Thursday, November 15, 2007

Russia and the Pope

Those who follow Orthodox and Catholic relations are well aware of the recent meeting between the hierarchies of said Churches in Ravenna to discuss the “The Ecclesiological and Canonical consequences of the Sacramental nature of the Church.”

The meeting was really about the Pope.

In fact, most meetings between the Catholics and the Orthodox are really about the Pope. Or, anyway, he is the white-cassocked elephant in the room at such meetings. There is no more significant blockade to reunion between the Apostolic Churches than their differing opinions on the proper use of the Petrine office (if, indeed, they can even agree that the papal office is Petrine).

Those who follow Orthodox and Catholic relations are also well aware that, before the beginning of the Ravenna meeting, the Moscow delegation respectfully departed. The stated reason for their withdrawal was the presence of the Estonian Orthodox Church, which the Russians regard as under their jurisdiction, despite the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople granted them an independent status. The Ecumenical Patriarchate had no right to do so, according to the Moscow Patriarchate, because the Estonians fell under their territory. Yadda yadda yadda.

Maybe this was the Russians’ genuine, heartfelt reason for walking out of an ecumenical discussion. Maybe not.

Prior to the meeting, the Russian Orthodox Church launched a workgroup to independently formulate her position on universal primacy. Also prior to the meeting, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria (he who would later lead the way out the door at Ravenna) told Interfax that the Moscow Patriarchate will defend its own position in the dispute and there will be no compromise at the upcoming meeting. Fair enough. What is Moscow’s position? I eagerly await the results of their workgroup.

Meanwhile, the meeting at Ravenna is ended, its document published. Prior to its official release today, Bishop Hilarion (there’s that name again), posted the commission's final document on his website. This according to Canadian Press and confirmed by the Vatican.

In addition to posting the document, Bishop Hilarion added his own comment that the document was adopted without the presence of representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate at the meeting, casting doubt over whether it could be considered to reflect Moscow's view. He further wrote, "The Moscow Patriarchate will analyze the Ravenna document and present its conclusions in due course."

I await these conclusions alongside the results of the workgroup mentioned above.

That amounts to the same thing, doesn't it? Moscow was already working on its response to the conclusions of the Ravenna meeting prior to the beginning of the Ravenna meeting. It's probably just me, but I find that suspicious.

The Patriarch of Moscow currently heads the largest body of Orthodox Christians in the world. When the representatives of Russian Orthodoxy leave an ecumenical discussion, that leaves a massive body of Orthodox Christians unrepresented. It's a big deal. In practical terms, the Patriarch of Moscow is the most powerful man in the Orthodox Church. Now, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has more history and more honorifics, but not so much raw power. Turkey isn't exactly a hotbed of Christianity in any form.

There's that, and there's this whole idea of the "Third Rome." Quite a while ago - six hundred and fifty years or so - some Russian Orthodox Christians decided that Moscow was the true center of Christianity. Once, they acknowledged, this was Rome. Then, Constantine moved the capitol of his empire to Constantinople, thereby creating a "Second Rome." After the fall of this empire then, where were Orthodox Christians to look for their paragon of orthopraxis? These Russians looked around themselves and - lo and behold - found Moscow's domes the highest.

So, when the Russian Orthodox speak of independently formulating their position on universal primacy and uncompromisingly defending that position, I have to wonder whether they don't have something like the "Third Rome" in mind. Which is to say that the primacy belongs to them.

I'm certainly no expert on these goings-on. All I know is what I read in the news and a little bit of history, but - for whatever it's worth - here's what I suspect:

Maybe the objection about the Estonian Church was just a convenient way to step out of the ecumenical talks, leaving the Russians free to independently develop their own ideas about primacy - quite independent of the man in the white cassock.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

So John, what do you think of the Eastern Catholics who think the Filioque is heresy, there are only 7 Ecumenical Councils, the Pope only has a Primacy of Honor, etc...?

Dr. Eric

A Simple Sinner said...

Dr. Eric - do you mean like the gang over at ByzCath.org who insist anyone who doesn't tout the modern Orthodox line is irredeemably Latinized?

If I believed all of that I would not give some lame lip service to "well this is my church" I would just go Orthodox.

Jumping through hoops to create a hermeneutic of anti-Roman thought is not this Greek Catholic's thing. So be it.

On the Moscow matter... Does anyone of good faith believe this grandstanding? Rome with every good right to be displeased with ROC treatment of Eastern Catholics hasn't pressed the issue - olive branches have been held out!

600K Catholics in a land of 100M+ and the presense of Catholic priests and religious for the country causes him fits?

I knew Ukrainian Greek Catholic hardliners chomping at the bit to start consecrating Greek Catholic bishops and poach as many ROC as possible back in the day. Rome held them at bay and forbid it. If Rome wanted to proselitize and set up unia in the way the PoM so often and so disingenuously cries about, believe-you-me, there would have been BUSLOADS of rosey-cheeked, freshly ordained Ukrainian and Polish priests to send forth. No such luck.

Do we even need to bring up the matter of how Rome has helped out the ROC with training seminarians at the Russicum and printing liturgical books for them in the 40s?

Olive branch after olive branch is extended. Lately I can't come up with any good reason for why they are rebuffed so regularly and so harshly EXCEPT that the Patriarch is disinterested in unity and has his own nationalist agenda. Given his former employers, that is no suprise.

The young fogey said...

That Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), one of the most Western Catholic-friendly men in the Russian Church, led the walkout tells me this row really is about incursion (something Episcopalians are having a similar fight over only there it's about things that matter, like whether Christians can have same-sex marriage).

You're right: it all comes down to the scope of the Pope. Or both sides believe in an infallible church (unlike Protestants left or right); it's a matter, seeminly insurmountable, of how exactly it works. IOW the only apparent solution is for one side to cease to exist as it is and be folded into the other church. 'Convert! Return!' That is, there'd still be a Pope but he'd give up some of his claims and all RCs would be Western Rite Orthodox, or all Orthodox would become Byzantine Catholics!

...what do you think of the Eastern Catholics who think the Filioque is heresy, there are only 7 Ecumenical Councils, the Pope only has a Primacy of Honor, etc...?

I sympathise with the high-church unlatinised BCs when they're conservative but agree that in the Roman system they're under they don't make sense. Rome tells them not to self-latinise: there they're right and most of their churches wrong. But Rome also envisages an 'Orthodoxy' with the Vatican glued on top: you have to accept all the Roman teachings. All.

ByzCath is weird, a mixture of these fine folk and those who glom onto this but are really mainstream liberalish RCs and share with the latter a snobbish contempt towards conservative and traditionalist RCs. (Which is rather ungrateful because refugee conservative Roman Riters are the reason some of their parishes still exist!) 'We're not like them; we're cool and spiritual. We're Eastern!'

The Byzantine Catholic experience is different to the Orthodox: as a friend (not from either church) described it, it's conservative and sort of traditional on the surface but the underlying ethos is dead the same as at St Novus RC 'parish community' in the ’burbs.

The young fogey said...

P.S. My view on Byzantine Catholics (that is, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) in the ex-USSR is:

The Patriarch of Moscow is mostly wrong about unfairness except the UGCC disobeyed Rome and moved their HQ to Kiev (where there are no Ukrainian Catholics), and got away with it; they were picking a fight.

Their homeland is Galicia, Polish from the 1300s until Stalin grabbed it in WWII. The Communists banned the UGCC (they hated it because they couldn't control it) and gave their churches to the Russian Church (which they did control). If you want to learn how an underground Catholicism survives, study the UGCC from the 1940s to the 1980s. I find it heroic and moving. Everybody, including Rome, thought they were wiped out in Galicia but in the late 1980s as Communism and the USSR started to die the UGCC resurfaced complete with acting metropolitan and simply took back the parish churches the Coms had stolen. Entirely fair. End of story.

Except not all Ukrainian Catholics were underground. Some outwardly conformed - same building, same congregation, same priest as before but nominally in the Russian Church. When freedom came in the late 1980s they simply declared themselves back under Rome. And that was that.

A Simple Sinner said...

"The Byzantine Catholic experience is different to the Orthodox: as a friend (not from either church) described it, it's conservative and sort of traditional on the surface but the underlying ethos is dead the same as at St Novus RC 'parish community' in the ’burbs."

We can't all be good spiritual Anglicans... What can I say?

As to your friend's experience of the Byzantines - what was his thinking on the Orthodox?

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