Ecumenical Perspective of a Uniate Monk

Fr. Philaret explains why the work of unity between Orthodox and Catholic Christians is essentially a work of solidarity, charity, cooperation, and Eucharistic communion - not a plot to form one world organization:

Schemata - Father's Blog: Ecumenical musings: I have often been asked if I believe that the Churches of East and West will be reunited "in our lifetime." My answer is "No."

Compared to the situation that prevailed in my childhood, though, the current climate is far more favorable. When I was a child I recall one of our teachers in Catholic school telling us that a Protestant church is "a barn," and that God is not present there.

When I was a teenager delivering the (now-defunct) Long Island Press, there was a lady who lived next door to the Press office in Bellerose who was an evangelical of some sort. She used to visit us in the garage-like structure where we folded our papers for delivery. She would rant and rave against the Catholic Church - whore of Babylon, etc. - in an attempt to call us Catholics and Jews to salvation. The children of my Grandmother's landlord would ask us questions about Catholicism: whether we worshiped the Virgin Mary, whether nuns were witches with magic powers, and so on.

Such attitudes are very rare these days, but at the time they were commonplace.
Today there is a modicum of respect among serious Christians.

But when we speak of Church unity there is an understanding of sorts that we are referring to an organic union between different religious organizations. Regardless of what ecumenists might say or write, most Catholics assume that a future reunion will amount to separated Churches "becoming Catholic." The same is true of the Eastern Orthodox. Rome must abandon her innovations and return to Orthodoxy. Orthodox must "come under" the pope, and so on.

Moreover, in Catholicism there is a kind of vague idea that the Eastern Churches are a united group. When the Ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople meets with the Pope of Rome we may tend to see this as two heads coming together, as if the Patriarch of Constantinople were the Pope of the Orthodox - which he is not. Eventually they might sign a concordat of some kind and we will all be united. Perhaps this is because of Catholics' generally monolithic view of the Church - the old pyramid scheme with the Pope on top, the bishops next, followed by the clergy, the religious, and the ordinary faithful on the base.

Besides the various Eastern Orthodox Churches, there are also the Coptic Church, the Armenian Church, the Syriac Church, the Church of the East, et al, who are not in union with the [Byzantine] Orthodox Churches, but are technically considered "heretics" who separated from Orthodoxy (and Catholicism) at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.).

Regarding the Orthodox Churches, many of them have internal schisms. For example there are "old Calendarists" and "New Calendarists." The Church of Ukraine itself is divided between three main groups, one of which recognizes the Patriarch of Moscow as its head, while another has a Patriarch of Kiev.

If the monolithic Church of Rome were to unite with "the" Orthodox Church - to which one would it reunite? Supposing it is Moscow. Chances are the other autocephalous Churches would almost certainly excommunicate Moscow and, in the unlikely event that the Patriarch of Moscow would enter into a union with the Church of Rome, the Russian Church would very quickly be divided between those who favored the "union" and those who opposed it.

Incidentally, the word "union" among the Orthodox is almost a cuss-word as it might be applied to the various Eastern Churches which actually entered into union with Rome in the 16th and 17th centuries.

However, the over-all change of attitudes is encouraging - because the unity of the holy Churches of God is not really a matter of signed documents and agreements and organized movements. I know a Greek woman - very active in her Orthodox parish church - who is a devotee of St. Pio, the famous stigmatist. Her husband has dismissed the apparent disunity of the Churches. "We were the same religion for over a thousand years. It's all nonsense." There is also a sort of informal - and perhaps illicit - intercommunion. Perhaps one spouse is Eastern Orthodox and one is Roman Catholic, and they alternate their attendance between two parishes, freely communicating in either. Of course such a situation could be labeled "anarchy" by zealots of either persuasion.

For my own part, as an Eastern Catholic, one thing has puzzled me over the years: Catholics regard the Orthodox Churches as Churches, with "valid" bishops, priests, and sacraments. They have everything they need, in a sense. So what is it that separates us? Ecclesiology? History? Politics? Stubbornness? Loyalties of a more tribal nature?

Myrna Nazzour - a mystic in Damascus, Syria - has claimed to have received visions and locutions from the Mother of God. The Catholic Church has called them "credible." She also experiences the stigmata, with a substance issuing from her wounds that has been analyzed and determined to be 100% olive oil. At any rate, according to Myrna, Our Lady is very displeased by the disunion among Christians, and has particularly harsh words for those who "delight in the disunion." That impresses me very much. The lack of unity is one thing - a vicissitude of history, culture, politics, the works of Satan. But the existence of people who delight in the lack of unity is even more grave.

I know such people - on all sides. Some are ordinary folks. Some are clergy, theologians, politicians. They are smug. They regard "the others" as heretics and schismatics, BUT it pleases them. "All the heretics have to do is become just like us!" In a sense they remind me of family members who have refused to speak to one another for many years. They no longer care what separates them - they just refuse to take any steps to move towards each other. They have come to enjoy the separation. They have become confirmed in whatever it is that separates them even if it no longer matters. The definition of this state is "hatred." They have embraced animosity.

So, back to the question: Do I believe that the Eastern Churches and the Roman Catholic Church will reunite in my lifetime? My answer is "No." However, the ability of Pariarchs, ordinary people, theologians, etc. to set aside the animosty, and to regret estrangement and bitterness, to sit down with one another in love and respect - this is pleasing to God - and perhaps more pleasing than forming a single "organization."