What Can Orthodox and Catholics Teach Each Other?

June 29, 2012

By Fr. Laurent Cleenewerck

Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are facing difficult new challenges. Christianity has become an open market where competition from upstart denominations is extremely fierce. The temptation to bury one’s head in the sand (Eastern Orthodoxy) or to mimic successful Evangelical methods and worship styles (Roman Catholicism) is as great as it is destructive. In North America, converts from Protestantism have provided their respective ‘teams’ with solid theological responses, but the struggle remains very difficult. In the rest of the world, the tide of sectarian Christianity (notably Adventism, Mormonism and Pentecostalism) continues its damage to the ancient apostolic Churches.

While Rome has effectively embraced a liturgical modernism as a remedy that has proven even worse than the disease, Orthodoxy is often in denial that anything needs to be fixed liturgically or organizationally. In fact, both sides can learn and benefit from the other’s strengths and experiences, as we shall see.

1. Catholics must become Orthodox

The rift between East and West was already extreme by the ninth century and reached its apex with Vatican I. But this apex was also marked by a growing sense that the theological and liturgical path of Roman Catholicism had reached some kind of a dead-end. Vatican II was an attempt to engineer a conciliar return to the sources that would reinterpret the Roman Catholic legacy of the past thousand years for the next millennium. Jean Danielou and Yves Congar – both Early Church scholars – were very influential at the council, but their vision was only partially achieved. As we have seen, the new mass of Pope Paul VI was an overreaction to the possible excesses of the Tridentine rite of Pius V. What was obscured or even lost in modern Roman Catholic worship is not just reverence and a few prayers; it is the eschatological experience of the Eucharist as an ascent to heaven, a manifestation on earth of the eternal liturgy of the angels and saints. Everything comes together to make the modern mass an expedited Eucharistic gathering of the community – or at least part of it since there are now various kinds of masses served at different times. Vestments and architectural styles are a manifestation of today’s trends and attitudes: universal ecclesiology becomes incarnate in its liturgical consequence. As a result of this anchoring in the present and disconnection from the apostolic past and eschatological future, the Roman Catholic priesthood is often disoriented. Liberal theology is rampant in seminaries and universities where many have rejected both patristic and scholastic theology in order to look for new ways to ‘rescue Christianity from the New Testament.’ I would like to suggest that if Roman Catholicism rediscovers and embraces the liturgical spirit of Eastern Christianity, the crisis of post-Vatican II liturgics will end. But this cannot be achieved without a concurrent embracing of eschatological-Eucharistic ecclesiology and pre-Nicene theology. Time is running short for a Vatican III council that would prepare the Roman Catholic world for the third millennium with an era of convergence and reconciliation with Eastern Orthodoxy.

2. Orthodox must become Catholic

The message of the Eastern Orthodox world to Roman Catholicism (and all other Christians) is often reduced to ‘leave us alone, we’d like to pretend you don’t exist.’ This fortress mentality is also a subconscious admission that ‘the God-protected city’ is in fact a weak and easy prey. The temptation to curl away from the world leads to nationalism and a failure to embrace the catholic-universal vocation of the Church. As a result, Orthodox Christians see themselves as Russian, Serbian or Greek Orthodox members of a national Church whose head is located in a political capital.

The contrast with Roman Catholicism is striking: the ability of the Church of Rome to coordinate worldwide missions, social work and a consistent doctrinal message should make the Orthodox think. The need for a universal center of unity and arbitration is obvious, and it does not have to mean absolute supremacy or infallibility. Two admonitions of our Lord come to mind:

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:40-41)

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The real tragedy about the Schism is the lack of concern about its tragic consequences. The voice that should still cry out from heaven is that of Patriarch Peter of Antioch who had written in 1054:

“I tremble lest, while you [Photius] endeavor to sew up the wound, it may turn to something worse, to schism; lest while you try to raise up what has been smitten down, a worse fall may be in store. Consider the obvious result of all of this, I mean the yawning gulf that must ultimately separate from our holy Church [Orthodox Antioch and Constantinople] that magnanimous and apostolic see [Rome]… Life henceforth will be filled with wickedness, and the whole world will be overturned…”

We should not have to think in terms of ‘mutual interest’ to discuss cooperation and reconciliation, but it may be that a common threat will do more for the cause of unity than our concern for the unity of the body of Christ.

3. Loving the Saints

If we confess Cyprian, Basil, Leo and Martin as saints and members of the same Body, what we also confess is that in spite of our earthly differences, heaven is filled with both ‘Roman Catholic’ and ‘Eastern Orthodox’ saints. In order to achieve visible and authentic unity, there must first be a desire to embrace what is best on the other side, and to find room for legitimate differences of expression. I am convinced that if Orthodox Christians can discover and love such lights as St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Solanus Casey, and if Catholics can embrace as their own St. Seraphim of Sarov or St. Elizabeth Fyodorovna, a new form of dialogue can take place: one motivated by love and respect. In general, Roman Catholicism has been more generous with its beatification and canonization process, with the result that a great variety of remarkable souls are presented as inspiring models for us today. By contrast, recent Eastern Orthodox saints tend to be martyrs and monastics: to my knowledge, not a single woman has been glorified for North American Orthodoxy, which means that if we can embrace Sts. Leo and Martin, we can certainly be inspired by Sts. Mary Cabrini or Katharine Drexel.

If we fail to realize that we are only “witnesses to the Truth” of Jesus Christ and imagine that our witness – in life and theology – will always be perfect, we are chasing the same mirage that leads countless American Christians from denomination to denomination, until one imagines that ‘the perfect Church’ has been discovered. If we accept the fact that our priests, bishops and ecclesial structures can make mistakes, we can focus on the incarnate Truth and deal reasonably with the theological formulas that are as fingers pointing to the moon: they are only signs, imperfectly crafted in human language, to a reality that is “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible.” In a court of law, a human witness can be accurate without being perfect, but inaccuracies can also lead to a ‘falsification of the word of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:2) This is the mandate given to us by Scripture, both as individuals and as communities. Let us deal with our shortcomings without trepidation and strive to be conformed to Him who is the “faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5; John 18:37)

 Reproduced with permission from His Broken Body: Understanding and Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches by Laurent Cleenewerck. Google Books preview here. Blog readers may also enjoy Fr. Laurent’s website Orthodox Answers.


Orthodox Eschatology

June 29, 2012

By Fr. Vassilios Papavassiliou

Eschatology is the area of theology that deals with the ‘last things’, the ‘eschata’. Unfortunately, the ‘last things’ has come to be viewed in very narrow terms: the antichrist, judgement day, heaven and hell. But as an area of theology it is much more profound than this. It is unfortunate that eschatology is often viewed purely in terms of hell and judgement – when ultimately it is positive: it is, after all, the fulfilment of God’s promises and as such, it is what all Christians are to look forward to.

To understand eschatology we must begin not with the ‘last things’, but with the past. If eschatology is ultimately the coming of the Kingdom of God, then we must begin with the gospels, in which Christ proclaims that the Kingdom has arrived. This is illustrated in the miracles and exorcisms which Christ wrought. The kingdom of death and sickness was overthrown. And yet, Christ also speaks of a kingdom to come. He speaks also of His second coming and the last judgement. Herein lies the paradox of the Church in its eschatological dimension: the Kingdom of God has already arrived, and still it is yet to come. This is the basis of our understanding of the Church, of the Kingdom of God, of heaven and hell.

The Church is, in the words of Fr George Florovsky, “the image of eternity in time”. Thus it lives both in this age and in the age to come. The “eschatological” dimension of the Church begins with Christ’s Resurrection. This was the beginning of the end. The early Christians spoke of their living in “the last days”, not because they simply got it wrong, but because they understood that the age to come had already broken through in this present age because Christ had already raised human nature into the heights of heaven by His Resurrection and Ascension, and promised to return in glory.

Eternal heaven and eternal hell are the consummation of our relationship with God here and now. Thus heaven and hell are not two different places. They instead signify two different ways of experiencing the “uncreated energies” of God. Or, more precisely, they are the same experience, except that they are perceived differently by man, depending on man’s internal state. From the moment of His Second Coming, through eternity, all people will be seeing Christ in His uncreated light. As we read in the Gospels, “The hour is coming, and now is the time, when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. On 5:28-29). In the presence of Christ, mankind will be separated as sheep are separated from the goats, to His right and His left. In other words, they will be discerned in two separate groups: those who will be looking upon Christ as Paradise and those who will be looking upon Christ as hell.

This is what is depicted in some icons of the Second Coming. From Christ a river flows forth: it is radiant like a golden light at the upper end of it, where the saints are. At its lower end, the same river is fiery, and it is in that part of the river that the demons and the unrepentant are depicted. This is why in Luke 2:34 we read that Christ stands as the fall and the rising (resurrection) of many. Christ becomes the resurrection into eternal life, for those who accepted Him and who followed the suggested means of healing the heart; and to those who rejected Him, He becomes their demise and their hell. There exist numerous patristic testimonies: St. John of the Ladder says that the uncreated light of Christ is “an all-consuming fire and an illuminating light.” St. Gregory Palamas observes: “Thus, it is said, He will baptize you by the Holy Spirit and by fire: in other words, by illumination and punishment, depending on each person’s predisposition, which will bring upon him that which he deserves.” Elsewhere, The light  of Christ, “albeit one and accessible to all, is not partaken of uniformly, but differently.”

Heaven and hell are thus different experiences of God’s glory and indeed, of His love. This is beautifully expressed by St Isaac the Syrian:

St Isaac the Syrian

“Those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse”

Consequently, Paradise and hell are not a reward or a punishment, but the way that we individually experience the sight of Christ, depending on the condition of our heart. God does not punish in essence, although, for educative purposes, the Scripture does mention punishment. We must bear in mind that in scripture Christ and the authors of the scriptures use allegories and images to convey things that are otherwise incomprehensible. Thus we have images of fire, of light, of torment. But these are not to be taken too literally. These are simply the means by which we can grasp the incredible joy or incredible pain of the realities of heaven and hell.

The notion of hell is something that many people, including some Christians, reject as incompatible with Christian belief in a loving and forgiving God. But this displays a perilous confusion of thought. Love is free, and since we are free to love God or to hate Him, the realities of this choice must also exist, and those realities we call heaven and hell. To reject hell is to reject the belief that we are free to choose whether to love God, or at best, it is to reject that hating God has any consequences: all the benefits of religion and none of the cost. Is the rejection of hell not the greatest example of wishful thinking the world has ever seen? If it is true that God is the source of eternal life, then is the rejection of God not eternal death? But if it is true that heaven and hell are not, as in paganism, simply places of reward or punishment, but the experience of the one eternal God, then surely heaven and hell must be eternal, for heaven and hell are in fact God Himself. This is why we believe in eternal hell: it is not because we relish in the thought of eternal punishment. After all, however evil people may be, eternal punishment far outweighs the crime! But it is precisely this idea of punishment that we must get away from. Heaven and hell are eternal relationships with God. Since God has no end, then heaven and hell can have no end.

Now, if heaven and hell are two different experiences of God’s love, then it is no coincidence that the criterion for our ‘judgement’ is also love. On Meatfare Sunday, we hear Christ tell us how we will be judged: by whether we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, welcomed strangers. Christ says that inasmuch as you showed love to others, you showed love to me. Here we see the principle of God’s co-suffering love. Christ identifies Himself with every human being. If we treat others badly, we treat Christ badly; if we treat others well, we treat Christ well. Another parable of the judgement is given again in the gospels in the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus. The rich man lives sumptuously and ignores the poor Lazarus living on the street, starving and suffering. Both die, and the rich man ends up in hell, and Lazarus in heaven. The rich man too would have been where Lazarus is not by being poor, but by sharing his wealth with the poor. What happens in the day of judgement is all our sins will be revealed and we will perceive within us the real nature of our deeds and the condition of our heart. It is as though, if we are today living blissfully unaware of just what rotten people we are, all of a sudden we will recognise what we are really like and what we have really done, and the pain of that realisation is our hell. This is why the Church teaches that there is no salvation without repentance. It is only by acknowledging our true selves and all the sins that separate us from God and turning to Him for forgiveness that we can be spared the horror of finally meeting the brilliant radiance of God’s goodness face to face. People speak as though meeting God, meeting absolute goodness, would be a lovely thing. They need to think again. To meet the ultimate good only to find that we are His enemy, that we have hated Him, that we have rejected Him, would be terror. St Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain explained this by describing God as fire. To those who approach the fire with fear, love and respect, it gives light and warmth; but to those who approach it carelessly, it is a scorching flame.

Thus it stands to reason that the Church teaches that there is no repentance after death. As I said, heaven and hell are the consummation, fulfilment and realisation of our love or lack of love for God and neighbour. Surely, on the day of judgement or in hell, repentance would be all too easy. Who would not admit he was wrong before the glory of God Himself or in the midst of hellish torments? But again this is to think in childish and simplified terms. The unrepentant heart cannot experience God’s love as anything else other than a tormenting presence that it wants to escape from but cannot, because God is everywhere and everlasting. Repentance is not a case of admitting you were wrong because now God is here in front of you and showed you the reality you ignored all your life, as though repentance is simply a way of escaping the unpleasant reality of hell. Love is not about happiness or misery, and so we cannot repent simply because we want to be happy or do not want to be miserable. Love is about truly wanting the person we are with, and their presence and embrace being the source of our joy. For those who hate God, this eternal and omnipresent embrace of God is torture, and thus they will experience that love as eternal torment.

Consequently, the fire of hell has nothing in common with the Roman Catholic doctrine of “purgatory,” – it is not a created fire, nor is it a purifying one which people must go through to ‘atone’ for their sins. This view has been utterly rejected by Orthodoxy. Hell is God Himself no less than Heaven is God Himself, and whether we experience the one or the other depends on whether we want God’s love or hate it.

But I have spoken too much of hell. I said that we should not view eschatology in negative terms, and that eschatology is the consummation and fulfilment of God’s promises. This fulfilment and consummation is described in the last two chapters of the bible. It is a pity that so many people are too afraid to read the last book of the bible, because it is in this book that we are given a glimpse into the very thing that Christians are waiting for: the fullness of the Kingdom of God and the renewal of all creation. Too often modern Christians forget that the Church is not just an institution, but the Kingdom of God that is here but is still to come. The Church is described as the Bride of Christ. We are betrothed to Christ. The second coming is the wedding day and the final consummation. Therefore, we live this present life in two dimensions: as saved and yet hoping for salvation; as betrothed to Christ and yet in anticipation and anxiety for the consummation of the marriage; as joyful and yet penitent; as having everything and yet possessing nothing; as living in this world and yet “having here no continuing city”; as in the world yet not of the world; as being members of Christ’s Church, receiving the new life of baptism and eternal life in the Eucharist; and yet as striving to be made worthy of the Kingdom to come. This double character of Christian life is absolutely essential to the Church’s spirituality and role within society. Awaiting the Kingdom of God by no means amounts to being disinterested in the present world, but the exact opposite. It is this present world that is the stage on which the history of salvation is taking place. This life is the history of eternity. The present world and the world to come cannot be separated. So permit me to end with some passages from the last two chapters of the bible, which describe this coming of God’s kingdom to earth, and the happy ending that we Christians wait for with eager anticipation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
One of the seven angels… came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blog readers may be interested in Fr. Vassilios’ lecture series entitled “Lessons in Orthodox Faith & Theology” which can be listened to here.


Bishop Michael Answers Questions on Infant Baptism

June 29, 2012

Continuing his series of videos answering questions on the Faith, Bishop Michael discusses infant baptism:


Holy Fathers Peter and Paul, Pray to God For Us!

June 28, 2012

On June 29th, the Church remembers Sts Peter and Paul who were martyred together in Rome on this day, circa AD 67.

From Vespers for the feast:

Peter, leader of the glorious Apostles and rock of the faith,
and Paul, divinely inspired orator and light of the holy Churches:
as you stand before the throne of God,
intercede with Christ on our behalf.

Paul, the spokesman of Christ and founder of His teachings,
who earlier had persecuted Jesus the Savior,
now you fill the first throne of the Apostles, O blessed one.
Thus you saw things that cannot be spoken,
and ascending to the third heaven you cried:
“Come with me, and be filled with good things!”

…A joyful feast dawns upon the earth today:
the memorial of Peter and Paul,
the wise leaders of the Apostles.
Let Rome rejoice and be glad with us!
Let us keep feast, O brethren, in songs and hymns!
Rejoice, Apostle Peter, true friend of Christ our God!
Rejoice, beloved Paul, herald of the faith and teacher of the universe!
You have boldness before him, O chosen pair;
pray unceasingly that our souls may be saved!

(The texts for Matins for the feast can be read here.)

Two excellent video presentations on these saints:


This is Shameful

June 28, 2012

Sometimes you just have to say it bluntly. This recently uploaded video at You Tube shows an Orthodox group in Sevastopol, Ukraine attacking what has been identified as a group of Seventh-day Adventists distributing literature from a booth. This sort of behavior, especially in a country that proclaims freedom of religion, is *very* disturbing and should be condemned in no uncertain terms. Remember, it was Jesus who said about those who disagreed with His teachings: “Let them be…” (Matthew 15:14). Jesus never encouraged this approach.


Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on the Jesus Prayer

June 23, 2012

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware spoke tonight at St Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax, Virginia on the Jesus Prayer. This followed his attendance at the Orientale Lumen Conference earlier this week. I got to see some of this on the live stream and it’s a wonderful lecture. The first few minutes are Coptic praises and the introduction and lecture begins about 5:45 minutes.


The New Ukrainian Catholic Catechism: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

June 22, 2012

Back in October, I posted an initial first look at the new Ukrainian Catholic Catechism Christ our Pascha, which had been published in Ukrainian in June, 2011. The new Catechism enjoys the unanimous support of all the Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), as well as its Major Archbishop/Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk. Since the UGCC is the largest body of Eastern Catholics, with over 4.2 million members, this new official Catechism has the potential to significantly influence other Eastern Catholic Churches. A translation into English is in the works and expected by the end of 2012. Plans are to also translate this new Catechism into Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. In November, Dr. Mikola Krokosh, a Ukrainian Catholic theologian, published a critical review of the new Catechism in Ukrainian.

Due to the great interest in the new Catechism and the possible ecumenical impact this new Catechism might have I contacted Dr. Krokosh and obtained permission to publish an English translation of his review of the new Catechism:

The new Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church “Christ – Our Pascha” from an ecumenical perspective:  One step forward, two steps backward

 By Mykola Krokosh

translated by Dr. Alexander Roman

In the context of Ukrainian church realities, the ecumenical breadth of the new Catechism of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (“CUGCC”) can be measured by the attitude of its authors toward Orthodox theology, and specifically to their own Orthodox roots.

At the outset, the very publication of such a document can be said to be an expression of the Eastern theological identity of the UGCC. When the basis of the first section of the 1992  “Catechism of the Catholic Church” is founded upon the so-called “Apostolic” Symbol of Faith, (See Footnote 1) which is accepted only in the Western Church and in the mainstream Protestant Churches, the CUGCC corrects this anti-Orthodox lapse of the Latin Church and makes specific reference to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith, which bears an unquestionable universal authority and is acknowledged as the authentic expression of the faith of the Ancient Church not only by Catholics and Orthodox, but even by the majority of the great Protestant denominations.

However, for some reason the creed is given with the “Filioque” addition, even though in brackets. The particular reasons guiding the authors of the CUGCC in making such an ecumenical faux pas toward their Orthodox brothers is truly incomprehensible. It is well-known that this unfortunate addition was one of the main theological reasons of the Great Schism between East and West.  This is even more incomprehensible, if we take into account the fact that the Filioque was dropped even in the declaration of the Vatican Congregation of the Faith’s “Dominus Iesus” (See Footnote 2) (2000 AD).  It is obvious that the creators of the CUGCC lacked the courage to clearly articulate the truth of the Eastern theological “Monarchy” or “Single Principle” of the Father.

Although the Father is acknowledged as the “Principle of the Person of the Son and of the Person of the Holy Spirit” (82), but the key word “only” is not included, and as a matter of fact there is no quotation anywhere throughout the CUGCC from the works of St Photios the Great, whose Trinitarian theology constitutes the crown of the teaching of the Eastern Church on the Holy Trinity.  However, with regard to the question of the Procession of the Holy Spirit, the CUGCC copiously attempts to keep to the Eastern tradition (comp. 91), while, at the same time acknowledging the legitimacy of the Western-Alexandrian tradition (comp. 98).

While articulating the Anaphora of Basil the Great, the commemoration of the Roman pope as the “Most Holy Ecumenical Pontiff” (8) strikes a discordant note, as this is actually a corruption of the anaphora, for this title of the Bishop of Rome is absent from its initial text.

It is a translation of the Latin phrase “episcopus universalis” – a term with a very doubtful theological basis, which Bishops of Rome had, for long, rejected (for example, Pope Gregory the Great-Dialogist) and which was slowly introduced into the UGCC after the Synod of Zamostia, of sorry memory, in 1720 with the goal of squeezing out from its (the UGCC’s) memory more than 600 years of communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Within the context of the ecumenical dialogue, this term is “past its best before date” and is a reminder of the struggle between Rome and Constantinople, so that it, in no wise, reflects the “Petrine ministry of the Bishops of Rome” (291) and should have been removed, post haste, from the Liturgy of the UGCC.

Affirming that the “Bishop of Rome – the bearer of Peter’s ministry – calls together Ecumenical councils, approves their affirmation, affirms and expresses the infallible teaching of the faith of the Church, deals with the difficulties that develop in the lives of individual particular churches” (293), the CUGCC only  parrots the contemporary Western perspective on the primacy, that is based, first and foremost, on the canonical falsifications of the 8th and 9th centuries.  In the one, undivided Church of the first millennium, the pope did not call together any Ecumenical council and the Eastern Church never acknowledged the pope’s infallibility, nor his jurisdictional primacy in the sense given by the First Vatican council.

To affirm that “Communion with the Church of Rome is the sign and condition of belongingness to the universal Church (304), the CUGCC unwittingly removes from the Universal Church all non-Catholics – a disturbing statement given its indirect put down of the Orthodox Churches. This is a witness to the fact that, for the time being, the UGCC has not liberated itself from the theological baggage of uniatism, whose basis consists in the view that the Eastern Churches are considered incomplete ecclesiological constructs.

In support of this is the equally false affirmation, that the Florentine and Brest unions were examples of the overcoming of schism in the Church (comp. 306) at a time when it is well-known that the first (that of Florence) ended in a complete fiasco, and the other not only did not renew the union between East and West, but divided the hitherto united Ukrainian Church – the effects of which we experience to this day.

Unfortunately, the authors of the CUGCC missed a wonderful opportunity for an absolutely necessary reassessment of the Union of Brest as the sin of the primary schism of the Ukrainian Church, which originated the beginning of the schism of our people into East and West, the effects of which we all continue to experience to this day.

In general, the CUGCC is characterized by a certain thinking in terms of fantasy or else by an effort to canonize myths that exist in the minds of many Greek-Catholics who are incapable of accepting the new reality of ecumenism which was finally solidified by the Balamand document of 1993, which clearly condemned uniatism as a method of renewing unity.  Rather than demonstrate the perspective of Balamand and, in this manner, express its own positive attitude toward ecumenism, the CUGCC continues to recite the fables of the epoch of uniatism with all of its negative stances toward ecumenism.

The catechism’s authors loudly proclaim that the Kyivan Metropolitans, who were in union with the Patriarchate of Constantinople,  were somehow in communion with Rome even after the rupture of communion between Constantinople and Rome, while the union of Brest was but an affirmation of this communion (between Rome and Kyiv – comp. 307).  This conclusion is simply illogical for if such communion with Rome existed in an uninterrupted state, then why the need for the union at all and why did the participants of the uniate sobor of Brest anathematize their countrymen, who didn’t join them in the union, but who decided to remain in the “communion with Rome” that existed prior to Brest?

Is it then the case that the rivers of blood and tears that ran throughout our Ukrainian land as a result of the union occurred as a result of some sort of affirmation of what was already in place?

In fact, it would have been entirely proper for the CUGCC to have acknowledged the error of the schism within the Ukrainian Church on the part of those bishops who created the union of Brest and who disregarded its foreseeable and sad aftermath for the unity of the Ukrainian Church.  Instead, the catechism makes a failed attempt to proclaim the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to be the “direct descendant of the Kyivan Metropolia in communion with the Roman Church” (307),  thus affirming the UGCC’s pretensions with respect to being the inheritor of the rights of the pre-union Kyivan Church.

However, the fact that the Kyivan Church was Orthodox was somehow lost.  This means that, logically, the true inheritors of the pre-union Kyivan Church could only be the Orthodox hierarchs.  In addition, from the point of view of church law, it is clear that after the union of Brest the Sees of those bishops who went into the union became vacant, including the Kyivan Metropolitan See, which is why their replacement with new bishops was the legal right of the Orthodox Church.

The glorification of Josaphat of Polotsk who “would rather have given up his life than allow for the shedding of brotherly blood” (323) indicates that the authors of the CUGCC weren’t overly concerned with the fact that this saint is a very controversial personage for the Orthodox and a symbol of uniatism personified – the desire to renew the unity of the Church of Christ by means of dividing the Eastern Church while placing portions of it under the jurisdiction of the pope of Rome.

Unfortunately, the attempt of the authors of the CUGCC to focus on the Catechism of the Catholic Church as their orientation is made manifest in the very foreword (p. 7) and in practice it took shape as a form of uncritical imitation of redoubtable ideologies of Latin ecclesiology.

In contradiction of known facts from the history of the Church when a significant part or even a majority of bishops fell into heresy (e.g. Arianism and Iconoclasm), the CUGCC adopts an idealistic view of the teaching authority of the Church defined as “when the bishops, in one mind, hand down that which they received from the Apostles always and everywhere” (58).  The Eastern Church does not know the idea of the “teaching authority of the Church” as this is a typically Latin ecclesiological notion, which makes truth the slave of the leadership of the Church.  And generally speaking, the UGCC is not obligated to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the UGCC is an Eastern Church, and the creators of the CCC placed it on the foundation of the pseudo-apostolic creed which was never confirmed by the Ecumenical Councils as an expression of the faith of the entire Church – which also makes that creed uncanonical.

In addition, the teaching about papal primacy is not characterized by the spirit of ecumenical openness, but, instead, is expressed within the framework of the First Vatican Council, where the Bishop of Rome is the guarantor of the maintenance of orthodoxy (p. 287) and the “teacher and rule (sic) of the Apostolic faith, to whom the Lord has given the gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals, in order to safeguard the purity and fullness of the Divine teaching.” (p. 291). And this in spite of the fact that the history of the Church indicates something quite different, for example, the case of pope Honorius I who was posthumously anathematized by the Sixth Constantinopolitan Ecumenical Council in 681 for his support of the Monothelite heresy or when the popes at the beginning of the second millennium illegally added the “Filioque” to the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith.

However, a step toward Orthodox ecclesiology is seen in the presented notion of the Particular Church (ukr. pomisna Cerkva) as such and which is created from the Local Churches (comp. 291).  This is foreign to the Latin tradition.  The catechism also classifies the Roman Church as being a Particular Church.  This shows that the Roman Church is truly the sister of the UGCC, and equal in rights with her (comp. 305 and 307), and not her mother.  Nonetheless, the CUGCC refuses to call matters by their proper names by avoiding the use of the term “autocephalous.”  To this is added wishful thinking when it is affirmed that the “one and catholic Church exists in the Particular Churches and is of the Particular Churches” (17), because the Second Vatican Council the “ecclesia particularis” is, in fact, identical with the notion of an “eparchy/diocese” (See Footnote 3) and not with a true Particular Church, which does not have any rightful place in the Catholic Church, because the particular unions of bishops, for example, the Episcopal Conferences, possess a status that is entirely dependent on Rome (See Footnote 4).

The CUGCC makes a general attempt to base the idea of particularity on the foundation of inculturation (301), and not in terms of the canonical tradition of the Eastern Church (34th Apostolic Canon), as this is done by the Orthodox Churches.  But this is extremely illogical, because if the inculturation factor in connection with ecclesial particularity was valid then we would see a movement toward ecclesial particularity in those regions of the Western Church with strongly and widely defined cultures, but this is not the case at all.  We should not confuse ecclesiology with cultural issues.  The Particularity of the UGCC is not derived from local Ukrainian identity but is rather a logical aftermath of the fact that the Uniate Churches are separated parts of the Orthodox Church and therefore they at least try to orient themselves on the basis of Orthodoxy’s ecclesiological principles.

In the entire CUGCC there is a felt absence of such a foundational (for Eastern theology) term as “the Uncreated Energies”: not to mention the fact that not even once is mention made of the greatest theologian of the Eastern Church in the second millennium, St Gregory Palamas.  This is an unacceptable lack in a theological document of such a level.  Deification (divinization) is mentioned a few times, however, and is even placed within the context of Eastern theology (comp. 850-855), however this is, in at least one place, understood in accordance with Latin theology, as an “entrance into communion with the Persons of the Holy Trinity” (255), which contradicts the Eastern apophatic theology of the Trinity and the Palamite traditions concerning the idea of God.  Instead, the Western theology of satisfaction is adopted, which is expressed in the dogma about purgatory (250), but there is no mention about indulgences.  Mention is made about the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos (576).

The acknowledgement, in the catechism, of the role of the Epiclesis in the sanctification of the holy Gifts (260,381) adheres to the tradition of Eastern theology.  In general, one great positive characteristic of the CUGCC from the ecumenical point of view is that it contains the entire authentic liturgical tradition of the Eastern Church which binds the UGCC with strong ties to the Orthodox Church.  In particular, an explication is given for the practice of standing during the Liturgy (627), the Communion of the faithful “who having piously placed their hands in cross-wise position on their chests, walk to the ambo before the Royal Doors” (389) and the Communion of baptized children (431).

Such a position taken in the Catechism regarding the renewal of the Byzantine liturgical heritage and the removal of the aftermath of Latinization is not only a legitimate obligation of our ecumenical time, but also is in complete agreement with the directives of the Roman curia which desires that “we take upon ourselves, even if this be via a progressive process, the renewal of elements that were lost, replacing them by important practices and regulations . . . even if this will mean going against the decisions accepted by local Synods or a moving away from directives given in various times and for various reasons by the dicasteries of the Apostolic See.” (See Footnote 5).

We may only hope that these principles of this official document of the UGCC, which applies to all its eparchies, won’t be ignored by the Latinized eparchies of the UGCC, for example, by that of Buchach where under the leadership of the Basilians the liturgical tradition of the Eastern Church is aggressively violated, including the relevant documents of the Apostolic See in this regard – for example, the Eucharistic supplications are served, the word “Orthodox” is left out during the Divine Liturgy and so on.  Sadly, the authors of the CUGCC could not bring themselves to condemn the Synod of Zamostia of 1720 and its directives which sanctioned liturgical and theological Latinization.

A very hopeful sign of the restoration of Eastern spirituality is the presentation of the theme of the great tradition of prayer (pp. 802-809), especially the Jesus Prayer (693-694) together with hesychasm (754).

In conclusion, the Catechism of the UGCC “Christ – Our Pascha” is a reflection of those theological processes which are occurring today in the UGCC itself.  On the one hand, it is a witness to a certain theological, even ecclesiological, state of progress where the UGCC affirms itself to be a Particular Church with an Eastern tradition and so it demonstrates that it moves forward with other Ukrainian Churches which are struggling to have their autocephaly recognized.  On the other hand, this document likewise demonstrates that the UGCC is still not ready to remove from itself that ecclesiological heritage which is founded on Western ideas about the unity of the Church which is called “uniatism.”

Alongside all its positive aspects, the CUGCC is, above all, a great missed opportunity to have made an ecumenical update by way of modernizing the irrelevant uniate ecclesial self-awareness of the UGCC and move towards the ecumenical achievements of today.  The publication of the CUGCC, first and foremost, indicates that the UGCC does not, at present, possess its own vision of the renewal of the unity of the Ukrainian Church that was divided by the union of Brest into two confessions.  In other words, notwithstanding all the rhetoric about the “Kyivan Church” the UGCC currently has nothing to propose to the Orthodox in the matter of ecumenism and church unity, for if the main leitmotiv of even a document of such a high level is . . . uniatism, what then can be said of the situation “on the ground” in the various eparchies?

All prior ecumenical intiatives of the UGCC which come down to the baseless desire to immediately renew Eucharistic communion with the Orthodox Churches have turned out to be simply smoke and mirrors from behind which now comes this “manifesto of uniatism” – the new catechism of the UGCC.

This document has become dated even before its publication because it is a determined witness of the anti-ecumenical reaction in the UGCC rather than a step forward toward the creation in Ukraine of one Particular Church.  Not having quoted even once from the documents reflecting the consensus of the Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, the authors of the CUGCC have placed the UGCC in a bad light as a result of the negative attitude of this Church (as reflected in the CUGCC) toward ecumenism.

However, a hopeful sign is that the CUGCC demonstrated a certain acceptance of the Balamand document – it in fact has adopted the ecclesiology of the “Sister-Churches” as discussed in the Balamand document where “Every Particular Church has a salvific faith, an unbroken Apostolic tradition and valid Holy Mysteries and therefore the name “Sister-Church” means the recognition of these characteristics in the other Church and the equality of the Particular Churches.” (305) (See Footnote 6).  Unfortunately, praise of the various unias that follows (306-307) shows that the authors of the CUGCC were incapable of moving the ecclesiology of the Sister-Churches from its internal Catholic confessional level to the universal or ecumenical level which is what the intention of Balamand was, in fact.

In sum, the new catechism requires an immediate ecumenical overview, the sooner the better. As they say, “the catechism is dead, long live the new catechism.”  Therefore, we shall have to wait a while longer for a real ecumenical breakthrough to occur in the largest Eastern Catholic Church.

Footnotes:

1)    For the history of this creed, see Kelly, John N.D., Altchristliche Glaubensbekenntnisse:  Geschichte und Theologie, Gottingen 1993, 362-425 (Engl. Kelly, John N.D., Early Christian Creeds, London 1972).

2)    Compare with the original Latin text of the declaration, point 1:  qui ex Patre procedit” – http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-jesus.html

3)    Compare with “Lumen gentium” 23 – here the discussion is about eparchies and not Particular Churches “Individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their particular Churches (in suis Ecclesiis particularibus), created in the image of the Universal Church (ad imaginem Ecclesiae universalis formatis), in which and from which there comes the one and only Catholic Church (in quibus et ex quibus una et unica Ecclesia catholica exsistit).”

4)    Compare with, for example, the motu proprio of John Paul II “Apostolos suos” from 21.05.1998 p. 12.

5)    “The Instruction of the application of the liturgical directives of the Codex of the Canons of the Eastern Churches” of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 6.01.1996, 39.

6)    Compare with the Balamand document, 13:  “On each side it is recognized that what Christ has entrusted to His Church – profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above all the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the apostolic succession of bishops – cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches.”

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