Apostolic Church Unity: Hope, Prayer and Work
SSJC-WR President's Message 2013 Winter
by Fr. George Morelli
Some recent developments in the world of inter-Apostolic Church relations are encouraging. It should be pointed out that the thaw in the frozen tundra of emotional frigidity among the Churches could be traced back to the lifting of the anathemas between Rome and Constantinople in December 1965 by His Holiness Pope Paul VI of Rome and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. This event, although symbolic, initiated a series of exchanges between the Eastern and Western Churches culminating recently in a statement of Holy Spirit-filled hope by the current Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who said: "The uniqueness of the founders of our Churches, of Elder Rome and of New Rome, the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew, as brothers according to the flesh, constitutes a motivation for both of our Churches to move toward the genuine experience of spiritual brotherhood and the restoration of communion in this same spirit, in truth and in love."i Also on the Orthodox side is the announcement that, under the aegis of the Department External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, a theological commission approved a document on 08 November 2012, entitled The position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the question of primacy in the Universal Church. It is now submitted to the Russian Orthodox synod for approval.ii
The recent letter of congratulations from His Holiness Pope Benedict XViii to His Holiness Tawadros II on the occasion of his enthronement as Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark reflects the hopeful attitude toward the eventual unity of all the Apostolic Church. Pope Benedict writes: "I pray too that relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church will continue to grow closer, not only in a fraternal spirit of collaboration, but also through a deepening of the theological dialogue that will enable us to grow in communion and to bear witness before the world to the saving truth of the Gospel."iv
Once again we should take these recent actions of the hierarchs of the various Churches to be a call for action for all Christians baptized by their respective Apostolic Churches into the royal priesthood of Christ to pray and work avidly for unity.v One concrete way of doing this [was the] the 2nd Light of the East Conference on 01-02 March 2013, sponsored by the Society of St. Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR). [The conference was] entitled: Following Jesus: The Power of Forgiveness. Theological, Psychological and Practical Suggestions for Growth, it [was] held at St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, CA. Achieving unity is going to have to involve mutual forgiveness among all the Churches for their past untoward actions toward each other. Without forgiveness there cannot be love.vi Without love there cannot be unity.
Revised for 2013 03. Original: http://lightoftheeast.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/ssjc-wr-newsletter-2013-03-winter13.pdf
iii Since the original publication of this article in print form (2012 12) two events have occurred that are noteworthy. First is the election of His Beatitude John X as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. Formally he was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Antioch for Europe. He has extensive multi-cultural and multi-ethnic experience. As such he was actively engaged in ecumenical dialogue with Christian communities, especially with the Roman Church. In a recent statement he said: “Do not fear, lest you lose your dynamism; instead go to meet all with love, joy and full trust in your God, Who is the God of love, Who is love itself. Be the heralds of reconciliation.” We celebrate this feast with our other Christian brethren. We pray to God that we may deepen our dialogue with them all, in order to reach the unity God desires, the unity without which the world will not believe that Jesus was sent by God." His record bodes well for substantive work for the reconciliation of the Apostolic Churches.
The second very historic and noteworthy event is the resignation of His Holiness Benedict XVI as Pope of Rome. At the forefront of the agenda of his pontificate was his spiritually blessed extensive dialogue and interaction with the leaders of the other Apostolic Churches: Eastern and Oriental Orthodox. I pray that his successor continue this Christ-mandated legacy that fulfills Christ's prayer to His Father: "I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are." (Jn 17: 11)
v I do not want to essentially change the original article in this revision, (except the essential few edits noted in brackets above). However, in the light of the notable recent events I would like to expand the article content in this Endnote section. Many of my articles have noted the increasing threat to Christ's teaching by the growing radical secularism in the modern world.(E.g., www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-whose-church-do-i-belong-to-my-church-or-the-orthodox-church-o; www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-the-demon-of-correctness-religiously-incorrect-secularism; www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-making-the-orthodox-church-smaller) This movement against the Mind of Christ and His Church goes by various names: agnosticism, atheism, freethinking, humanism, inquiry centers, moral relativism, non-theists, political correctness, radical feminism, radical church-state separation, religious correctness, religious relativism (one ecclesial group is as good as another). Recently, Secularism has moved from being a relatively passive intellectual movement to an activist-missionary 'church without God.' An article in the online Religion newsletter, Religion Dispatches, reported on such secularist activism on college-university campuses. For example, it was reported: "a select group of students will show their humanitarian spirit by participating in the Bleedin’ Heathens Blood Drive. On February 12 , they will eat cake to celebrate Darwin Day, and earlier this year, they performed “de-baptism” ceremonies to celebrate Blasphemy Day, attended a War on Christmas Party, and set up Hug An Atheist and Ask An Atheist booths in the campus quad." (www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6790/are_atheists_the_new_campus_crusaders/)
From the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint sin is considered an infirmity or disease that can be individual or collective, that is to say, involving any economic national, religious, social or political groupings. Thus, any of these can act sinfully, be diseased. The denial of God's existence for any individual or group is an illness. I am reminded of the psalm (13: 1): "The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God, They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one." Interestingly, some secularists consider this passage offensive. They probably do not consider the crusade to take 'Christ out of Christmas' to be offensive to true Christians. (c.f.: http://www.orthodoxytoday...) Here we see the tyranny of some, whether they be minority or majority, to impose their value system on the others. How spiritual refreshing, then, was to read the comments of Youhanna [John] X the recently enthroned Patriarch of Antioch: “We will keep seeking the longed-for unity among Christians and we will work together with our Muslim partners in order to consolidate coexistence with them.” (www.naharnet.com/stories/en/71793). We must also consider the attempt to divorce the Church from proclaiming its moral teachings. We can easily see the consequences of disenfranchising Church moral teaching: abortion-murder, euthanasia-murder, gay-marriage-destruction of God's plan of mankind[s procreation, female ordination-the denial of the incarnation of Christ as a male, the 'one priest' and His successors in the 'male' mode of mankind as the proper icon of Him. Likewise, the comments on the legacy of Pope Benedict XV by Don Briel, Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at University of Saint Thomas, who said: "As expected, he placed a strong emphasis on addressing the amnesia of European culture about its Christian roots, and in remarkably sophisticated presentations in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome he reminded secular governments about the essential role of faith in modern democratic assumptions and insisted that faith could not be reduced to a private principle and excluded from civic life." (http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2013/02/more-on-pope-benedicts-legacy.html). Extremely important to this Endnote are the comment of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Director of the Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarch of Moscow, on the announcement of the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI: "Even before his ascension to the See of Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger declared war on ‘the dictatorship of relativism’ so typical for the Western society today. It immediately made him unpopular in the eyes of secular politicians and journalists. Pope Benedict XVI is not a media star. He is a man of the Church. In the mass media, he is continuously criticized for traditionalism and conservatism, but precisely these merits of his are of credit for millions of Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, those who seek to preserve traditional Christian spiritual and moral values." (https://mospat.ru/en/2013/02/11/news80919/). The importance of these endnote comments are beautifully summarized by Antiochian Archdiocese of New York priest, Fr. Hans Jacobse. In writing about Pope Benedict XVI he wrote: "First is his deep understanding of the Christian patrimony of Christendom. The Christian foundation of culture should be self-evident to most, but in our post-Christian (and poorly catechized) age our historical memory has grown increasingly dim. Religion vivifies culture. Christianity is the well from which meaning and purpose are drawn. That meaning and purpose shapes law, institutions, and the other constituents that define Western culture." (www.pravmir.com/fr-johannes-l-jacobse-an-orthodox-priest-reflects-on-the-retirement-of-pope-benedict-xvi/)