Pope Benedict XVI's Overture to
the Orthodox Church Must Continue
There is a growing recognition
that there is more that joins theologically faithful Catholics and theologically
faithful Orthodox than that which separates us.Benedict XVI earned the great respect of Patriarchs and
leaders of the Orthodox Church throughout his service in the Chair of Peter. I
believe he was making progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and
Western Christianity which can make the Third Millennium a millennium of
communion and bring an end to the disunion of the second millennium. It remains
his unfinished legacy; one which I sincerely pray his successor will pick up
benedict XVI and Metropolitan HilarionCHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online):
Upon his election to the Chair of Peter some observers indicated Pope Benedict's
age would make him a caretaker Pope. They were absolutely wrong. History will
record the papacy of Benedict XVI with great favor. He planted seeds which will
bear fruit long after he has joined his beloved predecessor and friend, Blessed
John Paul II in the Fathers house.
On April 20, 2005, the newly elected Pope Benedict
XVI gave his first message at the end of a Mass he had concelebrated with the
members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. He signaled his
mission in these words: "Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics
cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ
expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that
he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme
aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren
(cf. Luke 22: 32).
With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning
of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's
current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to
rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his
ambition, his impelling duty."
The mission of restoring the full and visible
unity of the Church was at the heart of Benedict's papacy. He made Church
history, when Motu Propio, he released the Apostolic Constitution on Groups of
Anglicans which began the healing of the divided Western Church. The fruits of
these Ordinariates will be recounted by future historians as among the most
important events in the Third Millennium of the Church.
Benedict XVI earned the great respect of
Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church throughout his service in the
Chair of Peter. I believe he was making progress toward some form of communion
between Eastern and Western Christianity which can make the Third Millennium a
millennium of communion and bring an end to the disunion of the second
millennium. It remains his unfinished legacy; one which I sincerely pray his
successor will pick up quickly.
I pray daily for the full communion of the
Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I do so because I believe it is the will of God
that "All May be One" (John 17: 21). I further believe that the healing of the
division between the two churches will unleash a profound renewal of the entire
Church at the dawn of a new missionary age. I believe that the gifts found in
the whole Church will enrich both East and West and assist us in the mission
which we must face together in our One Lord.
I watch for every sign that the two lungs of the
One Church are beginning to fill with the breath of Divine Life, the Holy
Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can animate the One New Man, Jesus Christ, to heal
the division which has gone on for too long in His Body. Yes, I watch with the
eyes of living faith. Some say I see these developments with what they would
call "Rose Colored glasses". If I do see through the color of rose, it is
because the color symbolizes the hope which comes from faith in the Resurrection
of Christ Jesus.
I welcomed with great hope the selection of
Patriarch Kirill as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. His election
was the first election of a Patriarch since the fall of the atheist Communist
regime which governed the former Soviet Union for so many years. It was a sign
of hope for the revitalization of the ancient faith in this critical time in
Patriarch Kirill is theologically and doctrinally
solid - a man of deep faith and courage. He is a champion of the authentic
Orthodox Christian Tradition and a stalwart defender of the doctrine of the
ancient Faith. He is outspoken in his concern over the moral decline of Russian,
European and the broader western culture. He is also dedicated to doing
something about it by leading a resurgence of authentic Christianity in a new
missionary undertaking to the culture.
In an insightful analysis written for Catholic
Online entitled Patriarch Kirill & Pope Benedict: A Tale of Two Leaders for
a new Missionary Age Orthodox priest Fr Johannes L. Jacobse, the editor of
Orthodoxy Today and President of the American Orthodox Institute opined "
Patriarch Kirill is a theological conservative in the mold of Pope Benedict.
Both see religion as the wellspring of culture. Both understand that Europe
cannot escape a final capitulation to tyranny if it does not rediscover its
Christian roots." In this insight, and in so much else which this good priest
writes, he is correct.
Patriarch Kirill has not ceased to offer his voice
of clarity and authority to the growing Catholic and Orthodox critique of the
decline of moral values and the hostility of the contemporary culture toward the
Church. He is a fervent and prophetic figure, exposing the growing rejection of
Christian influence throughout the world and warning of the the dangers such a
rejection presents. He has called upon Orthodox Christians to be actively
involved in reclaiming the culture with the values informed by the ancient
faith. In that vital work, he regularly expresses his support for their
collaboration with Catholics.
One of many signs of the work of the Holy Spirit
in the Third Christian Millennium is the rediscovery between Orthodox and
Catholic Christians of our common Baptismal bond as brothers and sisters in
Jesus Christ. I am numbered among those who believe that the Holy Spirit is
gathering a movement of Orthodox and Catholic Christians who recognize a shared
calling to herald a new missionary age of the Church in this critical
There is a growing recognition that there is more
that joins theologically faithful Catholics and theologically faithful Orthodox
than that which separates us. The urgency of the cultural decline compels our
collaboration in Christ and is leading us to a growing mutuality of respect
which may pave the way toward communion.
Shortly after his selection, the Patriarch noted
that, "in the Vatican and not only in the Vatican but all over the world,
Catholics understand that Orthodox (people) are their allies. And Orthodox
(people) are more and more coming to understand that Catholics are their allies
in the face of hostile and non-religious secularism."
One of the Patriarch's greatest assets is
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. He is a youthful, thoughtful and brilliant
scholar and Church leader in his own right. He is the head of the Moscow
Patriarchate's department for external church relations. He recently gave an
interview to Russian newsman named Sergey Brilev which can be read in its
entirety on the website of the Department.
It offers some insightful comments on the
voluntary resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Its positive perspective on Catholic
and Orthodox collaboration also bodes well for the continuation of the momentum
which is underwway between these two sister churches. I pray that it leads to
some form of full communion. I also pray that the successor of pope Benedict XVI
makes it a major priority of his pontificate. I offer some excerpts
Brilev: There is certain ticklishness in what we
are going to discuss because neither you nor I are Catholic. You though are a
one who is much more well-versed in, if I may say, the church mechanics, but not
necessarily wishing to reveal it all to journalists. Nevertheless, tell me how
have you taken the news about the resignation of the Pope of Rome?
Metropolitan Hilarion: This news was a surprise
for everybody including the Pope's closest entourage. The dean of the Cardinals
College Angelo Sodano is known to say that it was 'like a bolt from the blue'.
Actually the Pope of Rome has dropped some hints in recent years that it may
happen, and it was not accidental that he visited the tomb of Celestine V, one
of few popes who abdicated and was later canonized. Pope Benedict XVI was
contemplating it. I believe his decision resulted from his responsible attitude
to his office. Most likely, having assessed his physical resources, he made
this, I would say, wise decision.
Brilev: There are several details I would like to
move back to consecutively. I will cite you yourselves. You said that it was 'an
act of personal courage' on the part of the Pope of Rome himself but at the same
time there are words of his brother Georg who said, 'No, everything is all right
with his health; he is simply tired'. I render it freely but in essence the
words sounded exactly like that. In this connection, there is still certain
scepticism with regard to this decision of Benedict XVI. I can already feel that
you do not share it, but how would you comment on it?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I do not share this
scepticism, nor do I agree with the opinion of some people who are ready to
speak about a conspiracy theory in this situation. I personally met with the
Pope on three occasions. Certainly, his health is not bad for his age, though in
the few years I have had an opportunity to observe him, he has visibly aged,
and, as they say, slipped a lot. Besides, it should be taken into account that
he has never seen his office as ceremonial, and I believe never craved for it
but took the election as a cross placed on him to bear. I believe he made his
decision from the feeling of understands that with time he will get older and
weaker. That is why he made the decision to give his post up to somebody
Brilev: Let me ask a question than may seem to
many to have a second bottom. Perhaps it really has it. According to many,
Benedict XVI's decision was catalyzed by the criticism leveled against the
Catholic Church as, regrettably, cases of sexual abuse of children and many
other things have accumulated in it. For instance, the case of this butler was
rather loud. I refer to it because the Russian Orthodox Church has sometimes
found itself attacked by both open and covert ill-wishers, etc. Has the
criticism voiced become a catalyst or no? What do you think?
Metropolitan Hilarion: It is difficult to say. I
believe the Pope has weighed all the circumstances. Really, the Catholic Church
has recently come to face new challenges. In some sense they are old because
under Pope John Paul II the Catholic Church was criticized for conservatism and
traditionalism. The criticism came from the extremely liberal Western society.
At the same time, Pope John Paul II was popular with the mass media; one can say
he was a media-star. In those years Benedict XVI was at his side. He was a
cardinal then, leading one of the major congregations.
He saw the process of aging and dying, but not in
the way the mass media look at it. He saw it with the eyes of a church man and
understood that actually for some time the Church was left without real
governance under a living pope or the governance was entrusted to other people.
I believe as a witness to this he did not want to repeat this experience in his
Brilev: You spoke about Celestine V. He is
mentioned in Dante's 'Divine Comedy' and the author seems to accuse him of
Metropolitan Hilarion: Here is for you an example
of different views of the church reality. Dante put Celestine V in Hell while
the Catholic Church has canonized him.
Brilev: Never in my life have I thought that I
would catch you up on a word, but unexpectedly I did. Speaking now about the
first hierarch of the Catholic Church, you mentioned simply a pope. At the same
time, as far as I can understand it, in the Orthodox system of coordinates one
should necessarily add the words 'of Rome', for there is the Pope of Alexandria,
who is much more close to the Russian Orthodox Church canonically. It is just an
introduction to the question I wanted to ask. You and the Catholics have a
common negative agenda, for instance, the unacceptability of same-sex marriages
for both Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism - the fact often mentioned now
in the news. Do you have a common positive agenda?
Metropolitan Hilarion: Yes, we have, because, in
the first place, both the Orthodox and the Catholics have a common faith in One
God glorified in the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Both the
Orthodox and the Catholics are at one in confessing Christ as God-Man. We have
differences in dogmatic matters, not as strong as those on which we agree. We
disagree on the understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox
confess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, while the Catholics say
the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It is a long historical
dispute; it has lasted for over a millennium.
In addition, we have common approaches to all the
fundamental moral and social issues. For instance, our family ethics is almost
identical. Why do the Catholics stand out against the legalization of abortion,
support of same-sex unions and adoption by same-sex couples? Because both the
Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church build their moral teaching on the
biblical foundation. We share it