Saturday, February 20, 2010


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is an incredible figure. He stands four-square against the popular misconception that the Orthodox Churches are somehow “museums.” In his Encyclical he states: “…Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people.” To this end, he dedicates himself to dialogue: “…Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. …However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. …It is not possible…for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of [our Lord’s] divine commandment.”

He understands that fanatics wish to wreck this process by whatever means: he condemns their efforts as those of “zealots” who “…do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful.” He knows the truth that the Orthodox Church does (and must) stand on “…the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers.” To this I add a hearty and personal “Amen!” He might also have added, in this short list, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (an addition I would also cheer). But no doubt he understands that this is implicit in his mention of the Councils.

How would we react, I wonder, if Rome had, centuries ago, been captured by (let me be terribly anachronistic here) communists who turned the city into “New Leningrad,” and turned St. Peter’s into a shrine for Lenin and Stalin? What would we think if we knew that history could not be undone and that a ‘revolution’ was impossible? How would we feel if we believed the Eastern Church could have saved us and chose not to?

In spite of this, relations between the Ecumenical Patriarch and Pope Benedict are warm; one might almost wish to describe them as ‘cozy.’ In fact, I believe the Latin Church (officially, at least) longs for reunion far more than the Eastern, but then it’s probably because it is not our, but their, memory which is burdened by the perception of coercion and betrayal. But this takes us too far afield into the history of the 15th century and especially of the Council of Florence…

In any event, Orthodoxy Sunday falls happily at the celebration of the Chair of Peter (22 Feb.)—which for the Orthodox represents the primacy of Peter—at Antioch (Acts 14 and Galatians 2). One day may this be a celebration of the truly Universal (ecumenical and catholic) Church!


  1. It's interesting to see the ecumenical breezes flow in these times. For instance, dissidents unveiled plans to reform the largest Lutheran body ELCA, for a rival denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). In 2009 conservative Episcopalians launched the Anglican Church in North America. Methodist and Roman Catholics have explored the words of Holy Scripture in dialogue, Mennonites are talking with other Protestant sects. We wonder what effects these conversations will have on today's generation, ages 18 to 29. A report from Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life find that young adults today are less church-connected than prior generations were when they were in their 20's. A new study found they're just about as spiritual as their parents and grandparents were at those ages. Just what does that statement of spirituality really mean?

  2. Typically, being "spiritual" translates into folks who confess belief in the existence of some sort of divinity, and who sometimes (perhaps often) pray, but who feel no connection with or obligation to any specific denominational form of Christianity, beyond perhaps declaring one's membership: no sense or desire to be reguarly practicing of one's faith.