Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on the Papacy

Arabic original here .

The Hoped-for Unity

Frankness requires us to admit that the great roadblock that prevents us from reaching the envisioned unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is the difference over the position of the pope, the Bishop of Rome, and his authority in the Church. In reality, no one who knows Church history can ignore the most important issue that led to the schism, the disagreement between East and West over "papal primacy". Orthodox theology confirms that, among the bishops, the pope is "first among equals" and has no canonical authority over the other patriarchs.

However, in the West a canonical understanding graduate took over that is completely contrary to the Orthodox view of primacy, in that the pope granted himself the absolute authority to appoint and remove bishops in every region of the world. The bishops rights turned into mere participation in the "total authority" of Rome. Hence the Orthodox apprehension of the pope's propensity for asserting his authority over all the churches. What we witnessed following the Great Schism of 1054 with regard to the pope tightening his grip over all the churches in the world to the point of even announcing the dogma of "papal infallibility" in 1870 confirms the fears of the eastern churches that hold to the primacy of the diocesan bishop over his local church.

The Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément, in his book You Are Peter: An Orthodox Reflection on the Exercise of Papal Primacy argues that "the basis of every primacy in the Church is Christ alone, the Crucified and Risen from the dead, who conquers death by death. Christ alone is priest of the new and greatest covenant. All authority on heaven and earth derives from Him." Consequently, "every primacy in redeemed humanity, and especially the primacy of the bishop in the local church, the primacy of the metropolitan among his bishops, the patriarch among his metropolitans, and finally the primacy of the first bishop, the bishop of Rome, is only a fragile image of the primacy that Fr Lev Gillet called loving lordship, the primacy of service unto martyrdom, a martyrdom of blood and death if needs be."

Perhaps the declaration by the late Pope John Paul II that what he desires with the Orthodox is "communion not authority" is the true doorway to bringing back unity between the two churches. Thus it is possible to speak of a return to the traditional picture of relations between the churches, based on the independence of the local church, in which each one of them realizes the fullness of the Church and communio in sacris (the Eucharist) between all of them is what makes them one, what makes them the one Body of Christ.

We also must not forget that the Christian faith is fundamentally based on belief in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. Thus the theology of the Church emphasizes "diversity in unity" and "unity in diversity" in order to point out the relationship between the three hypostases. Unity does not eliminate the specificity that characterizes each of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise, diversity does not mean individualism, isolation, or the absence of creative relationality. Unity among Christians must be based on this Trinitarian image. The hoped-for unity is a unity in faith that respects linguistic, ritual, cultural, and civilizational particularities.

The disagreement between Catholics and Orthodox about the place of the pope in the universal Church must not impede effort to resolve other disagreements of a doctrinal nature or disagreements that can be overcome at the local level... for the unity of all we pray to the Lord.


Anonymous said...

Bishops and Priests are just stewards - not Lords, and their 'lordship' is one of service.
Being a foreigner, yet deeply attached to the Patriarchate of Antioch, your words resound to me like bells calling to 'Unity', yet not possible without/before 'conversion'.
Abuse of power in Rome, very true,in recent times often much more by those in subordinate positions then the Roman Pope himself, the double standard of treating 'Uniates' and Orthodox by the Roman See, but as well the 'episcopalian anarchic behaviour' in many local Orthodox Churches and the plight of National Phylotism that impeedes/ counterdicts Orthodox Communion, contradictory to the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils, severely paralyzes the Orthodox Church in her Mission to the World.
Does Peter have a 'special Place' among the 12? Is Primacy in the Church just an organizational structural and practical factor, in antiquity using the political administrative system of the time? Or does it have a basis in Divine Disposition?
All of the NT and early Tradition holds to it. All pre-chalcedonian Patriarchates cling to Peter's mission. The introdiction of the political aspect with Constantinople as second See in Christianity in Chalkedon - just because of the Emperor's presence, especially today does not proove to be helpfull, opening the doors to a revival of political alliances of the Church with the State, while the Church remains a preterstatal entity based in eternity - otherwise it might commit the grave error of becoming an 'ummah'. The early xpctians were all to aware of this and so should we be; cfr. the Menologion of the early Martyrs but all those many who died ad the hand of the Most Christian Emperor of the god-saved Capital of Constantinople during the crisis of Monothelism and Iconoclasm, cfr. St. Maximos the Confessor. Certain neo-imerial byzantine dreems of today are very preoccuying indeed. The Antiochian Patriarchate is the only entity in Orthodoxy that preserved that preternational identity of the Church.
Are present day answers in regard to primacy in Orthodox Circles not often geared by polemic?
In Russia they once were fomented by a clear 'protestant bent' since Peter the Great, ending in utter subjugation of the Church to the State to the point of hampering in canonical Status abolishing the PAtriarchate, resp. Primacy in the Church. cfr. the Fate of St. Maximos the Greek, only very recently canonized by the Church of Russia. The Revolution and her deadly consequences are caused in great part by this, the Church paralyzed, unalbe to act, cfr. the position of St. Tikhon Bellavin, first Patriarch after 1917 abd his positions in regard to the State and the position of the present Patriarch. THe Russian CHurch until now has refused an exam of conscience of her post-revolutionary past and her at times volontary involvement in favour of the atheist government.
Must not Rome re-examen her use and abuse of Primacy and her involvement in using primacy as political isntrument? Must Rome not reexamen her disregard of Tradition at times in favour of another agenda, cfr the arbitrarity of the Post-Vatican II Liturgical REforms put in action by the trait of a pen by Pope Paul VIth that caused such an enormous damage to the faith and to the People of God up to a schism within, for facts and for many a breach of bi-millenary tradition, p.e. in manuscripts and documents of the Roman Anaphora leading up the St. Leo Ist and Gregory the Dialogos?

Hence conversion on the Catholic and Orthodox sides are needed to prepare the 'arena of action' for the Holy Spirit to call anew 'all to Unity'.

Mamnounak iktîr - Abouna

Jason said...

I would argue that present day issues in regard to primacy are not driven by polemics but by legitimate Dogmatic issues. To dismiss these issues, of which the Creed, papal infallibility, immaculate conception, and hesychasm all belong, as polemics is to severely downplay the importance these differences.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jason, certainly you are wright insisting not to overlook dogmatic differences.
Looking into the 'process' of dogmatic developments, I still dare to say, many apparenttly irreconcilable formulations, stemming from a given thought frame in a given time, driven many a times by polemics even by holy people, cfr. Cyrill of Alexandria and Jerome and their attime abusive and abrasive attitude and judgment, are mostly due to estrangement between East and West, either one autoproclaiming herself the ONE and ONLY Church of Christ.
Dogmatic differences need to be taken very seriously, I agree with you, but in how much are all and everyone unsurmountalbe obstacles towards the gift of Communion, which remains a gift of God and not just the result of scientific and mere human deliberations, that I dare to ask. For this indeed conversion to all is needed.