An Exchange of Gifts : Clear Communication in Love

Bishop Seraphim : Talk
An Exchange of Gifts :
Clear Communication in Love
Presented at the Second Conference Orientale Lumen Australasia Oceania
Sydney, Australia
9 July, 2003

First of all, I would like to begin by giving thanks to God that we have the opportunity, as close relatives in Christ, to speak openly and honestly in the love of Jesus Christ. Although I consider myself to be the last person competent to address such matters, it has fallen to me, and I ask forgiveness in advance for the inadequacies of this presentation. I also ask for patience with the nature of this presentation, which does not follow the more scholarly format to which we are accustomed in such presentations. Nevertheless, I wish to underline that I perceive that the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics has been undertaken in love, and in a genuine desire to overcome past failures.

Over the years, as I have studied and read about the relationship between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox ; and, considering what I have experienced during ten years of dialogues between Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops in the USA, it seems to me that our nearness is as problematic as the matters that keep us separated. We have a similar self-perception as the Church ; we seem to have a quite similar ecclesiology, Christology, Trinitarian theology and Eucharistic theology. There have been, in recent years, Glory be to God, documents produced of substantial agreement on many of these subjects, and about some specific points of difference. The similarities are great, especially when one observes the nature of the language of these more recent agreements, and the mostly amicable and regular exchanges between the Vatican and the Phanar. We usually admit that we each have good qualities from which the other would benefit, should we be one. However, we still do not manage to bridge this gap. Both fear and inertia are involved, to be sure, although they are not alone. We both seem to desire to conform ourselves to the words of the Saviour’s prayer in Gethsemane, that we be one in love as in the Unity of the Trinity (see John 17:21), but we do not manage to accomplish it. We seem to be behaving rather like a dysfunctional couple, similar to the sort I have encountered pastorally over the years.

Following is a very simplified summary of this situation. Certainly we were one for many centuries, but as time passed, and as political troubles and difficulties in communication grew (not the least of them being linguistic), a distance began to show itself, and differences between us became greater. This was the case on both sides. However, in the view of the Orthodox, the West became more interested in worldly power than in spiritual authority, and in time tried to wield this power on the rest of the Church. The development of scholastic theology in the West, and the subsequent placing of theology under obedience to philosophy, seem to have made the differences more stark, distinct and seemingly insuperable. Communication became much more difficult. It is true that even in the very early days of the Christian Church, both East and West had different ways of looking at life, and they responded differently ; but because of historical circumstances, the development of scholasticism, and other difficulties, we neglected to pay enough attention to maintaining the priority of the unity of love in Christ, and we began to react to each other’s perceived faults and insufficiencies. As we pointed the finger of accusation at one another, we began to squabble openly, and sometimes not to talk to each other for long periods of time. As it might be said, we came to attacking each other with lawyers’ letters. The West even went so far as, willy-nilly, to conquer Constantinople and take over almost the whole household by force for a time. Even so, our actual communion was not completely broken. We actually managed somehow to maintain communion, albeit in a minimal way, until the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, and the disappearance of the Eastern Roman Empire. Those in the East were, thenceforth, interested mostly in simple personal survival. There was encounter from time to time, but it was generally hostile and reactionary. A prime example is the decision in the West to baptise Greek converts, and the Greek reaction to do the same towards Roman Catholics, and all others as well. The former policy was dropped in the West, but amongst Greeks (and in much of the Church influenced historically by the Patriarchate of Constantinople), this policy remains in effect until this day, although it moderates in some places.

Our situation is not exactly parallel to the following anecdote that I heard in my youth, but it may be perceived to be not so far from it. An old woman appeared in the divorce court, before the judge. The judge asked her : “After fifty years of marriage, madam, why are you now in this court ?” She replied : “Enough is enough, already”.

The circumstances of our history are painful and difficult. Thanks be to God, the last century opened doors for us to renew communication, and we have indeed been talking seriously. We cannot ignore the words of our Saviour, nor can we ignore the fact that our persisting in division is a betrayal of our Saviour’s love.

What are we going to do, and how will we overcome ? The plain facts are that we Orthodox are not quick to move about anything at all, nor are we necessarily logical. A clear and sad illustration of this is our dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox. Indeed, we have always been closer to them in many ways than we have been with the Roman Catholics. In the last century, there have been many years of fruitful dialogue, which resulted in a very comprehensive theological, ecclesiological and spiritual agreement. In short, it was agreed by all specialists that there is no obstacle remaining which need inhibit the return to communion after 1500 years. Now, however, many years later, we are still not openly reconciled. On either side we have stubborn persons who threaten schism. We have persons who do not believe or accept the results of the dialogues in the 20th century, nor do they trust those who dialogued. We have persons who are not ready to forgive and to reconcile. Therefore, exasperated, we remain out of communion with each other. Efforts to educate and to convince the skeptics continue, on both sides, but it will be some time before we can hope to see any resolution.

We both, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, perceive dialogue to be a requirement in these days. We both perceive that it is essential to come into unity. However, we do not get very far. Perhaps one can say that we both have the same self-perception, and that this is an obstacle. That is to say, we both perceive that we are The Church, the Body of Christ, which is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. We believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. We believe that the Church is the Ark of Salvation. We believe that we have been inheriting the apostolic tradition during the past 2,000 years, and we are hierarchical in our make-up from the beginning. We are very near, yet we are paradoxically still quite far from one another.

The first, and perhaps most difficult, obstacle to our dialogue’s fulfilment might be said to be the historically different dispositions between the Latin-speaking, and the Syriac-, Arabic- and Greek-speaking peoples. These differences may be described, for instance, as the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical approaches. The Orthodox would generally perceive themselves as being inductive reasoners in a Platonic framework, and the Roman Catholics and Protestants as being deductive reasoners in an Aristotelian framework. As an illustration of this difference, we would likely note that the Roman Catholics seem to be completely dependent upon documents and formal statements ; and that the Orthodox, although such things have their place, would emphasise the importance of personal contacts and relationships in living with such documents. The Orthodox would insist that the Orthodox Way is that of balance ; and we perceive that the Roman Catholics, over the centuries, have lost this balance, particularly in having lost the vertical aspect of the vertical and horizontal whole of the relationship between God and creation. This obstacle’s difficulty lies in its subjective nature. However, as in other relationships, something as subjective as this often makes for the greatest difficulty in mutual understanding. As a result, we can hear a person say nowadays that the Orthodox are from Venus and the Roman Catholics are from Mars, comparing this to supposed differences between men and women.

Father Alexander Schmemann, in his Journals, may be found to lament that he perceives western Christianity to have become bourgeois, and to have lost its eschatological character. He says : "Maybe poverty is the central symbol, not the economic factor of poverty, but the approach to it. The West has decided that Christianity is calling us to fight against poverty, or to replace it with relative riches, or at least economic equality, etc. The Christian appeal is quite, quite different: poverty as freedom, poverty as a sign that the heart has accepted the impossible (hence tragic) call to the Kingdom of God. I don’t know. It’s so difficult to express it, but I clearly feel that here is a different perception of life, and the bourgeois state (religious, theological, spiritual, pious, cultured, etc), is blind to something essential in Christianity" (p. 122).

On the one hand, with Schmemann, the Orthodox would generally say that through the Eucharist in the Church, the Kingdom of God is revealed. On the other hand, the West would be considered to be trying to establish this Kingdom on earth. The use of the word “culture” can further illustrate the difference. In most cases in western thinking, culture now seems to refer mostly to secondary characteristics, such as opera, symphony, folk-dance, food, dress and the like. In the East, this word would likely find itself being used (as in biology) for the elements of the foundation of a way of life. For instance, the Greeks, Romanians, Serbs, Arabs, Russians, Ukrainians and others, live their lives both similarly and dissimilarly. The way in which they live their lives is perceived to be rooted in the Gospel, and how the Gospel nurtured each people’s manner of living : in their particular places, and in the context of their particular histories. The mixture of the Gospel in the pre-existing culture brought to each culture and people a unique character of life in the context of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the context of the Church’s feasts and fasts. However, in this uniqueness, there is also a sameness. One might use the paradoxical expression that throughout all the cultures and languages of the Orthodox world, things are all the same, but they are different.

However, since I have mentioned balance, it must be said that although this inclusive and formative perception of culture is indeed the case, there are compensating difficulties. I mean that the Gospel and Church embrace the culture ; and they form and transform the culture to such a degree that a confusion can arise. In the mentality of more modern and ignorant persons, it can often be understood that the Church and Christianity are simply a part of, an element of the culture. Then Christianity becomes merely tribal. In the meeting with the current, western, perception of culture, this can produce the mentality, indeed a pagan sense, that all missionary activity is inappropriate because “religion” is connected with the soil. Thus, Christianity becomes a mere option : it becomes an alternative, instead of being the Ark of Salvation. The Orthodox Church, over 100 years ago, condemned tribal mentality as a heresy, called phyletism. Nevertheless, one does see evidence of it from time to time. The tendency towards such limitations seems to affect us both, but it affects us Orthodox more. In part, it is the result of the typical human weakness of taking attention and trust away from the Lord.

Every time we take our focus, trust and sense of dependency away from the Lord, we begin to make idols, as Father Schememann reflects in his Journals. Nothing has changed in human behaviour since the time of the biblical patriarchs (and before that also). Therefore, especially when aided by imperial or governmental support and association, the Church can become a worldly institution, very like the civil government itself. How many times have I heard to my pain the faithful describing the Church as a thing, as if she were man-made, and quite distinct from Christ ! This is a weakness for us both. The Orthodox add the tendency to substitute also a dream-world, in which some imperial era : the Roman, the Russian, or some other, was the golden age, the holy time. In many parts, the 19th century is very popular these days.

It seems to me that, in this whole process of conversation and attempted reunion, this mutual renewal of trust in Christ, of asking His direction and obeying it, must be our primary focus.

With this in mind, it is necessary still to discuss as honestly as possible the realities of what keeps us apart. In speaking of an exchange of gifts in the post-modern context, we must face the fact that, although we do indeed seem to have love and respect in Christ for each other, our work towards reconciliation involves a lot of documents, and a lot of words. These span several languages and cultures as well ; and at the same time, they provide generous opportunity for misunderstanding.

For a real and meaningful and fruitful exchange of such gifts, there needs to be sufficient common ground, and in the case of words, sufficient common perception of words, in order to accomplish this. Indeed, I remember well in elementary philosophy courses being taught that finding a mutually agreed definition of terms is of primary importance. To my mind, we have here one of the sources of our mutual difficulty in communication and understanding as described by Father Schmemann in his writings. The development of these differences in use of words and ideas over many centuries puts us in a condition similar to that of France and Québec. Both peoples speak the same language. However, Québec retained much of Old French, and mingled it with Aboriginal words and English words ; and at the same time, France’s use of its own language developed steadily. Now, 500 years since the colonisation, Québecois films shown in France require subtitles or dubbing in order to be understood.

For the sake of convenience (not trivial pursuit), I will outline my perception about some of our significant differences in terms. This is not to say that we Orthodox are perfectly consistent in our use of these and other terms. Especially for those who live in the West, and as well those who depend for translation upon lexica produced by the West, there is a historical tendency to use words (especially in English) according to the customary western usage, which introduces a contradiction :
An interesting and significant variance is the noun “Byzantium” or the adjective “Byzantine”, nowadays so widely used to describe Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire, and the associated culture. This recently-introduced western term is not native to the East. Constantinopolitans have always referred to themselves, and are referred to by peoples throughout the East, including the Muslim, as Romans. The empire was Eastern Roman. The patriarchal title is “New Rome”. Until Greece became a country independent from the Ottoman Empire (and even now to some extent), those who were living on this territory called themselves Romans, as did all Christian peoples within the territories of the eastern empire.
The word “canon” in the West tends to mean “law”, and the two words are generally used together as “canon law”. This is assumed to be the first usage of “canon” in dictionaries. In the East, however, “canon” refers to spiritual medicine and the temporal application of eternal truth.
In the West, it seems that “Apostolic Succession” is a state of being, a quality or a situation which requires, in order validly to ordain a bishop, valid matter (a living, baptised, qualified male), valid form, valid intention, and a bishop or bishops ordained by other validly ordained bishops. In the East, all this is required ; but in addition, it is required that all concerned be in the fulness of the Apostolic Faith, and be in the communion of the visible Church. (Therefore, for instance, “Old Catholics”, who seem to have a dubious position with Rome, would simply be regarded by the Orthodox as not being Roman Catholics. Therefore, their bishops would not be considered to be true bishops, because they are not in communion with the visible Church, and they cannot be said to be in the fulness of Apostolic Faith.)
For us Orthodox, “validity” is not a term that we are accustomed to use, especially regarding anyone or any entity outside the boundaries of the visible Orthodox Church. We do not historically tend to consider the status of those outside these visible boundaries. However, when the time comes for one person or a group to be reconciled and reunited with the Orthodox Church (by whatever means is canonically determined), it is then that there is an examination of the situations, and an assessment made about what we can perceive “of the Church” , usually on a case-by-case basis.
As we see it, the West uses the word “sacrament”. The original meaning of this word derives from an oath of loyalty, to the emperor or to some other lord. Thus, although “sacrament” can mean “sign of the sacred”, there seems to be a tendency to regard sacraments in terms of our acting upon the consequences of an oath of loyalty to Christ, perhaps as an act of obedience. “Sacrament” is often described as being “a sacred rite”. In the West, it seems that there are only seven “sacraments”. In the East, we speak of “mysteries” in which God acts through Grace, and in which we participate. In the East, we would say that there are at least seven mysteries, but also that the real number is far greater, and probably not even knowable. In the East, there is no distinction made between a “sacrament” and a “sacramental”, because the “mysteries” cover all the aspects of life.
Between the East and the West there are significantly different approaches to understanding mystery and sacrament. In his book Through the Creation to the Creator, p. 5, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia writes about his having met the Elder Amphilochios, a spiritual father on the Island of Patmos. He describes the elder as being an ecologist before the term was well-defined. For instance, when he heard confessions, as a part of the spiritual discipline, he would assign to the penitent the obedience of planting a tree. He walked about the island and watered the seedlings, and the island was transformed and re-forested through this work. He liked to say that the Lord wants us to love the trees. Father Amphilochios said : “Our country is covered with the ice of materialism and of atheism, and we are all called to take part in their defeat. Only when this ice dissipates will we be able to find and to enjoy once again that true earth which the apostolic ploughs cultivated, and which the blood of martyrs and the sweat of monastic saints watered. Only then will the Noetic Sun warm the Greek soil, which will immediately sprout forth flowers in bloom and will bear fruit, as before, to the glory of God” (Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, by Herman A. Middleton, pp. 51-52).

As a complement to these words (and to this living example) are the words of the Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann in his For the Life of the World, pp. 128-130. Father Alexander stresses that secularism, which encompasses the materialism and atheism mentioned by Father Amphilochios, is the declaration by the world of its self-sufficiency and its independence from God. In one of his public talks, he said that secularism is a western phenomenon which belongs to the category of Christian truths that went berserk. He points out that scholastic philosophers began to bifurcate, divide, dissect and categorise all that previously, in Christian understanding, had been interwoven parts of one whole. In these western categories, what is mystical and symbolic is not real, and what is real is not symbolic. We Orthodox must keep mindful of the fact that what is a symbol is real, true and even more, in Christ. The rejection of the very concept that holds all together in one is a rejection of the Christian understanding of what is creation and its fundamental sacramental character. From all this came the false differentiation between natural and supernatural, in which the sacramental unity given by the Lord is ignored and rejected. By doing this, we lose all sense of balance. We invite and even willingly embrace extremism, to our loss. The end result of this “berserkness” is an ossification of our faith and of ourselves. We become calcified, fossilised.
In addition, the western understanding of the sacrament of marriage is quite different from that of the East, since it seems that it is the couple who marry each other in some sort of contractual agreement, which is reflected in the traditional vows, and in the modern variants of them. The Church witnesses the mutual agreement, and then blesses what they undertake. In a marriage in the East, the couple were (in long-ago times) already registered with the state as married by the time they arrived in the Temple of the Lord for the blessing of Christ upon this union. And blessed they are. In the “Mystery of Crowning”, the two, the husband and wife, who have already been betrothed to one another, are blessed into a spiritual union with one another in the context of the whole believing community of the Faithful. There is no suggestion at all of anything contractual ; there are no vows ; and the spiritual and physical union into which the two enter is anticipated to be eternal, not merely ending upon physical death.
Following logically from marriage, there are the differences between us that are reflected in the baptism of children, in Christian Initiation. In the East, it is universal that soon after the birth of a child (usually at about 40 days), the child of Orthodox Christian parents is baptised and chrismated. The child is then immediately given the Mystery of Holy Communion, and this person becomes a regular and frequent communicant in the Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the West, the child of Roman Catholic parents is often baptised soon after birth, often much sooner than the Orthodox. However, by contrast, although the child may begin to participate in the sacrament of Confession/penance at the age of 7 years, this child is not permitted to receive the sacrament of Confirmation until very many years later, when the bishop arrives for the laying-on-of-hands for that purpose. This has usually been in early adolescence. In former times, that would begin the possibility to receive Holy Communion. In more recent times, Holy Communion began to be administered after the beginning of making confessions. For the Orthodox, this arrangement appears to be incongruous and disorderly. There is another area of questioning between East and West, in that it seems that for the West, anyone at all (even if lacking Christian faith), may perform a recognisable baptism, if there be the correct intention ; whereas, in the East, a Christian layperson may in emergency baptise, but those outside the Church may not, on the principle nemo dat quod non habet (no-one gives what one does not have).
The West uses the term “penance” for an act which expiates the temporal punishment due to sin ; whereas the East uses “epitimion” as a medicine for a sick soul and weakened will.
“Sin”, in the West, seems to mean a violation of divine law, whereas in the East, the word tends to follow the Greek meaning of “missing the mark” and to imply a sickness of the soul or heart.
We seem to have somewhat different concepts of God — either as lawgiver and judge, or as lover and healer. It is no surprise, in the view of history and inheritance, that the West in English translates "dikaiosyne", as “justice”, which refers to legal standing, and correctness according to the law. The East, however, translates this word as “righteousness”, which refers to a quality of the heart and soul, and the positive relationship to God’s love and holiness.
“Authority” in the Church, in the West, is generally treated in a juridical manner, and generally used in terms of power. Older texts refer to the power to confer a sacrament. The greatest authority is with the greatest power. In the East, authority is derived from a Spirit-informed consensus. The greatest must be the least. Every bishop and every patriarch is immediately answerable to his own Holy Synod of Bishops, and to all the other Churches. All should be done in the context of the principle of conciliarity. In the East, the one in greatest authority is not in a distinct position above all other bishops, but rather, he is simply a bishop who has a title of responsibility and leadership which must be exercised in the context of the supportive agreement of the other bishops. This is the meaning of “first amongst equals”, primus inter pares.
The Mother of God herself is found to be another point of difference between our eastern and western perceptions. Both East and West do call her the Mother of God. She is all-holy. It is in how we understand this that we seem to diverge. Without analysing all the details of this divergence, I will try to present a summary of how we Orthdox approach the Mother of God. She lovingly and voluntarily submitted her will to God throughout her whole life, and chiefly in agreeing to bear His Son. Without her, there would have been no Incarnation and consequently, no Redemption. Through her life of prayer and fasting, she grew in holiness to become a pure vessel to contain the Uncircumscribable One. After Christ’s birth, she remained Ever-virgin, and she continued her podvig (a Russian word with a broad meaning, including “spiritual struggle”, “doing more”, “self-denial”, “repenting”, “exploit”, “heroic deed”). The Mother of God, too, faced the tempter. To live out her life in complete purity, the Mother of God engaged in a life-long struggle to be completely faithful, because she so completely loves the Lord. In doing so, she became, as we are always hymning her, “more honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim”. She is for us the supreme example of a Christian. Because of her life, we know that being truly united to Christ is possible for a human being. She is herself a human being just as we all are, born into our fallen and rebellious world and subject to death as a result. Fallenness and brokenness is our condition, our situation. Borne on the prayers of all those who preceded her, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, she was enabled to be the one who could, in her perpetual “yes” to the Lord, be able to give to her Son true and full humanity in its fallen condition. It was necessary that she be able to give to the Son of God the fulness of humanity. He came to save us from all the consequences of our Fall. He did so because the Most Holy Mother of God was fully a human being. However, this fallen condition is not an inherited disease, as some suggest it to be. Rather, it is the situation which resulted from the disobedience and rebelliousness of our First Parents. We are all born into this situation of disobedience and rebelliousness, which characterises our behaviour as a race. We perpetuate this in ourselves when we act against our Lord’s life-giving and loving will. When she gave her Son this fallen humanity, He became identical to us in every way, as the Apostle demonstrates, except that His obedience is perfect ; the union of His will with the Father’s will is perfect in perfect love. He did not yield to the tempter. He did not sin. He does not sin. He is fully human, and He is fully God. He is our perfect and compassionate High Priest.
It seems that we have differences also in how holiness is recognised in particular human beings. For the East, holiness and obedience to the Lord’s love might be called synonymous. Both the Forerunner and our Saviour exhorted us directly and clearly about holiness and obedience in love, as did the apostles and all the holy persons who have followed them. Because of circumstances of my life, I came to understand that a distortion regarding how we English-speakers speak about holiness has come into the English language. Because the English language is a western language, its fundamental perceptions and perspectives are moulded by the philosophies and attitudes of its western milieu. The word “saint” comes to us from the French, a word spelt exactly the same in both French and English. In both languages, “saint” simply means “holy”. In French, “saint” comes from the Latin word sanctus, which translates the Greek word hagios. In most languages there is only one word in use to describe the concept of “holy”. English has the additional, Greek-founded word, “holy”, which came to us through the German word heilig (or heilige). However, the distortion in the English language to which I earlier referred has to do with our having come in recent times to use in different ways the words “holy”, and “saint”, which both mean the same thing in their essence. Now, in English, we anglophones effectively limit the use of the word “saint” to those persons who have been officially declared to be of this category : officially recognised holy persons. French-sourced words imply higher respect in English for some possibly Plantagenet reason. The result of this is that the great majority of people now consider a “saint” to be a “professional Christian” who has climbed the hard ladder to recognition (or been helped to do so). Because of the popular mis-usage, many poorly-formed Orthodox people have the same attitude. Some people will think that the good and notable person was just born that way. Some will consider such an outstanding person to be some sort of specially gifted, even super-human person. The essential element of repentance in becoming and being holy has disappeared from our popular consciousness.

This problem of misunderstanding holiness and repentance is not limited to the problems of English language usage. These problems are, perhaps to a great extent, the product of our western culture ; and this problem reflects a much wider misunderstanding throughout many western cultures. Because of these distortions in understanding, the popular meaning of “saint” has been changed and expanded so widely that it is now applied to many famous persons and well-known positive examples of various religions and politics (such as Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and others). On the contrary, for us Orthodox Christians, a saint is simply and plainly a holy person. This exhortation : “‘you shall be holy; for I, the Lord your God, am holy’” (3 Moses [Leviticus] 11:44), tells us why, from the time of our creation as a race, we have been and are, each one, expected by the Lord to become holy. He expects us, and He wants us to be like Him. Holiness, sanctity, is for every person, not merely for a few “specialists”. There are, to be sure, many outstanding holy persons amongst us and in our history (persons officially commemorated on our calendars). They show us by their lives that holiness is not something exceptional for Christians. Rather, being holy should be considered to be what is normal, what is usual, what is “every day” for every Christian. The holy way of life, which truly is the normal way of life, is therefore full of the love of Jesus Christ, full of Grace, full of love for the neighbour, full of love for all God’s creation. For the Lord, and for us, “normal” does not at all mean “average”. Rather, it means that this is what we were created to be in the first place. There are many Christ-loving persons who grow up to be like this.

There is a strong tendency in the West to use the word “religion” to describe Christianity. So strong is the tendency that we could say that this usage is ubiquitous. However, “religion” refers to a system and systematising that the East does not comprehend. The Orthodox tend still to keep to the New Testamental mentality of Christianity’s being the Way, as Christ called Himself. Father Schmemann in his Journals underlines this as he writes, “What is the fatal mistake of Christian history ? Is it not that logically, methodologically, one derives Christianity from religion, as the ‘particular’ from the ‘general’, which means that Christianity is reduced to religion, even when it is affirmed as fulfilment, as the accomplishment of religion. Whereas Christianity, in its essence, is not so much the fulfilment as the denial and destruction of religion, the revelation about it as the fall, as the result and the main expression of original sin. [...] Christ did not eliminate death and suffering, but trampled them, i.e., radically changed them from within, made victory out of defeat, ‘converted’ them” (p. 202).

To some, all this may seem to be rather tangential to the topic ; but it is my opinion that if we are not able to manage to speak the same language, and to understand each other to a greater degree than we seem to do at present, then this attempt at an exchange of gifts may be unsuccessful, or unfruitful. It has seemed to me that, time and again, in addition to the problem of definitions, the Orthodox attempt to speak to the West in scholastic terms, an environment which is foreign to their native mentality ; and the result can be confusion on both sides, because we do not, in the end, truly comprehend each other.

Another of the great gaps and challenges that we face is our mutual inability to cope properly with the presence of each other on the traditional territories of each other. In the more distant past, the historic territories of the patriarchates and national Churches were relatively stable ; and especially before disunity, travel and migration were not major difficulties. Now, in the midst of the reality of disunity (and especially during the past several centuries), peoples are moving very quickly and frequently. For economic and political reasons, Orthodox believers have migrated to traditional Roman Catholic territories, and Roman Catholics to traditional Orthodox territories. In the West, Roman Catholics have had to cope with the establishment of many dioceses of the Orthodox of various heritages. In the East, besides the development of the Unia, there is the continuing establishment of Roman Catholic dioceses in new areas. Therefore, although we both believe that the Church is visible, we are establishing structures which proclaim our disunity. In addition, this establishing of structures of visible disunity can suggest that we believe that the Church is invisible, not visible. This has dangerous implications about what we believe about the Incarnation. Regardless, in western countries, there is a tendency to find a modus vivendi of sorts. Often now, we find that local clergy associations, and dialogues between bishops and theologians can be both amicable and fruitful. This does not appear to be happening in eastern countries, and most particularly in Ukraine. In that land, the Orthodox and Roman Catholics are treating each other inimically, often ridiculously and shamefully. In Ternopil, the canonical Orthodox nishop finally found land on which to build a cathedral, since he and the flock he leads had been expelled from other state-owned premises. Immediately, the Ukrainian Catholics built a very prominent church nearby, and the Roman Catholics built another church across the street. In addition, the anti-Orthodox city council approved the building of an auto-sales salon on a corner of the lot so as to obscure the Orthodox structure. In L’viv, the Roman Catholic civic government denies the canonical Orthodox bishop any place for building a suitable cathedral, and for political purposes limits him to a building historically known as “the Russian Church”. Strangely, a former Roman Catholic Church in L’viv was recently seized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

In Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, he says : “Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of any authentic quest for full communion between Christians”. He also quotes a passage from the Second Vatican Council : "Truth is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication, and dialogue. In the course of these, people explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth. Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that individuals are to adhere to it".

This word “truth” is a problem, too, and a further example of the Aristotelian-Platonic tension that exists between us. According to the perception expressed in this previous citation, truth is something which we may discover. For the Orthodox, truth begins with the words of Christ, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He who is the Truth reveals Himself to us, and He reveals that He is the Truth. For the Orthodox, all truth should be related to Him who is the Truth itself. In these days, this word has become so relativised that there is in general society no longer any sense of absolute truth. This is unacceptable to the Orthodox heart and mind.

In an eventual reunion between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, a substantial concern, regardless of all other agreements, will remain for the Orthodox. This has to do in part with fundamental self-consciousness. We have seen the results in many countries of such a union, in the so-called Eastern Catholic Churches. As much as these bodies may appear to be like the Orthodox, and to worship as the Orthodox, we generally find that the mentality of the clergy and monastics in particular is western, and that the approach to life and world-view has changed from that of the general Orthodox experience. In some cases, one may encounter Eastern Greek Catholics who are considerably latinised, not only in their thinking, but in their practice. Should there be a reconciliation, we would be greatly concerned to be able to continue to recognise ourselves as we are. Indeed, this self-recognition is imperative. Despite this encounter with the latinised Greek Catholics, it is nevertheless reassuring to read in this same 1995 encyclical : “The change of heart which is the essential condition for every authentic search for unity flows from prayer and its realization is guided by prayer” ; and, “Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of any authentic quest for full communion between Christians.” These words suggest that unity is being understood in terms of selfless love, repentance, and the understanding that there is an absolute truth. In the context of such an absolute truth, true and honest unity is achieved when all concerned repent and mutually forgive each other. However, when we read : “Full communion of course will have to come about through the acceptance of the whole truth into which the Holy Spirit guides Christ’s disciples”, we see again the possibility of this different perception of the meaning of truth, as if in this case there be an implied innovation. The Orthodox in general would hope not to be inventing something new, but rather recovering what was lost. These words of Pope John Paul II are important : “The structures of unity which existed before the separation are a heritage of experience that guides our common path towards the re-establishment of full communion” ; but his words do not seem to say all that we would hope to hear.

the course of the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, as he discussed his perception of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome (¶ 88, ff), Pope John Paul II did so in a manner to which we are accustomed, with words to which we are accustomed. He described it in a manner about which we have continuing differences of opinion. Much of the language that is used in this section is very familiar and acceptable to the Orthodox ; however, the emphasis on the centrality of Peter and the Bishop of Rome, is found to be excessive in some way by all the Orthodox. Collegiality is referred to, but as being dependent upon the Bishop of Rome, nevertheless. For us, the Orthodox, this collegiality is properly much more generally conciliar. Patriarchs and other Heads of Churches are presidents of synods of bishops. It is averred that we try to do all things together. It is generally considered that primacy (and historically the primacy of Rome) has not so much to do with its being a watch-dog or sentinel, but with its being a court of last appeal, as is indeed mentioned in ¶95. This is effectively how New Rome serves us at the present. Throughout most of the time before the fracturing of communion became final, this sort of primacy was effective ; but when its exercise began to appear more regal than pastoral, mutual problems increased. The service of unity to which His Holiness refers is most desirable, but it is acceptable to us only if this is clearly a pastoral service. I must say, also, that it is gratifying to read further that he prays : “we may seek — together, of course — the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognised by all concerned”. As Father John Meyendorff and others have said repeatedly, I believe that in terms of exchanging gifts, the greatest gift to all would be the answer to this prayer. Many would aver, with Father Meyendorff, that a return of the Papacy to its earlier form of general service, as being simply first-amongst-equals, and particularly with a view to the terms of the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 879 that healed the “Photian schism”, would accomplish a great deal. However, the words of ¶ 39 of the most recent papal encyclical of April, 2003, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”, it appears that communion with the Pope of Rome is still considered to be universally the condition for unity. This being in communion with the Pope of Rome as the “source” of unity in a dependent manner, or being perceived as such, remains an obstacle. Were it to be on the level of, again, first-amongst-equals, and primacy of honour, much would be improved.

We still have far to go. In this same encyclical of 2003, there is a great deal written, about which we all agree, and particularly with the use of the word “mysterium”. However, there is a certain emphasis on the making present specifically of the saving acts of Christ, almost only with reference to the Cross and Resurrection (¶ 14, 15). Orthodox anaphoras do not neglect this aspect, but they include all saving acts from the Creation until the Second Advent. Whereas the words of this encyclical seem to perceive the eschatological element as referring only to the future, the words of eastern services perceive this future as being made present in this celebration. Truly, in ¶ 19, this aspect of a “glimpse of heaven appearing on earth” is referred to. However, as Father Schmemann would remark, the East would go much farther. In his Journals, and in his other comments, he insists that the Eucharistic Liturgy reveals the Kingdom in the here-and-now. He perceives that the West, in all its parts, suffers either from concentrating on history, or from rejecting history. He sees compartmentalisation and polarisation as the fruit of scholasticism. He writes : "This is the tragedy of contemporary Christianity — tragedy because ultimately the whole novelty of Christianity consisted (consists) in destroying this choice, this polarization. This is the essence of Christianity as Eschatology. [...] The Kingdom of God is already now among us. Christianity is a unique historical event, and Christianity is the presence of that event as the completion of all events and of history itself. And only in order that it be so, only for that, only in that, is the Church, its essence, its meaning. [...] Here is, for me, the whole meaning of liturgical theology. The Liturgy : the joining, revelation, actualization of the historicity of Christianity (remembrance) and of its transcendence over that historicity (‘Today, the Son of God...’). The joining of the end with the beginning, but the joining today, here... Hence, the link of the Church with the world, the Church for the world, but as its beginning and its end, as the affirmation that the world is for the Church, since the Church is the presence of the Kingdom of God. Here is the eternal antinomy of Christianity and the essence of all contemporary discussions about Christianity. The task of theology is to be faithful to the antinomy, which disappears in the experience of the Church as Pascha : a continuous (not only historical) passage of the world to the Kingdom. All the time one must leave the world and all the time one must remain in it. The temptation of piety is to reduce Christianity to piety ; the temptation of theology — to reduce it totally to history" (pp. 233-234).

In Father Schmemann’s perception, and, I believe, that of the Orthodox Church in general, there is not to be reduction, but inclusion. The Eucharist includes and refers to all, always and everywhere ; and the words of this Sacrifice of Praise to the Lord indicate to ourselves (as to others) exactly what we believe. It is in the context of these words and our belief that we live our daily lives.

We still have far to go. This is primarily because we are so self-sufficient and full of pride. It is not that the obstacles are insurmountable. They are, nevertheless, significant and important in their own ways. Indeed, the Orthodox, who strongly affirm the need for unity and reconciliation, do not and cannot seek this unity at any cost. We stand now, and have always stood for fidelity to the truth, to Him who is the Truth. Orthodoxy is not just a vague description. Although we Orthodox may believe, teach and preach the Truth, we do not always follow through in action, and we confuse not only others, but ourselves also. Nevertheless, all this is still definitely resolvable in Christ.

I have referred to many of the elements (and probably soporifically) about which it is commonly known that work is required if we are ever to fulfil Christ’s prayer that we be one as are He and the Father — one in unbroken, self-emptying, selfless love. It is easy enough for us to agree that we must indeed work harder on overcoming these obstacles, mindful of the subtleties of many of the details. However, words are one thing, actions are another. If we are to be faithful to Christ, then together we must find the way for our words to be matched by actions. Nowadays, this is especially so, because words have become cheapened. The Orthodox are well-advised to find the way to come to more consistency in how we treat Roman Catholics, and especially in how we receive them when they request to enter the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox are well-advised to develop a better way of living in the reality of the present. The Orthodox are well-advised to find a better way of comprehending the scholastic inheritance and vocabulary of the West, and of addressing it in a manner not foreign to ourselves. Most importantly for the Orthodox, we will do well to find our way to do this not through engineering and programming, but through obedience to the Gospel and faithfulness to the fulness of Tradition. If we hope to address the Roman Catholic Church in a way that promotes reconciliation, we must be ready to be an example of Christ-like love which is the core of this Tradition.

As Father Schmemann writes in Church, World, Mission : "Revealing the Church, her nature and her vocation, eschatology of necessity reveals the world or, better to say, the vision and understanding of it in the Christian faith. If the essential experience of the Church is that of the new creation, of a new life in a renewed world, that experience implies and posits a certain fundamental experience of the world. First of all, it implies the experience of the world as God’s creation and therefore positive in its origin as well as in its essence, reflecting in its structure and being the wisdom, the glory and the beauty of the One who created it : ‘Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!’ There is no ontological dualism of any kind, no cosmic pessimism whatsoever in the Christian faith, which fulfils the essential biblical glorification of God in His creation. The world is good. In the second place, the eschatological experience of the Church reveals the world as the fallen world, dominated by sin, corruption and death, enslaved to the ‘prince of this world.’ This fall, although it cannot destroy and annihilate the essential goodness of God’s creation, has nevertheless alienated it from God, made it into ‘this world’ which, because it is ‘flesh and blood,’ pride and selfishness, is not only distinct from the Kingdom of God but actively opposed to it. Hence the essentially tragic Christian view of history, the rejection by the Christian faith of any historical optimism that would equate the world with ‘progress’. And finally, the ultimate experience: that of redemption, which God accomplished in the midst of His creation, within time and history, and which by redeeming man, by making him capax Dei, capable of the new life, is the salvation of the world. For as the world rejects, in and through man, its self-sufficiency, as it ceases to be an end in itself and thus truly dies as ‘this world,’ it becomes that which it was created to be and has truly become in Christ: the object and means of sanctification, of man’s communion with and passage to God’s eternal Kingdom” (pp. 76-77).

Father Alexander is very much concerned about the effects of the Fall, the effects of the alienation of us all from the Lord. He is concerned about how much the beautiful world created by the Lord becomes a caricature of itself as it co-operates with the alienation to which he refers. He is concerned that through this alienation in the Fall, what God created to live in living harmony with Him has been twisted to work in opposition to Him. He is concerned, then, that we actively co-operate not with the distorting powers of darkness, but rather with the life-giving light of the love of Jesus Christ, which restores life and beauty to all the twisted and distorted caricature.

Our concern, in addition to that of Father Schmemann, is the distortion of our mutual understanding that has come with this alienation that we all experience in our fallenness. Words and talking and documents are certainly absolutely necessary. However, the world is full of documents gathering dust on shelves. I am concerned that, forgetting such words as these, we will merely continue to talk, and thus continue to betray Christ’s love. We, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, could well profit from praying, to be sure, and from heeding the prompting of the Holy Sprit who will guide us to unity through mutual repentance and forgiveness. We will do well to look at ourselves seriously and to repent of our own weaknesses, shortcomings and betrayals. We will do well to take heed to pray seriously for each other. In addition, being faithful to Christ (and not to our own devices and inventions), it is crucial that we be prepared to embrace His love, and through this love, each other. It is crucial that we forgive each other. Then, perhaps, in the experience of this liberating love, we might at last, listening to the Holy Spirit, be able to find the God-given words adequate to our condition, and to find complete reconciliation. Then, perhaps, we will be able to offer that greatest exchange of gifts possible — our selves without reserve, as does Christ to the Father, the Father to the Son, the Father to the Holy Spirit, the Son to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit to the Father, the Holy Spirit to the Son. May God grant us all the necessary love and desire to persevere until the end, to His glory.