Thursday, August 30, 2007

We Simply Need Each Other

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf of the most delightful blog, What Does The Prayer Really Say? (WDTPRS), offers us his comments and translation of a recent interview of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all the Russias (photo at right). Fr. John begins by observing that

At various times in my articles in The Wanderer, during talks and on this blog I have opined that if we are serious about an authentic ecumenical dialogue, we have to get our liturgical act together: "What must the Orthodox think when they see how we Latins conduct ourselves liturgically?" At the same time, the solemn Mass in the older use of the Roman Rite is as grand as anything the Easterners do.
He continues by reporting favorably that "the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, Alexis II, looks with favor on Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and the derestriction of the older form of Mass. He also speaks clearly about his view of relations with the Holy See." The interview was given after His Holiness had finished celebrating the Divine Liturgy for the Dormition of Mary (15/28 August).

Here is what Fr John's translation of what he (rightly I think) identifies as "some of the significant points" from the interview of the Patriarch by Andrea Tornielli in the Italian language periodical of Il Giornale:
"The recovery and valuing of the ancient liturgical tradition is a fact that we greet positively. We hold very strongly to tradition. Without faithfully guarding the liturgical tradition, the Russian Orthodox Church would not have been in a position to resist during the period of persecution, in the 20's and 30's in the 1900's. In that time we had many new martyrs, whose number can be compared to the epoch of the first Christian martyrs."

Holiness, how do you see the relationship between Rome and Moscow right now?

"It seems that Pope Benedict XVI has repeated may times that he desires to work in favor of dialogue and collaboration with the Orthodox Churches. This is positive."

For years already there has been talk of the possibility of a meeting between you and the Pope. Do you think this is possible? When?

"A meeting between the Pope and Patriarch of Moscow must be well prepared and absolutely ought not risk a reduction to a photo opportunity or to walk around together in front of television cameras. It must be a meeting which truly helps firm up the relations between the two Churches…".

You speak of it as if it were rather remote hypothesis. Why?

"Unfortunately today there are still some Catholic missionary bishops who consider Russia as missionary territory. But Russia, Holy Russia has already been enlightened with a centuries old faith which, thanks be to God, was preserved and passed on in the Orthodox Church, and is not missionary territory for the Catholic Church. This is the first point about which it is necessary that problems be clarified and smoothed in view of a meeting with the Pope. The other problem concerns 'uniatism'."

Why do the uniate communities, those which maintaining the Eastern Rite and Eastern tradition reentered in full communion with Rome, are regarded as a problem?

"The phenomenon of uniatism is troublesome because we see this tendency also in regions where it never was before, for example in the Eastern Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazakhstan and in Russia herself. When these problems are dealt with and resolved then a meeting between the Pope and Patriarch of Moscow can be considered. Then it will truly have its proper meaning."
Reading the interview, and more to the point the statements made by some in the comment section, I am struck again of the importance of a certain, necessary inward turn, as the first step toward the reconciliation of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Paradoxically, it is when we are at the center of our respective traditions that we will be able to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The reason for this is profoundly anthropological: Tradition is always a response to the poverty of the human person and our need to be part of a larger community. Our appreciative obedience to tradition reflects our personal awareness of our own poverty and dependence upon others for even the very fact of our life, or what philosophers call "contingency."

Moving beyond the empirical to the more properly theological, tradition is not simply anthropological but also soteriological. According to the Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky the tradition of the Church, is the voice and work of the Holy Spirit from generation to generation. Among other things this means that what the Orthodox call Holy Tradition is nothing more or less than the prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit as it works in human history to deepen humanity's communion with the Holy Trinity and, as a result, with itself.

The inward turn that I spoke of as the basis of ecumenism, is the process by which we discover within ourselves the point at which, in our lives, the richness and abundance of God's mercy responds to the poverty of human sinfulness and divinizes the human person. In other words, "spiritual ecumenicism" grows out of our own, personal awareness, of how God's redemption of humanity in Christ is worked out in our own lives.

As I come to understand how God is "saving me" I can begin to recognize how He is also saving all humanity, and (more to the point) the person in front of me. It is this latter recognition which is the basis and goal of grassroots ecumenicism.

In contrast to this is the preference many have (as seen in the combo box of WDTPRS and any number of internet newsgroups) for theological polemics. As I've said before, these theological arguments are pointless since, invariably, the people who make them don't have the authority to resolve the issues at hand. More often then not such arguments merely harden the attitude of each party relative to the other. Frankly even if I'm on the right side of the question, what does it matter if I walk away with even less charity in heart for my neighbor then I had at the beginning of the argument?

And why do I do this? I am really that insecure that I need to prove the error of another person to really feel good about myself?

Patriarch Alexii's words, reflects an appreciation and support, for the insights and richness of the Roman Church. And Fr John's publishing these comments reflect a similar appreciation for the insights and richness of the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

It seems to me that, at a minimum, we need to bring the same spirit of appreciation and support to our own conversations with one another, both when we speak to Christians in other traditions, but also when we speak with members of our own Church, to say nothing of the members of our parishes and families.

In the final analysis, what trips me up is simply my own unwillingness to be human since this requires from me an acknowledgment of my dependence not only on God and the Fathers of the Church, but also on, well, the person right in front of me.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory