Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Bartholomew’s offensive against “localism” and “self-marginalisation”

Bartholomew IThe Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, has convoked a surprise meeting of the patriarchs and archbishops of all the Orthodox Churches at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul this coming March. 

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the guidelines and timeframe for the Preparatory Commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod which is scheduled to take place in 2015. 

Nat da Polis revealed this in an article published by AsiaNews, in which he explains the underlying attempt on the part of Patriarch Bartholomew to bring the Orthodox Churches out of their isolation. 

“Orthodox circles see this as an attempt to move beyond a self-marginalization born of a localist mentality that has characterized the Orthodox Churches in the modern era, partly because of a certain post- Ottoman filettism (nationalism),” Da Polis writes. 

The meeting is intended as an opportunity for Constantinople to remind all Orthodox Churches that they cannot face the emergencies presented by globalisation without common initiatives.

By speeding up preparations for the “Great and Holy Council”, Bartholomew aims to reaffirm his positions as first among equals, among the other Orthodox Patriarchs that is. 

For decades the Orthodox world has been desperately trying to form an ecclesial axis to deal with the problems that the Orthodox Churches face in today’s world. 

Backing Bartholomew is the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, co-chairman of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox considered by many to be the greatest living Christian theologian. He has been warning against the risk of “introversion” in the Orthodox world for a long time. He believes Orthodox Churches need a large-scale synodal event like the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council in order to avoid withdrawing into ghettos and becoming self-marginalised. 

In his book Orthodoxy in the Modern World Zizioulas wrote that the greatest danger faced not just by Orthodoxy but by the whole Christian world, “is not atheism, secular power in general or its various enemies” but “any escape from the historical reality and the continuing search for identity exclusively in the past.” This is especially common among men of the Church who are overcome by a “narcissist self-satisfaction that only leads to sterile confrontations.”

The messages and gestures of the current Bishop of Rome seem to have had a domino effect, stimulating the Orthodox Churches to reflect on their situation. Patriarch Bartholomew immediately grasped the ecumenical possibilities that opened up with the arrival of the new Pope. His attendance at the inaugural mass for the start of Francis’ Petrine ministry and at next May’s meeting between the successors to the apostles Peter and Andrew in Jerusalem are signs of a journey that has only just begun and which promises progress on an unimaginable scale. 

But the Argentinean Pope’s new modus operandi is also influencing the Russian Orthodox Church. The sign of the cross and the kiss which Vladimir Putin and the Pope both offered to the icon of Our Lady of Tenderness when the Russian President visited the Vatican, left a deep imprint in the minds of the Russian Orthodox faithful. 

The leaders of the Russian orthodox Church, including Hilarion of Volokolamsk who was also received by Pope Francis, stressed that they wished to focus on engaging in dialogue over issues in which Catholicism and Orthodoxy share common ground such as the protection of moral values and the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, instead of the theological conflict between these Churches. 

At the end of December, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church said “niet” once again to the Ravenna document produced by the mixed Orthodox-Catholic theological Commission. The text attempted to come up with a formula for the theological doctrine of primacy that was acceptable to the Orthodox Churches as well.

The relations established with Pope Francis are giving new impetus to the discussions between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches which were never concluded. But this could unearth further contradictions that lie at the heart of the Orthodox faith. The image Bergoglio has been giving of himself as a shepherd who forsakes himself and is full of apostolic fervour, has been well received by Orthodox faithful as well.   

Inevitably, this leads one to draw comparisons with the Orthodox clergy, who in many cases indulge in a sense of self-satisfaction and see themselves as members of a privileged class. After the scandals over the road accidents caused by members of the clergy driving big SUVs, there is now huge controversy over the “gay lobby” which is allegedly active within the Moscow Patriarchate. The issue has been denounced by proto-deacon and blogger, Andrei Kuraev, and could take some unexpected turns.

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