Thursday, January 04, 2007

Objections: We Can All Do Better

At Amy Welborn on her blog "Open Book," posted a brief new report about the objects form monks on Mount Athos to the warming relationship between the Churches of Greece and Roman. Click on the link in the title of this post to read the original post as well as the comments that it generated.

While not all of the comments about the Orthodox Church are negative, many are and so I posted the following as a general response to Catholic/Orthodox ecumenical relations on the "grass roots" level:

Yes, to repeat what I said before, there is certainly a less then conciliar attitude among many Orthodox (Greek and otherwise toward Roman Catholics). At the same time, it is easy to overlook the fact that the Roman Church--until very recently--had Latin Rite patriarchs (titular to be sure) for Orthodox Sees such as Constantinople and Antioch. There is still the rather unfriendly gesture of a LATIN patriarch in Jerusalem and the duplication of Eastern rite Patriarchs in such places as Antioch.

So there are some reasons for the hostile attitude on the Greek side of the fence.

Add to this, as TM Lutes alluded to, the hostility that Roman Catholics (clergy and laity) have directed towards Eastern Catholics. Often Eastern Catholics find their traditions either disregarded by Roman Catholics or actively suppressed. For example, the suppression of married clergy here in the US, the innovation of First Holy Communion, the use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, the dismantling of icon screens, the re-confirmation by Latin bishops of Eastern Catholic children chrismated as infants . With this as the example of what reconciliation with Rome has meant, is it any wonder that there is hostility and suspicion of Roman Catholic good intentions among the Orthodox?

In addition, and here I will level some rather direct criticism of the Roman Church, the virtual disappearance of traditional asceticism among Roman Catholics, an impoverished celebration of not only the Eucharist, but of the entire daily cycle (i.e., the Liturgy of the Hours), Holy Communion being passed out like Nico wafers (ever Orthodox priest I know has had at least one encounter with a Catholic eucharistic minister giving, or attempting to give, Holy Communion to an Orthodox Christian hospital patient), the abandonment of the monastic habit, especially by women, in favor of secular attire, and the almost wholesale abandonment of the Catholic tradition by Catholic theology departments, to say nothing of what has happened more generally to higher education especially here in the US. Is it any wonder that many Orthodox Christians do not take Roman Catholicism seriously?

Yes, the monks on Mount Athos have behaved poorly and their criticism reflect an abysmal ignorance of Roman Catholic theology. But I have found the same poverty of theological understand of Eastern theology all too common among Roman Catholic apologists and theologians, to say nothing of bishops and priests.

It is, as one commentator pointed out, a bit of surprise for Roman Catholics to discover that the Orthodox consider them schismatics and heretics. At the same time these same Roman Catholics don't find it at all disturbing to think of the consider of the Orthodox as schismatics and, in refusing to accept the infallibility of the pope, no doubt even heretics.

Yes we are very close--and as we all know, the best fights are with family. But given at least a significant percentage of what I have read here, I do really see much more openness to the East by Roman Catholics then I see among the Orthodox for the Roman Catholics.

At some point, both sides need to stop compare their best to the other side's worst. Until then, until then we are simply wasting our time and (worse) pushing ourselves further and further apart.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory Jensen