Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue off to rocky start on Cyprus

Orthodox or Catholic ecclesiology?

Orthodox or Catholic ecclesiology?

.From the Sunday Mail (Cyprus):

Members of Orthodox Christian unions along with clerics and monks yesterday disrupted a Paphos conference between Orthodox and Catholic Christians. The unions, monks from Stavrovouni monastery and Larnaca clerics were protesting against the conference and demanding that Archbichop Chrysostomos II cancel it.

It was day one of the conference of the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The protesters claimed the dialogue between the two churches aimed in the submission of the Orthodox Church to the Pope.

AsiaNews, picking up on an interview Metropolitan John of Pergamon held with a Cypriot journalist, said the metropolitan wanted to send a message to “certain areas” of the Orthodox Church that are suffering from “a traditionalist narcissism bordering on infallibility.”

… Zizoulas immediately clarifies that “the decision to participate in dialogue with the Catholic Church was ‘unanimously’ made by all Orthodox churches. Therefore inveighing against dialogue, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and my person is unfair. All Orthodox churches were in agreement on the importance of dialogue and the fact that it must continue”.

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate – he continues – as in all other Orthodox matters, has only a coordinating role and we, like the other members of the Commission, are the engaged executors, according to our own conscience, of the mandate that was assigned to us. We are open to criticism because we are not infallible, just as our critics are not infallible. Those who do not want dialogue, are opposed to the common will of all Orthodox Churches. ”

Regarding the positions of the monks of Mount Athos – staunchly opposed to dialogue – the Metropolitan of Pergamon is explicit: “I respect their opinion and their feelings on matters of faith. But why should they have the monopoly of truth on matters of faith? Are the other leaders of the churches perhaps lacking this sensitivity? All the faithful of the Church have the right to express their thoughts. But all opinions should be subject to scrutiny of the synods. If the great Father of the Church St. Basil put his opinion to the judgement of synods, we can do no less!”.

In April, the “Convention of Orthodox Clergymen and Monks” in Greece published a “Confession of Faith Against Ecumenism” which characterized the papacy as “the womb of heresies and fallacies.”

Church of Greece hierarchs have weighed in. Here are their first two points (emphasis theirs):

1. The need for a more detailed updating of the Holy Synod of the Hierarchy on these very significant issues was made evident. It was also declared that from now on, the Hierarchy is to be informed of all the phases of the Dialogues, otherwise no “document” will be considered binding to the Church. After all, this is defined in the Synodic Polity of the Church.

2. The Dialogue must continue, but within the Orthodox ecclesiological and canonical framework, and always following an understanding with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as has been pan-Orthodoxically decided.

The focus of this particular International Joint Commission for Orthodox-Catholic Theological Dialogue is the “the role of Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church in the 1st millennium.” The Russian Church delegation is headed by Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk. Interfax reports that the commission “held its previous session in October 2007 in Ravenna. Then, the Moscow Patriarchate delegation left the session as its members didn’t agree to participation of the so-called ‘Estonian Apostolic Church’ established by the Constantinople Patriarchate on the Russian Church canonical territory in 1996. In the absence of the Russian Church representatives, the participants adopted a final document defining their joint view on the nature of rule in the Ecumenical Church.”

Later, commenting on the adopted document Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, spoke about “real breakthrough” in the dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics. However, the Russian Church didn’t share his optimism and reproached the Holy See for its attempts to impose Catholic model of administration with the Pope ruling on Orthodox world.

The Moscow Patriarchate has an update today


  1. Antiochian friend :

    Am I the only one who is scared. I am not against dialogue with our Latin brothers but Metropolitan John’s authoritative stance of speaking for the entire Orthodox world is a little disconcerting to say the least.

  2. … Which is why their [the monks of Mount Athos] opposition to dialogue is incomprehensible….

    There are several things worth commenting on but I will start here. Actually let me start here:

    Moreover knowing how to dialogue with those who oppose your beliefs does not make you a heretic.

    The reason John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon finds those who oppose this dialogue incomprehensible, is due to his unflinching confidence in his ability to “stand above” the situation (in this case “ecumenical dialogue”). There are several reasons to be weary of his confidence.

    The first is a theoretical problem of “dialogue”. Is it really neutral and what is it about such forms of communication that always seem to appear artificial from the outside looking in. Stanley Fish would talk about the “liberal round table” as being a place that claims neutrality and equality for the participants but is far from it. I would add that there is something of a compressed artificiality of these sorts of “committees” that produce documents that few read and have little to do with the life of real Churches.

    The second is historical. Dialogue with the Roman Church has a horrible track record. What makes John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon so confident that he and the other members of the “committee” have risen above the underlying forces that have been history? Why does he express so much confidence in a “document” that means almost nothing given the subsequent history of RC self-understanding?

    Frankly, anyone who finds the current opposition to ecumenism in the Orthodox Church “incomprehensible” is not qualified to do ecumenism in the first place. It reveals ignorance at best, and dangerous over confidence at worst.

    The monks are right – those who are ‘theologians’ in the western sense (meaning academics and seminary professionals like John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon) are not the sort of people who should be doing ecumenism.

    • RE Dialogue with the Roman Church has a horrible track record.

      Can you provide some specifics?

      I am amazed at the negative comments by many Orthodox whenever the topic is dialogue with Catholics. I suppose, however, if there is some history of Catholics not acting in good faith these comments might be justified.

      Thank you.


      • Michael Bauman :

        Greg, over 1000 years of willful misunderstanding, academic nonesense, power plays and a refusal to talk in good faith about anything not enough evidence for you (BTW the attitudes a common to both sides).

        There is no foundation for unity on a macro-basis, there is no point in these discussions.

        Hey, how about we heal our own wounds (RCC & Orthodox) acutally practice our faith and following the satanic delusion of ‘unity in our time’.

        The personal, theological and ecclesiolgical sins at the core of our disunity are so fundamental as to be completely beyond human agency to heal. It is hubris to assume otherwise as the hardcore ecumenists do.

        No good will come from such conferences.

        Just ask St. Mark of Ephesus.

        • Granted that over the last 1,000 years there has been a lot of not-acting-in-good-faith, but what of the last 60 years? Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI met in the early 1960’s and, if I recall correctly, Orthodox and Catholic leaders have been meeting every since.

          Have there been “willful misunderstanding… power plays and a refusal to talk in good faith” in the last 60 years? (I did not include “academic nonesense” from your list since one man’s nonsense is another man’s nuanced meaning.)

          60 years can’t wipe away 1,000 – but is it a start?

          • Michael Bauman :

            Not when the current Pope in one of his early addressess re-stated the over 1000 year position of the RCC that all will be well if the wayward Orthodox will just submit to his authority.

          • How about the mutual lifting of anathema’s during Vatican II. The underlying sincere doctrinal differences that were and are the cause of the anathema’s still exist. Neither side is willing to “compromise” on doctrine because compromise is a false manipulation of the Truth.

            So, following a sentimental and quite modern anguish at disunity (no matter core truth of the anguish), the cart was put before the horse. Instead of Mercy and Truth we have a sort of “can’t we all just get along” method of – well establishing a group hug and ignoring the real cause of the schism.

            No, the last 60 years is simply a variation on a theme – same play, different act.

      • Greg,

        As Michael points out even a cursory survey of the history of the Great Schism and subsequent “dialogs” reveals why one might be accused of negativity.

        However, you mention one thing that is interesting. What the modern flavor of ecumenical dialog assumes is that our ancestors (both Orthodox and RC) did not act in “good faith”. This version of the story takes it’s cues from fashionable pop sociology and political theory that says that political power, linguistic ignorance, and other outside forces overcame any “good faith” and derailed the otherwise well intentioned wishes on both sides. Armed with his ability to transcend such principalities and powers, the modern ecumenist sincerely believes he is beyond these things. He has the linguist “errors” of our ancestors figured out, and he is aware of the pernicious political plays of bishops and kings and knows a certain method for overcoming these problems: modern liberal round table “dialog”.

        If then this all sounds a bit like a bunch of academics at a conference proposing the latest idealistic utopia, well that is because that is what it is. Thus, the elitism, the uncomprehending of the less ‘educated’ masses who instinctively see through the idealism, the unreflective arrogance all shines through.

        Because John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon is a “theologian” in the western small-t academic sense, he is genuinely perplexed at the obvious and mundane (as most academics are). A Theologian of the Church of course would never find such protests “incomprehensible”.

        • Michael Bauman :

          Christopher, you are correct. I am utterly unconvinced that any ‘unity’ we might produce will do any good at all. Let Catholics be Catholics, let us Orthodox live and teach what we have been given–all else is a waste of time.

    • What are some examples of times when a proper Orthodox-Catholic dialogue format, with qualified participants, happened – or is happening now?

      • Good question. None that I am aware of. Unfortunately all we have is negative examples.

        As far as “proper…dialogue format” as a theoretical question the only one I am aware of is a proper ecumenical council. Of course, the RC would never agree to this because the Pope/western bishops would be one voice in a room full of equals and their papal claims/ecclesiology, Filoque, Augustinian trinitarian ism and anthropology, Immaculate Conception, etc. would be rejected outright and they would either accept the result (and thus essentially repent of a about 1300 years of self understanding) or not – then we are back to where we are today…

        • The general feeling I get from reading this board is that the Orthodox upper echelons are interested in dialogue with the Catholics, but the rank and file will have none of it. That seems a major problem. Unwilling to talk, and unwilling to support those who do. A sad state of affairs.

          “Leaving things to God” is OK if we have done everything we can do. However, leaving things to God because we want to nurse old wounds, or because we refuse to entertain the idea that the situation may have changed – well… that just doesn’t seem right.

          How is one to move beyond caricature if there is no discussion? (This is a rhetorical question only.)

          • Greg, Have you read Kallistas Ware’s “The Orthodox Church”? Even though he is a supporter of modern ecumenism, he recognizes some of the problems (not all) and does an OK job of explaining that a significant portion of Orthodox (I would hazard that it is the majority) do not approve. I assume from your last post you are not Orthodox (RC maybe?). My feel of the land is that if anything, the support for modern ecumenism is at least as strong among the laity as it is among the bishops (which I still believe is the minority). I would say the Deaconate and Priesthood has the greatest thoughtful opposition. I do not believe the way forward is for the supporters of modern ecumenical dialog to scold those who have thoughtful concerns as “unwilling to talk” as you put it, or as being “incomprehensible” as John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon would say. It is unreflective and dismissive of the real concerns we have. I think you hit it on the head when you say that those who reject modern ecumenical movement are living in a “caricature”. As long as the supporters believe that, they will continue to dismiss the laity/priests/monks/Bishops who are trying to tell them something…

          • Christopher,

            I have not read Ware’s book. Thanks for the recommendation. You are correct, I am not Orthodox (but I’m interested in the discussion.)

            I do agree that the leadership should address the concerns of the laity. Certainly Orthodox Bishops put themselves in an untenable position if a large segment of their flock doesn’t support meetings with Catholics.

            I sense a sort of “bunker mentality” among the Orthodox. Whether the topic is all U.S. jurisdictions coming together under one territorial bishop, Orthodox outreach to non-Orthodox*, the EP participating in environmental issues**, or discussion with Catholics – either no one wants to make the first move, or every move meets with a significant backlash. It is not my place to speculate as to why this is, I just note that – as an outsider looking in – that is what I see and it isn’t very attractive.


            * On a personal note, there is a GOA Church four miles from my house. I know people who go there. In 20+ years I was never given any reason to think that a non-Greek should attend it.

            ** It is unfortunate that the EP is considered incompetent. I know that one person does not negate the ultimate truth of a religion, but when it’s the leader it does make it harder to make the case.

          • Greg,

            The ‘situation of the diaspora’ and ecumenical dialog can not be fairly compared. The uniqueness of 19th and 20/21st century travel and immigration coupled with the Bolshevik revolution led to the present situation. While a problem, it is not a doctrinal or core issue with the Faith, and the Church can function with it even if it is a certain canonical disorder.

            Ecumenical dialog on the other hand is directly relevant to the very core of the Church and her Faith. It goes far beyond the rather mundane question of canonical order. You mentioned a “first move” as if this process has not been going on for centuries now. Check out who St. Mark of Ephesus is:


            As far as the “outside looking in”, well of course. Any Christianity – I suppose I should qualify that as “Traditional Christianity” since all sorts of modernist pagans claim to be Christian now – is going to look reactionary, inward looking, unprogressive, backwards, unattractive, etc. Christianity is now counter cultural again. For a while the west became “Christendom” and Christianity was fashionable. No longer, as we are now back to the situation that is similar to the one the early Christians were in. We have not been persecuted in the same way (still could happen), but then the Communists killed more Christians in raw numbers than the Romans ever did.

            It is warming to the heart to hear you describe Orthodoxy in the way you did. It’s a sign that we have not caved in to the vanity of the culture (yet – it could still happen). We are not as my priest likes to say “the community of the upraised moistened finger” by which he means those who try to figure out which way the cultural winds are blowing and then go that way.

          • Thanks for the reply.

          • Michael Bauman :

            Greg, there are vast differences between the ecclesiology, soteriology and spiritual anthropology of the RCC and the Orthodox. They cannot be simply papered over with an “everybody loves Jesus” approach without doing great violence to the sincere faith and belief of both. No meeting of bishops will accomplish it ever.

            The RCC and the various popes have never once agreed to any open discussion on the primary issue that still separates us–the institution of the Papacy itself as the RCC conceives it.

            As central to any real unity talks as the Papacy is,the very process is likely to weaken any common Christian witness in the face of nihilism, Islam and virulent secularism. Chimerical ‘unity’ is not necessary for an effective common witness.

          • The RCC and the various popes have never once agreed to any open discussion on the primary issue that still separates us–the institution of the Papacy itself as the RCC conceives it.

            Perhaps that time is coming…

            It remains for the question of the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches to be studied in greater depth. What is the specific function of the bishop of the “first see” in an ecclesiology of koinonia and in view of what we have said on conciliarity and authority in the present text? How should the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy be understood and lived in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium? These are crucial questions for our dialogue and for our hopes of restoring full communion between us.


          • I think Greg that

            “”How should the teaching of the first and second Vatican councils on the universal primacy be understood and lived in the light of the ecclesial practice of the first millennium?””

            Is a bridge too far. The Orthodox will never accept the “teaching” of universal primacy because it simply is not of the Church. The RC will never accept the Orthodox ecclesiology because that would mean a full repentance of said “teaching”. Any attempt at a compromise, a re-re-interpretation of both positions will be seen as the transparent attempt at false unity it would be. You simply can not twist either ecclesiology enough to get there – at least not honestly.

            So one has to ask then what is the point of said “dialogue”? It starts to look like a political game, an excuse for bishops to get together and talk about more substantial issues under the table. Given the “One Big Misunderstanding” theory of the history of the schism, you can understand why some of these academics want to dialogue (because they sincerely believe the differences are not real – they are an accident of human limitations in communication). Why would sincere bishops on either side who truly believe in their own Churches ecclesiology (or filioque, Augustinian anthropology, purgatory, Theotokos, etc.)? It must be a default position, something to keep their academic “theologians” happy…

          • Noted. Thanks.

  3. This article only reinforces my belief that Metropolitan John is much more the fundamentalist than the monks cited in this article.

    • Andrew,

      What do you mean by “fundamentalist”? I have to confess that lately I have seen that term used in so many different ways I simply am not sure what it means anymore.

  4. 111111111111111111111111

  5. Post # 4 is from my illiterate 9 month old daughter – feel free to delete it….;)

  6. George Michalopulos :

    Christopher, I bet she’s a peach!

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