Entries with tag ecumenical dialogue .

The Ecumenical Way

A few years ago, my parents threw a college graduation party for my brother. I had just finished the first year of my M.Div. program, so naturally everyone’s ice-breaker was the I-don’t-care-I-just-don’t-know-what-else-to-ask question “how was your first year of school?” But hey, it’s better than the I-don’t-care-I-just-feel-obligated question my brother was getting: “so what’s next?”

One of my neighbors was raised Catholic, and not marginally. His family is Polish and his grade-school teachers were nuns. At some point in college however, he met Jerry Garcia and became his disciple instead. Yet, my neighbor still knew enough church-talk to carry on a conversation better than most guests.

He asked me about some of the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, so I began to explain that the breach in communion is not as clear-cut as it often seems. Suddenly, an older relative of mine, who has likely received more catechesis from memes than from any formal religious education program, suddenly interjected, “Yes, you split off from us!”

I sighed. There it was: ignorant Orthodox entitlement. She probably thinks Jesus was Greek too. Her conviction spoke louder than her comment and is a reflection of a common misconception and strong historical bias influencing the Church’s relationships This has a tendency to create an us vs. them mentality toward the rest of Christendom. Even through the Holy and Great Council does the Church seek to amend this understanding by fostering dialogue and taking a lead role in the Ecumenical Movement.

As I attempted to quell the inadvertent hostility her comment may have imposed, my neighbor interrupted to say, “It’s ok, we all believe the same thing anyways.” My relative, in her usual contradiction of thought, agreed.

The conversation ended and I was left baffling over how it swung from the rhetoric of ultra-conservatives to that of John Lennon.

I reflect on this occasion because it likens to the tension an Orthodox can feel when engaging in ecumenical relations. Some are hardened by akribeia and object to interaction, but where is the economia and compassion toward our Christian neighbors who may live truer to Christ’s teachings? Some find certain practices and beliefs of other traditions more appealing and begin to customize their faith, but are they not at risk of diluting the Orthodox way? It can be difficult to navigate, but the perspectives shouldn’t be polarizing.

Every mainstream church in the United States has men and women, ordained and lay, who are responsible for facilitating ecumenical relations on behalf of the greater body. They are the ambassadors constantly in communication about issues of faith, order, and philanthropy.

There are many opportunities for collaboration, but, once a year, the ecumenical officers gather in retreat. Rather than convening to produce a statement or develop a program, the purpose of the retreat is to allow for organic dialogue among communions, which increases personal relationships and promotes comprehension and appreciation.

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios Geron of America with representatives from eleven different Churches and Communions

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios Geron of America with representatives from eleven different Churches and Communions.

 

Last month, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America had the honor of hosting this year’s retreat and welcomed eleven officers. If you ask them what the goal of the ecumenical movement is, each will tell you it is for the restoration of God’s Church. If that sounds prodigious, it’s because it is. Push them further on how such a lofty goal is to be realized, each will humbly admit they can’t provide the specifics. However, they will likely suggest the following:

First, like all ministries in the Church, a Christ-centered approach is required to meet one another with a clean heart and true intentions. As we seek to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, so too should we strive to fulfill Christ’s prayer “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). Regardless of who has maintained the genuine faith, we must acknowledge that Christendom is fractured and “if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). It is our responsibility to put forth effort into uniting all Christians.

Second, it must be understood that the goal is abstract. No one knows how unity will be achieved and expressed, which makes the case for ecumenism difficult to articulate. This lack of a clear vision discourages some and keeps them in the trajectory of isolation. However, those laboring in the ecumenical vineyard agree that unity will be achieved according to God’s will, and that we must take initiative when God provides opportunities for contact and growth. The officers appreciate these instances for retreat as a manifestation of God’s will and a small, yet progressive, part of His plan.

Third, proper and unbiased knowledge of history is necessary to understand why certain divisions in Christianity were forged. In most cases, I would argue, the egos of influential individuals, or reactions to such, are the causes of longstanding divisions. Therefore, we cannot retain the grudge of past generations to further this destruction but instead move forward with reconciliation (see 4B).

Ecumenists know that communication is delicate and words must be precise. They speak with sensitivity so as to advance the movement, not hinder it. The first tangible step is to listen and learn from each other’s story. Such is the intention of their retreat; the ecumenical officers enjoy conversation to better understand the perspectives of each communion. They are open to a diversity of expressions toward God as well as to the Spirit’s presence and abilities. After all, no one can dictate limits on God’s infinite and unconditional love.

The ecumenical officers engage at a national level and will continue to retreat together. However, there are ways for all Orthodox faithful to interact with and learn about the Christians in their own neighborhoods, such as co-sponsoring an event, contributing toward a common social initiative, or participating in shared worship or a fellowship meal. We each can offer of ourselves to work toward the reunification of God’s Church. As we do so, remember that the task is noble and directed by God, to Whom we constantly ask, “surround us with your holy angels that, guarded and guided by them, we may arrive at the unity of the faith, and the understanding of your ineffable glory.”

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Andrew Calivas is the Coordinator of Ecumenical Programs for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations.

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Thoughts on the Role of Orthodox Laity in Christian Unity

A week ago here in Wisconsin, the Sunday liturgy was cancelled at our local Greek Orthodox parish. Typically, we would have driven the hour and a half to an OCA parish in Milwaukee that we sometimes attend but it was below zero and my wife and I didn’t want to test the iciness of the highways. Instead, we finally visited a nearby Byzantine monastery, which is about half the distance to Milwaukee. I had wanted to go there since we moved to Wisconsin last fall but this finally seemed like a kairos moment. Yet, I had my doubts about how we would be received. This hesitation was not from a lack of experience with Byzantine monasteries. I am no stranger to those. Instead, it was due to the fact that the monastery was not only Byzantine, but Byzantine Catholic. I had been to Eastern Catholic churches before but never a monastery. I knew the liturgy would be the basically the same but would the community be otherwise ‘weird’? Admittedly, this is a strange thought coming from an American-born Orthodox from the Deep South where Orthodoxy doesn’t even register as Christian for many. I wondered how the monks would react when I told them I was Eastern Orthodox. Would it be awkward? Would I have to find the right words as to not offend or confuse? These and other worries crossed through my mind before making the decision to go.

It turns out that my petty insecurities were unfounded. I was surprised and impressed by this bastion of Eastern Christian spirituality hidden among endless acres of farmland in a town with a population of 783. It had a thriving lay presence on Sunday’s Divine Liturgy. Many families trickled in during the service and I watched as they lit their candles and looked for a place to stand in the tiny chapel. The sermon was powerful, direct, and deeply rooted in the Eastern Fathers. It is certainly not a coincidence that the brotherhood choose to settle in a town named after St. Gregory the Theologian. My wife and I were on our way out after the service when a young monk ran up to meet us. After a friendly chat with him, I was told it would be fine to take a photograph in the chapel (which is not always a given). We then met the abbot, who was equally kind and put to rest any initial hesitations about our reception. Most importantly, from my short conversations with the monks and from some pamphlets they have for visitors, I got the impression that there was a clear recognition of the tragic reality of ecclesial disunity between Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but a determination to work towards its healing. In other words, there was neither a naïve ‘well, we’re all the same anyhow!’ nor a fatalistic ‘our differences cannot be overcome’. This encounter left me with thoughts on the role of Orthodox laity in ecclesial unity among Christians.

It seems a given that our rifts will never be healed without the work of the entire church community. There must be a role for the laity in the process, which is also, dare I say, a prerogative. This mending will never occur if clergy and laity continue to point to canons forbidding prayer with separated brethren (while ignoring many other canons) to justify avoiding ever attending a church or even associating with other Christians outside of work. I don’t buy the argument that going into a church is akin to an act of treason that somehow validates the group as supreme and repudiates one’s own allegiances. Neither does it lead to a weakened faith, though it may reveal an already weak faith. Perhaps the hard truth is that many secretly don’t want unity despite grudgingly giving it obligatory lip-service. It can be hard to define yourself when you no longer have a foil to which you can favorably compare yourself and point out their every flaw. But this is not a path to unity and will lead nowhere but increasing sectarianism and ghettoization. The informed laity cannot simply leave it up to the theological authorities and bishops to solve this issue, but must show their interest and investment by making this clear in their words and actions and by getting involved in events that show mutual Christian affection and respect that goes beyond their own communities.

Of course, many will see a danger in this. What if some people get the idea that real differences and divisions are superficial and can be ignored or flouted? This is a legitimate concern and I do not wish to diminish its importance. But note that I earlier specified ‘informed’ laity. I submit that there is a need for committed and spiritually-rooted Orthodox Christians to meet and even worship with other Christians, not to proselytize or engage in apologetics but to come together in love, honesty, and the hope of future reconciliation, which must be built on love. At the very least, this will help us know the ‘other’ not in theological caricature but as concrete persons we are called to love, forgive, and ask forgiveness of before offering ourselves as a living sacrifice at the Holy Table.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating full sacramental participation prior to actual ecclesial unity. I don’t think this issue can be solved by disingenuously pretending there is no division. In fact, I think that the inability to fully participate serves as a painful but necessary reminder of our disunity. Similarly, I do not suggest neglecting one’s own liturgical services to attend others, since various Christian services often occur at the same time. I am simply calling for laity to take advantage of, and even make, opportunities to fellowship with other Christians and express their solidarity and desire for union. This is the single most important step in overcoming centuries of animosity, mistrust, and spiritual stereotyping. If the laity mobilize to show that this is a pressing issue for them, it is much more likely that something will be done about it by the Church as a whole. Ironically, this influence can be most famously seen in the popular mobilization against the failed Council of Ferrara-Florence. Today we need to apply the same force to the cause of ecclesial unity in accordance to Christ’s prayer that ‘they might be one’, regardless of whether we think it is likely or even feasible.

Despite the notorious bad blood between Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics in lands where there has been sheep-stealing and internecine (or should I say ‘inter-Nicene’) violence, I believe Eastern Catholics will play an important role in future Christian rapprochement. They can be viewed as the test case for other Orthodox churches. Can the Catholic Church reverse centuries of centralization to rediscover and accommodate a robust diversity of autonomous and autocephalous churches? Can the Orthodox Church accept a spirituality and liturgy that does not have its roots in Byzantium and rediscover a meaningful place for the Pope of Rome as the first among equals? While it is still too soon to know, in the last few decades leaders in the Catholic Church have begun to seriously address many of the historic grievances of the Orthodox faithful such as local diocesan autonomy and the possibility of married priesthood. These are signs of goodwill and Orthodox should publically recognize them as such and reciprocate in kind with similar gestures that indicate a willingness to work towards unity.

This is not a formal theological proposal. It is my own theologoumena, if you will. Or perhaps, even less, it a simple personal reflection on these matters since I am not trained as a professional theologian or canon law authority. Yet, I can find no good reason that an informed laity should not take up the call to be more involved in the mandate of promoting Christian unity to whatever degree it is possible, and even whenever it is not. I can confidently say that I plan on returning to the aforementioned Byzantine Catholic monastery this Lent whenever I cannot attend locally or when there are additional services that are not offered at most parishes. Yes, I know I’m an optimist but that won’t stop me from hoping, praying, and acting for Christian unity, adopting the following slogan until I, God willing, reach the age of seventy-four: “De-Schism 2054.” We all have a role to play.

Dr. Christopher D.L. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac.

Apostolic Pilgrimage: Day Three

One thing that you realize fairly quickly on your first day in the Holy Land, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, is that you are always walking on ground connected in some way to the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, you come to understand that this hallowed ground is revered by a multitude of faith traditions. It is, therefore, almost impossible to find a house of worship that holds significant value to only one religious community. On a daily basis there are a number of Christians including, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syriac, who will pray at these sites.

As an Orthodox priest serving in the United States of America, where Christian denominations tend to shy away from worshiping together in the same space, I was completely baffled when I entered Jerusalem’s Holy Church of the Resurrection. And this is precisely because this blessed sanctuary is not used by just one Christian communion. Rather, six different Christian groups formally use the church on a daily basis and conduct services therein.

For those not to sure of the significance of the Church of the Resurrection, suffice it to say that it bears within its walls the most sacred Christian sites of the world, including Golgotha, the tomb of Adam, the rock of the Apokathelosis, and of course, the jewel of Orthodoxy, the Holy Sepulcher. The empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ is the place where the world first learns that Jesus is Risen from the dead; it is because the tomb is empty that we know that the Savior has conquered death, granting life to those in the tombs! Hundreds, if not thousands, of pilgrims come to venerate the Holy Sepulcher on a daily basis.

So, when Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leaders of the world’s largest Christian bodies, were scheduled to meet each other at the Holy Sepulcher to commemorate the meeting between their predecessors Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras that occurred fifty years ago, I wondered what this would look and feel like.

There are already countless images and articles posted on the Internet that provide some insight on different aspects of the meeting. Some draw our attention to the Primates’ physical gestures toward each other; others focus on the ecumenical prayer service; some analyze the prepared messages that were delivered; while still others discuss the impact that the meeting will have on the relationship between the two churches and on the peace process in the Middle East.

I don’t want to focus on any of that. Instead, I want to briefly share the overwhelming joy that I experienced that evening. As the Ecumenical Officer of the Archdiocese I have the opportunity to attend ecumenical prayer services and meetings regularly. For the most part, these meetings are well intended and represent a sincere effort for Christian communions to grow closer to one another, usually through a humanitarian efforts. For me, however, these meetings often feel mundane, perhaps even scripted.

The meeting between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, however, was anything but average or staged. The entire church was buzzing as the faithful waited for the two men to arrive. As they greeted each other and proceeded to enter the church, we released our energy in applause! I was speechless as I saw these two giants get on their knees and venerate the place of the crucifixion, the apokathelosis, and the tomb of the Resurrection. The love and respect for God and for neighbor that the Pope and the Patriarch revealed that evening left me searching for words.

There are some who believe that when we engage in the ecumenical dialogue the Holy Spirit abandons us. According to them, conversing with “the other” means that we have admitted there is something lacking in us. I don’t subscribe to this thinking. Indeed, I would say that only when we stand with and love “the other” can we ever completely realize our own identities.

In the past I would point to church canons, history, and theology when defending the ecumenical dialogue. I realize now that this is not necessary. I believe that the dialogue of truth and love between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches is an authentic and sincere dialogue because of what I have witnessed during this Apostolic Pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the evening of May 24, 2014, the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father, was present in the hearts of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Through the prayers of our holy fathers, the pope and the ecumenical patriarch, Catholics and Orthodox Christians have received the joy, hope, and courage of the Holy Spirit to continue the inspirational work of the dialogues of truth and love. 

Read Apostolic Pilgrimage: Day One & Apostolic Pilgrimage: Day Two

Determining Sainthood: The Roman Catholic Method and the Orthodox Way

The media anticipation surrounding the Vatican Mass that took place on April 27 was almost without precedent, but then again so was the reason for the excitement—namely, two popes presiding over the canonization of two other popes.  In the two-hour ceremony, attended by more than 50 heads of state, 1,000 bishops, and witnessed by nearly a million onlookers, Pope Francis, joined by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, proclaimed sainthood for two pontifical predecessors, Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. 

The global attention produced by the carefully managed rite of canonization of two Popes provided another surge for the soaring popularity of Francis.  This unprecedented action of a dual pontifical canonization also demonstrated Francis’ exceptional political and leadership skills.  Indeed, a key trope in the international reportage centered on the diplomat acumen of Pope Francis, who adroitly raised his stock with both Roman Catholic progressives and conservatives by honoring their respective, beloved popes: after all, he presided over the simultaneous canonization of both the liberal pope, John XXIII, who initiated the Roman Catholic Church’s reform movement, Vatican II, in the early 1960s, and the staunchly conservative pope, John Paul II, who halted reform.  Although Vatican officials were quick to downplay the deft political subtext of the dual canonization, the fact remains that this stratagem was intended to empower Francis as he moves forward to establish his own vision for the Roman Catholic Church, free from the shadows of both Popes John and John Paul.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the religious dimensions of the dual canonization drew considerably less interest amongst most commentators than did the political, symbolic, and historic aspects of the event.  Matters of faith were almost entirely absent from most discussions of the canonizations, as were any explanations of sainthood itself.  Although saints are central to the teachings of all the Apostolic Churches, the understanding and meaning of sainthood is not entirely identical for the Roman Catholic Church as it is for the Orthodox Church.  Furthermore, the differences in the understanding of sainthood underscore a fundamental divergence in the theology and the worldview between the Eastern and Western Churches. 

This distinction can be illustrated by contrasting how Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism approach the determining of sainthood.  How does the Roman Catholic Church make someone a saint?  An individual is made a saint in Roman Catholicism through a highly formalized procedure of canonization.  Five rules and corresponding steps must be satisfied for the process to be completed.  Each step in the process is supervised by a special Vatican department, which manages the method of awarding sainthood.  First, at least five years must have expired since the death of a candidate for sainthood before the process leading to canonization may begin.  Second, in concert with Vatican officials, the bishop of the diocese where the candidate died initiates an investigation into the life of the candidate to determine whether the deceased was a servant of God, whether, in other words, they lived their life with sufficient holiness to be considered for sainthood.  Third, a Papal committee, “the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,” evaluates the evidence and recommendations submitted by the diocese bishop, determines whether a candidate has shown proof of a life of “heroic virtue,” and forwards their findings to the Pope.  To reach the fourth step, beatification, a senior Vatican board must verify at least one miracle attributable to prayers (asking for their intercession) made to the candidate after their death.  The fifth step is canonization.  Although not requisite for martyrs, who need only one verified miracle, a second miracle attributable to the prayers made to the candidate after their beatification is the last official requirement necessary for the Pope to declare that individual a saint.

The orderly Roman Catholic method for determining sainthood may have all the hallmarks of an efficient and internally logical legislative or judicial process, but it has little to do with either the spirit or tradition of Christian sainthood.  Throughout Christianity’s first millennium of history, the Church recognized saints without resort to some formulaic, legalistic procedure for canonization.  Very early in the Church, saints were often chosen by the popular acclaim of believers.  For a thousand years in both the Eastern and Western lands of Christianity, local communities of the faithful remembered the Apostles, martyrs, and others in their liturgical gatherings, invoked them in their prayers, revered their relics, and believed them to be vehicles of the Holy Spirit.  The Early Church recognized six types, or categories, of saints according to their role in the life of the Church—the Forefathers of Christ and the Prophets, the Apostles and Evangelists, the Martyrs and Confessors, the Fathers and Hierarchs of the Church, the Ascetics and Monastics, and the Just and Holy in other walks of life—but it never developed a rigid, legalistic procedure for canonization.

What accounts for the West’s break from this ancient, universal Orthodox Christian tradition?  Once the Papacy began to assert its temporal ambitions for supreme authority over all of Christianity, the Church in the West set into motion an inexorable process leading to Rome’s estrangement from its own Orthodox origins.  Simply put, the Papacy’s concerns with power and supreme ecclesiastical authority explain why, beginning in the late-tenth century, Rome began to insist that saints be formally and officially registered for approval with the Pope.  In order to justify Papal usurpation and control of the determination of sainthood, the Church in the West developed the highly legalistic and seemingly precise method of determining who were saints that remains in use by the Vatican today.  Consistent with the aspirations for absolute authority and power, the Church in the West moved to subject the entire legalistic procedure of canonization to the Popes’ autocratic prerogative.  In other words, the Popes reserved for themselves the privilege to waive or alter any requirement or procedure for sainthood according to their will.   

The Orthodox Church has not developed a legalistic system for sainthood.  Indeed, such a practice would be antithetical to Orthodox tradition of a holistic integration of doctrine and experience.  Orthodoxy continues to follow the principles and conventions of the Early Church.  So, how does the Orthodox Church make someone a saint?  The Orthodox Church works from the premise that the Church does not make saints, but rather, only God makes saints.  In this sense, the Orthodox Church’s canonization does not involve bestowing sainthood.  Rather, the Church in its fullness acknowledges that one is already a saint, an understanding flowing from the theological principle that an individual acquires sainthood by theosis, living in concert with God’s grace to the extent that that person’s holiness is complete.

The prominent Greek Orthodox theologian, George Bebis, who also makes it clear that the Church’s hierarchy, especially the Ecumenical Patriarch, has a crucial role to play in safeguarding canonization from abuses, provides us with an excellent summation of the Orthodox way, a tradition that honors and observes the central role of the people in determining sainthood:  “The Orthodox Church does not follow any official procedure for the ‘recognition’ of saints.  Initially, the Church accepted as saints those who had suffered martyrdom for Christ.  The saints are saints thanks to the grace of God, and they do not need official ecclesiastical recognition.  The Christian people, reading their lives and witnessing their performance of miracles, accept and honor them as saints.  St. John Chrysostom, persecuted and exiled by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, was accepted as a saint of the Church by popular acclaim.  St. Basil the Great was accepted immediately after his death as a saint of the Church by the people.”   

Inasmuch as saints are central to the history and teachings of the Church, the stark contrast between the Roman Catholic method and the Orthodox way of determining sainthood is important in and of itself, as well as for what it reveals about broader and deeper points of difference between the two Churches—on the one hand, Roman Catholicism’s embrace of legalism and emphasis on salvation through logic, obedience, and procedure, and Orthodoxy’s faith in redemption through freedom and the grace and mystery of God.      

Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics share many of the same saints, as well as reverence for saints in the life of Christians.  At the same time, the Churches in the East and the West diverge on the understanding of the road to sainthood.  Reconciling the substance versus process related to saints and sainthood, a difference that has never been expressed as open theological dispute and, therefore, offers potential for non-contentious dialogue and resolution, opens a way forward in the continuing repair of the rupture between Constantinople and Rome.  The dialogue of love expressed in the upcoming Pilgrimage of Brothers—the journey to Jerusalem by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis—presents possibilities for repairing the wounds to the entire Body of the Christian Church.  Such an act of healing would, of course, be something miraculous, for which saints, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, have always been revered and beloved.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

Ecumenical Dialogue: Assimilation or Affirmation

For almost a year now, since my appointment in September as the Director of the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, friends and family members have been asking me about my new diakonia in the Church. Most of the time I find myself giving people simple yet candid answers. “Things are ok,” I say, or, “Each day brings about something new and exciting.” Don’t get me wrong; I try my best to give people an idea of special projects and long-term goals of the department, however, it is quit a task to fully discuss the mission of a department that is tasked with such diverse objectives. To help summarize the mission of the office, I will often tell people, “The Department and its staff are called to express, in our words and deeds, the Church, which is not of the world, yet in the world, and which exists for the salvation of the world.” Most get it.

Overall, my conversations with people are quite positive. Most sincerely care about the work of the department and some are eager to assist in realizing its multifaceted mission. However, there are some individuals who fear that the ecumenical component of our work will eventually lead us down the road of theological concessions. According to them, engaging the other is not necessarily a bad thing. What is problematic, however, is when the other is a Roman Catholic or a Protestant. For these individuals, the other poses a serious threat to our identity as Orthodox Christians, and therefore, any dialogue with them is analogous to theological assimilation and compromise. To my surprise, some folks have even asked me if I was thinking about becoming Catholic or if I was being forced to accept the pope as my spiritual leader! Fortunately, even though the average person may not fully understand every dimension of the ecumenical dialogue, the majority of our people perceive dialogue as an exercise in cooperation rather than compromise.

By my comments I don’t mean to oversimplify the ecumenical dialogue, nor do I wish to suggest that those who remain apprehensive about the ecumenical movement are uneducated and unsophisticated. After all, people are entitled to their opinions, and chances are that even the most negative opinion about the ecumenical dialogue is often grounded on real—though often limited—experience. My hope, however, is that with proper education and the sharing of information we may view the ecumenical dialogue under a proper lens and base our opinions on fact rather than on fiction. In many ways, this could be said to be the greatest contribution we can make to the ecumenical movement. Hopefully, as people become better informed, they may come to realize that dialoguing with other Christians could only help us enhance our own appreciation of the Orthodox faith. This self-discovery is most pronounced in our engagement with the Catholic Church.

When Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians engage each other in a dialogue of truth and love they not only explore differences between their communities—those teachings and practices that keep us from entering into full communion with each other—but they also discover common elements that connect the two communities. Moreover, this labor of love provides us with a unique perspective by which we can fully appreciate our own sacred Tradition. If we are sure of our Orthodox Christian identity, then we must be confident that engaging the other could never lead to assimilation; we will not lose our “Orthodoxy” by dialoguing with the Roman Catholic Church, as they will not lose their “Catholicity” by dialoguing with the Orthodox Church.

In a recent article, the Reverend Father Ronald Roberson (CSP, Associate Director of the U.S. Bishop’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB) reflected upon a comment made by His Holiness Pope Francis, who praised Orthodoxy’s “vision of the Church and synodality.” The pope was not afraid to highlight an aspect of our Orthodox Christian Tradition. Unlike those with a limited appreciation of the ecumenical dialogue, the pope was not afraid that he would change or become something lesser by pointing to a historical and theological truth. To read Fr. Ron’s entire, CLICK HERE.


Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras met in Jerusalem in 1964.  
It was the first meeting between a Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch in over 500 years.

In 1964, for the first time in over a millennium, the Pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople climbed over the walls that divided the two Churches for centuries and met each other in Jerusalem. This was a moment in history that will be studied for centuries to come! Now, 50 years later, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have renewed this commitment to truth and love and will carry this legacy into the new millennium through their scheduled meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The spiritual leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will meet each other to commemorate a historic event while simultaneously looking to forge together a future of hope and faith. The meeting in 1964 led to a series of significant developments that have had a positive impact on the lives of both Catholic and Orthodox faithful around the world (to be discussed in a later post). We are all very hopeful that the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will in like manner further enhance the lives of our faithful. It is my prayer that by promoting the dialogo (dialogue) between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches we will learn to engage in greater degrees of leitourgia (work), and that by the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may one day come into full koinonia (communion) with each other.

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