October 24, 2014

With the Rise of Militant Secularism, Rome and Moscow Make Common Cause

Met. Kyrill (before becoming Patriarch) and Pope Benedict

The Acton Institute just published my essay.

Source: Acton Institute | Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

The European religious press is abuzz over recent developments in Orthodox – Catholic relations that indicate both Churches are moving closer together. The diplomatic centerpiece of the activity would be a meeting of Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kyrill of the Russian Orthodox Church that was first proposed by Pope John Paul II but never realized. Some look to a meeting in 2013 which would mark the 1,700th anniversary of the signing of the Edict of Milan when Constantine lifted the persecution of Christians. It would be the first visit between the Pope of Rome and Patriarch of Moscow in history.

A few short years ago a visit between Pope and Patriarch seemed impossible because of lingering problems between the two Churches as they reasserted territorial claims and began the revival of the faith in post-Soviet Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. The relationship grew tense at times and while far from resolved, a spirit of deepening cooperation has nevertheless emerged.  Both Benedict and Kyrill share the conviction that European culture must rediscover its Christian roots to turn back the secularism that threatens moral collapse.

Both men draw from a common moral history: Benedict witnessed the barbarism of Nazi Germany and Kyrill the decades long communist campaign to destroy all religious faith. It informs the central precept in their public ministry that all social policy be predicated on the recognition that every person has inherent dignity and rights bestowed by God, and that the philosophical materialism that grounds modern secularism will subsume the individual into either ideology or the state just as Nazism and Communism did. If Europe continues its secular drift, it is in danger of repeating the barbarism of the last century or of yielding to Islam.

The deepening relationship does not portend a union between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics are more optimistic about unity because they are less aware of the historical animus that exists between Catholics and Orthodox. Nevertheless, while the increasing cooperation shows the gravity of the threat posed by secularism, it also indicates that the sensitive historical exigencies can be addressed in appropriate ways and times and will not derail the more pressing mission.

The cooperation has also caused the Churches to examine assumptions of their own that may prove beneficial in the long run. The meaning of papal supremacy tops the list.

On the Orthodox side the claims to a universal jurisdictional supremacy of the Patriarch of Rome have been rejected since (indeed, was a cause of) the Great Schism of 1054 (see here and here). That said, the Orthodox see the Pope of Rome as the rightful Patriarch of the Church of Rome and could afford him a primacy of honor in a joint council but not jurisdiction.

On the other side, the Orthodox do not have a Magisterium, a centralized Church structure that speaks for all the Orthodox in the world. This has led to some fractious internal wrangling throughout the centuries although doctrine and teaching has remained remarkably consistent.

It will come as no surprise for anyone to know that the Orthodox have difficulties with some of the claims made by the Catholic Church concerning the precise responsibilities and the nature of the authority associated with the Bishop of Rome. The Catholic Church has long recognized this as a basic difference between the Orthodox and Catholic worlds. The rise of militant secularism, however, and the cultural challenges this creates for Orthodox and Catholic Christians alike, have focused everyone’s minds on how they can cooperate to address these issues of ethics and culture.

Protestants have a stake in the outcome as well particularly as attitudes have softened towards Rome due in large part to Pope John Paul II’s exemplary leadership during the collapse of communism in the last century. Protestant ecclesiology has no real place for priest or pope which makes the nature of discussions between them and the Catholics or Orthodox entirely different. Nevertheless, as the soul denying ramifications of secularism become more evident, an increasing number look to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for leadership.

The most visible ambassador for the Orthodox Church is Oxford-educated Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokomansk who runs the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. Observers report that a deep respect and even genuine fondness exists between Hilarion and Benedict which has contributed to the recent thaw.

Both of them note with alarm the increasing attacks on the Christian faith in Europe and on Christians themselves in other parts of the world, a development they term “Christophobia.” Hilarion brought these points forward several years back when he first challenged the European Union for omitting any mention of the Christian roots of European civilization in the EU Constitution. That earned him considerable worldwide notice and he has become increasingly outspoken towards any attempts to silence the Christian testimony or dim the historical memory of Christendom.

From the Orthodox side it is clear that the leadership that deals with the concrete issues that affect the decline of the Christian West is emerging from Moscow. One reason is the sheer size of the renewed Russian Orthodox Church. The deeper reason however, is that the Russians have direct experience with the suffering and death that ensues when the light of the Christian faith is vanquished from culture.

Decades before the fall of Communism was even a conceptual possibility for most people, Pope John Paul II prophesied that the regeneration of Europe would come from Russia. At the time many people thought it was the misguided ramblings of a misguided man. It is looking like he knew more than his critics. We are fortunate to have these two leaders, Benedict and Kyrill, to help guide us through the coming difficulties.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese of North and South America. He is president of the American Orthodox Institute and serves on the board of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He writes frequently on social and cultural issues on his blog and elsewhere.

Comments

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    Pope John Paul II prophesied that the regeneration of Europe would come from Russia.

    When did he do it? What’s the reference?

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Over several decades ago, I was still in college at the time. I would have to hunt the reference down.

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      Michael Bauman says:

      Would such a reference have anything to do with the Fatima prophecy concering the coversion of Russia?

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        Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

        That’s not the context in which I remember his words, but it is the only one offered on any web search I’ve conducted.

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    If you could Father, it would be very useful. A lot of discussions with Romans come down to Russia’s vulnerability to materialism (previously with Communism, today with Eurasianism) being proof that “nothing good can come from Russia”.

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    David Carlon says:

    I am Orthodox Roman Catholic and awed and humbled by the wisdom and long suffering of my Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters. My chokti is a channel of grace that I treasure. I look forward to meeting all of you someday at our Lord’s banquet. Pray for me as I pray for you.

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    alexis says:

    Ah, yes. Rome and the Orthodox getting together. What’s the catch? I guarantee the Orthodox Church will be under Rome’s thumb. What will the compromises be? I guess we’ll have altar girls in the Orthodox Church eventually. Oh, that’s right! It’s already going on in the Greek churches. It seems there is always something “new” developing in the Roman Church. Why do I have Greek doctor Alexander Kalomiros’s words from his 1963 book, “Against False Union,” ringing in my ears?

    No, what the Orthodox Church should be doing right now is preaching from the pulpit frequently the evils that are plaguing our society: abortion, the homosexual agenda, crime, among many others, instead of making empty gestures. The Orthodox Church has enough problems of its own with what like 45% of its followers who are pro-choice and pro-gay. I’m all for ecumenism too, but at what cost? That’s why a majority of Orthodox aren’t in the WCC. The word is “compromise.”

    Smells like smoke. Must be from the pit of hell. Hey Fabio, “Russia and materialism?!” What do you call The Vatican?!!

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      I call it a place that condemned communism and the materialist ideology that goes with it. For all the mistakes the Vatican has committed, embracing comunism, a genocidical ideology, was not one of them. Russia did. And it’s doing it again through Eurasianism, which, to top it with heresy, makes phyletism one of its pillars.

      Indeed, in a time and age that has not yet incorporated into the collective imagination the evil that was communism, the Roman Church made even contribution with it cause of automatic self-excomunication. If anything it shows they have it very clear which was the greatest evil of the 20th century.

      I pretty much would like to see union happening through both groups dropping their respective major heresies: phyletism on the side of us Orthodox, and Papal Supremacy and Infallibility and Filioque from the side of Rome.

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        alexis says:

        You forgot another Roman Catholic heresy – the Immaculate Conception and the Cult of Mary, not to mention the other constant various liberal changes and scandals occurring in the Catholic Church. Seems like the Catholic Church has a lot of heresies. I think I’ll stay with the church of “one heresy.” I would like for you to explain the Orthodox heresy to the Early Church Fathers and Hierarchs of today. They would agree with you? It would be interesting. I think you’re missing the bigger picture here – money, power, and land – jurisdictional disputes.

        No matter what happens, whether they clasp hands and dance singing “Kumbaya,” it will always be under Rome’s Thumb. There will be compromises and not for the better. You really need to read Dr. Alexander Kalomiros’s book, “Against False Union.” Remember Fabio, the reason we have tens of thousands of Christian denominations is because of the heresy and constant changes that occurred in the Catholic Church, which gave birth to the Protestant Reformation and this American Denominational mess you have seen every Sunday to this very day.

        I think it was Father Jon Braun who had said in his most eloquent book, “Divine Energy,” that as a Protestant he had gotten so tired of the ground shifting beneath his feet with doctrinal changes all the time that he became nauseous. And this is what I presently see in Denominational Catholicism.

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          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          Careful here Alexis. The Orthodox history has it’s share of disputes too. People were lost during the Arian controversy even after it was settled (some historians argue the lands that remained Arian tilled the soil for Muhammad). Then there is the Chalcedonian schism which is still with us to this day. I am not making a back-handed defense of Rome here. I am saying that the problems you attribute to Rome have been with the Orthodox too. We deal with them, but not perfectly. OTOH, you could also argue that the Protestant problem, at least from Rome’s POV, is resolving itself as a lot of Protestants return to Rome.

          Again, not making a defense of Catholicism here, only point out Orthodox history is messy too in places.

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            Wesley J. Smith says:

            The bitterness toward Rome is unwise and possibly harmful, given the common and deadly threats we face. We can have a collegial relationship without accepting dogmas with which we disagree. We can love those who love Christ, accept the Holy Trinity and the proper view of the Sacrament, and not let past poison the future. Whatever happened to forgiving 70 x 7?

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              Eliot Ryan says:

              It is getting increasingly difficult for me to understand how any such a coalition would help. It is not just past errors but also many abuse scandals still raging. Who would be impressed by such a coalition … Muslim fanatics or secular organization? I doubt it. It would be more beneficial to distant ourselves from their errors and avoid bringing about more confusion. I am having a hard time trying to understand why Moscow Patriarchate clergy kiss the Pope’s hand.

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                Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

                It’s a lot like how different religious organizations in the US might come together when, say, a court case that would severely restrict religious freedom works it way to the Supreme Court. You end up working with people that you otherwise would have little in common with. But sometimes you need to work together and it is appropriate that you do.

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                Lance says:

                Because the Bishop of Rome (Pope) in the original Church structure was the ‘First Amongst Equals’. Even today the Orthodox regard the Bishop of Rome as such but also a ‘schismatic’ in error. The problem arose when the Byzantines wanted equal recognition for the Patriarch of Constantinople and eventually small petty differences like the ‘Filoque’ led to the schism of 1054 but still a line of mutual respect was provided given they were the first two branches of one body for nearly a thousand years. However, even when Constantinople fell to the Mohammedan hordes in 1453, the Pope urged a call to retake the city. We are in essence the same Church, but just separated with mutual respect. The kiss on the hand is to indicate the Pope’s original primacy amongst all the Bishops, however the Pope recognises his primacy as supremacy over all of Christendom.

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        L. says:

        Hi. Why is Eurasianism phyletism? Is Europeanism phyletism?

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          If the Church were instrumentalized to put forward a national ideology – even if it’s one of the European nationalities, even if it were American or Brazilian – than it is phyletism.

          To use it to give credibility to the revolutionary mentality that created Bolshevism, only with the inverted signal of an extremist right-wing slavo-fascist group just makes it worse.

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            L. says:

            Maybe I am just blind, but I don’t think the Russian Church is being instrumentalized to do anything of the sort. If anything, of all the local Orthodox Churches, the Moscow Patriarchate is the least guilty of ethnophyletism. Also, as an idea, Eurasianism is no worse than Europeanism, and to call it “extremist right-wing slavo-fascism” is as unfair as calling “the West” a Carolingo-Nazistic Reich 4.0. It is simply a theory of organization of a historically and culturally peculiar space that stays true to a string of historical antecedents in the region. Yes, people like Dugin might understand land-based Eurasianism as almost metaphysically necessary (land v. sea) to counter the “sea-culture” of Anglo-Saxonism, but again even this is just a meta-theory giving meaning to the fact of a historic continuum of Eurasian power dating back to medieval times. Also, I notice you present Papal Infallibility/Filioquism as an antipode to Ethnophyletism. Interesting. No possibility they’re the same thing?

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              Regarding Papism and ethnofilitism – they may have been the same during the Frankish/French dominion of the Rome the Church. But it developed into another thing entirely. Educated Catholics see their affiliation to the Church as something above their ethnic identities. I’m not sure if it was Chesterton who said it, but whoeve it was, felt that their Catholicity was a healthy refreshment and vacation from his national identity.

              Regarding Eurasianism – It is far worse than Europeanism. It’s not only a delluded sense of self-importance. There are clear references to the nedd to destroy the West. One may feel it’s just a hyperbole, like we did with the promises of all utopian dictators of the 20th century. I don’t. I think it is literall and they mean it. Not mere “cultural” destruction -as if this was not much – but real, actual physical destruction by means of war and territorial conquest. The fact that it is unfeasible and unsustainable is not the matter. You’ve got to be crazy to think you can kill all the jews in the world or enslave all the blacks. But there was no lack of tries in that, and it’s the genocide in the trying that worries me.

              The Russian Orthodox Church is certainly not an accomplice of Eurasianism. But what I was trying to say is that Eurasianists would like to instrumentalize her. The Russian hierarchy will have to be very intelligent, even “shrewd as the serpents” (S. Mat. 10:16) to avoid letting ideological movements like these to use the Church.

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                L. says:

                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Regarding Papism and ethnofilitism – they may have been the same during the Frankish/French dominion of the Rome the Church. But it developed into another thing entirely. Educated Catholics see their affiliation to the Church as something above their ethnic identities. I’m not sure if it was Chesterton who said it, but whoeve it was, felt that their Catholicity was a healthy refreshment and vacation from his national identity.

                The Tutsis and the Hutus must’ve not gotten the memo. Perhaps what Chesterton thought was Catholicism was just Europeanism. And no doubt one teeming with plenty of what you describe as a “deluded sense of self-importance.”

                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Regarding Eurasianism – It is far worse than Europeanism. It’s not only a delluded sense of self-importance. There are clear references to the nedd to destroy the West. One may feel it’s just a hyperbole, like we did with the promises of all utopian dictators of the 20th century. I don’t. I think it is literall and they mean it. Not mere “cultural” destruction -as if this was not much – but real, actual physical destruction by means of war and territorial conquest. The fact that it is unfeasible and unsustainable is not the matter. You’ve got to be crazy to think you can kill all the jews in the world or enslave all the blacks. But there was no lack of tries in that, and it’s the genocide in the trying that worries me.

                You invoke all the bogey-men: “they want to destroy us”–culturally, physically, territorially; they want to enslave the Blacks; they want to kill the Jews; Genocide. Well played. But the truth is that this litany of ills you enumerate could probably be laid at the feet of the West rather than the Eurasians. Enslaving Blacks (and Slavs), putting Jews (along with Slavs) in ovens–no, they’re Western pastimes. Even today, it is the West launching war after war, robbing the world with an evil monetary/banking system, circling nations with bases and missile facilities, fostering various insurgencies etc. etc.. Yet you accuse the…Eurasians? Orwellian much?

                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>The Russian Orthodox Church is certainly not an accomplice of Eurasianism. But what I was trying to say is that Eurasianists would like to instrumentalize her. The Russian hierarchy will have to be very intelligent, even “shrewd as the serpents” (S. Mat. 10:16) to avoid letting ideological movements like these to use the Church.

                The last twenty years have shown that the world needs a solid multi-polarity, and in this quest Eurasianism is a must. Papism and its unipolar-minded spawn is a vicious heresy. Orthodoxy, for all its dysfunctions, has it right, because it is what Christ gave us.

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                  L.

                  “Eurasians” are the only ones who bought communism. And have not apologized for it yet, much less held any kind of Nuremberg to duely punish people who like Putin and Dugin were accomplices of the most genocidical empire on Earth. “Eurasians” have the most widespread disonformation institution in the world FSB/KGB. No intelligence service in the world has a ratio to civil citizen like that of FSB. Russia has done her lot of aggression too in their neighboring countries and around the world, with the difference that the intolerance for criticism is so far greater that the only russians and victims that could protest against it were those in the West.

                  There is no innocent civilization in the world, but for the bad the West has done like every other civilization, it’s distinctive redeeming attribute is its capacity of self-criticism, of repenting from past mistakes and improving in time. You can even say that the West has made the sacrament of Confession an inherent part of its culture – and it is the only civilization that has done so. That demands a certain level of freedom of speech – never perfect, true, but still far greater than in any Asian or Slavic country. This is not say that the West is perfect. Theologically, it is heretical, but *nobody* is perfect. The heretical West neve adopted communism. The heretical West produced the United States of America, a young country which became an inspiration of freedom and liberty for all the world, a military potency which defeated the greatest empire of its time to get independent, emerged victorious from World War II and, having the opportunity to conquer by military and economic power all Europe and Japan, being the sole country with an atomic bomb, not only did not do that, but helped those countries get back on their feet again. During this time Russia was persecuting the Church and spreading communism around the world through military power and disinformation.

                  So, stop being dichotomic about this. Both West and Russia have made big-time mistakes. Yet, at this time in history the West has the advantage because it built a tribunal to punish many of the people responsible for Nazism. Where is the Nuremberg of Communism? If Russia wants to become “Holy Russia” again, it will have to persecute, imprison and punish the previously communist leadership, the mafia leaders, the KGB torturers and strategist of disinformation. It will have to make public *in English* all the documents about infiltrations in Western countries during the Cold War.

                  Until then, Eurasianism is just same-old, same-old about the worst there is in Russia. And the Holy Church is not part of that.

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                    L. says:

                    Friend, at every turn, the West battles against the Orthodox peoples: Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Caucasus, Croatia, Ukraine, Baltic countries, Middle East etc. etc. etc. Soon there will be no Christians left in the Middle East, thanks to your greed and lust. Russian “aggression” is nothing compared to the West’s wars. Russian oligarchs and mafia bad? Yes! But they all given asylum in the West in order to battle Russia. Why? Communism bad? Yes, mostly, but the truth is that Russian guts also won WWII. Yes Russia made mistakes, but a world without an independent Russian voice is an even bleaker prospect, given that the West are behaving as blindly and recklessly as drunken sailors. The world needs Eurasia, a spiritually renewed one. And having learned from its past errors, it may well be such.

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    Observer says:

    Despite the platitudes and pleasantries expressed to Hilarion Alfeyev, Pope Benedict XVI is not blind to the fact that Kirill Gundyaev is submitting the Russian Orthodox Church to the political agendas of the Government of the Russian Federation both at home and abroad.

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    Lance says:

    I am coming from a long struggle on whether I should convert to Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Fabio hinted on my sentiments, while Orthodox theology might be the purest to original Christianity, I am absolutely horrified at how sectionalised and nationalised the Orthodox Church has become. It seems to me that if Russia is experiencing a so-called ‘Christian’ revival, that it’s just another form of nationalism with hidden elements of racism. To further extend this thesis, neo-Nazi groups are popping up all over the Rus, and many of them call themselves devout Russian Orthodox Christians. With the Roman Catholic Church despite many faults, it is not nationalised and sectionalised; it extends beyond nations, nationalism, political parties, race and ethnicity.

    On the other hand the Orthodox Churches in places like Serbia and Russia are becoming more and more instruments of the state for mass propaganda and cohesion among ethnic lines with a strong aversion to outsiders. I’ve never known the Orthodox to want to spread the Gospels among the nations, they seem to think that it’s something ‘special’ for Eastern Europeans. There’s also a benefit to being stubborn, you insulate yourself from modernism and heresies. The Catholic Church has done the best it can to prevent this, but I must admit, not as strong, contributing to a much weaker Christian theology. Catholicism is a step from nationalism while Orthodoxy especially the Russian variant is irrevocably a step toward nationalism.

    In no way would Orthodox Christians from Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and many of the darker skinned nations survive in Russia, based on Orthodox Communion alone. By the way, I’m an Anglican fleeing the many heresies of that Church, most notably homosexual marriage, and the ordination of women and homosexuals into the Priesthood. If I had to make a decision based on theology alone, it would be Orthodoxy, if I had to base it on spirituality, it would be split and if I had to base it on transcendence of nation, race and all that’s material… it would be Roman Catholicism.

Care to comment?

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