Holy Trinity Orthodox Church
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Pope and Patriarch meet

Properly understood, it is a good and hopeful event

His Holiness Bartholomew, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, and His Holiness Benedict, Roman Pope of Rome, will hold an historic meeting this week in the capital of the former Byzantine Empire, Constantinople (now called Istanbul and under Muslim control).

 

The meeting is certainly motivated by a mutual, Orthodox/Roman Catholic desire for unity and the healing of the Great Schism of 1054 which has divided Eastern and Western Christianity to this day.  The major events of this meeting will be broadcast live and rebroadcast on EWTN, the world-wide Roman Catholic cable channel.


Caution should be observed in the understanding of the issues which continue to divide Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and the role of the Orthodox Patriarch within Orthodoxy.


ABOUT THIS MEETING
by Fr. Jason Kappanadze

His Holiness Bartholomew, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, and His Holiness Benedict, Roman Pope of Rome, will hold an historic meeting this week in the capital of the former Byzantine Empire, Constantinople (now called Istanbul and under Muslim control).

 

The meeting is certainly motivated by a mutual, Orthodox/Roman Catholic desire for unity and the healing of the Great Schism of 1054 which has divided Eastern and Western Christianity to this day.  The major events of this meeting will be broadcast live and rebroadcast on EWTN, the world-wide Roman Catholic cable channel.

 

Caution should be observed in the understanding of the issues which continue to divide Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and the role of the Orthodox Patriarch within Orthodoxy.

 

The Roman Catholic Church likes to blame the original schism on a misunderstanding over icons, and the continuing schism over issues of stolen property and proselytizing in Orthodox lands.  But in fact, the schism began and continues because of doctrinal issues:  the Roman Church’s introduction of innovative doctrines such as the Filioque (which changed the nature of the Holy Trinity); the Immaculate Conception of Mary (which wrongly makes her super-human); and the Papacy itself (which changed the conciliar mode of government known to the Apostolic Church and still practiced within Orthodoxy.

 

Simply put, there can be no unity with a Creed which claims (in opposition to Holy Scripture) that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son;” or the divine manipulation of Mary’s conception making her something other than the truly human mother of the God-Man Jesus;  or the claim that the Bishop of Rome has always been the personal representative (Vicar) of Christ on earth and infallible in issues of doctrine and morals.  After all, several Popes before the 18th century refused to make such a statement, and the early Church knew not even a hint of such beliefs, much less such doctrines.  They were introduced at much later times and with no scriptural or patristic support.  Simply put, progress toward unity must include the correction of these doctrinal and ecclesiastical errors as a first priority.

 

In many ways, the Roman Catholic Church is moving eastward.  It has abolished the innovation of “limbo” and has once again permitted the Mass as it was celebrated through the ‘60’s but forbidden thereafter.  In doing the latter, Roman Catholic officials noted the dismay of the Orthodox over the liturgical revisionism and chaos that had become the unraveling of worship in the Western Church.  But still, the doctrinal issues remain paramount and must be addressed.  It remains to be seen whether the Pope of Rome will have the humility to acknowledge the errors which constitute his own position in the Church.

 

The Roman Catholic insistence on the expediency of a strong, single head for the Church colors its view of Orthodoxy, insisting that we also have such an office occupied by the Patriarch of Constantinople who they often call “The Orthodox Pope.”  Others call him “the spiritual leader of the world’s 250-million Orthodox Christians.”  But neither statement is true.

 

The Western world asks, “How do you Orthodox get anything done without a Pope who can tell everyone what to do and believe?”  To which the Orthodox answer, “We get things done in God’s time and by His will alone.  Our Head is Jesus Christ!”  Yes, we Orthodox have bishops and a hierarchy, but the bishops are all equals, with one of them in a nation “the first among equals,” meaning that he administers.  But the Patriarch of Constantinople or any other Orthodox Patriarch has no “universal” power outside his own diocese, and certainly no claim of speaking personally for God or any claim of personal infallibility. 

 

We Orthodox know that things don’t always happen as quickly as we think they should in the Church, but history has clearly shown that what we lose in speed we gain in consistent witness to the Faith of the Apostles.  The fact remains that while the West, priding itself in the ability to move quickly, has added a good number of false teachings, while Orthodoxy has avoided this temptation and remains today unchanged in doctrine and order of worship.  

 

So Roman Catholics will be terribly mistaken if they think that this historic meeting of Patriarch and Pope is fellowship with the whole Orthodox Church, or that if the Patriarch can be persuaded to union with Rome without doctrinal correction, that the rest of Orthodoxy will follow along blindly.

 

Roman Catholicism should take note of how Orthodoxy’s conciliar governance has not only kept us in tact to this day, but also prevents one person from leading us into false union or false teaching in the future.

 

For there to be unity, the entire Orthodox Church, meeting in Council, will have to agree.  Yes, that will take time...  and it should. 

 

No one—East or West—should be happy about the facts of schism and disunity.  We should all desire and work toward unity. But that unity must be a real one, based on Apostolic Truth and the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world.  Anything less would be a betrayal of all traditions involved and a great set-back for the cause of “the Way, the Truth and the Life” Who became incarnate of a Holy Virgin for our salvation, revealing the Father’s unchanging will to the world.

 

We should all be glad for this meeting of Patriarch and Pope, but we must avoid the temptation of exaggerating its significance.

 

We must pray for the safety of these two Christian leaders, those traveling with them and all Christians in Istanbul and Turkey, living under the unrelenting dangers, persecution and repression of Muslim rule.  

 

 "This kind of Liturgy can never grow old or outdated."

Patriarch Bartholomew described the profound meaning of liturgy in his homily during the Divine Liturgy during Pope Benedict's visit to Constantinople.

 "This overwhelming continuity with heaven as well as with history means that the Orthodox liturgy is the mystical experience and profound conviction that 'Christ is and ever shall be in our midst!'  For in Christ, there is a deep connection between past, present, and future. In this way, the liturgy is more than merely the recollection of Christ’s words and acts. It is the realization of the very presence of Christ Himself, who has promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name."


The homily of Patriarch Bartholomew at the Divine Liturgy in Constantinople
 attended by Pope Benedict.
 

With the grace of God, Your Holiness, we have been blessed to enter the joy of the Kingdom, to “see the true light and receive the heavenly Spirit.” Every celebration of the Divine Liturgy is a powerful and inspiring con-celebration of heaven and of history. 

 

Every Divine Liturgy is both an anamnesis [remembrance] of the past and an anticipation of the Kingdom. We are convinced that during this Divine Liturgy, we have once again been transferred spiritually in three directions: toward the kingdom of heaven where the angels celebrate; toward the celebration of the liturgy through the centuries; and toward the heavenly kingdom to come.

 

This overwhelming continuity with heaven as well as with history means that the Orthodox liturgy is the mystical experience and profound conviction that “Christ is and ever shall be in our midst!” 

 

For in Christ, there is a deep connection between past, present, and future. In this way, the liturgy is more than merely the recollection of Christ’s words and acts. It is the realization of the very presence of Christ Himself, who has promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name.

 

At the same time, we recognize that the rule of prayer is the rule of faith (“lex orandi lex credendi”), that the doctrines of the Person of Christ and of the Holy Trinity have left an indelible mark on the liturgy, which comprises one of the undefined doctrines, “revealed to us in mystery,” of which St. Basil the Great so eloquently spoke. 

 

This is why, in liturgy, we are reminded of the need to reach unity in faith as well as in prayer. Therefore, we kneel in humility and repentance before the living God and our Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious Name we bear and yet at the same time whose seamless garment we have divided. We confess in sorrow that we are not yet able to celebrate the holy sacraments in unity. And we pray that the day may come when this sacramental unity will be realized in its fullness.

 

And yet, Your Holiness and beloved brother in Christ, this con-celebration of heaven and earth, of history and time, brings us closer to each other today through the blessing of the presence, together with all the saints, of the predecessors of our Modesty, namely St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. We are honored to venerate the relics of these two spiritual giants after the solemn restoration of their sacred relics in this holy church two years ago when they were graciously returned to us by the venerable Pope John Paul II. Just as, at that time, during our Thronal Feast, we welcomed and placed their saintly relics on the Patriarchal Throne, chanting “Behold your throne!”, so today we gather in their living presence and eternal memory as we celebrate the Liturgy named in honor of St. John Chrysostom.

 

Thus our worship coincides with the same joyous worship in heaven and throughout history. Indeed, as St. John Chrysostom himself affirms: 

 

“Those in heaven and those on earth form a single festival, a shared thanksgiving, one choir”. Heaven and earth offer one prayer, one feast, one doxology. The Divine Liturgy is at once the heavenly kingdom and our home, “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21.1), the ground and center where all things find their true meaning. The Liturgy teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions. In its spacious embrace, it includes the whole world, the communion of saints, and all of God’s creation. The entire universe becomes “a cosmic liturgy”, to recall the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor. This kind of Liturgy can never grow old or outdated.

 

The only appropriate response to this showering of divine benefits and compassionate mercy is gratitude (“eucharistia”). Indeed, thanksgiving and glory are the only fitting response of human beings to their Creator. For to Him belong all glory, honor, and worship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; now and always, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

 
Truly, particular and wholehearted gratitude fills our hearts toward the loving God, for today, on the festive commemoration of the Apostle founder and protector of this Church, the Divine Liturgy is attended by His Holiness our brother and bishop of the elder Rome, Pope Benedict XVI, together with his honorable entourage. Once again, we gratefully greet this presence as a blessing from God, as an expression of brotherly love and honor toward our Church, and as evidence of our common desire to continue—in a spirit of love and faithfulness to the Gospel Truth and the common tradition of our Fathers —the unwavering journey toward the restoration of full communion among our Churches, which constitutes His divine will and command. May it be so.