Orthodox-Catholic dialogue is necessary

Published by Father Joseph D. Wallace
Thu, June 19 2008

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation met earlier this month to discuss how the two churches understand ecclesial authority and the sacramental nature of church.

They met at the Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati and Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh chaired the meeting.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation is sponsored by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), the Bishop’s Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have met since 1965 and have issued 22 agreed statements.They met in four sessions and covered a number of important issues. At the first theological session, Father Paul McPartian of The Catholic University of America analyzed the October 2007 document of the international Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue, “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority.” This document is also commonly called, “The Ravenna Document,” and it examines the canonical practices and structures that shape the community (koinonia) of the church at the local, regional and universal levels.

At the second session, Father Joseph Komonchak, from Catholic University, presented a select bibliography on synodality and made comments on a number of the sources. Jesuit Father Brian Daley of the University of Notre Dame, presented an overview and commentary of the Cyprus Agreed Statement, the 2006 document of the Anglican-Orthodox theological dialogue, titled “The Church of the Triune God.”

This was followed by a brief presentation by Father David Petras and Father McPartian on how the two churches might function if there were reestablishment of full communion. Metropolitan Maximos presented the paper, “Will the Ecclesiology of Cardinal Ratzinger Influence the
Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI?” at the third session. A discussion of the Consultation’s efforts exploring primacy and synodality followed into a fourth session.

This consultation was preceded by an historic announcement in Moscow by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on May 30. He said, “We launched the dialogue with all Orthodox Churches and we won’t continue it without
the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Historically, the Russian Orthodox Church has not been a member of the great dialogue unfolding between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. There have been tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. Cardinal Kasper said that the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Constantinople Patriarchate was “an inter-Orthodox affair.” “We can’t interfere in these relations, but hope for the compromise,” the cardinal stressed.

In his message delivered to Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia by Cardinal Kasper, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Patriarch as “increasingly committed to dialogue with other Christians and the members of other religions” and thanked the Russian Church’s primate for “signs of fraternity and friendship” toward the Catholic Church.

In response Patriarch Alexy said, “The Orthodox-Catholic dialogue is necessary. The two churches have similar positions on many modern problems, among them morals, social and family relations, human rights and bio-ethics.”

He added, “Our dialogue must lead to the Orthodox-Catholic interaction in the defense of traditional Christian values in the secular world.”

While the ice is melting between the Roman Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church, Cardinal Kasper suggested that it may be time for the pope and patriarch to meet in Moscow some time in the future. He explained, “We are of the opinion that a personal encounter between the Pope and Patriarch Alexy II would be very helpful for the further development of our relations.”

No such date for the visit has been confirmed, but Moscow seems warmer to the idea with Pope Benedict, than it did with Pope John Paul II. The words of Pope Benedict XVI to Patriarch Alexy, sum up well the kind of relations Catholics and all Orthodox should have toward one another, “May the Risen Savior grant you health, peace and inner joy, and may he bring us closer to each other, that we may undertake together our journey towards full communion in him!”

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