Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 3, 2003
Dialogue bridges acient divide
U.S. theologian holds hope for Catholic-Orthodox resolution, unity
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
In spite of the Catholic and Orthodox international dialogue's current impasse, an American theologian believes there are reasons for optimism.
"Local relations between Catholics and Orthodox in different places around the world," is one of the main reasons to believe it's not the end of the road for the dialogue, Paulist Father Ronald Roberson, told the WCR after his lecture at St. Joseph's College, Jan. 24.
The lecture called, Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue: The end of the Road? was sponsored by the college in celebration of Christian Unity week. Some 30 people, including lay persons, theology professors, priests and a bishop attended. The Paulist father is associate director of the secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In his lecture, Roberson noted the exchange of visits between the pope and the Romanian patriarch in the last couple of years as a positive sign.
A Russian Orthodox Church document for the principles of ecumenism was also positive and really gives strong encouragement to Orthodox people to participate, he said.
The long history of Catholic-Orthodox troubled relations began after the mutual excommunication of 1054 followed by the barbarous sacking of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1274.
Efforts to heal the breach between the churches failed both in 1274 Second Council of Lyons and in 1438-39 Council of Ferrara-Florence.
Some 500 years of hostile silence between the Latin and Byzantine traditions of the ancient Church followed.
This silence began to break down only in the 1960s when the convocation of the Second Vatican Council - at which Orthodox observers played a significant role behind the scenes - heralded a greater appreciation of Orthodoxy.
On the Orthodox side, the third pan-Orthodox conference (Rhodes 1964) encouraged the local Orthodox churches to engage in studies preparing for an eventual dialogue with the Catholic Church.But before engaging in a formal dialogue, both churches realized the need to learn to trust one another again.
In 1964, a dialogue of charity between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, who met in Jerusalem, lifted the mutual excommunications of 1054. It led to an establishment of a joint commission in 1976 to prepare for an official dialogue.
The first phase of the dialogue began in 1980 on the Greek islands of Patmos and Rhodes. Over the next eight years, the commission adopted common documents on important theological themes.
But because of the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, a new crisis was born between the churches due to the re-emergence of the Eastern Catholic churches that had been suppressed by the communists.
Eastern Church emerges
This recalled the long-standing Orthodox grievances going back to the creation of the Eastern Catholic churches centuries before, by means of a process referred to today as uniatism.
Uniatism is from the Latin word unio, means union. For the Orthodox, the union envisaged is strictly defined as union of Orthodox Christian communities with Rome through acknowledgment of the pope's claim to universal primacy. However, the two churches have different understandings of the concept, Roberson pointed out.
A document concerning this issue was produced in Balamand, Lebanon, but was only hailed as positive in Romania and Ukraine, while it was condemned in Greece. The Orthodox side demanded more work on the issue, since there was no consensus on Balamand. At the next plenary session in Emmitsburg, Md., an impasse was reached.
To complicate matters, an unexpected crisis in relations between the two churches erupted in February 2002, when the Vatican announced the elevation of four existent apostolic administrations to the status of diocese in Moscow. This evoked a strong reaction from the Orthodox side. So if there are ways Catholic and Orthodox in Edmonton or other places in North American can possibly keep good relations, Roberson says, "I think that's where we can make progress and dispel some of the misperceptions about each other."