Two stories this week show that the cause of ecumenism is not universally embraced (in case you didn’t know): John Allen’s report on the declaration of the Mt Athos Monks against Orthodoxy’s involvement in ecumenism, and Cardinal Biffi’s “reflections” for the Pope’s Lenten Retreat. The net result of both these stories is that I was inundated with cat-calls of “Anti-Christ!” everywhere I went in the Archdiocesan offices on Friday!
The monks of Mt Athos are universally recognised to be quite mad, but in this case, they are at least in part, spot on in two of their criticisms:
1) That (from the Orthodox perspective) the Pope ought not to be received by Orthodox Patriarchs “as though he were a canonical bishop of Rome”, since “only Orthodox prelates carry legitimate episcopal authority”. This follows from the fact that although the Catholic Church acknowledges the canonical validity of the bishops of the Orthodox Churches, the Orthodox Churches have not altered their negative judgement on the canonical validity of the Catholic episcopate.
2) That Orthodox Churches ought not to be using the term “Sister Churches” in the context of Orthodox/Catholic relations, since “‘Sister churches’ are only the local Orthodox Churches sharing the same faith.” Here they are in complete agreement with Mons. Garuti, whose essay on the use of the term “Sister Churches” is appended to his book “The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Dialogue”. I have discussed this elsewhere. What needs to be said at this point is that, although for different reasons, both Orthodox and Catholic theologians are uneasy with the use of the term “Sister Churches” in theologically unhelpful ways.
Thus, although they could have made their statements with a little more Christian charity, these rather bad tempered statements about ecclesiology on the part of the monks of Mt Athos actually do us all a favour. They tell us to take a deep breath and be a little bit patient in regard to prospects for Catholic / Orthodox unity. Of course, with regard to their historical grievances (“the Crusades, the Inquisition, the slave trade and colonialism”), they are completely mad. They may once have been justified in resenting the West for these various attrocities, but the West has repented and done penance for all them them, and it reasonable that the Orthodox Churches should find it in their Christian hearts to extend the grace of absolution.
Now we come to Cardinal Biffi. For a bit of background on the Cardinal, see Cooees from the Cloister. True to form, he is on about the Anti-Christ again. He quotes a passage about “tiny groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants” being “chased by the AntiChrist”, in a passage from the work of Vladimir Solovyev, a 19th-century Russian philosopher, which sounds very similar to the stuff of the “Left Behind” series.
But he also claims that the AntiChirst will be “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”. Curious, because if these causes are in fact “anti-Christ”, that would make Christ a promoter of violence, an exploiter of his Father’s creation, and a lover of disunity among his people.
I actually agree with the Cardinal when he says that “today, in fact, we run the risk of having a Christianity that puts Jesus with his cross and resurrection into parentheses”, I certainly support him in his insistence that “Christ is the truth, beauty and justice”. He is also right in saying that an error is committed when one absolutises “solidarity, love for peace and respect for nature”, rather than seeing them as “relative” values in the light of the Resurrection of Christ. BUT he errs if he sees these values to be at odds with the Evangelical proclamation of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. It is, rather, because of the Resurrection that Christians are committed to peace, environmental stewardship and unity between all the baptised.