὁ πλεονέκτης; Ὁ μὴ ἐμμένων τῇ αὐταρκεῖᾳ. Τίς δέ ἐστιν ὁ ἀποστερητής; Ὁ ἀφαιρούμενος τὰ ἑκάστου. Σὺ δὲ οὐ πλεονέκτης; σὺ δὲ οὐκ ἀποστερητής; ἃ πρὸς οἰκονομίαν ἐδέξω, ταῦτα ἴδια σεαυτοῦ ποιούμενος; Ἢ ὁ μὲν /277Α/ ἐνδεδυμένον ἀπογυμνῶν λωποδύτης ὀνομασθήσεται· ὁ δὲ τὸν γυμνὸν μὴ ἐνδύων, δυνάμενος τοῦτο ποιεῖν, ἄλλης τινὸς ἐστι προσηγορίας ἄξιος; Τοῦ πεινῶντός ἐστιν ὁ ἄρτος, ὃν σὺ κατέχεις· τοῦ γυμνητεύοντος τὸ ἱμάτιον, ὃ σὺ φυλάσσεις ἐν ἀποθήκαις· τοῦ ἀνυποδέτου τὸ ὑπόδημα, ὃ παρὰ σοὶ κατασήπεται· τοῦ χρῄζοντος τὸ ἀργύριον, ὃ κατορύξας ἔχεις. Ὥστε τοσούτους ἀδικεῖς, ὅσοις παρέχειν ἐδύνασο. Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

Below is presented a passage from an important letter of St. Augustine’s on the subject of the vision of God, epistola 147 To Paulina.* The letter, written probably in the year 413, often goes by the title de videndo Deo “On Seeing God”; with 54 enumerated paragraphs, it is long enough to be a small book. The letter deals largely with the question of how, if many people in the Old Testament had visions of God, and if it is promised that the Christian faithful shall “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2), it is nevertheless true that, as the Evangelist John says, “no man hath seen God at any time” (Jn 1:18). The selection here translated consists of §20 and the beginning of §21 of that letter (= chapter VIII and the beginning of chapter IX); the Latin text is taken from vol. XI of the Obras de San Agustin (Madrid, 1953; edited by Fr. Lope Cilleruelo, O.S.A.), pp. 218, 220; the translation is my own.

*For some reason, Frederick Van Fleteren, in an article on this letter in the encyclopedia titled Augustine through the Ages (Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., 1999, p. 869), speaks of it as though it were addressed to Paulinus of Nola; but the letter begins by addressing the famula Dei Paulina, the handmaid of God Paulina, who is clearly not the same person as that bishop and poet.

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20. Invisibilis est igitur natura Deus, non tantum Pater, sed et ipsa Trinitas, unus Deus. Et quia non tantum invisibilis, sed et ipsa Trinitas, unus Deus. Et quia non tantum invisibilis, verum etiam incommutabilis; sic apparet quibus voluerit, in qua voluerit specie, ut apud eum integra maneat eius invisibilis incommutabilisque natura. Desiderium autem veraciter piorum, quo videre Deum cupiunt, et inhianter ardescunt, non opinor, in eam speciem contuendam flagrat, qua ut vult apparet, quod ipse non est; sed in eam substantiam, qua ipse est quod est. Huius enim desiderii sui flammam sanctus Moyses, fidelis famulus eius ostendit, ubi ait Deo, cum quo ut amicus facie ad faciem loquebatur: Si inveni gratiam ante te, ostende mihi temetipsum. Quid ergo? ille non erat ipse? Si non esset ipse, non ei diceret, ostende mihi temetipsum; sed, Ostende mihi Deum: et tamen si eius naturam substantiamque conspiceret, multo minus diceret, ostende mihi temetipsum. Ipse ergo erat in ea specie qua apparere voluerat; non autem ipse apparebat in natura propria, quam Moyses videre cupiebat. Ea quippe promittitur sanctis in alia vita. Unde quod responsum est Moysi verum est, quia nemo potest faciem Dei videre, et vivere; id est, nemo potest eum in hac vita videre vivens sicuti est. Nam multi viderunt; sed quod voluntas elegit, non quod natura formavit. Et illud quod Ioannes ait, si recte intelligitur, Dilectissimi, nunc filii Dei sumus, et nondum apparuit quod erimus. Scimus quia cum apparuerit, similes ei erimus; quoniam videbimus eum sicuti est: non sicut eum homines viderunt, quando voluit, in specie qua voluit, non in natura, qua in semetipso, etiam cum videretur, latuit; sed sicuti est, quod ab eo petebatur, cum ei diceretur, ostende mihi temetipsum, ab eo qui cum illo facie ad faciem loquebatur. 20. Therefore God is by nature invisible, not only the Father, but the very Trinity itself, the one God. And because he is not only invisible, but also immutable, he thus appears to whom he wills, in whatever form he wills, in such a way that his invisible and immutable nature remains with him intact. Still, the desire of pious people who genuinely yearn to see God and are on fire for this with breathless longing does not, I think, burn to behold him in that form which, although he appears in it as he wills, he himself is not; rather, it longs to see him in that substance which itself is what he is. For the holy man Moses, his faithful servant, showed the flame of this desire for him when he said to God — with whom, as a friend, he was wont to speak face to face — “If I have found grace in thy sight, show me thyself” (Exod 33:13 LXX). What then? was it not he himself [with whom he spoke]? If it were not he himself, he would not have said to him, “show me thyself,” but, “show me God.” Yet, at the same time, if he had had clear sight of his nature and substance, much less would he have said “show me thyself.” He was, therefore, in that form in which he had willed to appear; he did not appear in that proper nature of his, which Moses yearned to see. That, in fact, is promised to the saints in another life. For this reason, what was said to Moses in reply is true, that no one can see God’s face and live (Exod 33:20): that is, no one, living in this life, can see him as he is. For many have seen; but they saw what the will chose, not what the nature has shaped. And that thing which John says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2) — that is, we shall see him, not in the way that people used to see him, when he willed, in whatever form he willed, not in his nature, in which, even when he was seen, he remained hidden in himself; but as he is — if this is rightly understood, that is what was requested of God when it was said to him “show me thyself” by the one with whom he used to speak face to face.
21. Non quia Dei plenitudinem quisquam, non solum oculis corporis, sed vel ipsa mente aliquando comprehendit. Aliud est enim videre, aliud est totum videndo comprehendere…. 21. Not that anyone ever comprehends the fulness of God, whether with the eyes of the body, or even with the mind itself. For it is one thing to see, and another thing, in seeing, to comprehend the whole….
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