"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).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Next Year in Jerusalem!

Early this year, Our Sunday Visitor, the largest Catholic newspaper in the United States, commissioned me to write a long essay on Orthodox-Catholic relations on the eve of the papal and patriarchal visit to Jerusalem. Francis and Bartholomew were both going to the holy city in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of their predecessors, Paul VI and Athenagoras, meeting there in 1964. In my essay I reviewed centuries of Orthodox-Catholic relations and then looked at where we are today, what outstanding issues remain to be resolved, and what prospects for the future look like.

Several short essays, covering much the same territory, were published this spring around the time of my essay in a very small little book by Fordham University Press: John Chryssavgis, ed., Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries (Fordham UP, 2014), xv+75pp.

This wee book, which I read in a couple of hours yesterday, contains a preface by Chryssavgis (an archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne and well-known Orthodox theologian) and is published in Fordham University Press's welcome Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought imprint. The very brief introduction is written by the metropolitan of Pergamon and very well-known Greek theologian John Zizioulas who uses a phrase of his mentor Georges Florovsky to describe the East and West as two conjoined sisters who actually cannot be separated from one another without very serious damage.

After these short preliminaries, Chryssavgis gives us a very helpful chronology of the events and personalities leading up to the 1964 meeting, and details of that meeting also. This essay is nicely done, with just enough detail to set the scene without overwhelming the reader with the tedious trivia ("and then, at 10:17am, the pope went to the bathroom and had to ask the patriarch the way...") one sometimes finds in accounts like this.

The second chapter is by the Jesuit patrologist and historical theologian Brian Daley of Notre Dame. It is a first-rate survey of what has happened since 1964--the so-called dialogue of love. Daley begins by noting that the groundwork for much of this was laid by Yves Congar in his hugely important and influential 1954 book After Nine Hundred Years: The Background of the Schism Between the Eastern and Western Churches.

Daley deftly reviews the details of the development of the international dialogue, but also, justly, spends a good bit of time on its coterminous North American counterpart, of which he has been a member since 1981 and, more recently, the executive secretary for the Catholic side. As he notes, the North American dialogue "has been at times, if only by default, the world's main forum for constructive Orthodox-Catholic conversation" (31). He reveals one detail of which I was not aware: the very first Catholic members proposed for the North American dialogue in March 1965 included "three Eastern-rite Catholic priests (two of them Jesuits from Fordham)" (33) and this caused no small alarm on the Orthodox side. Thus one sees that the "Uniate" issue was neuralgic long before the international dialogue tried to address it in the infamous Balamand statement of 1993.

I met the members of the North American dialogue in the autumn of 2002 when they met in Ottawa at Saint Paul University, where I was a doctoral student. (Several of us grad students volunteered to serve wine and various amuse-bouches to the dialogue at a reception--a way not only for free food and wine but, to my mind, the even more important access to long and profitable conversations with the Orthodox and Catholic hierarchs and theologians there assembled.) It was very clear to me then that they got along well and worked profitably in large part, as Daley confirms here, because of the shared cultural background of the participants as well as the fact that many people have been involved for more than a quarter-century and over that time have come to "deeply cherish each other's friendship" (44).

Daley ends with a few commonplace suggestions on changes needed in Catholicism--a decentralized papacy and greater level of synodal governance (where have we heard that before? Oh, right: Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity)--and in Orthodoxy: mechanisms to overcome fractious ethnic divides and speak with one mind on important issue.

The final chapter consists of an introduction by Matthew Baker, a newly ordained Greek Orthodox priest and outstanding doctoral student at Fordham who is already a very accomplished young scholar from whom we can expect further important work. Baker very intelligently introduces us to an essay by Georges Florovsky that he unearthed, one that was published in Paris in 1964 but never translated or given wider dissemination which, Baker rightly notes, is odd given the huge influence Florovsky had in twentieth-century Orthodoxy and given, moreover, his widespread involvement in the ecumenical movement. Baker translates the essay here from the Russian original and annotates it with a few useful footnotes.  There is nothing terribly new here, but we would do well to continue to adhere to Florovsky's counsel to always seek out "sober historical memory [as] the indispensable guarantee of responsible action" (61), something with which the impudent sectarians frothing at the mouth about the "pan-heresy of ecumenism" and the "errors of the Latins" seem to have so little intimate congress, then as now.

In sum, Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries is indeed, as we say in French, a souvenir. That verb is a reflexive one in French: Je me souviens (Quebec's official motto, as it happens), usually "I remember" but equally "I remind myself." And we all need to remind ourselves gratefully of the courage and foresight of our forbears fifty years ago to seek each other out and to begin the dialogue and work for unity, which has not ended. We need, indeed, to remember, as I said elsewhere about the 2014 Jerusalem visit, that the search for unity is not an optional extra but a dominical imperative: the Lord expects us to be one. Please God we will not have to wait another fifty years for that to happen.

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