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After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways ... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church. ~St. Philaret of NY

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Roman Catholic Ecumenism

Orthodox Life magazine 1973 #4

Pastoral Comment
by Protopresbyter George Grabbe
Head of the Department of External
Affairs of the Russian Orthodox
Church Outside of Russia
New York, N.Y.

Roman Catholic Ecumenism
in Relation to the Orthodox Church


There are two kinds of Ecumenism: The Protestant and the Roman Catholic.

The basis of the Protestant Ecumenism is the belief that a One True Christian Church does not exist.  The Church is divided and all Christian confessions are more or less wrong.  According to that belief, no given group or community may be recognized as the Church, but all Christian communities, whatever be their errors and whatever is their disagreement in regard to doctrine, actually still constitute one Church in which they must all come to an ecumenical agreement on the basis of some dogmatical minimum.

The Roman Church expresses other views: until recent years she has been stating that she is the Church whereas all other communities are either heretical or schismatic.  Consequently, a few years ago no participation of Roman Catholics in the Ecumenical Movement was permitted.

After the Second Vatican Council the policies of the Roman Catholic Church in that respect have been drastically changed.

In his address to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, on April 8, 1967, Pope Paul stated the following: "First of all, the ecumenical question has been raised by Rome in all its gravity, its breadth and its innumerable doctrinal and practical implications The conciliar documents which deal expressly or incidently with the question of the recomposition of the unity of the one Church by all those who bear the name of Christians are so authoritative and so explicit, they have such a force of orientation and obligation, that they offer ecumenism a doctrinal and pastoral basis that it never had before."

Actually, after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic church has accepted the Protestant concept of the limits of the Church as clearly expressed in the Directive for the Implementation of the Decrees of the Council, concerning Ecumenical Matter.

The Roman Catholic church continues to express the belief that she is the Church, maintaining true doctrines.  However, the new approach to unity recognizes that it is not absolutely necessary for salvation to share her beliefs and to belong to the Church of Rome.  The sacraments exist in a valid form even outside of that Church in schismatical and even in heretical communities.  The "separated brethren" may not be aware of it, but the Vatican believes that they are still branches of the Roman Church linked with her in a "certain" way.

"The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honoured with the name of Christians though they do not profess the faith in its entirety nor do they preserve unity with the successor of Peter" (Dogm. Const. on the Church, 11. 15).  "Men who have been properly baptized are therefore brought into a certain, though imperfect communion with the Catholic Church" (Decree on Ecumenism, 3).

The logical conclusion from this doctrine is that all Christians, not only Roman Catholics, but also the "separated brethren" are in some sense spiritual children of the Pope as the "Vicar of Christ."  It must be noted that not only baptism but also other sacraments are valid (when performed) by the heterodox in accordance with Roman Catholic doctrine, if there is a line of apostolic succession and they are performed with the proper intention and in the proper form.

Therefore, according to Roman Catholic principles, the question of intercommunion with the heterodox may be decided on the basis of expediency and agreements.  The Directive for the Implementation of the Decrees of the Vatican Council, concerning Ecumenical Matters states that the whole question of the theology and practice of baptism "should be brought up in dialogue" (n. 16).

Practically, the Decree on Ecumenism finds grounds "for allowing and even encouraging some sharing in the liturgical worship – even Eucharistic" with the Eastern Churches, "given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authorities" (n. .15).  Roman Catholics are actually permitted, under certain conditions, to make confession and take communion in the Eastern Churches on a reciprocal basis; and vice versa, the Orthodox may be admitted by Roman Catholic priests for confession and communion.

Must we say how much that position differs from the Orthodox doctrine and tradition?

According to Orthodox theology, a sacrament is not made valid merely by observing the proper intention, sacramental forms and a formal line of apostolic succession of the performing priest.  The latter must be in actual unity with the Church through his bishop.  Bishops and priests do not perform sacraments as individuals having obtained that charisma (grace) once and forever, but only as far as they are lawful representatives of the Church acting in her name.  A suspended or un-frocked priest is not able to perform a valid sacrament (c. 1 of St. Basil).  An electric lamp gives off no light if it has lost contact with the source of energy.  An heretical priest is a lamp without such contact.  The recognition of his sacraments as valid for Orthodox persons is dogmatical nonsense.

Nevertheless, for some political reasons, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Serbian Church have agreed to recognize. on a reciprocal basis, marriages of their believers with Roman Catholics, performed by a priest of that confession, subject to the approval of the Bishop concerned.

We do not know if there actually will be such cases.  Perhaps not.  It is very unfortunate, however, that the hierarchy of those Churches have, in that matter, practically accepted a Roman Catholic theological approach instead of a strictly Orthodox one.

As I have mentioned, our canons do not recognize any validity in a heterodox sacramental service and, as regards members of the Orthodox Church, we are actually not permitted to take any part in such services.  In contradiction to that principle, the recognition (even on paper) of a marriage performed by a Roman Catholic priest for an Orthodox person would be something quite new and with far reaching dogmatic implications.  It includes the recognition of the validity of several other sacraments as well: 1. The baptism of the performing priest; 2. his chrismation: 3. his ordination: 4. the communion which is offered at the Roman Catholic marriage service, and, 5. the sacrament of marriage.  In other words, it is a recognition by implication of the Roman Catholic sacraments for an Orthodox person.

This is strictly forbidden by the holy canons: c 10, 45. 46 of the Apost.; c 32, 33 of Laod. and also disagrees with several other canons.  Since the Orthodox Church believes that valid sacraments exist only in the True Church and that She is that Church, the acceptance of Roman Catholic sacraments would be equivalent to the recognition of the church of Rome as also a true Church.  That would be a contradiction of the Creed and of the teaching of the Apostle Paul (Eph. 4:5).

It is quite clear that, while permitting Roman Catholics to partake of Orthodox sacraments and vice versa is consistent with the Western heretical theology, it is absolutely in disagreement with Orthodox ecclesiology.  Unfortunately, this aspect is utterly neglected or even rejected by some high standing hierarchs,

Regretfully, I must quote an example.  Metropolitan Emilianos, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Geneva, has expressed. such un-Orthodox views in an interview for the Courrier de Genéve, reprinted in English by "The Word" in March, 1968: "The decisive stage will come when they (the Churches) accept (in a living and vital way) that the Church is pluriform, and respects the convictions and views of others while preserving the great bulwark of the Christian faith".

By "pluriform," Metropolitan Emilianos does not understand just certain differences in usages or the manner of performing services: for him pluriform includes "different doctrines about the Trinity, the role of the Pope, and priestly celibacy."

Is that not a definitely Protestant ecumenism?

Metropolitan Emilianos further finds that "the problem of unity is limited too much to its theological and ecclesiastical aspects."

Does that statement not sound very strange and un-Orthodox?

It can hardly mean otherwise than that union with the Vatican is, for an Orthodox bishop, more important than the faith of his Church.  How can the matter of Church unity be discussed or solved outside of theological and ecclesiological aspects?  Can one erect a building neglecting architectural aspects?

Unfortunately, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Geneva goes even further in his ecumenicity than Roman Catholics.  His ecumenicity is purely Protestant.  For the sake of such ecumenism Orthodox doctrines and canons are definitely neglected and discounted.

We are witnessing a general disorientation and disintegration of Western Christianity under the influence of modernism.  Instead of leading their people to the highest ideals, the leaders of that Christianity are thinking only about ways of adjusting their Churches to the actual level of their flock.  The Second Vatican Council has shown itself as a tragic turning point in that process for the whole world.  And as the level of religious life is growing lower and lower, the West is getting further and further away from unity with the holy Fathers of the Church.

This should serve as a warning to the Orthodox.  The legacy of ancient traditions and Orthodox Ecclesiology, which never grow old but are always a fresh source of spiritual life, can guard us from joining the West in its pernicious rupture with the lifegiving principles of true Christianity.
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This post will soon be moved to the orthodoxlifemagazines.blogspot.com blog  ~jh

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