Orthodox-Catholic Consultation Responds to ‘Ravenna Document’

SCOBA has released the joint response of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation to the international dialogue’s 2007 “Ravenna Document.” This took place at the Consultation’s 77th meeting, held at Saint Paul’s College in Washington, from October 22-24, 2009. It was presided over by Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh and Roman Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also released a statement on Ravenna.

Catholic Culture said that North American statement was “a candid critique of the 2007 ‘Ravenna document,’ a modest milestone in Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical relations.”

The Ravenna document, while not purporting to be the Church’s official teaching, was issued by the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, chaired by Cardinal Walter Kasper and Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamon. A month after the document was issued, Cardinal Kasper told other cardinals that “for the first time the Orthodox representatives recognized a universal level of the Church and admitted that at this level there also exists a Protos, a Primate, who can only be the Bishop of Rome according to the taxis [order] of the ancient Church. All the participants are aware that this is only a first step and that the journey toward full ecclesial communion will be long and difficult; yet, with this document we have set a base for future dialogue.”

Here’s the interesting part of the joint North American statement released today:

[O]ur Consultation also judges that some issues mentioned in the text are in need of further dialogue and clarification. Like any analogy between the eternal God and created beings, the analogy between the order (taxis) which exists among the three persons of the Holy Trinity and the order (taxis) which exists among local Churches requires further explanation and development. The Ravenna text does not make sufficiently clear the ecclesiological status of regional expressions of primacy and synodality. Even at regional levels, and not only at the universal level, the limits and exercise of authority by the “first” are also not made clear. The document’s historical treatment of apostolic succession and of ecumenical councils lacks precision and may occasion oversimplification and misunderstanding. The understanding of the local parish within the context of the modern diocese or local Church is in need of study.

Finally, we take exception to the contents of the Ravenna document’s sole footnote: “Orthodox participants felt it important to emphasize that the use of the terms ‘the Church’, ‘the universal Church’ and ‘the Body of Christ’ in this document and in similar documents produced by the Joint Commission in no way undermines the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, of which the Nicene Creed speaks. From the Catholic point of view, the same self-awareness applies: the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church ‘subsists in the Catholic Church’ (Lumen Gentium, 8); this does not exclude acknowledgement that elements of the true Church are present outside the Catholic communion.”

We find this footnote inaccurate. First, we think that its two assertions do not adequately represent the ecclesiology of either the Orthodox or the Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church’s self-understanding as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is not understood by all Orthodox in exclusivist terms. Throughout the centuries, significant currents within Orthodox ecclesiology have recognized the presence of the Church’s reality outside the canonical, visible boundaries of the Orthodox Church. Also, to assert that “from the Catholic point of view the same self-awareness applies” misrepresents Catholic ecclesiology at and since the Second Vatican Council, in spite of the Ravenna document’s reference to Lumen Gentium 8. Because of apostolic succession and the Eucharist, Vatican II did not hesitate to recognize that the Orthodox constitute “Churches,” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 14) that they are “sister Churches,” and to assert that in their celebration of the Eucharist, the Church of God is being built up and growing.


  1. In response to the the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation’s response to the Ravenna document, below is an essay I wrote in February, 2008 is response to the same.

    Reflections on Ravenna – by Nick Katich

    “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”

    — Dante, Divine Comedy

    If I had thought of Ravenna before 13 October 2007, I would have thought of Dante. Ravenna: the place where he lived; the place where he wrote the Divine Comedy; the place where his allegoric descent into Hell began, where he saw the words inscribed over Hell’s gate, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

    When thinking of Ravenna after 13 October 2007, I think of the so-called Ravenna Document. A product of the “Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church”. A document entitled “Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church”. A document subtitled “Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authority”.

    When reflecting on the Ravenna Document over the past several months, I have come to appreciate the inherent necessity of its composition occurring in Ravenna. For truly it could aptly be renamed, in the lexicon of the current vernacular, as the Divine Comedy, or on a higher level, in the ancient poetic lexicon, as the Divine Tragedy, for in the ancient lexicon a “comedy” had a happy ending while a “tragedy” did not, and the Ravenna Document will, I dare say, to us Orthodox, become “a thorn in the flesh”. (2 Cor. 12:7).

    To many Orthodox, the Ravenna Document is probably viewed as nothing more than tautological. Doesn’t it merely reiterate what we have always been taught: that the Church is catholic; that it is hierarchical; that each bishop is equal; that, within each regional Church the patriarch, metropolitan, archbishop or first hierarch, as the case may be, is the “first among equals” within the regional Church; and that the Bishop of Rome, in the early Church, was always considered the “first among equals” in the universal Church and will be so again once communion is restored? Such may well be suggested within the context of a superficial reading of the Ravenna Document. But closer scrutiny reveals the utter tragedy (or sheer comedy, in the current lexicon) of what “our representatives” signed on to.

    At the heart of the Ravenna Document, and its problematic nature, is the focus on Apostolic Canon 34. That canon, as quoted in the Ravenna Document, reads as follows:

    The bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

    What does this canon mean? First, the phrase “each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories” can only mean, what we always have understood, i.e. that the bishop is supreme in his dioceses and that he “runs it”. Second, the phrase “the bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome)” can only mean, if he is restricted to supremacy in his own diocese, that a bishop may do nothing without the consent of the protos if his decision or action is going to affect other diocese. Third, the phrase “But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all” clearly means that the first among equals” has no authority at all, without the consent of all of the bishops over which he is protos.

    Properly understood, this canon forms the basis for the long held Orthodox view of conciliarity as the operative authoritative principle of both the regional Church as well as the universal Church. It is for this reason that all dogmatic pronouncements and formulations have emanated from councils, whether they be so-called regional councils or so-called ecumenical councils (even in the West until Vatican I). It is this operative authoritative principle that makes all bishops equal. It is this operative authoritative principle that has led the Orthodox for two millennia to resist the pretentious Roman bishops from turning God’s new Israel into a type of monarchical old Israel with the bishop of Rome being the new Saul lording over the tribes. (Cf. 1 Samuel 8:6-7 [“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.’”]).

    Simply stated, there is nothing in Canon 34, nor in the other Apostolic Canons of which it forms a part, nor in the Apostolic Constitutions to which they are appended, that restricts the application of this canon to the regional level. Yet, without any canonical-legal, canonical-textual or canonical-historical basis, the authors of the Ravenna Document introduce the canon with the following words: “A canon accepted in the East as in the West, expresses the relationship between the local Churches of a region: [text of Apostolic Canon 34]”.

    The authors then boldly relegate the canon to a parochial graveyard with the following post-script: “This norm, which re-emerges in several forms in canonical tradition, applies to all the relations between bishops of a region, whether those of a province, a metropolitanate, or a patriarchate. Its practical application may be found in the synods or the councils of a province, region or patriarchate”. No evidence is presented nor is any explanation given as to why this canon does not apply to the universal Church.

    However, its application to the universal church would present an obvious impediment to the pretensions of Rome. For, if the bishop of Rome is indeed the universal protos then the application of this canon would mean that he as the “first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all”. Which has been the precise Orthodox position for the first two millennia, but apparently not now early on into the third millennia.

    But, as expected, the most nefarious aspect of the Ravenna Document is found in the section dealing with the universal Church. In that section, the authors penned the following:

    During the first millennium, the universal communion of the Churches in the ordinary course of events was maintained through fraternal relations between the bishops. These relations, among the bishops themselves, between the bishops and their respective protoi, and also among the protoi themselves in the canonical order (taxis) witnessed by the ancient Church, nourished and consolidated ecclesial communion….Both sides agree that this canonical taxis was recognized by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St. Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs.

    Further on, the authors refer to “the bishop of Rome, as the protos of the bishops of the major sees…” and “for the bishop of Rome as protos among the patriarchs”.

    One would have thought that the authors would have referred to Canon 3 of the Constantinople I Council and Canon 28 of the Chalcedon Council as support for their agreement that the bishop of Rome occupied the “first place in the taxis”. However, those canons are problematic for Rome because the text clearly gives the honor to Rome at that time solely because it was the then imperial capital. Since it is no longer the imperial capital, those canons are problematic for Rome today. Certainly the authors could not base Rome’s protoi-ness on the scripturely and historically baseless Petrine Doctrine because the Orthodox representatives at Ravenna would have met the same fate as those who signed on to the shameful Florentine prostration. So, they reached back nearly three hundred years prior to Constantinople I to St. Ignatius who sat on the Lord’s lap as a youngster.

    The disingenuousness of the authors’ efforts in best revealed in the very text, upon which they rely, once placed in its proper context. There are three extant versions of Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans. In the so-called shorter Greek version, Ignatius writes to “to the Church…which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans…and which presides over love….” The text of the so-called longer Greek version is identical. The text of the Syriac version is nearly identical: “To her who presides in the place of the region of the Romans…and presides in love”. I may well be missing something, but the only textual conclusion is that the Church in Rome presides in love over the region where the Romans live, as opposed to the region where the Greeks live. It may well support the notion that the bishop of Rome is the patriarch of the West, a title held by Rome from ancient times but recently dropped on the eve of the forefeast of the Ravenna prostration. But it does not support the Ravenna authors’ intended purposes.

    In many ways, I see not so much the hand of Rome penning the Ravenna Document for Rome surprisingly concedes much in the document. It appears to concede that the “royal priesthood” (the laity) “exercises a form of authority in the Body of Christ” and that “the whole community and each person in it bears the ‘conscience of the Church’.” It appears to concede, with respect to the so-called ecumenical councils, that “their solemn doctrinal decisions and their common faith formulations, especially on crucial points, are binding for all Churches and all the faithful, for all times and all places”. It appears to concede that “the ecumenicity of the decisions of a council is recognized through a process of reception” according to which “the people of God as a whole – by means of reflection, discernment, discussion and prayer – acknowledge in these decisions the one apostolic faith”. Never has Rome taken such a Khomiakov-esque position.

    But the trade-off comes with a price. And the price is high. Apostolic Canon 34 loses its universal application and has been relegated to the regional level only. That being the case, “the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all” loses its application to Rome. Now, Rome has been given “authority”. To be sure, the extent of that authority has not been defined and, at first blush, it appears subject to further negotiation. Or does it? In a curious passage, the authors write: “While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West, there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised”. That is tantamount to saying that total authority is vested in the bishop of Rome but its exercise sola papa may not always be helpful (Cf. 1 Corin. 10:23 [“All things are lawful for me; but all things are not helpful.”]).

    The authors also add that there are differences in understanding “with regard to its [the authority’s] scriptural and theological foundations”. This is certainly meant to be seductive. Upon first and non-critical reading, a not uncommon reaction would be: “Finally! Our Orthodox representatives have not conceded that the protos papa’s authority has scriptural or theological support”. However, critical examination of the whole Ravenna Document reveals that the existence of the protos papa’s authority has been conceded. It is now only a matter of coming to agreement on whether it is based on Rome’s erroneous interpretation of Matthew 16:17-19 or on some other basis, such as, the Father’s monarchy within the Holy Trinity must inherently be emulated in a monarchical taxis (order) to be artificially imposed on the Bride of Christ.

    To those who might suggest that I am reading too much into the Ravenna Document, let me quote the last sentence of the section dealing with the universal level within the Church: “This distinction of levels does not diminish the sacramental equality of every bishop or the catholicity of each local Church”. My understanding of history of the early Church, of the teachings of the Holy Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, of 99 the Holy Apostolic Tradition, and of the Scriptures (Cf. John 20:22-23) is that all bishops are equal in all respects. However, the Ravenna Document represents an intolerable and uncanonical departure from this ancient normative rule. Reducing the “essence” of the equality of the episcopal office to the sacramental level alone is tantamount to ecclesial Arianism.

    In many ways, however, I do see the hand of the Phanar penning the Ravenna Document. Even a cursory visit to its website reveals, not so subliminally, a two-pope message. Its meddling in the Sourozh diocese, in the Ukraine, in Estonia and in the North American Greek Archdiocese, to name a few, evidences the lust for power which resides there. Its out-of-control reaction to the Ligonier conference reflects an intolerance that does not “preside in love”. It is obsessed with holding on to a patently erroneous interpretation of Chalcedonian Canon 28. And when Patriarch Alexei attempts to correct its error, it shamelessly boasts that the universality of its jurisdiction has been confirmed by the most august arbiter of such matters, the World Council of Churches, which, for all Orthodox according the Phanar, should forever end the debate!

    It has been known for some time that there is an urgent need for the assembling of the Great and Holy Council. The pre-conciliar commission, under the control of the Phanar, has dragged its feet for a long time. One of the impediments has been the lack of agreement on its composition. The Phanar insists that each local Church (autocephalous is meant) send only a representative or some representatives. This is contrary to the historical concept of an ecumenical council. However, it is certainly consistent with the spirit of the Ravenna Document.

    Ravenna reflects an outline of a universal Church where all bishops are only sacramentaly equal. It is only the regional protoi that are somewhat and superficially relevant at the universal level. In the East, which has regional Churches, the Phanar insists that it is the protos among the protoi. In the West, which does not have regional Churches, this is not an issue since there are no protoi in need of a protos. They have their pontifex maximus. What this all boils down to is, in the world of Ravenna, there are only two protoi at the universal level, one of the East and the other of the West, with Rome as the protos and the Phanar as the vice-protos. This duality of structure, far from reflecting or manifesting a Trinitarian ethos, is missing the Third Person.

    In anticipation of all of this, there has emerged from Rome in the last half of the last century a Codex for a united universal Church. Not surprisingly, the Eastern Question has been resolved in precisely this manner. The Phanar is supreme in the East as the protos of the East with Rome as pontifus maximus. The Ravenna Document is nothing more than the footings upon which to build the Codex’s foundation.

    Before we enter into the Church outlined in the Ravenna Document, let us all pause at the door, look above and make sure that there is not inscribed above the door the words that Dante foresaw: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”.

    © Nick Katich, Esq.
    On the week preceding the Sunday of the Last Judgment, 2008

  2. This is amazing! I am friends with Elpidophoros Lambriniadis. Every time I bring things up to him about the seeming worldliness of the Patriarch he chastises me in a hurt tone for criticizing from my comfort holy men who are doing their best from a position of danger and discomfort. I wish I could send him this writing and others from this site but he won’t listen because he feels he has moral high ground because of his Patriarch’s suffering. I even told him that all Orthodox Christians would love him like a father if he only resided in love rather than pandered to the World Council of Churches and puresecuted true Orthodox Christians. I didn’t get through to him.

    Of course Bishop Hilarion has explicitly rejected the “Constantinople as Eastern Pope” language. He refuses to sign any document that say the Eastern Orthodox Church is family of local churches in communion with New Rome in the same way that the Roman Catholic Church is the family of local churches in communion with Old Rome.

    • Geo Michalopulos :

      Ryan, with all do respect to your esteemed friend, it doesn’t seem like to me that worldly bishops and clerics are “hurting” or in a “position of danger and discomfort.” That is disingenuous talk at best. He appears to me to be a hypocrite. If he is “courageous” in taking on global warming, he could just as easily be courageous in taking on the culture of death. Believe me, Pope +Benedict has no qualms about doing so. And let us not forget that priests and people within his own church are throwing brickbats at him for his courageous stands. Enough of this “poor, poor, pitiful me.” Either man up and be a bishop or step aside and let somebody else do it. The martyrs bear witness…

  3. Lastly, I think we need to seriously consider preparing a counter council to put to rights the turmoil that would be if the Great and Holy Council ended up being heretical, which St Justin Popovich thought it would be. It seems as though this council is bent on overturning our cannons, relaxing our pastoral and liturgical rites which are for our healing, and reuniting us with the heretics before they have truly become Orthodox again. Here is my proposed Counter Agenda, which, as you can see is in the opposite order from the official one.

    The agenda in order of importance:

    (I) The Church is One : The Heresy of Ecumenism : Preconditions of Reaproachment : Call to Orthodox Missions
    1. The ecumenical movement is a heresy which does not aknowledge the uniqueness of the Orthodox Church as the One Holy Church
    2. Reafermation that the Orthodox is the One Holy Church
    3. The relation of the Orthodox Churches to the non-Orthodox Christian world
    4. Pastoral and connonical preconditions for reaproachment and reconciliation with a) Armenian Orthodox, b) Coptic Orthodox, c) Old Catholic, d) Roman Catholic, e) Anglican & Methodist, f) Historic Protestant (i.e. Lutheran & Reformed), g) Baptist, Anabaptist, & Charismatic.
    5. The relation of the Orthodox Churches to the non-Christian world
    6. Exhortation for a greater evangelistic zeal and love for souls expressed in commitment to missions to those of all faiths
    7. Invitation to those of all faiths to come home to the Orthodox Church and be united to the Body of Christ

    (II) The Kingdom of God & Chiliasm
    1. Chiliasm, Escatology, & Way of the Cross
    2. The kingdom comes not goes, yet it comes as a spiritual kingdom and spreads through the power of the cross which is humiliating weakness.
    3. Exhortation for a greater evangelistic zeal & Gospel Optimism in the area of Missions
    4. Incarnational Ecology / Stewardship of Creation & Ethics of Modern Technology. Related to Incarnation & Escatology. Avoids worldly and leftist ideology.

    (III) Liturgical & Pastoral Life of the Church
    1. The Error of Minimalsm for the sake of modern cultural accomidation & conformity
    2. Reafermation of traditional liturgical forms and their spiritual significance and necessity as counter-cultural forces in a pagan world.
    3. The need for cultural Coorespondence in missional circumstances, not accommodation.
    4. The necesity of reappropreating full laity participation as a singing laity, dangers of liturgy as “religious show” and priest as “profesional Christian.”
    5. Exortation to inner & vital spiritual life in addition to outward forms. Condemnation of each without the other.
    6. The New Calendar. Recomendation that we choose one or the other for now, and use it for both movable and imovable calendars. Condemnation of modern ecumnism and non-Orthodox reaproachment.
    7. Traditional marriage impediments for ordained clergy to remain consitant with the teachings of the Holy Fathers
    8. Revision of fasting unnecessary. Fasting prescriptions to remain consitant with the teachings of the Holy Fathers. Necesity of keeping the high standard for all Orthodox and the danger of self-congradulation which accompanies lower expectations.

    (IV) Diaspora & Cannonical Order
    1. Primacy of Honor previously defined at Chalcedon reafirmed, role of EP more clearly defined (i.e. limited).
    2. The Orthodox Diaspora, definition, does it include the Americas and other parts of the world unknown or unconsidered in the 7th century. Can there be such a thing as a Diaspora for Orthodox Christians for whom the eschatological Kingdom of God is their home, not any earthly nation.
    3. Autocephaly and how it should be proclaimed, either by an Ecumenical Council, or (prefered) granted by mother churches when necesary preconditions are met, aknowledged by EP & world Orthodoxy.
    4. Autonomy and how it should be proclaimed, same as above.
    5. the Diptychs or order of precedence of the Churches in Liturgical Commemorations.

  4. Ryan: It is obvious that the Phanar’s agenda is to get a settlement with Rome based on the “two pope” concept based on the “two lung” theory, which Ignatius and Cyprian would find heretical and would not have hesitated in breaking communion with its adherents.

    Tell Elpidophoros Lambriniadis that there are mnany who do not sympathize with the long suffering of the Phanar. God gave us free will and it is the Phanar’s choice to remain in Istanbul under the conditions within which it exits. It can leave and many of us would welcome that exercise of its will. To the extent that the preservation of a place, any place, is deemed too “sacred” to abandon, then I submit that, at best it is foolishness and at worst it is idolatry. As the first archdeacon Stephen Stephen before his martyrdom said, to paraphrase, there is no single place where God is to be worshiped, since all places on earth are appropriate.

    Tell Elpidophoros Lambriniadis that likewise the “spiritual” leader of Orthodoxy cab exist anywhere where his free will can be exercised without his being a Turkish citizen under the domination of the Turkish state and without him having to subsist by garnering the support of the West be compromising on issues of abortion, etc. God save him and us from temptations of idolatry. The whole history of the Old testament should be our warning call. No place is sacred or indispensable. Only God is indispensable. Glory to Him alone.

  5. Sorry for the typos. I am still struggling with a new blackberry keyboard.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Nick, use the inside corner of your thumbnail instead of the whole thumb. Works great. I cleaned up your text.

  6. Geo Michalopulos :

    you’re forgiven Nick. and 100% correct.

  7. Believe me, I have tried to politely point out some of the “apparent” contradictions that you and I both perceive. I am not sure if his dismissals are genuine (if he really feels his patriarch is persecuted and “doing the best he can”) or the work of a subtle mind who thinks the best way to dismiss criticism is through shame. It always works. It is hard to argue with Orthodox brothers when 1) I don’t feel comfortable arguing with Orthodox brothers, 2) he immediately takes the high ground. He is always right and misunderstood.

    He says: Ecumenism is just dialogue and and dialogue never hurt anyone… the Earth is sacred and HAH is calling us to stewardship… Is HAH supposed to refuse invitations from his rich friends… HAH is not personally attacking you, whose wife gets ill every year from living in a cold drafty house, but the corrupt corporate capitalist system.

    It is hypocrisy, like the ultra rich backers of the liberal nanny state who say things like “our system is utterly failed, we just don’t know it yet,” while earning billions of dollars through capitalism or a movie maker saying capitalism is evil and then fails to give the film away for free.

    I think I will send him that remark about Mother Teresa. In my opinion, HAH is a disgrace. God forgive me if I am wrong. But compared objectively with Pope Benedict and Mother Teresa, HAH is less Orthodox. It is such a shame for us that I would consider converting to the Roman Catholic church except I was reading in a RC missal about how to earn so many hundreds of years off of purgatory for reading certain prayers. It is so legalistic. Fr John Romanidies convinced me of his view of history. But either way we are being shamed.

    And we need to consider how to counter act the coming heretical council.

  8. Ryan:

    “Ecumenism is just dialogue and and dialogue never hurt anyone.” When I was growing up, my parish priest once told me that the tongue commits more sins than all of our other actions put together. Dialogue can hurt someone — one’s self, especially if the dialogue, in this context, leads to compromising statements that diminishes our true witness. Please remind your Istanbul friend that St. Ignatius once wrote in his Epistle to the Ephesians that, “the more a bishop remains silent, the more he ought to be revered” — sound words that teach that without long and thoughtful analysis and true discernment before action is a more sure path in trekking towards the truth.

    Methinks that the Phanar talks too much.

  9. George Michalopulos :

    …and protesteth too much. If you ask me, Lambrianides’ self-victimization sounds quite effeminate and childish.

Care to Comment?