"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Pope John Paul II and Eastern Christianity

In thinking about Pope John Paul's pontificate on the occasion of his beatification this weekend I am reminded of many things he accomplished but I want to focus on only three of especial relevance to Eastern Christians.

First, he made it his priority, in line with the express wishes of the Second Vatican Council in its decree Unitatis Redintegratio and Orientalium Ecclesiarum to continue seeking Christian unity. He first visited Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1979. In the next quarter-century he would visit with many heads of Orthodox Churches.

Second, he realized that part of the task of seeking unity with the East depended on something he advocated from the beginning of his papacy: the healing of memories. He himself put this into practice with Eastern Christians most memorably and movingly in 2001 when he visited Greece and in a dramatic gesture asked forgiveness for those Latin Catholics who had sacked Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204 and prayed that the memory of this would finally be healed.

I have elsewhere in several places analysed this notion of the healing of memories, but it remains as important today as when he first began to talk about it. Indeed, the newly elected patriarchal head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church has recently spoken eloquently about how important such healing remains for more than a few Eastern Christians who seem, perversely, to be unwilling to let go of those memories of hurts, whether real or imagined, but hang on to them as an excuse not to have to be united with the still-hated Catholic Church.  I have seen proof of that only this week in a few fanatics elsewhere attacking my book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity

which they proudly--perversely--claim not to have read because it is a work of "ecumenism," that supposed "pan-heresy." O la fatigue du Nord! Such an attitude is--more than being predictable, tedious, and silly--really very sad because it evidences no desire to do what the Lord wants by seeking unity. Such people are perversely content not merely to hang on to their hurts but to lash out at anyone who suggests we have no choice but to press for unity.

But what type of unity? That is the real question. As those who will actually bestir themselves to read the book will discover, I am not at all one of those who sees unity as being a process of trade-off, of dogmatic compromise or doctrinal relativizing. No Catholic or Orthodox hierarch involved in the process today sees unity in these terms. Quite to the contrary. My entire project is about finding a way for Catholicism to be true to itself, Orthodoxy true to itself, but both to be converted anew to the truth Himself and His express wish that all might be one so that the world might believe (John 17:21). The notion of watering down the truth to reach unity is as much anathema to me as it is to the most fervent Athonite parading about with his "Orthodoxy or Death" banner.

How could such unity ever come to pass? Some assert--even the more hopeful--that while we may have resolved the filioque, and can conceivably overcome any other issue that might remain, the papacy remains the unbridgeable chasm.

But that notion fails to grapple with the third part of the legacy of Pope John Paul II: his genuine request for helpful responses to his real and acute question in Ut Unum Sint:
I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned." This is an immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21)?
My Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity was one attempt to respond to that request in the name of, and reflecting faithfully the mindset of, Eastern Orthodoxy. You might not like my response or disagree with it (though I note with gratitude that several Orthodox clerics and theologians have read it and lauded it), in which case: where is yours?

1 comment:

  1. So, they 'wackos' are coming after you with torches and pitchforks, eh? Well, they exit on both sides unfortunately. I had totally forgot about the idea of 'healing of memories' and that Blessed JPII had expressed it. Thanks for reminding me.
    Personally I have resolved all issues of conflict between Rome and Constantinople. Elect me Pontiff and Ecumenical Patriarch and I'll lead the Church into a glorious age!
    As far as I'm concerned it's theologians on both sides with vested interests to keep east and west separate. A plague on all of them. The majority of Catholic and Orthodox laity think the division is silly, stupid and all manner of other invective and say forgive and forget. Isn't that what Christ wants us to do?


Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...