Saturday, December 28, 2013

Russian Position on Papal Primacy

I was interested to read the English translation of the position paper of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on the question of primacy and Papal primacy in the Church. As the preface to the document explains, this is their minority report in response to the work done in their absence by the Joint International Commission on Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. It conforms to the tripartite distinction used in the Ravenna document of three levels of church administration, namely, local, regional and universal, and outlines them as follows:

"In the life of the Church of Christ, which lives in this age, primacy, along with synodality, is one of the fundamental principles of her order. On various levels of church life, the historically established primacy has a different nature and different sources. These levels are 1) the diocese (eparchy), 2) the autocephalous Local Church, and 3) Universal Church."

No doubt, this minority report represents a willingness on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate to engage the rest of Orthodoxy, as well as the See of Rome. The goal is the oneness of Christ's Church according to His Divine Will. At the Joint Commission's 2010 meeting a course correction was made in hopes of furthering the dialogue; we can only hope.

Since the time of Blessed Pope John Paul II the Holy See has attempted to further the cause of Christian unity with the Orthodox by inviting a study of how communion between East and West was possible in the First Millennium. The tripartite division and distinctions concerning the primacy attributed to each is helpful, but I think the notion of autocephaly has been historically compromised and it might be better to go with a more neutral expression like our Catholic one: Church sui iuris headed by either a patriarch or a major archbishop.

From my experience here in Ukraine I must say I find difficult the Russian definition of regional as being the "autocephalous Local Church". The divisions within Orthodoxy here in this country are for the most part exacerbated by this notion of autocephaly. A part of the Church in Ukraine would argue that civil/national sovereignty should lead to autocephaly. I remember when Czechoslovakia divided into two countries the two Orthodox bishops of the new country of Slovakia demanded recognition as an autocephalous Local Church; that rift seems to have been repaired. This way of understanding autocephaly is rooted in the pattern followed as nations were carved from the former Ottoman Empire, some of them (on whatever basis) asserting patriarchal dignity as well. Not that the Russians are saying it, but on the basis of recent historical precedent a lot of other Orthodox do say it: Local Churches are national. As I say, that is a problem, which would seem to be inherent in recourse to a notion like autocephaly, corrupted by usage.

Since the publication of the article by Father Cyril Hoverun, a Ukrainian Orthodox theologian (see my post), a growing body of intellectuals have commented on his description of the reality evinced by what we call "Maidan" as Church over and against Government and Society. The articles are in Ukrainian and difficult for me to read and so I won't attempt an analysis of my own on their relative merit. Basically, I wish to stand my ground; I still think there is to be gained from refusing the classic distinction between temporal and spiritual power, which puts the Church on the outs when it aligns itself with society over and against unjust or rogue government. Authority or power is one and the Church's duty is to call everyone in society to faithfulness to the truth as it comes to us from God; the Gospel applies universally because though not all will be saved, the message is to be proclaimed to one and all. Charitas Christi urget nos!

I saw a nice, but rather odd little video from a newscast for Christmas night (24-25 December) commenting as exotic our Latin Christmas. Actually, I think many people here very charitably look upon us Roman Catholics as exotics. In the framework of the aforementioned discussion as it regards the commitment of the various Christian Churches to the phenomenon "Maidan", one commentator relegated the Roman Catholic Church to its niche as a bona fide minority here in Ukraine. While such a perception is understandable and corresponds to the tendency, let us say in the USA, to class Byzantines as an exotic minority, it flies in the face of the Gospel message and of Christ's truth. Christian unity, our communion in the Blood of Christ would be the antidote.

We hope and pray that Church leadership would be more profoundly moved to seek unity for the sake of the Gospel! 
Charitas Christi urget nos! 

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