Friday, January 05, 2007

Catholic/Orthodox Relations

From my comment at Amy Welborn's blog, "Open Book":

First, I thank everyone for their kind responses.

Yes there are serious theological disagreements that separate Catholics and Orthodox, but (as the posters all suggest) there is also a rather serious lack of grass roots sympathy between the two communities as well. And this lack of sympathy while it my often take the form of Catholic vs. Orthodox is probably at least as much a result of a lack of understanding between Eastern and Western Christians.

Having followed these discussions for a while now (20+ years), I find that unless we can avoid the temptation to point out the injustices one side has committed against the other we get no where.

Fr Elijah's comments are quite sobering. If we continue we continue as we have, we will very soon have lived most of our lives apart from one another and this is not only a sad commentary, it is an offense against Christ.

Speaking only for myself, I do not see much hope of grass roots movement towards reconciliation of Catholics and Orthodox happening in Europe. Humanly speaking, I believe that the best hope for this type of reconciliation is in the United States where Catholics and Orthodox, as well as Eastern and Western Christians, share a common language and culture.

This is not to suggest theological dialog in the US or in Europe shouldn't continue--it certainly should.

As a practical matter though I think that the personal and pastoral relations we need to build are best built in America. Don't underestimate the importance, as TM Lutas's words suggest, that in the US we are physically safe in our pursuit of reconciliation with each other.

I am sorry for the harshness that Catholics have reported in their encounters with Orthodox clergy and laity. Alas we have our bullies. For what it might be worth, I've encounter my own share of Orthodox bullies as well.

After such encounters I find myself tempted to dwell on the offense. But, at least in my more lucid moments, I avoid that temptation (thank God). If for no other reason then my own peace of soul, I find it best to seek out those with whom I can be friends and go from there.

Catholic (Latin or Eastern) and Orthodox who can, and want, to work together are I think in the majority. Speaking for the Orthodox side of the conversation, we are often insecure and have not learned how to keep our bullies in check. Maybe it is because are communities are often still very much immigrant communities, but we need help and encouragement in learning how to stand up to the bullies in our midst.

Sadly,we have people who would (for their own self-aggrandizement) stop the work of reconciliation and we need help in respectfully, but effectively, calling these people to repentance or (failing their willingness to repent) moving forward regardless of their complaints.

Finally, as reluctant penitent points out, recent encounters are miraculous. That being the case, I think it is good to be on guard least we fall prey to our old, bad habits of hostility, suspicion and contempt for each other (and thereby Christ and the Gospel).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

p.s., I have also posted this on my own blog Koinonia (