Grassroots Ecumenism Keeps Orthodox-Catholic Hopes Alive

By John Burger

 “The light of the East has illumined the universal Church, from the moment when ‘a rising sun’ appeared above us: Jesus Christ, our Lord, whom all Christians invoke as the Redeemer of man and the hope of the world.”
Thus began Pope John Paul II’s 1995 apostolic letter Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East), which encourages Latin Catholics to better know the traditions of the Christian East.

The 17th annual Orientale Lumen Conference
was held in Washington, D.C., June 17-20, 2013
Rather than collecting dust on a Vatican shelf, the letter has continued to inspire a Washington, D.C.-based grassroots ecumenical movement for almost two decades. 

Initially planned as a single meeting to discuss John Paul’s work, the Orientale Lumen Conference has become an annual gathering open to anyone. In some ways, it has kept the light of Orthodox-Catholic dialogue burning while official dialogues have hit roadblocks.

And for that it has received acclaim from leaders in both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

“Although you say your movement is grassroots, I’m convinced it’s rooted in heaven and inspired by the Holy Spirit,” the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, told the apostolate on its 10thanniversary.

“It’s exactly the kind of thing the ecumenical movement needs,” said Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson, a top ecumenical officer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “People go home from these conferences and talk to their friends,” said Father Roberson, who is associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. “The hope is they go back and talk to people and it has a ripple effect. It’s an excellent project. My initial pessimism was not wall-founded.”

That would have been in 1996, when Jack Figel, a Byzantine Catholic from Fairfax, Va., and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who teaches at Oxford, were planning the initial event.

Figel, who grew up in a Slovak family near Pittsburgh, rediscovered his Eastern Christian roots when he was in college. In the early 1990s, he met a priest in England who wanted to revive publications of the ecumenical Society of St. John Chrysostom. The result was Eastern Churches Journal. Later, when the priest, Father Serge Kelleher, and an Orthodox bishop, Vsevolod of Scopelos, wanted to reprint a liturgical book from 17thcentury Kiev, Figel started Eastern Christian Publications, which he still runs. ECP’s list includes books, DVDs and CDs on ecumenism and Eastern Christianity.

Figel met Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware, a theologian and a metropolitan in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in 1996.

“Over dinner, I proposed the idea of holding an open-to-the-public ecumenical meeting about Orientale Lumen,” Figel recalled during a recent interview in Washington. “Bishop Kallistos immediately agreed and even got his diary out and we planned the conference for June of 1997. I knew the dean here at Catholic University, Father Raymond Collins. I went to him with the idea; he thought it was great. He said he would cosponsor it as the dean of theology and religious studies.”

In the apostolic letter, John Paul reminded Christians that “a particularly close link already binds” Catholics and Orthodox. “We have almost everything in common; and above all, we have in common the true longing for unity,” John Paul wrote.
Both Churches are apostolic in origin and have a valid episcopate, priesthood and the seven sacraments.

The Pope pointed out that unity between Rome and Constantinople endured“for the whole of the first millennium, despite difficulties. We have increasingly learned that it was not so much an historical episode or a mere question of preeminence that tore the fabric of unity, as it was a progressive estrangement, so that the other's diversity was no longer perceived as a common treasure, but as incompatibility.”

The Pontiff recommended “improving our knowledge of one another” in order to grow in unity. “The children of the Catholic Church already know the ways indicated by the Holy See for achieving this: to know the liturgy of the Eastern Churches; to deepen their knowledge of the spiritual traditions of the Fathers and Doctors of the Christian East, to follow the example of the Eastern Churches for the inculturation of the Gospel message; to combat tensions between Latins and Orientals and to encourage dialogue between Catholics and the Orthodox…”

Just the things the Orientale Lumen Conferences have been doing ever since.
The first conference featured Metropolitan Kallistos; Melkite Catholic Bishop Nicholas Samra, and Bishop Basil Losten, then-eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of Stamford, Conn, who said, "Beyond any question,Orientale Lumen is the most important Catholic document on the Eastern Churches since the Second Vatican Council.”

“Everyone who came—we had about a hundred people at that first conference—said that this was a wonderful idea and that we should keep doing it,” Figel said… (read the full article at Catholic World Report)

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