The final document from Ravenna session of the mixed commission for dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox represents a “solid base for future dialogue”, a working session which followed its regular course despite the withdrawal of the delegation from the Moscow Patriarchate due to the presence of the Estonian Church which they do not recognise.
This however did not impede “significant progress” according to Fr. Dimitri Salachas, professor of Canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University and Catholic member of the Commission.
“Among other things – Fr. Salachas said– the final document refers to the fact that the bishop of Rome, having the primacy of love, as defined by Ignatius of Antioch, was first in the order of the 5 patriarchates (Roma, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, was the pentarchia).
There remains however disaccord among Catholics and Orthodox regarding the interpretation to be given to the competences of the bishop of Rome, as first in the hierarchy, during the first millennium of the united universal Church. Collegiality, as it was exercised during the first millennium, comprises an active role for Rome, which however presupposes the condescendence of the other patriarchs, so that a decision may take on an ecumenical nature.
From a historical point of view, the tow Churches opinion converges on the position that the bishop of Rome had within the Pentarchia during the first millennium, but the historical evolution and the dogmatic formation of the pope in the west during the second millennium are unknown in the Eastern Church and as a result they are not accepted, in so far as they are considered outside the traditions of the universal Church”.
They seem to be very distant positions.
I believe that these issues are not irresolvable, if both are considered in the prismatic light of collegiality.
A synod of bishops has no sense without a primus, just as a primus has no sense without a synod.
On the other hand the Church of Rome is seeking other means of exercising the authority of the bishop of Rome, accepted by all those both within and outside the Catholic Church.
Perhaps this may help contribute to the dialogue. It also needs to be made clear that for the Catholic Church, papal primacy is also a theological question, in other words based on the New Testament.
But I believe that this too can be overcome if it is read in the light of apostolic collegiality.
The Moscow Patriarchate maintains that its absence from the working session detracts all validity from decisions made by the Commission.
The absence of the Russians, I believe, will probably create some complications, but on the other hand it was accepted by all that the non participation of an Orthodox Church, does not constitute an obstacle for the progress of dialogue.
Historically it must be underlined that the Church in Estonia was made autonomous by Constantinople in 1923 and was annexed to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1945, following the Soviet occupation of Estonia, and without Constantinople’s agreeing to it.
Moscow also has issues with Constantinople, maintaining that the Ecumenical Patriarchate aims to take on a “papal” role within the Orthodox Church.
In the canonical tradition of synods and in the eastern cultural mentality there has never been a centralised model of ecclesiastical authority.
The prerogatives attributed to the Patriarchal See of Constantinople, both in order and in honour, have always been recognised by all of the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine traditions, right from the very first ecumenical synods.
In fact even in the liturgical dictates, all of the patriarchs and the leaders of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches are recalled with at the very head the “Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch”.
Obviously there have been both in the Ecumenical Patriarchate and as well as in the other Orthodox Churches, personalities of great prestige who have served unity and the pan-Orthodox witness above all in particular moments of Orthodox history.
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