Notes from the Fordham Conference, Part One

July 6, 2010

Last week I attended a conference at Fordham University on the theme of “Orthodox Constructions of the West.” The conference took place at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, and lasted for three days, Monday through Wednesday, June 28-30. I drove in each day from my home in Northern New Jersey, and acted as a driver for two other scholars, one of whom lives in New Jersey, another of whom was visiting from Greece and stayed at my home during the conference. Because I woke up around 5:00-5:30 a.m. on the days of the conference, and nevertheless went to bed at my usual hour (midnight – 1:00), by the end of it I was thoroughly exhausted. But the conference was well worth the effort made to attend it.

The organizers, Drs. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos, professors of theology at Fordham University, have managed to turn Fordham into a thriving center for Orthodox studies. Both of them are relatively young, probably not much past their mid-30’s. They are a dynamic pair of scholars, all evidence suggests that they strongly support Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism, and one can only expect further good things from them in the years to come. The themes of the two conferences they have hosted so far — Orthodox Readings of Augustine in 2007 and Orthodox Constructions of the West this year — point to a settled desire to foster a more positive Orthodox reception of the West and its theology, or at least, a more critical stance toward standard Orthodox portrayals of the West as irredeemably Other.

I took many notes at the conference, and made use of a small digital recording device, which will allow me to provide some extended, verbatim quotations. (I hope that that will not involve me in any legal difficulties.) At present, I expect to follow up this present post with at least one or two more on the conference’s proceedings.

(1) Fr. Taft’s address

The tone of the conference was ably set by the first speaker, Fr. Robert F. Taft, SJ, the world’s foremost living scholar on the Byzantine liturgy. (Dr. Demacopoulos, in introducing him, noted with amazement that he has over 800 publications to his name.) His keynote address, delivered on Monday morning, was titled, “Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future.” The title, phrased in such general terms, does not do his talk justice. It was, in fact, a passionately argued plea to both sides for historical objectivity and fairness when dealing with the problem of the continuing breach of communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Near the beginning of his talk, Fr. Taft stated the following:

I have on more than one occasion made clear in print the positions I am happy to repeat here: that I consider the Orthodox Churches the historic, apostolic Christianity of the East, and sister Churches of the Catholic Church; that I recognize and rejoice in the fact that Orthodox peoples remain Orthodox, that the Catholic Church should support and collaborate with the Orthodox Churches in every way, foster the most cordial relations with them, earnestly work to restore communion with them, recognize their legitimate interests, especially on their own ground, avoid all proselytism among their flocks there or elsewhere, not seek in any way to undercut them, nor rejoice in or exploit their weaknesses, nor fish in their pond, nor seek to convert their faithful to the Catholic Church. But I espouse with equal explicitness the view that it is counterproductive for the cause of Christian unity and ecumenism to roll over and play dead in the face of any Catholic or Orthodox misbehavior, misinformation, or outright lying with regard to our dolorous past or to the problems that exist between us in the present. On these issues I speak from a lifetime of personal experience and proven love for Orthodoxy and its tradition, as clearly demonstrated by over half a century of studies, scholarship, and innumerable publications, both scholarly and popular.

A large portion of Fr. Taft’s talk was devoted to showing that “misbehavior” in the dolorous past — the use of secular force in support of religious objectives, the suppression of ancient Christian traditions foreign to one’s own — had been a practice common to all sides, and no one, certainly not the Jesuits, and certainly not the Orthodox, could pretend that their own Church had not engaged in it. From listening to him, one gets the sense that Fr. Taft, in his long and distinguished academic and ecumenical career, has had considerable experience of Orthodox selective memory — the sort of mentality that recalls the Fourth Crusade as though it had happened yesterday, but completely blocks out other significant historical facts, e.g., the fact that, not many years before the Fourth Crusade, some thousands of Latins were slaughtered in Constantinople in cold blood, and the papal delegate’s severed head was tied to a dog’s tail and dragged through the streets. For Fr. Taft, the lies we tell about our own and each other’s histories are a more important source of estrangement than theological ideas as such. By uncovering those lies, genuine scholarship forces us to question our demonizing of the Other, our self-representation as mere victims of history and persons needing no repentance.

My overall thesis is quite simple. Contrary to what one might think, the main problem we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine, but behavior. The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way; the problem is that we do not know how to act. Learning to do so will mean adopting what I call “ecumenical scholarship and theology.” Ecumenical scholarship is not content with the purely natural virtues of honesty and fairness, virtues one should be able to expect from any true scholar. Ecumenical scholarship is a new and specifically Christian way of studying Christian tradition in order to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. Its deliberate intention is to emphasize the common tradition underlying our differences, which, though real, are usually the accidental product of history, culture, language, rather than essential differences in the doctrine of the common, apostolic faith. Of course, to remain scholarly this effort must be carried out realistically, without glossing over real differences. But even in recognizing differences, this ecumenical effort must remain a two-way street, with each side judging itself and its tradition by the exact same criteria and standards with which it judges the other. Eschewing all scapegoating and a double-standard, ecumenical scholarship seeks to describe the beliefs, traditions, and usages of other confessions in ways their own, objective spokespersons recognize as reliable and fair. So ecumenical scholarship seeks not confrontation, but agreement and understanding; it tries to enter into the other’s point of view, to understand it, in so far as possible, with sympathy and agreement. It takes seriously the other’s critique of one’s own tradition, seeking to incorporate its positive contributions into one’s own thinking. It is a contest in reverse, a contest of Christian love, one in which the parties seek to understand and justify not their own point of view, but that of their interlocutors. Such an effort and method is not baseless romanticism; its theological foundation is our common faith, and God’s Holy Spirit is always with his Church, protecting the integrity of its witness, especially in the millennium of its undivided unity. Since some of the issues that divide us go right back to the first millennium, one must ineluctably conclude that these differences do not affect the substance of the apostolic faith, for, if they did, then, contrary to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16, the gates of hell would indeed have prevailed against his Church.

As for myself, I am not sure that I agree with Fr. Taft’s assessment, that behavior and not doctrine is the chief impediment to Christian unity. But I accept his fundamental claim, that a conversion of hearts is necessary, and that ecumenical scholarship, in the sense that he uses the term, must play an important role in any such a conversion. I hope that my own work on John Bekkos will eventually deserve to be seen as one manifestation of what he calls “a contest of Christian love.”

(2) Symposium I: Byzantium and Beyond

Before going on, I should mention that much of my own interest in the conference centered upon meeting various of the participants. One of them was an Englishman, a Catholic priest, who goes by the internet name of “Fr. Paul,” with whom I had in fact corresponded for two or three years, since both of us are currently working on John Bekkos. He was the scholar, mentioned above, who was visiting from Greece and who stayed at my house in New Jersey for the duration of the conference. I met him for the first time last Monday, after Fr. Taft’s address, and had lunch with him. On Thursday, after the conference was over, I brought him into New York City, and, after taking him to see the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the World Trade Center site, and the Strand Bookstore, put him onto a subway train headed for Grand Central Station. As I have not heard back from him yet, I hope he reached his intended destination.

When the conference reconvened after lunch, Aristotle Papanikolaou introduced Dr. Demetrios Katos of Hellenic College, who chaired the first symposium, devoted to readings of the West in Byzantium and afterwards.

Dr. Tia M. Kolbaba of Rutgers gave the first lecture of the symposium, titled “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium.” She noted that she approaches this subject of Byzantium primarily as a historian, not as a theologian, and that her lecture would be chiefly historical in nature. The chief things I learned from hearing it are, first, that a concern with the question of “azymes” (i.e., the use of unleavened bread in the eucharist) formed no part of the Byzantine critique of the West prior to the eleventh century, and that it first occurred in polemics, not against the West, but against the Armenian Church. Secondly, I learned that certain scholars now believe that the quarrel on the Mount of Olives in the early ninth century between Greek and Latin monks that is usually seen as a significant milestone in the history of the Filioque controversy actually never took place, that it is the fabrication of a later Latin author. I asked Dr. Kolbaba about this later, and she referred me to two works:

  • Claudia Sode, Jerusalem, Konstantinopel, Rom. Die Viten des Michael Synkellos und der Brüder Theodoros und Theophanes Graptoi (Stuttgart 2001), esp. pp. 171-187, “Excursus: Der sogenante Jerusalem Filioquestreit.”
  • Daniel Callahan, “The Problem of the ‘Filioque’ and the letter from the Pilgrim Monks of the Mount of Olives to Pope Leo III and Charlemagne. Is the Letter another Forgery by Adhemar of Chabannes?” Revue bénédictine 102 (1992), 75-134.

Thirdly, I learned that Dr. Kolbaba thinks that the Mystagogy of St. Photius is not one work, and that at least part of it, or perhaps even the whole of it, is not by St. Photius himself. She argues this point in a new book of hers, Inventing Latin Heretics: Byzantines and the Filioque in the Ninth Century, which I have not yet seen. I am interested to read the book and assess her argument, but I confess that, until I am persuaded by evidence, I remain skeptical.

* * *

The next lecturer was Dr. Marcus Plested, Vice Principal of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, who will be spending the next year at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton here in New Jersey; he gave a talk titled, “‘Light from the West’: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas.” As a Greek Orthodox Christian who, in my undergraduate work and afterwards, has spent much time reading St. Thomas and who has a real admiration for him, I was predisposed to hear the lecture with great interest.

Perhaps the high point of the lecture, for me, was when Dr. Plested quoted, in translation, a Byzantine canon in honor of Aquinas, written by one Joseph of Methone. (Dr. Plested unfortunately neglected to mention that Joseph of Methone was a fifteenth-century Greek bishop who supported the Union of Florence.) The passage went something like this:

As a light from the West, he has illumined the Church of Christ,
the musical swan and subtle teacher, Thomas the All-Blessed,
Aquinas by name (Ἀκῖνος τῇ κλήσει), to whom, gathered together, we cry,
“Hail, O universal Teacher!”

If I were to sum up the theme of Dr. Plested’s lecture, it would be that the usual assumption that East and West operate with fundamentally different theological methodologies is “an assumption of relatively recent provenance”; it was by no means taken for granted in the late Byzantine empire that the kind of systematic analysis of theological questions displayed by Thomas in his writings is a form of theological reasoning that should be off-limits to Greek theologians. Not only was it emulated by the Kydones brothers, Demetrios and Prochoros, who translated numerous of Aquinas’s works into Greek, but it was also emulated by such Palamite, anti-unionist writers as Nilos Kabasilas and, later, George Gennadios Scholarios.

If I have a criticism of Dr. Plested’s lecture, it would chiefly be that his account of Thomas’s influence on the East was confined almost exclusively to questions of methodology, leaving out most questions of theological substance. It is all very well that a writer like Nilos Kabasilas (not to be confused with his nephew, Nicholas Kabasilas, who, though also a Palamite, eschewed theological controversy) uses scholastic method to undermine Thomas’s own postulates. From my own point of view, it is equally important to note that some Byzantines, like Manuel Kalekas and John Kyparissiotes, thought that Kabasilas was wrong, and they thought he was wrong, not on the basis of some abstract philosophical principles, but on the grounds that his theological postulates (e.g., the existence of four really existent “natures” in God) disagreed with the unanimous testimony of the fathers. In other words, a case could be made that Aquinas is himself a patristic theologian, and that that is how at least some of the Byzantines read him.

* * *

The next speaker was Dr. Norman Russell, now of London University. He gave a talk titled, “From the Shield of Orthodoxy to the Tome of Joy: the Anti-Western Stance of Dositheos II of Jerusalem (1641-1707).”

I had some slight acquaintance with Dr. Russell many years ago when I was a student at Oxford and he was living nearby at Campion Hall, and I confess that my first impressions centered less on the substance of his talk than on his marked change in appearance. His hair has gone mostly white, he now wears a close-cropped white beard that reminded me of someone I couldn’t quite place, probably some major literary figure from the late nineteenth century. But what most impressed me was his distinctly Orthodox appearance, Orthodox of a certain definite school or type. It would not surprise one, seeing him for the first time, to learn that this was a man who had written a major contemporary study of deification in the Greek fathers. When, at length, I spoke with him, he was very gracious to me; and, throughout the conference, he carried himself with a certain quiet dignity.

Near the beginning of his talk, Dr. Russell summed up the chief point of his argument in the following words:

What I wish to do in this paper is to suggest reasons why we should see Dositheos, not merely as an accomplished apologist, bound by the confessional mentality that characterized so many of his contemporaries, but as a man fired by a vision of Orthodoxy’s ecumenicity.

I will have to listen to the lecture again, to see if I can discern that point as emerging out of Dr. Russell’s narrative. Most of the actual notes I jotted down were more pedestrian in nature; I had known very little about Patriarch Dositheos II of Jerusalem before hearing this lecture, and so I wrote down whatever intriguing facts seemed to me worth remembering. I learned, for instance, that Dositheos wrote against one of my favorite authors, Leo Allatius, the original editor of most of Bekkos’s works, depicting him as someone who “uttered extreme blasphemies against the Eastern Church.” I learned that Dositheos’s Tome of Reconciliation was written against the Council of Florence, that his Tome of Love was written against Baronius, Bellarmine, and others, and that his Tome of Joy took a yet “more shrill” tone, in inveighing against Uniatism as the supreme danger for the Orthodox Church (this at a time when the Ottoman Turks had finally been turned back at the Battle of Vienna, and Western forces, having managed to take back some of Southeastern Europe, were imposing Western ecclesiastical jurisdiction in these territories, e.g., in Transylvania). He wrote a work against papal primacy, which was rebutted by the historian Le Quien (best known as the author of the work Oriens Christianus). He published a number of Palamite texts for the first time. He was pro-Russian, but disapproved of Peter the Great’s ecclesiastical policy. He was ordained a deacon at the age of eleven, and was raised to the office of Patriarch of Jerusalem at the age of 28. Finally, Dr. Russell said, Dositheos should be seen as standing in continuity with the Palamite, anti-unionist writers of the last Byzantine centuries. I suppose that that is a recommendation, though I cannot help thinking that the assessment given by Gerhard Podskalsky, cited by Dr. Russell early in his lecture, remains accurate: “Dositheos is remembered chiefly as a church politician of a high order, and an organizer and patron of Orthodox apologetics against the West.”

Because this is the hottest day New Jersey has seen in nearly a decade, with temperatures approaching 100º Fahrenheit, and there is no air conditioner in my home, I will now leave off reporting the proceedings from last week’s Fordham Conference, and will go seek shelter from the heat wave at the public library.

71 Responses to “Notes from the Fordham Conference, Part One”

  1. T. Chan Says:

    Thank you for this post Dr. Gilbert!

  2. Same here, Peter. About all I can muster in the heat of the mid-day is a rousing thousand yard stare.

    Thanks for your good work!


  3. Is that Patriarch Dositheos the same that Staniloae studied?

  4. Veritas Says:

    Thank you for this, Peter.

    I, too, was unaware that some scholars have asserted the notion that Photius’s Mystagogy really isn’t a product of his own pen. I had, in the near past, passed on reading Kolbaba’s Inventing Latin Heretics, and read another instead; I now see that that might not have been a wise choice.

    I was pleased to hear that the lectures — just like the Augustine conference in 2007 — will be published in book form.

    Looking forward to hearing your further assessment of the conference.


  5. ochlophobist Says:

    Thanks for the interesting tidbits.

    I hear from Dr. Tighe that Fr. Taft didn’t use any 4 letter words in this talk. Having managed to get through 20 minutes of a conference without referring to ‘traditional’ Orthodox as assholes or somesuch I have no doubt Fr. Taft felt qualified to moralize about the need for good ecumenical behavior in order to help realize the agenda which his scholarship seeks to promote.

    It’s not that I deny Fr. Taft’s main thesis – that there has been legion of scapegoating and a double-standarding – it is that I don’t trust him. Is he still denying his role in the Novus Ordoizing of the Ruthenian Catholic Divine Liturgy?

    If I am going to talk theology and ecumenism with a RC, give me a Fr. Aidan Nichols or a Fr. Hugh Barbour, both of whom are very knowledgeable of the Christian East, and don’t give any hint of being the sort of men who throw tantrums when their role in ecumenical efforts does not go as they had hoped.

  6. Father Robert has been aided and abetted in that behavior for a long time with a cadre of snooty followers who are equally crude and narcissistic in spirit if not in actual voice. I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything that Father Robert has ever written on account of his attitude. I try to find everything written by Father Aidan.

    Interesting what we are able to agree upon when we try


  7. evagrius Says:

    Has Fr. Taft called those he insulted “heretics”?

  8. […] one may be found here. . Update – Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum, has posted the first part of his reflections on the […]

  9. djs Says:

    Interesting comment ochlophobist.
    “Is he still denying his role in the Novus Ordoizing of the Ruthenian Catholic Divine Liturgy?” Two begged questions in one query”
    Is the BCC Liturgy “Novus Ordoized” – whatever that may mean?
    Has Father Taft denied his role in “”Novus Ordoization” – whatever that may mean?

    Ironic to also complain about Father Taft calling a spade a spade.

  10. William Tighe Says:

    Rumor had it that the absurd new typicon of the Ruthenian Catholic metropolia (whose underlying assumptions seem to be [a] that no service should last longer than an hour — and to serve this end all repetitions, particularly litanies, should be eliminated [b] that the times require “horizontal inclusive language” and [c] all priestly prayers MUST be said aloud, even those manifestly “private” on the part of the celebrant) was the brainchild, in America, of Fr. David Petras of their SS Cyril & Methodius seminary, and “godfathered” through the Oriental Churches Congregation by Fr. Taft.

    The whole product is so much at odds with the “Benedictine spirit” in liturgical matters and with the document *Liturgiam Authenticam* (which applies juridically only to the Latin Church, but whose principles seem of general application) that it is surprising that it ever managed to get Roman approbation; and one surmises that if a sufficient number of Ruthenians could bestir themselves and kick up a fuss about it, Rome might force it to be “revised.”

  11. djs Says:

    “Rumor had it…”
    Enough said. Won’t waste time trying to dispel rumors that have it. I would, however, ask the rumor mongers to knock it off.

  12. djs Says:

    “… Rome might force it to be “revised.” ”

    Whatever slight improvement this action might bring about would, IMO, be outweighed by the intrusion into the affairs of a sui juris church. “Force” from Rome is not exactly the eccelsiastical model that we want, is it?

  13. I am curious about the participant’s/presenter’s responses to Dr. Russell’s presentation on Dositheos II.


  14. ochlophobist Says:

    Mrs. Lanser,

    I like the way you think.


    Does Fr. Taft believe that the concept of ‘heresy’ can be anything more than a politically expedient social construct?

    While some Orthodox are certainly too quick to use the word heresy, or even worse, the cacophonous neologism panheresy, the folks who speak thus don’t get oft get invited to the meetings where Fr. Taft can be found whining about them. Academics sitting around whining without ceasing about folks who overuse the word heresy is as banal as burning the Pope in effigy, and far less entertaining.


    Are you a manifestation of the Catholic commenter otherwise known as Diane?

    Far be it from me, as an Orthodox, to suggest anything concerning Easter Rite affairs, but it would seem fair enough that if Fr. Taft’s politicking in Rome was in part responsible for the Novus Ordoized ritual the Ruthenians are suffering with, then Rome might at very least retract whatever “stamp of approval” it gave to the project.

    You don’t like rumors but you defend Fr. Taft. I’ll take that as an attempt at humour.

    Dr. Gilbert,

    Do you know for certain if Dr. Russell has been received into the Orthodox Church? I had heard that he had been from several folks, one of them in the UK, and I mentioned as much on a thread on my blog and Valerie Karras noted that she thought he was not Orthodox. Who am I to disagree with Dr. Karras about anything? Also – you state “what most impressed me was his distinctly Orthodox appearance, Orthodox of a certain definite school or type” I wonder what certain definite school or type do you speak of here? If he came into Orthodoxy via Sourozh, I have a definite school in mind, but I wonder if that is the wrong school in this case.

  15. William Tighe Says:

    Dr. Russell himself told me a the conference that he had “recently” been rec’d into the Orthodox Church. Originally an Anglican, and ordained a deacon in the Church of England, he was later a Catholic priest at the Brompton Oratory.

  16. William Tighe Says:

    djs wrote:

    “Rumor had it…”
    Enough said. Won’t waste time trying to dispel rumors that have it. I would, however, ask the rumor mongers to knock it off.

    “Fraid not, sir; and who are you to tell me to “knock it off” on another man’s blog, anyway?

    But I will add, that I used the word “rumor” lightly, and in fact I have been told what I wrote by two people who know one of the parties concerned quite well, and the other to a certain extent.

    I will add, that I earnestly hope that I hope Rome does call the Ruthenians to book over this. No church in communion with rome can regarditself as wholly free to determine its own affairs, independently of Rome. Rome, in my judgment rightly, discountenanced the “Zoghby initiative,” anf how much the more will it have cause to rebuke the attempt to find a new home for the “Neuordnungsgeist” among gullible or deluded Ruthenians.

  17. djs Says:


    I am neither Diane, nor any manifestation of her. And from what I have read by Diane, I am not entirely certain that she would find Roman force upon Eastern Churches entirely objectionable.

    “Far be it from me, as an Orthodox, to suggest anything concerning Easter Rite affairs, but it would seem fair enough that if Fr. Taft’s politicking in Rome was in part responsible for the Novus Ordoized ritual the Ruthenians are suffering with, then Rome might at very least retract whatever “stamp of approval” it gave to the project.

    You don’t like rumors but you defend Fr. Taft. I’ll take that as an attempt at humour.”

    If 2+2=5, I am the Pope. What is your point?

    I don’t like rumors and rumor mongering mainly because they rarely convey the truth. For example, nearly everything that Dr. Tighe wrote that “rumor had” is without foundation or even objectively false. Rumors are typically circulated by people with an axe to grind, and thus, are often distorted.

    I know nothing of the connection of Fr. Taft to rumors. I have no reason to distrust him, and you have given none to sway my this sense. I am not sure that I defended him.

    Although I enjoy bon mots, I, as an Eastern Catholic, really don’t know enough about the Novus Ordo to understand what you mean by “Novus Ordoized ritual”. But I am guessing that it is not good, and is an idea that is probabbly also founded on rumor.

  18. Dear William,

    Rather than spend time worrying about a Ruthenian Neuordnungsgeist, I would rather focus upon some fairly ragged theology presented by some of the translation choices made by the developers of the current Ruthenian liturgy.

    Father Deacon Tony Kotlar, participating strongly on the Byzantine Forum, has done a wonderful job of bring many of those errors to light and defending those choices which would better serve traditional liturgical theology.

    Those particular choices that were of concern to me and to others may readily be set apart from any comparison with the current Roman rite, which to my mind is boundlessly fruitless work…forgive me for saying.

    As to the help from Rome, there was most likely as much help coming through the Oriental Congregation and then Bishop Andrew as from anywhere else. That house needs a good airing out at many levels.

    It is good that we are not going to consider unia in the resumption of communion between the Orthodox and Catholic confessions!!


  19. djs Says:

    Dr Tighe:

    If you want to champion your right to rumor mongering, so be it.

    You put your reputation in greater jeopardy, however by repeating the rants of others without an independent inquiry of the facts. For example, you write:

    “all priestly prayers MUST be said aloud, even those manifestly “private” on the part of the celebrant)”

    This remark is just plainly FALSE. Are you actually indifferent to attaching your name to falsehoods? Why not take a moment to download the Liturgikon and check the facts that you are writing? Emotional opponents leap to “all” when they really mean “more than I like” and talk Novus Ordoism, even though the pattern of prayers taken aloud is just the same as I hear used in Orthodox liturgies in the OCA (and the pattern of antiphons and litanies is exactly that used in ACROD).

    You may not like the Ruthenian liturgy. You might not like it even after you know actually examine it and its history. But the liturgy is in the hands of our bishops, by canon law. Not Rome. And not the laity (or clergy) of other sui juris churches. The faithful of the Ruthenian church will work this out with our clergy and bishops. But no thanks to force from Rome or to all the “help” from members of other churches.

  20. Stuart Koehl Says:

    “djs” (I have a thing about anonymous posters who castigate those who have the courage to post under their own names) accuses William Tighe of rumor mongering, but he does Dr. Tighe a grave disservice. Contrary, for instance, his assertion that the priestly prayers are not said aloud in current Ruthenian usage is demonstrably false; while the new pew book (AKA “The Teal Terror”) omits most of these prayers, the priests and deacons editions do not, and there the rubric “the priest prays quietly” is generally omitted. The first and second priestly prayers, the prayers of the faithful, the commemorations, the entire Anaphora, are said (usually not chanted, for some reason) aloud by the celebrant. This was first done as an explicit instruction in the 1996 Passaic books, and carried over into the RDL. There may be priests who do not take these prayers aloud, but in doing so they are not complying with the revised liturgical books.

    And, for what it’s worth, I tend to favor chanting (not saying) the Anaphora aloud, but not those prayers which are rightfully those of the priest on his own behalf; apparently, those who drafted the RDL could not tell the difference. That said, it’s improper to mandate such a practice, just as it is improper to establish the maximum that can be celebrated in a Liturgy. In fact, the Tradition is just the opposite: hierarchs set minima, allowing the people the liberty to celebrate as fully as is practical in each particular parish.

    That brings us to the claim that the present Ruthenian usage matches that in the OCA and ACROD. How strange, then, that I recently heard Metropolitan Jonah celebrate the Liturgy at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC, where he most explicitly did NOT take the Anaphora aloud. As for ACROD, its one of the ironies that this “daughter Church” of the Ruthenian Metropolia preserved in some respects elements of latinization that were abandoned by the Ruthenians in the 1990s. To say that ACROD does it is no justification.

    The key element is the existence of the 1942 Slavonic Recension issued by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, which remains the normative typical edition for all the “Ruthenian” Churches (i.e., the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and the Carpatho-Rusyn Eparchies in Ukraine and Slovakia). The Intereparchial Liturgical Commission was given the mandate of providing a full and accurate English translation of the Slavonic Liturgicon, and this they manifestly failed to do. Not only are there massive omissions, but the translation itself is fatally flawed (far beyond the use of “horizontally inclusive” language). The resulting product is not what the Commission was asked to produce, but something entirely new, and to say that it was inspired by current Latin practice (at least in the United States) is a fair characterization.

    In fact, the entire Revised Divine Liturgy (RDL) is redolent of a Latin mindset, with its emphasis on uniformity (right down to the music), rigidity, didacticism, minimalism and relentless political correctness. Latinization of the mind is far worse than latinization of forms. In the 1960s, Bishop Nicholas Elko did indescribable harm to the Byzantine Catholic Church through his efforts to make it more acceptably “American” (his stated objective was “to squeeze the grease out of the Greeks and the stink out of the onion dome”). The new liturgy can be considered nothing less than “Elkoism with a human face”.

    djs (would it kill you to post under your real name?) in the end makes an appeal to authority–the bishops are responsible “by canon law”–a very Latin concept, that–and not Rome. “The faithful of the Ruthenian Church will work this out with our clergy and bishops”. Indeed. Better make it fast, or there will be no one left to do it (I have heard credible estimates that there are barely 25,000 active members in the entire Metropolia). The sad fact is the Ruthenian faithful have been very badly served by their bishops since they first arrived on these shores. Looking to the bishops for leadership is a classic example of the victory of hope over experience. And since the bishops systematically exclude the faithful from any meaningful role in the development of the Liturgy (to the point of disciplining any who make reasonable criticism), we can’t look for help from that direction. As for the clergy, well, let’s just say most don’t know enough about the Liturgy to fill an undergraduate thesis, and therefore aren’t qualified to comment–even if they would, which, given the manner in which they have been bullied and browbeaten into submission, is not bloody likely.

    One of the excuses I have heard for the promulgation of the new liturgy was to make the Ruthenian Church more accessible to non-ethnic converts. Well, guys, that’s me–my whole family, in fact. We are among that rare breed, those who really were converts to the Ruthenian Church, baptized, chrismated and communicated. Not only that, we’re educated converts. We know liturgy, we know Slavonic, we know Church history, and we’re theologically savvy. If the new liturgy was meant to speak to us, why are we now worshiping in a Melkite Greek Catholic Church? If the new liturgy is supposed to appeal to women, why was my teenage daughter the first one to up and leave after hearing that “Jesus is good and loves us all”?

    But, nil desperandum! In fact, the RDL is rapidly falling into desuetude as pastors across the Metropolia respond in desperation to the rapid withering of their parishes. Informal polling of my contacts seems to indicate that, outside of the Eparchy of Passaic (where the evil spell of Andrew Pataki still holds sway), about a third of all parishes never actually implemented the RDL; another third tried it and rapidly returned to the 1965 books, and of those still using the RDL, many have abandoned the Teal Terror and replaced it with small, text-only pamphlets so that the people can sing the traditional music (did I mention that the music accompanying the RDL is fundamentally unsingable?).

    Recently, the Secretary of the Oriental Congregation, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, spoke to the assembled clergy of the Metropolia and was harshly critical of the RDL, calling on the Ruthenian Church to return to authenticity and to move closer to the Orthodox in their form and style of worship. One of the leading architects of the RDL was present in the front row, and was, reportedly livid. He cut his own presentation short, there being really nothing left to say after that.

    Regarding Father Taft’s role in the promulgation of the RDL, he himself has said (in my hearing) that he was instructed to limit his review only to matters of overt heresy. He was not permitted to comment on the translation of the “shape” of the liturgy. He has been increasingly critical of the RDL, probably as he sees more of it actually celebrated in a parish setting (believe me, to read a liturgy is one thing, but to know if it works, you have to see it celebrated), and has never been a fan of abbreviated or minimalist liturgy.

    The Taft presentation on ecumenical scholarship is classic Taft, and I have heard it several times in different iterations over the years. One of the things I have never really liked about Mary Lanser is her inability to keep her personal bile out of her writings. If she disagrees with Taft on a matter of scholarship or even theology, that’s one thing. But she just can’t restrain her urge to condemn all those who disagree with her as either modernists or heretics or coddlers of heretics. I don’t think I would like belonging to the same Church as Mary Lanser, let alone one full of many Mary Lansers. Even when I disagree with him, I think I would prefer a Church of Robert Tafts, thank you very much.

  21. evagrius Says:


    I’d like to read something definite about Taft’s “whining” about “traditionalist Orthodox” and make up my own mind rather than being dependent on your opinion.

    As for the Ruthenian brouhahah, this discussion thread explores it in depth;

    An interesting address by Taft on Uniatism;

  22. Cristian C. Says:

    To Mr. Greeson:

    Yes, Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae wrote about Patr. Dositheos in his doctoral thesis, Viaţa şi activitatea patriarhului Dosoftei al Ierusalimului şi legăturile lui cu ţările româneşti, Cernăuţi, 1929.

  23. Stuart Koehl Says:

    On Taft’s “whining” about the Orthodox, “traditionalist” (what would Pelikan say?) or otherwise, I have never heard him whine, rant, howl, screech or otherwise engage in invective. He has said, and I believe he is correct, that the Church of Moscow has not been fully honest or forthcoming in its dealings with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, that the UGCC has an obligation to look out for the pastoral needs of its faithful, and therefore should act in accordance with its own interests, even when these run contrary to the desires of the Moscow Patriarchate. And he has a perfectly good point.

    Beyond that, he, and I, and almost every other Greek Catholic involved in ecumenical discussions with the Orthodox, occasionally express our frustration with what we see as a continual moving of the goal posts on their part.

    On Taft’s Kelly Lecture, “Anamnesis not Amnesia”, it is one of the seminal documents on the Eastern Catholics and their relationship to the Latin and Orthodox Churches. In the same vein, one should also read “Liturgy in the Life of the Church”, delivered as a presentation to the assembled Eastern Catholic hierarchs of North America in Boston back in 1999. It has a direct bearing on the discussion of the current liturgical crisis of the Ruthenian Church, which could serve as a textbook example of what Taft said had to be avoided.

  24. Koehl says: “Beyond that, he, and I, and almost every other Greek Catholic involved in ecumenical discussions with the Orthodox, occasionally express our frustration with what we see as a continual moving of the goal posts on their part.”

    Lanser says: Yes. I have often hoped, in the spirit of truth in advertising, that the name of the Oriental Lumen Conference in the United States be changed to reflect the ubiquitous good old boys and read as the:

    Oriental Lumenaries Conference

    I am surprised the Vatican hasn’t anointed Stuart and the others yet. I was half expecting one of the Virginia/Maryland Regulars to be appointed to replace Cardinal Kasper. Must have been a real disappointment when it didn’t happen.


  25. evagrius Says:

    Such charitable statements.

  26. There’s truth in that charity. And I have sufficient courage not to do it behind their backs.


  27. djs Says:

    ” “djs” … accuses William Tighe of rumor mongering, but he does Dr. Tighe a grave disservice. Contrary, for instance, his assertion that the priestly prayers are not said aloud in current Ruthenian usage is demonstrably false; while the new pew book … omits most of these prayers, the priests and deacons editions do not, and there the rubric “the priest prays quietly” is generally omitted… ”

    Rubbish. I do no disservice to Dr. Tighe. He has repeated his nth hand misunderstandings over the internet for some time. Another example:

    “on August 20, 2008 at 8:20 pm William Tighe …
    … the awful new Ruthenian version of the Liturgy … perhaps worse of all the requirement that the priest say aloud prayers that have always been said “in a low voice” such as the Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn …”

    Now do you get it Stuart?

    The error that I specifically objected to is the claim that “all” priestly prayers are said aloud. They are not. Notably the Prayer of the Cherubikon is not. Please also note that I most certainly did not assert that “the priestly prayers are not said aloud in current Ruthenian usage:. Can you really not discern the difference between “not all” and “not any”?

    I mentioned looking in the Liturgikon, not the pew book. The former is downloadable at the Patronage web site. The instruction for the priest or deacon to pray certain prayers quietly occurs many, many times throughout. It is, in particular, given before the Prayer of the Cherubikon.

    It is as I suggested: “all” really means “more than I like”. Conversations become meaningless when words assume these Humpty-Dumpty meanings.

    Should any the quiet prayers should be taken aloud? I don’t have strong opinions on this matter. I agree with you on the anaphora (and on the chanting -ut I have heard the “quiet” prayers spoken in a small Orthodox mission church and the effect is very nice). And the prayers that are usually clipped to the ekphonesis, and prayers over bowed heads. I am not sure why people get disturbed at hearing these prayers.

    “That brings us to the claim that the present Ruthenian usage matches that in the OCA and ACROD”

    Stuart, do me the courtesy of sticking to what I wrote. I am aware of variations of practice in the OCA. I wrote that our usage matches what I have heard in the OCA – specifically in the DoW with six different priests and one Bishop. I cannot recall what then Hieromonk Jonah did when he visited, but if took the anaphora privately I would probably remember – it now strikes me that something is missing without its recitation.

    Your crack about ACROD is intriguing. Whose orthopraxis should we hold to, following the liturgical instructions? Moscow? L’viv? Constantinople? Personally I think that we should have the courage to be ourselves; we should be looking to daughters of Muckachevo, and be as wary of other influences. That looking would require some thought and study about the history of our practice and the organic versus alien development of our particular tradition. Sadly, I am not sure that more than a few shaleny rusnaku would spend a moment on that.

    ” That said, it’s improper to mandate … the Tradition is just the opposite … ”
    I’ve read this remark of yours before. I don’t think you are right about it. I have had the experience in an OCA parish of a Bishop giving instruction on specific abbreviations to be implemented. He is the the diocesan authority. He gives approval to liturgikons, however comprehensive, with words like:

    “…HEREBY DECREE that this English translation of the Divine and Holy Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom herein attached, is the sole, official translation of the Divine and Holy Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom to be used by all the Clergy in all the churches of the Eparchy … whenever this Liturgy is prescribed to be served, and that all other usages are hereby suppressed.”

    “The Intereparchial Liturgical Commission was given the mandate of providing a full and accurate English translation of the Slavonic Liturgicon, and this they manifestly failed to do”

    I read this remark from you before as well. But never with documentation. Where does this idea come from? Not the CCEO, which does not tie the hands of bishops of sui juris churches in this way. And evidently not the Congregation which gave approval. Certainly not Metropolitan Judson, whose liturgical practice was similar to the edition promulgated in 2007. Not the IELC, obvioulsy, and not the bishops who agreed to implement it. Please produce this given mandate.

    “to say that it was inspired by current Latin practice (at least in the United States) is a fair characterization.”
    This characterization is made by opponents. It is highly prejudicial. Which, I think, is the point of those making it.

    I have to quit here for now Stuart, but there is more junk in you post that needs a response.

  28. bekkos Says:

    First, thanks to Cristian Ciopron for responding to Mr. Greeson’s question about Staniloae, to which I did not know the answer, and to Dr. Tighe for replying to one of the Ochlophobist’s questions about Dr. Russell. As to the Ochlophobist’s other question, namely, what Orthodox “school or type” I had in mind when I said that Dr. Russell had a distinctly Orthodox appearance, and Orthodox of a particular school or type: what I actually meant was that he had the appearance of someone who has been reading a lot of Philip Sherrard lately and who perhaps has an affinity for the iconographic work of Photios Kontoglu. Undoubtedly it would be difficult to state the objective basis for such an assessment, except to say that that is how he looked to me; perhaps he will correct my impressionistic surmises at some point, and I will have to apologize to him for misconstruing his appearance. In fact, he has recently been translating Christos Yannaras, about whom I shall have more to say when I get around to discussing some of the later lectures at the conference. And someone at the conference (it may have been him) pointed out that Yannaras was influenced by Sherrard, whose work has been undervalued. So perhaps there are substantive grounds for assigning him to a Sherrard/Yannaras school of Orthodox thought, a sort of Anglophonic, Philhellenic, philosophically-articulate hesychasm.

    About Fr. Taft’s liturgical views, and specifically his views and possible influence upon the American Ruthenian Church’s new liturgical translation, I have nothing to say, because it is not a subject on which I am well informed, nor do I have a large personal stake in it. I would merely urge the commentators on this blog to bear in mind Jesus’ warnings, that we shall give an account, in the day of judgment, for every idle word that we speak (Mt 12:36), and that he who calls his brother “Raca” shall be in danger of the council, but he who calls his brother “fool” shall be in danger of hellfire (Mt 5:22). For myself, I would prefer it if the discussion on this post centered more upon what Fr. Taft had to say in his address to the Fordham Conference, and less upon differing estimations of his whole life’s work and worth. Somehow, a “contest of Christian love” does not very well characterize the discussion that has been developing here.

  29. The Rose of Christian love is never without its thorns, Peter. Unless of course Hell indeed is empty.

    As long as there is evil to be done there will be those waiting in line to do it, however small, seemingly insignificant, and banal.

    One need not call a brother a fool when discerning that from his heart, his mouth speaks.

    Individual personalities are as vital to the impetus toward reunion as any other element. It is tricky business to enter the maze of fraternal correction whether you are speaking of an entire Church, or one man…or one woman.


  30. bekkos Says:

    A tricky business, perhaps; but, as I am the moderator of this blog, I bear some responsibility for the tone of its discussions. Please keep Jesus’ above-cited words in mind, and please keep things civil.


    Note: As I do not use the computer on Sundays, I will not be checking the blog again till Monday morning. If anyone posts a comment to this blog and finds that it does not appear immediately, it is because I have set the blog up in such a way that initial comments (that is, comments submitted by persons who have not commented on the blog before) first have to be approved by me. Recently, I have been finding that the program does not always work quite as it should, and it sometimes asks me to approve comments from people who have already posted to the blog many times before. I mention this simply to forestall anger and incomprehension if anyone, in my absence, should happen to post a comment to the blog and fail to see it appear; there was a visitor to my blog some time ago who was highly incensed that her comment did not immediately appear on the computer screen, and ascribed it to some hidden animus on my part, and wrote me many messages asking why I took offense at her, whereas it was all simply the result of my not checking e-mail for about a day.

    (Of course, if readers of this blog try to post something obscene, it will simply end up in the spam filter, along with innumerable trashy advertisements for curing erectile dysfunction.)

  31. ochlophobist Says:

    The tone and content of this lecture by Fr. Hart is pertinent:

    I especially liked: “Second, as for what some call “the reform of the reform,” I continue to maintain that the western liturgical renewal in the wake of Vatican II was a great success, returning the liturgy to the People of God to whom it rightly belongs. The Vatican II reform was not perfect because only God is perfect. But we have a saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” So we should stop tinkering, leave alone what has been done already, and concentrate on what was not done well or not done at all. Done well were the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the Mass, the translations into the vernacular, which are certainly not to be redone according to the norms of that unfortunate document Liturgiam authenticam—at least not until one has read the absolutely devastating scholarly critique of Prof. Peter Jeffrey of Princeton in his book Translating Tradition: A Liturgical Historian Reads ‘Liturgiam Authenticam'[3]”

    Of course, this now well passed about interview is also typical:

    My favorite line, which he more or less communicates in every talk he gives, “…nobody knows what I know.”

    Aside from his easy and nuance lacking observations on the politics within the MP, I always cringe when Orthodox want to make friends with a Catholic theologian who says things like “What we’ve made out of the papacy is simply ridiculous. There’s no possible justification in the New Testament or anyplace else for what we’ve made out of the papacy.” Orthodox read things like this and sometimes think, “Ah, here is someone who thinks like us.” But anyone familiar with the intellectual pedigree of statements made like this within Catholic intellectual circles knows that what we are dealing with here is barely mitigated theological modernism. Taft has more in common with Schleiermacher than he has with Florovsky. More with Tyrell than Stăniloae. And lets not make trite comments about me making such a claim on a comment like this one alone. Anyone with a cursory understanding of Catholic modernism who is familiar with Taft’s texts and his lectures knows with whom his intellect rests.

    So when he speaks at this most recent talk of his “lifetime of personal experience and proven love for Orthodoxy and its tradition” I think we need to keep that lifetime, that personal experience, and that ideological interaction with Orthodoxy in its proper context. That Taft is quite competent at historical criticism is not a matter of dispute. That he should be seen as someone who speaks with authority regarding Catholicism or Orthodoxy is unfortunate.

    Ardent pro-unionism, on both the Catholic and Orthodox sides, is such an imaginary, woefully abstracted world. It is so inconvenient and ‘unhelpful’ to acknowledge the actual theological commitments and the ideological orientations of the players involved. On both Catholic and Orthodox sides you have persons all over the ideological and theological spectrums involved in RC-EOC dialogues and conferences, etc. These come to the table for different reasons, and with different agendas. There was an article by an Orthodox priest in First Things quite a few years back kindly chastising RCs for the “friends” they were making in the Russian Church, noting that the Russian Orthodox who were most enthusiastic about union with Rome were also the most “Westernized” across the board – they tended to be for women’s ordination, soft on abortion and sexual issues, and so on. Now, of course, this rule is not universally true in Orthodoxy – you have a few ‘traditional’ and ‘conservative’ Orthodox who are very interested in dialogue with Rome (for various reasons). But the point is that we should keep in mind the manifest commitments of any given interlocutor or would-be dialogue partner. I agree with plenty of things that Fr. Taft says, if we break down his words statement by statement. But in the end I know when he speaks of his personal involvement in Catholic-Orthodox relations, he means his “modernist Catholic” – “catalogue of Orthodox ideological groups which only I (Fr. Taft) am competent to identify and deconstruct even though my (Fr. Taft) observations on that account happen to reflect current stereotypes” relations.

    As I realize that such a game has nothing to do with the actual Catholic Church actually relating to the actual Orthodox Church in any meaningful way, I agree with those others who call the spade the spade.

  32. djs Says:

    I hope, with the indulgence of bekkos, to respond briefly to a bit more of Stuart’s remarks on the liturgy in the BCC.

    “In fact, the entire Revised Divine Liturgy (RDL) is redolent of a Latin mindset, with its emphasis on uniformity (right down to the music), rigidity, didacticism, minimalism and relentless political correctness.”
    Well, I really don’t know much of what constitutes the Latin mindset, but I can comment on the string of characteristics. From last to first. “relentless political correctness”? – “Relentless” has a meaning similar to “all” in the discussion above, namely, “not all”. (But I think that is true of political correctness among Latin Catholics. “Minimalism”? Not. The RDL includes more of the antiphons and more litanies that had been taken previously in the vast majority of our parishes. I am happy to agree that with those anxious for more, but in light of historical practice it is plainly wrong to talk of the RDL as reflecting minimalism. “Didacticism?” I suppose – have you not learned from the liturgy? But that learning does not exclude sacrifice and mystery; “Rigidity and uniformity”? Hah! You later discuss the wide latitude in the implementation of the liturgical mandate. You also forget that collections of written music are nothing new (from Bokshaj through the mandates of the IEMC in the 1960’s and 1970’s) and do not, and cannot given our musicianship, preclude local variation. Finally, your suggestion that such mandates reflect a Latin, not an Eastern mindset? C’mon, I know that you know history better than that.

    “In the 1960s, Bishop Nicholas Elko did indescribable harm to the Byzantine Catholic Church through his efforts to make it more acceptably “American” (his stated objective was “to squeeze the grease out of the Greeks and the stink out of the onion dome”).
    I suppose that I should let you know that I am a cradle Greek Catholic (from Western PA) who knows the Elko years very well, having lived through them in the BCC. The history of these years is far more complex than you allow. (And by the way, this “stated objective”, while something of an internet classic, has not been sourced, to my knowledge. Perhaps you have a reference.)

    “The new liturgy can be considered nothing less than “Elkoism with a human face”. It could be, but only by those who are more interested in politics and sloganeering, than honest assessments.

    “djs in the end makes an appeal to authority – the bishops are responsible … and not Rome.” There is no appeal to authority here. Just a reference to the relationship forged between Rome and the Eastern churches. It took some time to reach this level of autonomy. Some now want to throw it away, seeking to have Rome forcefully micromanage our liturgical affairs. I think that that would be a disaster for Eastern churches, and even worse disaster for relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches – far worse than any of the shortcomings of the RDL.

    “The sad fact is the Ruthenian faithful have been very badly served by their bishops … And since the bishops systematically exclude the faithful from any meaningful role in the development of the Liturgy (to the point of disciplining any who make reasonable criticism), we can’t look for help from that direction.”

    My opinion is that the fault is less in our Bishops,
    and more in ourselves. We have lived through an interesting century-plus in this country. We have had much to cope with, but frankly have coped pretty poorly. And we still do. As one Rusyn said: we have two settings: “Slava Isusu Christu” and “I quit”. In my opinion the worst damage from the implementation of the RDL stems from the scorched earth and swift-boat tactics used by its opponents. They have also managed to mainstream their exaggerated, dramatized claims on the internet, so that people like Dr. Tighe repeat their comments without realizing how far from reality they stray.

    I reject your claim about Bishop’s “disciplining any who make reasonable criticism”. I have made reasonable criticisms; I have not been disciplined. This is just one more example of criticism unconstrained by reality. I am not entirely surprised to hear that some have been “disciplined”, but I imagine that I would not agree that their criticisms were “reasonable”. I also imagine that you will not be providing documentation for this charge so that the reasonableness of the criticism and/or the discipline can be assessed independently.

    “As for the clergy, well, let’s just say most don’t know enough about the Liturgy to fill an undergraduate thesis, and therefore aren’t qualified to comment…” Personally, I am not especially impressed by academic credentials. I have read comments on the RDL by ostensibly learned scholars that are an affront to reason, and full of personal bile. I would rather see how celebrants serve the liturgy, and recognize their qualification from that. I won’t disagree that there is a mixed bag among our clergy. But I don’t think that there is a good correlation between good celebrants and harsh critics of the RDL. Probably closer to the opposite.

    “Did I mention that the music accompanying the RDL is fundamentally unsingable?” That really depends on the singer. I am sorry that you find it unsingable. I have found it very easy to use personally, and with singing groups that I lead.

    “Recently, the Secretary of the Oriental Congregation, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, spoke to the assembled clergy of the Metropolia and was harshly critical of the RDL…” Stuart, you write with such seeming authority. But were you there at the clergy meeting? Is this second or third hand gossip yet again?

    Stuart, your post provides many illustrations of the problems – not of the RDL – but of its critics. They talk among themselves and uncritically applaud each other’s criticism. Consequently they can start to believe in the reality and validity of their criticism, even when there is nothing more than a mush of a few salient points suspended in toxic junk. In the end, what does this accomplish? Problems take more time to fix not less in a heated political environment. Progress in other restorations – vespers and matins – is retarded. And the hot politics lead to more division. Is this good?

  33. Thank God for someone coming to retrieve Bishop Elko’s good name and good work. I too know many cradle Byzantines who know the truth. I hope that some day the truth will out. Those who continue to mock the man know nothing of the realities of that period of our history.

    How do we convince the Orthodox that we are a good place from within which to approach the fountain of immortality when our own houses are so corrupt? Priests talk across confessions and what does not hit the light of day, that which does not appear in little triumphal histories gets passed back and forth between permeable boundaries and I know many older Orthodox priests in PA and NY who know what was done to Bishop Elko as well as our own. How do we surmount that? From what textbook shall we take that lesson?

    If all the doctrinal issues were resolved in the blink of an eye…The Stables would still be filled to overflowing.


  34. […] with him. For an alternative perspective, you may wish to read Dr. Gilbert’s observations here. . In his presentation, “‘Light from the West’: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas,” Dr. Plested […]

  35. evagrius Says:

    Can someone describe what a “modernist” is?

  36. evagrius Says:

    Is the National Catholic Reporter interview the one where Fr. Taft is whining?

    I didn’t see any whining, just stating an opinion which, I think, has some substance to it.

  37. ochlophobist Says:


    We’ve gone this route before. With regard to Catholic modernism my former employer does as good a job as any with regard to descriptions:

  38. evagrius Says:

    I asked for a definition, not a reference which I cannot read.

    Besides this, all you’ve written is a very meaningless diatribe.

    Exactly what do you wish, that the Pope act as in the 19th century?

  39. Tap Says:


    From reading, your, and other popular Eastern Orthodox blogs, it would seem that Orthodoxy (in America at least), has succumbed to ‘modernism’ in some areas. Apparently ‘modernism’ depends more on culture than any sort of ecclesiology.

  40. ochlophobist Says:


    For the purposes of this thread, we might simply say that a thinker given to theological modernism within the Catholic tradition is one who grants more weight (with regard to authoritatively discerning authentic Catholic tradition) to the historical critical method than to Catholic tradition as Divine Revelation. Obviously, there is a huge spectrum under the notion of Catholic modernism. But with Taft, we see someone who is closer to Hans Küng than he is to the Bollandists.


    Yes, I quite agree.

    There are Orthodox who very much speak Fr. Taft’s language. Modernist theological methods and postures are increasing their reach within American Orthodoxy, in camps both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’ Of course, much of even Orthodox ‘traditionalism’ is a modern phenomenon, but that is not what I mean by theological modernism here.

    This is one reason I suggest that a serious Catholic-Orthodox dialogue would involve Catholic theologians other than Taft. I also very much think we need some fresh Orthodox faces. It seems quite obvious that the bulk of those Orthodox most invested on an academic and ‘high’ intellectual level to Catholic-Orthodox dialogue (an to bureaucratic/academic ecumenism in general) are those who venerate historical-critical methods and/or late modern philosophical thought (we have our bishops with a Heidegger fetish as well, and one of them is a key Orthodox player in RC-EOC dialogue).

    I have no problem with a limited use of the historical-critical method. I have no problem with a modest engagement of late modern philosophy. I do not think we need fear these things. But when these methods are used to find or “return” to “authentic” or “biblical” Orthodoxy or somesuch, we end up with a hermeneutic that is foreign to the Church and inevitably steers us toward a secularized intuition.

    As I said at the beginning of this thread, I think Fr. Aidan Nichols and Fr. Hugh Barbour would be better Catholic interlocutors for Orthodox. They are the sort of Catholic priests who are not afraid of modernity but who have a learned posture of circumspection with regard to modernity and seem to understand areas where Catholic identity is threatened by modern ideologies and entertainments. I think that what we see from the Moscow Patriarchate of late, particularly from +Hilarion Alfeyev, is an attempt to have that sort of conversation with Rome that is not a ‘fundamentalist’ rejection of all things modern, but also refuses to allow any modern paradigm foreign to the Church to have authority over or within the Church.

  41. evagrius Says:

    Interesting argument based on the supposition that “the historical-critical method” is opposed to tradition as Divine Revelation.
    First, who argues this and second, what is “Divine Revelation”?

    I’m not arguing that there isn’t Divine Revelation per se but I do think that its definition needs to be clarified.

    It’s quite obvious that the historical-critical approach has caused a re-examination of what consist of “Divine Revelation” not only in Christianity but all of the major religions.

    The result has been a better understanding, by at least some, of the similarities and differences between the major relions.

    Perhaps this is not a good thing. Perhaps it’s better that people continue to hold on to their traditions as they perceive them and not as they actually are.

  42. evagrius Says:

    I think this is the gist of the question;

    “…refuse(s) to allow any modern paradigm foreign to the Church to have authority over or within the Church.”

    If this attitude had prevailed during the first centuries of the Church, ( and quite a few did have this attitude), then the Church would have remained a small and rather curious sect of Jews.

    The key word, of course, is “authority”. I’m not sure how a paradigm has “authority”, ( people have authority, not ideas-) although the power of a paradigm may convince people to accept it as final, complete Truth and act correspondingly.

    Which “modern paradigm” can have that power in the Church considering that, according to some, we are now in a “post-modern” period where it’s obvious that “modern paradigms” don’t possess final, complete Truth?

  43. ochlophobist Says:


    You date yourself when you suggest that historical-critical methods can help folks understand their traditions “as they actually are.” The 70s are over. Does anyone under the age of 70 believe this anymore? Historical-critical methods generally reveal more about the person using such a method than the subject to which the method is applied.

    With regard to your last comment, despite the remnants of 18th and 19th century German scholarship still about some do not assume that the early Church sold the farm to the contemporary philosophies of its day. Others have pointed out that certain elements of ancient philosophy are simply more useful with regard to expressing truth than, say, logical positivism.

    Modernity’s current adolescent self-loathing is part of the reason we should reject the posture of Taft. As irritating as “post-modernity” can be, it has at least in some circles matured to the point of realizing that the intellectual commitments of a man like Taft are arbitrary, and his conclusions framed more by his own ideological agenda than any supposedly ’empirical,’ dispassionate approach to historical inquiry. And yes, I apply the same dismissal to Orthodox historicists such as Meyendorf and Schmemann. The Church should not be directed or corrected on the basis of someone’s current pet historical theory.

  44. evagrius Says:


    Of course I betray my age as do you. That kind of remark actually betrays your age more than mine.

    Besides making very vague, and so far unsustantiated charges against Taft, Meyendorf and Schmemann, what exactly are you arguing?

    You’ve repeated these charges often without quite providing any evidence that these scholars are erroneous in their approaches or conclusions.

    Each may have been wrong in some details, ( often by the discovery of new texts or more accurate texts), but overall they have done a tremendous service in removing clouds of misperception, ( often treated as infallible Tradition), and bringing out a more nuanced and accurate presentation of the actual facts.

    You still haven’t given your views, ( no references to unreadable texts please), on what is “Divine Revelation” and its relation to Tradition/ tradiion.

    As to modernity’s “self-loathing”, what do you mean?

  45. evagrius Says:

    Here’s an interesting essay by Fr. Taft on the “Western Construction of the East”;…/Taft%20Eastern%20Presuppositions.pdf

  46. evagrius Says:

    Ooops, looks like that link is out.

    Here’s a more current link;

    Click to access Taft%20Eastern%20Presuppositions.pdf

  47. I think this essay in “In God’s Hands”: : presents a more transparent Father Taft and one that does look a bit like the one that seems to be of concern to Och.

    Also it makes clear a pattern in Father Taft’s work and that is to render histories in other languages accessible to the rest of us. And those histories are filtered through his professed desire to focus attention on the spiritual lives and liturgies of the common man.

    The difficulty with this is that there is no one who chooses to portray himself as uncommonly erudite. Uncommonly privileged in terms of knowledge. Uncommonly privileged in terms of vantage point. Uncommonly able to engage in discussions that others simply cannot begin to engage and he will tell you that in a heartbeat.

    Father Taft has a gift for translating histories not available to many of us in English, however rather that straight history, we get filtered history and this article makes his filters pretty clear. Much of it will not help us in our quest for renewed communion.


  48. There’s a “more” missing in “no one who chooses to portray himself as more uncommonly erudite…etc.”

  49. evagrius Says:

    I’m not quite sure what is being argued above.

    The essay referred to explores the topic of monastic and cathedral liturgies, their contrast and mutual influence and some commonly accepted views about them.

    Perhaps the writer of the above comment doesn’t like Fr. Taft’s attitude towards those who make pronouncements without looking at all the evidence.

    He’s an historian, trained in the methods of historical research. He is quite proud of his expertise as an historian and should be and when he does make a statement, it’s as an historian, not as a theologian. He, I’m quite sure, would be quite wiling to reform or revise an argument if provided with the facts.

    The essay referred to proves his abilities.

    Does the author of the above wish to dispute his facts and conclusions?

    Then provide the material for such a dispute.

  50. The author of the above is more than content to let the “In God’s Hands” essay speak for itself in terms of identifying Taft Filters. Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will see and hear.


  51. evagrius Says:

    It seems that the author of the above comment has no ability to elucidate her points regarding the essay by Fr. Taft in the book, “In God’s Hands”.

    One must conclude that her charges have not been proven.

    Can we get on to the next point, please?

  52. LOL…why? We are having such fun with your monologue.

    First you tell me that you don’t see my point and then you tell me I am incapable of proving the point you don’t see…How the heck would you know?

    I think that falls into the category of inane…don’t you?


  53. evagrius Says:


    You see ghosts,I don’t. You claim to have proof and claim to point them out. I look and still see nothing.

    Inane? Yes. Now, why don’t you provide proof?

    After all, Taft provides the sources. You can look them up and verify what he did by quoting the sources.

  54. Stuart Koehl Says:

    This is why I am not participating in this discussion, and why I avoid any discussions that involve Mary. She always brings to mind a favorite saying of Ronald Reagan’s: “It’s not the things you don’t know that get you in trouble, its the things you do know that aren’t true”.

  55. evagrius Says:

    Very good saying, quite apropos.

  56. Thank you, gentlemen. Humility is necessary for salvation.


  57. For example on the attitude issue, the following interview might have been a good thing had it not been for the entirely gratuitous and objectively scandalous remark

    “To he!! with Moscow.”

    The reverse snobbery of this self-proclaimed man of the ordinary man destroys the worth of the message.

    Yes. The attitude of the messenger is indeed of utmost importance.


  58. Michaël de Verteuil Says:


    The link you provided is broken, but I was able to find the 2003 interview using the site’s search function. Forgive me for butting in, but what exactly are you trying to establish with this citation? That Fr. Taft is given to salty language? I doubt this would be a surprise to anyone who has met him.

    I profoundly disagree with his ecclesiological politics (while respecting his scholarship), but is this really what this discussion (if we can call it that) is about?

  59. From my point of view the discussion has become about Professor Taft being the wrong person to choose as keynote speaker for such a conference.

    1. Many Orthodox have no respect for his liturgics because they consider his work to be fraught with a liturgical modernist emphasis, with the corollary that his history is filtered through modernist lenses.


    2. He is arrogant in his lexicon both publicly and privately. In a time when the Catholic Church already appears to be exceptionally indulgent with priests “doing their thing.” A salty mouth is appropriate sitting in the kitchen in a t-shirt with your brother priests having a beer. …and that’s about it. It is no small thing for him to say some of the things he’s been known to say both publicly and privately. Spiritually it is exceptionally bad example and he should have his mouth washed out with ecclesiastical soap, and his attitude rearranged for polite company along with it.

    So there are at least two demonstrable reasons why he should not have “led” that conference because his talk is what the press picked up on and all the rest of the excellent and substantial papers have gone begging for audience.

    That is the only “buzz” among the Orthodox that I have seen to date and it is ALL very very negative. Bad move on the part of the conference planners.


  60. evagrius Says:

    You’re upset at “salty language”?

    I suppose that Orthodox have never, never used “salty language” when discussing Roman Catholics.

    What exactly do you mean by “modernist”. What do the Orthodox mean by it?

    If Taft shows that the liturgy was never a fait accomli, fixed in stone, fixed in amber, but developed, changed, progressed, regressed, had moments of high prayer and moments of corruption, etc;etc;, then he’s merely describing the life of a living activity.

    Here is an interview with a ROCOR nun who discusses Fr. Taft;

    Here is a link to a ROCOR confrence which invited Fr. Taft;

    Click to access Orthodox_Womens_Conference_BrochureFinal.pdf

    It seems to me that some Orthodox respect Fr. Taft as a scholar, whatever his faults.

  61. As a postscript to my last note.

    This conference in question here is predominantly about perceptions and the facts that can be gathered to change those perceptions, and the arguments that can be set forth to persuade, in this case, Orthodox people away from old habits of heart and mind.

    So I do not think it is unreasonable to examine a well known contributor’s habits of heart, mind and mouth in the process. In fact it is almost necessary to do so before we can even begin to filter out what is noise and what is the more substantial examination of tradition which is the heart-stone of any hope of reunion.

    The idea that Father Taft is nothing more than a modernist is not real. How do we find that out with all the “noise” he makes and the fact that he is a man of his times and he speaks as a man of his times and he is very often incongruent in his presentations from the beginning of an article to the end of it, and he is a horrid reverse snob, and so when he talks about the common man I just smile and go find something else to read.

    How does one…short of insulting them and consigning them to nothingness…deal with those weaknesses sufficiently to reveal the good within.

    The very process used to filter through one man is not all that different from the process used to filter through centuries of history.

    If we look for the modernist in Father Taft, we’ll find him because he is there. If that is all we look for that is all we will find.

    Same applies to the examination of Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church.

    One has to WANT to look for something else.

    That has been my “mystery point” in all of this. It just takes a while for the chatter to die long enough to make the point clearly.


  62. Stuart Koehl Says:

    I have met Mother Vassa on several occasions. She is a brilliant scholar with a sardonic wit, and a devout, holy nun fully devoted to her monastic vocation. As one of Taft’s graduate students, she is very much his protege, but it is quite clear that she is her own person, speaks her own mind, and is nobody’s fool.

    Most Orthodox who know Father Taft respect him highly both as a scholar and as an ecumenist, a man utterly dedicated to rooting out the truth of any matter to which he turns his mind, yet at the same time, one who follows his own prescription for “ecumenical scholarship”; i.e., he is always ready to view the other with charity, and he never applies invidious comparisons, never resorts to polemic, and is always ready to question his own assumptions.

    Those who find Taft obnoxious are usually those who attempt to impose their own opinions upon him without the benefit of having done any real research into the subject under discussion. Taft does not tolerate fools gladly.

  63. evagrius Says:

    “Taft does not tolerate fools gladly.”

    That, perhaps, is his Achille’s heel.

  64. Stuart Koehl Says:

    Mary writes:

    “The idea that Father Taft is nothing more than a modernist is not real. How do we find that out with all the “noise” he makes and the fact that he is a man of his times and he speaks as a man of his times and he is very often incongruent in his presentations from the beginning of an article to the end of it, and he is a horrid reverse snob, and so when he talks about the common man I just smile and go find something else to read.”

    Well, the first way to find out about Taft is to listen closely to him and read closely the books and articles he writes. I’ve never had any problem with that. I will concede that as a lecturer, he is not in the same class as Metropolitan Kallistos (but who is?), and his lectures often suffer from the attempt to compress a thirty page essay into a 20 minute speech. Try it some time–it isn’t that easy.

    As to snobbery, I’ve never found anything of the sort in him. Taft talks freely and easily with people from all classes, all confessions. But, he seriously dislikes intellectual poseurs. That may be the problem here.

  65. […] the second part of his notes on the ‘Orthodox Constructions of the West’ conference.  The first part may be found […]

  66. dianeski Says:

    Oy! What an acrimonious thread. And I find, to my dismay, that some of the acrimony is directed at little ole moi. My ears weren’t eevn burning.

    I would humbly ask the people who presume to read my mind to cease and desist, please. As I have never, ever, ever, in my entire life, called for papal strong-arming of a sui juris church, I really do not appreciate having such a stupid position attributed to me. Sheesh.

    Is this all youse guys can do — lob personal insults at each other and even at someone who has not hitherto participated in this thread? Whatever happened to that Christian Love Thing?

    Must Catholic-Orthodox discussions always degenerate in this way?

  67. djs Says:

    I suppose your complaint is, at least in part, against me, Dianeski. If there was something in my post that offended you, I apologize.

    For the record, however, I did not presume to read your mind. I referred to my recollections of your writings. I did not attribute to you a call for strong-arming – whether Papal or more broadly Roman. I only claimed that I could not be certain that you would find it entirely objectionable. I thought that that point was sufficient to disabuse Och of his suspicion. If you would like more detail, I am happy to comply.

  68. dianeski Says:

    djs, thank you very much. I guess I was more bothered by having my name dragged into this thread in the first place than I was by your rejoinder, really.

    Now I will stop being overly sensitive, LOL.

    The comments here are pretty bizarre, though. But hey, that’s the Internet for ya. Inn’t it? :)

  69. Ed Siecienski Says:

    I wish I had known you were at the conference. I was there Monday only, and regret now we didn’t get a chance to talk. I very much enjoyed my (all too brief) stay, esp. as I did my doctorate at Fordham. By the way, I’m sure both George and Telly will be most gratified to be described as “young” and “in their thirties.”

  70. bekkos Says:

    Dear Dr. Siecienski,

    I, too, regret that we didn’t get a chance to talk; I had rather hoped you might be at the conference, and that I might meet you there. But, since you teach in South Jersey, no doubt there will be other occasions for us to meet in person.


  71. Ed Siecienski Says:

    I look forward to it. I was lucky that the speakers I wanted to hear all were scheduled for Monday as I had “child care” duty the rest of the week. As expected, Fr. Taft was frank, Tia Kolbaba opened up a new perspective, and Dr. Plested clarified some things (although you’re right – I would have liked to have heard more about how TA influenced the content of Byzantine theology). And please call me Ed.

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