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Bp Hilarion: Can Europe breathe with one lung? Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue Today

18 września 2005 | 12:01 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

Paper at the VI Gniezno Convention “Europe oj Dialogue. To be Christian in Contemporary Europe “, 17 September 2005

Christianity mus t breathe with twa lungs, Eastern and Western. This metaphor, which belongs to the Russian poet Vyacheslav Ivanov and derives from the worldview of Vladimir Soloviev, is very popular in Catholic circles. It was used by the late pop e John Paul II in his public addresses. Today Ivanov’s metaphor is often used with re gard to Europe and European Christianity, as we II as within the context of the dialogue between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. The dynamics of the Catholic-Orthodox relations in contemporary epoch makes the theme ofthe twa lungs of European Christianity particularly relevant.

*Catholic-Orthodox relations at the beginning of the new pontificate*

The year 2005 was marked by a number ofevents that may have strong impact not only on the life of the Roman Catholic Church, but also on the entire area of ecumenical relations, in particular on the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue

On April 2 Pope John Paul II passed away. He was the most influential religious leader ofmodernity, and he made an impact on the entire tuman civilization. Indeed, his influence went far beyond the Roman Catholic Church, which he headed for more than a quarter of a century. His message was heard and appreciated by millions of people alI over the world, not only Catholics, but also Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans, Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths and, what is perhaps even more remarkable, by people of no faith. By his presence, by his words, by his smile and by his extraordinary openness he was able to attract millions of people to Christ.

In the time when secular politicians in most Western countries worked hard to expel religion from the public sphere, to redlice it to the realm of private devotion, to ban it from schools, universities and from the mass media, John Paul II was a public figure of such magnitude that his every voyage was widely covered and his every pronouncement was commented by the mass media worldwide.

He was an ‘orthodox’ Pope in the sense of preserving traditional attitude of his Church to dogma and morality. His stand on maral issues, such as marriage and family, abortion, contraception, euthanasia and many others, very often evoked criticism on the part of those who wanted traditional values to be replaced by secular ones, and who attempted to oppose hum ani sm to religion. By being traditional, however, the Pope was by no means less humane, being able to develop a universal humanism based on spiritual values as opposed to the atheist version of humanism. For many years he contested atheism in this country, which was his native land, and he played part in the collapse of atheist totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe. But he also contributed enormously to rediscovery of faith by many of those who lost it because of liberalism and relativism prevailing in democratic Western societies.

His life coincided with enormous geopolitical changes which altered forever the face of Europe. These changes, unfortunately, led not only to the introduction of religious freedom in those Eastem European countries where it had previously been violated, but also to the aggravation of inter-confessional situation in SOme regions of Eastem Europe. A number of problems arose, in particular, between the Orthodox and the Catholics in Russia and Ukraine, which prevented the leaders of the Orthodox Church in both countries from meeting with the Pope. These problems still await their solution.

I met with John Paul II twice, on both occasions delivering to him a message from the Patriarch of Moscow Alexy II. On January 21, 2002, which was our second and last meeting, I was entrusted with a somewhat delicate mission of explaining to the Pope the conditions on which his meeting with the Primate ofthe Russian Orthodox Church would have been possible. He was, of course, well aware of these conditions, which had never been made a secret. Among them were an explicit rejection of alI forms of proselytism on the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the recognition of the fact that Uniatism could no longer be considered as a way towards Christian unity. It is to be hoped that these principles will be ref1ected in a common declaration of the Primates of the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches, ance a meeting between them does take place. Such a meeting may pave the way to a new page in the relations between these two traditional Churches, whose common and united testimony to the world would be so crucial and so timely.

The hope for such a meeting and for a new development in the relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches is reinforced by the election of Cardinal J osef Ratzinger as the 26Sth Pope of Rome. Though it was an internal event in the life of the Roman Catholic Church, many people throughout the world, notably within the Orthodox milieu, have certain expectations and hopes related to the new pontificate.

First of alI, many Orthodox hope that the Catholic Church will continue to preserve its traditional doctrinal and moral teaching without surrendering to pressures from the ‘progressive’ groups that demand the ordination of women, the approval of the socalled’ same-sex marriages’, abortion, contraception, euthanasia etc. There is no doubt that Benedict XVI, who has already made his positions on these issues clear, will continue to oppose such groups, which exist both within the Catholic Church and outside it.

Secondly, there is hope that the Catholic Church will continue to combat liberalism, secularism and relativism both in Europe and outside it. Just two days before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed his fellow cardinals with a sermon which, according to some journalists, broke like a thunderclap. ‘We are moving,’ he said, toward ‘a dictatorship of relativism… that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one’s own ego and one’s own desires as the final measure.’ A sermon on the eve of the conclave was meant to be programmatic, and it is clear that the war against relativism which Cardinal Ratzinger declared did not scare the other cardinals: on the contrary, by electing him as Pope they expressed their readiness to join him in this noble, but extremely painful and difficult combat.

Thirdly, there is hope that the new pontificate will be marked by a breakthrough in relations between the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches, and that a meeting of the Pope of Rome with the Patriarch of Moscow will one daJ take place. This meeting must be preceded by concrete steps in the direction of a better mutual understanding, and by careful elaboration of a common position on major dividing lssues.

It is to be hoped, next, that there will be a general amelioration in the relations between the Catholic Church and the world Orthodoxy. In 2000 I represented the Moscow Patriarchate at the session of the Mixed Catholic-Orthodox Theological Commission, which took place at Baltimore, USA, and discussed the question of Uniatism. No agreement on this issue was reached, and the discussion, which was fulI of frustration, disappointment and bittemess on both sides, ended without any decision as to whether or not the wark of the commission would ever be resumed.

Just a rew days ago, however, the renewed Orthodox delegation to the Mixed Commission met after a five-year break. The meeting took place in Istanbul, on the invitation of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The delegation agreed with the proposal of the Roman Catholic sicie to begin the discussion of the theme of primacy in the Universal Church. At the same time, the delegation underlined the necessity to continue, within the framework of ecclesiology, the discussion ofUniatism, which was left unfinished at Baltimore.

*A European Catholic-Orthodox Alliance?*

The wark of the Mixed Commission will not be an easy one and is like.ly to continue for mafiJ years to come. My fear, however, is that by concentrating exclusively on the dividing issues we are likely to .lose precious time that could be used for a common witness to the secularized world. Europe, in particular, has so rapidly dechristianized that urgent action is needed in order to save it from losing its centuries-old Christian identity. I strongly believe that the time has come for Catholics and Orthodox to unite their efforts and to defend traditional Christianity, which is being attacked from alI sides.

This is why a rew months ago I proposed to form a European Catholic-Orthodox Alliance in order for the official representatives of the twa churches to wark on a common position on alI major social and ethical issues, and to speak with one voice. There is already the Conference of European Churches, where the Orthodox wark together with Protestants, Anglicans and Old Catholics; there is the COMECE, where Catholics discuss matters of pan-European importance among themselves. But where is a common Catholic-Orthodox forum?

The proposed alliance may enable European Catholics and Orthodox to fight together against secularism, liberalism and relativism prevailing in modem Europe, may help them to speak with one voice in addressing secular society, may provide for them an ample space where they will discuss modem issues and come to common positions. The social and ethical teachings ofthe Catholic and Orthodox Churchesare extremely close, in many cases practically identical. I have had a chance to compare the ‘Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,’ published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004, with the ‘Bases ofthe Social Doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church,’ approved by the Bishops’ Council of the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000. There are so mafiJ striking similarities and so little difference.

Why, then, should we not be able to reveal aur unity on alI these major issues urbi et orbi?

The rationale behind this proposal is the following: aur churches are on their way to unity, but one has to be realistic and understand that it will probably take decades, if not centuries, before this unity is realized. In the meantime we desperately need to address the world with a united voice. Without being one Church, can we act as one Church? Can we present ourselves to the outside world as a unified structure, as an alliance? I am convinced that we can, and that by doing so we may become much stronger.

The Catholic-Orthodox Alliance is meant to be something completely different from the Mixed Catholic-Orthodox Theological Commission. The commission must be concentrated on what divides liS, while the alliance should explore, clarify and then publicly announce the things on which we are united. The commission will be concentrated on the matters of doctrine and ecclesiology, while the alliance should be centred on social and maral issues. The commission will continue the internal Catholic-Orthodox debate, which has already lasted for many centuries, while the alliance should enable liS, without necessarily overcoming our internal problems, to form a common front to defend Christianity as such against everything that may challenge it now or in the future.

Why, then, a European alliance and not a world alliance? Firstly, because I believe that it is in Europe that the most deadly battles between Christianity and relativism are going to take place in the nearest future. 1t is in Europe that the onslaught of militant secularism against religion takes the most aggressive forms. 1t is Europe that most obsessively denies its Christian heritage. 1t is in Europe that crucifixes are taken away from schools, religious symbols are banned from pub lic places, and Christianity becomes an object of constant criticism, outrage and mockery. 1t is in Europe that a profound demographic crisis affected Christian population, threatening its very survival. Not that these processes do not take place in other parts of the world, but it is in Europe that they become so stunninglyevident.

Secondly, in Europe there is a certain numerical balance between Catholics and Orthodox: 280 million of the farmer against 2l0 million of the latter. In same other parts of the world (like, for example, South America) the farmer outnumber the latter to such a degree that no dialogue on an equal footing is feasible.

As far as the structure of the proposed alliance is concerned, it can be developed by the Churches themselves. The Catholic sicie may consist, for example, of representatives of the European Bishops’ Conferences, while the Orthodox sicie may consist of the representatives of alI Local Autocephalous Churches that are present in Europe. ComECE emerges as the most obvious partner to the Orthodox, if such a structure is taken as a basis. One also has to define whether we are speaking about the EU or about Europe in general. 1 would personally advocate the latter option, in which case ComECE may be enlarged by representatives ofthe Bishops’ Conferences from non-BU countries.

lt would algo be appropriate that the Oriental Orthodox Churches should from the very beginning be a part of the alliance on behalf of the Orthodox family. There is no Eucharistic communion between the Eastern and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, but their spirituality and ethos, as well as their social and moral teachings are quite identical. Moreover, in an ecumenical context the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches have already proved to be able to act as one Orthodox family.

As far as the agenda of the Catholic-Orthodox Alliance is concerned, it may concentrate on various aspects of family and sexual ethics, as well as on bioethical questions, apart from the issues of militant secularism, liberalism and relativism, which were already listed above. The Catholic Church has already made its official position on family, marriage, abortion, contraception, euthanasia, cloning etc. known to the world, so have some Orthodox Churches, notably the Russian Orthodox Church in its ‘Bases of the Social Conception.’ But where is a united position?

On all social and ethical issues the Catholic-Orthodox Alliance could act as an authoritative partner in the dialogue with such European international organizations as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. The Alliance could also represent traditional Christianity in the dialogue with Judaism, Islam and other world religions. Such dialogue is very crucial today, the more so that on many ethical issues both Judaism and Islam are closer to traditional Christianity than modem liberal Protestantism.

Within the framework of the alliance we could also formulate the ‘code of conduct’ of the Catholics in predominantly Orthodox countries and of the Orthodox in predominantly Catholic countries, which is necessary to solve the problem of proselytism. In this regard the alliance would act as a Catholic-Orthodox Bishops’ Conference on a European level. Incidentally, during the Eucharistic congress in Bari in May 2005 Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, advanced the idea of a Catholic-Orthodox ‘Council’. The reaction to this idea in the Orthodox world was rather reserved, because the word’ council’ in this context bears certain specific connotations: it reminds the Orthodox of the FerraraFlorence, Brest and other similar ‘councils’ where the Orthodox were forced into a Unia. It seems to me that at this stage it is far too early to speak about any CatholicOrthodox ‘council’ with the aim of reaching a dogmatic or ecclesiological unity. It is much more realistic, however, to speak about a strategic alliance which would help the Catholics and the Orthodox in Europe to defend not only their ‘confessional’ interests, but also the interests of traditional Christianity as such.

*Uniatism as an obstacle on the way towards unity*

One of the obstacles in the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is the question of Uniatism. The Mixed Commission for Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue at its 1990 session in Freising (Germany) stated the following regarding Uniatism: ‘We reject it as a method for the search for unity because it is opposed to the common tradition of our Churches.’ In 1993, during the seventh plenary session of the Joint Commission which took place in Balamand (Lebanon), the representatives of both Churches confirmed that Uniatism ‘can no longer be accepted either as a method to be followed or as a model of the unity our Churches are seeking.’ Many practical guidelines were developed in order to lessen the tensions that exist between the Orthodox and the Catholics in various regions of the world, where they co-exist. The document also stated the following: ‘Pastoral activity in the Catholic Church, Latin as well as Eastern, no longer aims at having the faithful of one Church pass over to the other; that is to say, it no longer aims at proselytizing among the Orthodox. It aims at answering the spiritual needs of its own faithful and it has no desire for expansion at the expense of the Orthodox Church.’

The above statements may seem to have solved the problem. Unfortunately, however, the recommendations which were made have so far remained on paper, and the Greek-Catholics do not want to follow them. On the contrary, an active expansion of Uniatism takes place in the Ukraine. Uniatism attempts to go beyond Western Unkraine, which for several centuries was its traditional area of habitat, and to expand to the East, where it was never any prominent. The recent transfer of the headquarters of the Greek-Catholic Archbishop from Lviv to Kiev is a clear testimony to this. From the point of view of the Orthodox, the only explanation for this transfer is that the Greek Catholics want to increase their membership through proselytising among the Orthodox Christians.

We must clearly state that the politics of double standards in unacceptable for the inter-church relations. It is inadmissible that Uniate expansionism be condemned on paper but fostered in practice. Unia is not only a regrettable fact of the past, which deepened the division between Christian East and West, but also a serious obstacle towards unity at present. Only conscious abstention of the Greek-Catholics from expansionism and adherence to the practical recommendations of the Balamand document may reduce tensions between them and the Orthodox and pave the way towards a significant improvement in the whole area of Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Today, as never before, we need a united Christian voice in Europe which is rapidly secularized and dechristianized. It is not a Unia that we need, nor a second Council of Ferrara-Florence. We need a strategic alliance, and we need it hic et nunc. In twenty, thirty or forty years it may simply be too late. The ultimate goal of visible unity must not disappear from our horizon, but we should not hope for its speedy achievement. On the other hand, nothing should prevent us from uniting our efforts in order to defend Christian tradition, without waiting for the restoration of full unity between the two lungs of European Christianity.

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