Monday, January 27, 2014

Met. Georges Khodr on Christian Unity

Arabic original here.

Towards Unity

This week we renew our commemoration of the Christian unity for which we yearn. We say that we have one faith in the essentials. It is true that in visible reality we are not one church. This reality is sorrowful, because it is an image of our being torn apart. However, those capable of seeing our innermost parts know that all those who love Jesus Christ, He Himself makes one in Himself.

I do not expect us to ever become one monolithic church with one canonical structure. Did Christ really want that sort of unity? At the very least, He wanted us not to fight each other, even as debate is inevitable. However, there has come to be little debate between us. It is not that we are intellectually content with disagreement-- and there is some disagreement-- but that our hearts have become intertwined despite regarding the other as being in error, great or small. We have come to see that Christ loves us all, even with our differences.

What does it mean for us to become one in reality? What the Catholics yearn for-- the submission of all Christians of all their various races, dogmas and countries to a central authority that commands and forbids is unreasonable in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future. The Orthodox vision, to which I subscribe, appears to me to be the image of unity as Christianity lived it before the schism: the convergence of the world's churches in unity of faith and worship in a universal system of bishops. It does not appear to me that the churches are capable in the foreseeable future of adopting the system of a supreme executive bishop over all the churches. This sort of Christian internationalism has never existed. Apart from all theological discussion, I do not see contemporary human mind accepting the authority of one person over the entire world, bearing in himself divine infallibility, even if it is supposed to derive from the Church's infallibility.

Toward what goal are we yearning, if we speak of the unity of Christians? No one among the Catholics or anyone else dreams that Christians all want to live under one authority. The Orthodox consider themselves to have perfect unity in the existence of churches that are administratively independent and one in faith. Catholics, despite their belief in their unity, know that there is a French theology and a German theology and that the unity of Catholicism itself is a wish and not actual unity before the last day. Humanity is always in a process of making effort.

What appears as visible unity among the Catholics exists along with the multiplicity and diversity of many. What brings together in psychological reality the German Catholic and the South American Catholic? What brings together the Maronites of Bcharre, with whom I have lived and loved, with the Latin Catholics of Munich?

I think the great onus in the effort for unity lies with the Catholic Church, in terms of her recognizing diversity in the administrative concept of the Church. It has become an affront to the feelings of freedom among the peoples for there to exist one sole executive authority in the universal Church. The dominant pattern in humanity is the diversity of nations and their gifts and different styles, despite the quest to unify their consciences and efforts. Thus the Catholic notion of unity based on the infallibility and executive power of one leader in the whole world is unwelcome by most people. For this reason it seems to me that all the papal efforts to unify theological thought, styles of administration, and programs among the peoples, every notion of centralized authority and internationalist vision of governing the Church have become relics of the Middle Ages. Thus the Catholic Church has become perplexed between her authoritarian heritage and the aspirations of local or minority churches to affirm their particular natures in the Holy Spirit.

For Rome to believe that she comes from the churches and does not just go out to the churches is the start of her salvation and of our own. For Rome to uphold the first millennium for us, this is our desire. For the Orthodox churches to become one in their approach to Rome and less fearful, this is our hope. 

For the Orthodox churches to realize that if they are strong in theological knowledge, another church cannot swallow them up and that they have within themselves greatness of spirit and holiness which makes them face the entire Christian world, this is the start of our path.

My prayer to God during this season is that the churches of our region become convinced that they are called to contribute to unity at the regional and global levels. It is not that each group of us has to fall in line behind its counterpart abroad. Rather, we must innovate in our theological output-- and in this we are not lacking training and acumen.

No group among us has to be content with relying on their counterpart abroad for their thought. What is needed is our contribution to creative thought. Friendly relations are good and we have promoted them. But there must be a theology on the global level. It is not good for us to be satisfied with translations. We are capable of innovating.

At the high level of innovation, the features of intellectual unity will start to appear, just as pastoral relations in love will appear.

Love is not limited to us performing religious celebrations like weddings and funerals together. It is us mingling in theological life in terms of presence and production. It is us not being afraid to mix elements of instruction, professors and students. It is us admitting that the other is better than us in this field or that. It is us examining the best theological production from all. It is us frankly criticizing what comes out from us. It is us seeing the Church of Christ in her reality appearing in this church or that. It is us loving the signs of holiness in all of our churches and for us to insist on what brings us together in upright faith among all. 

The Church of the future does not spring from my church alone. It comes from us all, first in love and humility and second in theological study. Some of us like simple rapprochement, after the manner of friendships in Lebanon. This is good but it is not enough. Understanding is the basis of encounter.

The path to unity lies in seriously striving for the truth that is in Christ. That is, in making life holy and deepening theological thought. You will arrive at true theology if you love your Lord. There is not only revelation. There is study. Do not be afraid to rub up against the other's thought. It will discipline you and bring you up to your Lord. Understand that the best way for you to see unity is effort in constant theological study, which will liberate you from isolation and bring you into the freedom of the children of God.

Striving for unity in reality is striving to see God in all His manifestations in the Church and in the world. If you love Him much, you will see much and you will walk a long path.

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