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Friday, 6 November 2009

"Christ is the Head of the Church, not the Pope"

Metropolitan John of Pergamon, Co-Chairman of the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Catholics, at the 11th Plenary Session at Paphos, Cyprus. Left, Gennadios of Sassima. Right, Archbishop Chrysostom of Cyprus

On 16 October 2009, the Greek newspaper, Orthodox Press, carried this commentary on the Ravenna statement from the Joint International Commission for the the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, written by Metropolitan Paul of Kyrenia.

It is not clear whether it predates the response from Metropolitan John of Pergamon (John Zizioulas) to those Metropolitans of the Church of Greece who had openly criticised the Oecumenical Patriarchate (as though it were acting ultra vires) and by implication the involvement of Metropolitans John and Kallistos (Ware) without authority. Metropolitan John reminded the complaining hierarchs that the dialogue, and the terms on which it has been deliberating, were expressly authorised and proposed by the primates and Synods of all the participating Orthodox Churches together - including those of the Churches of Greece and Cyprus. See the letter of Metropolitan John Zizioulas here.

But it was meant as an argument the work and joint statement on progress in the Dialogue at its plenary meeting in Cyprus this October past.

Here is the Metropolitan of Kyrenia's critique (from the website calling itself the Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatie Enquiries):

"On the 8th to the 14th of October in 2007, the 10th plenary session of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics had convened in Ravenna of Italy. At the end of the session, a document was issued which included everything that was agreed upon and is known as the "Ravenna Document".


The basic error of the Ravenna Document is that the Orthodox members of the Joint International Commission of Orthodox and Roman Catholics had regarded their heterodox interlocutors as belonging to the same Church, thus giving the impression that between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholicism there actually exists an ecclesiological unity, albeit without the necessary theological prerequisites.

The attempt by members of the Orthodox Representation to suppress or bypass the dogmatic diversification between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy as something secondary is undermining the self-awareness of the Orthodox Church as the only true Church - which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - and is giving the impression that the Roman Catholics comprise a partial or local Orthodox Church.

Even though the interruption of sacramental intercommunion is attributed to the Roman Catholics' diversifications from the common Faith of the first centuries, nevertheless, in the Ravenna Document it is mutually confessed by both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic members of the Joint Commission that their faith is common. In this way, the discussion and settlement of organizational and administrative issues have been set forth, as, for example, the matter of the Pope's primacy, while the theological issues have been bypassed and left pending. As a consequence of this, the Ravenna document concluded with the statement that "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." (Ravenna Document, para.45)

It is therefore imperative that the serious dogmatic issues be discussed first, and furthermore, a framework be determined with the necessary prerequisites that should be based on Patristic criteria, which will ensure that the Dialogue will be conducted on a sound and immovable dogmatic basis and not on unstable secular grounds. It is only with persistence in the precision (akriveia) of the Orthodox dogma and the dogmatic teaching of the Orthodox Church that we can be certain we are working towards the re-induction of the strayed into Christ's Flock.

Upon examining the Document of the Coordinating Committee for the theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics, which was prepared in Crete in October 2008, with the title "The role of the Bishop of Rome in the communion of the Church during the first millennium" and which only recently reached us, the projection of the positions of the Roman Catholics is quite evident. The projection of the position that "...unity in variety was positively accepted at the Synod of Constantinople, which took place in 879-880" (Crete, para.32), reveals the ulterior motives of the Roman Catholics. They are preparing the backdrop for a Uniate-style union.

The Pope - whose See is regarded in the Crete Document as the "source of episcopal unity" (Crete, para.10) - appears as Christ's substitute, from whom everything flows forth, since - according to the words of Pope Gelasius: "The first See is judged by no-one" (EP.4, PL 58, 28B, Ep.13, PL 59, 64A) - (see Crete, para.11). Despite the attempt to present the absolute dominance of the Pope as a primacy of deaconship by projecting him as the "servant of servants" (Crete, para.14), nevertheless, the serious dogmatic slippages and the erroneous approach by the Orthodox Representatives on the issue of primacy cannot be concealed. "Being a Successor, the Pope becomes apostolic and also inherits the common element of inseparable unity between Christ and Peter" (Crete, para.17). How is it possible to accept that a Pope expresses the unity between Christ and the Apostle Peter? By persisting in the primacy of Peter (based on the words of the Lord that "you are Peter, and on this rock shall I build Me the Church" (Matthew 16:18)), they have misinterpreted the words of Christ, Who was referring to the "faith of that admission" (Chrysostom, On Matthew, 54, 2, PG 58,534) and not implying that specific Apostle as the rock. After all, both the rock and the cornerstone are the Lord Himself, according to His own words (Matthew 21:42).

While the papal institution scorns the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition and establishes absolutism (since the Pope, not Christ, appears to be the "source of episcopal unity" - Crete, para.10), it is evident that the composers of the Document are attempting to present the Pope as a defender of conciliarity in order to obviously calm the fears of the Orthodox and preclude any objections and reactions.

It is furthermore mentioned in the Crete Document that "the unity of the Episcopate and the Church are symbolized in the person of Peter" (Crete, para.10) and that "Peter speaks through the Bishop of Rome" (Crete, para.19). Why would the canonicity of the Church depend on Her relationship to the Pope? Why is it necessary for every local Church to agree with the church of Rome, instead of all the Churches agreeing together as one Body? The triple question posed by the Lord to the Apostle Peter was not intended as a conferral of a nonexistent primacy - for which he would have rejoiced - but was intended to heal Peter's triple denial - for which we should note "he was sorrowed" (John 21:17). "The triple denial was ostracized, by the benevolent Father's triple condescension", notes Saint Isidore Pelousiotes (†435). (Epistle 1, 103, PG 48, 632).

The anti-conciliar spirit of the Roman Catholics has no historical backing. The ancient Church has the Ecumenical Synod, not the Pope, as its supreme principal. The Ecumenical Councils were not convened by Popes, who, let it be noted, neither headed all of the Ecumenical Councils nor issued any dogmatic rulings for the entire Church (which were actually validated by all the local Churches). However, when the papal system was first proposed in theory, Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) had repulsed it. (Karmiris, Orthodoxy and Old Catholicism, B' Athens 1967, p.69). And yet, in the Crete Document is states that "no Synod was recognized as Ecumenical, without having received the consent of the Pope". (Crete, para.12).

The conclusion of the Crete Document, that "the first millennium, which was being studied during this stage of our dialogue, is about the common tradition of both our Churches", and that "in the basic theological and ecclesiological principles that have coincided here, this common tradition should serve as a model for the restoration of full communion" (Crete, para.32), should both raise concerns in us, inasmuch as the Orthodox members of the Commission are rushing ahead of things.

It is worth noting here that the administration of Ecclesiastic affairs - and more so when they pertain to the Orthodox Faith - cannot be left in the hands of appointed Professors or even Bishops, who may of course formally represent the local Orthodox Churches, but might nonetheless act on their own initiative by expressing their personal views because of a lack of synodical strategy on the part of their local Church. The avoidance of convening Synods, or, in cases where they are convened but the conveners are deprived of the ability to freely express their views and positions, or, the delayed briefing of the responsible parties of the special Committees for the preparation of various proposals to the Holy Synod needed for decision-making, all constitute deviations from the synodical system of administration of the Church and do not secure the ability to shape Orthodox positions. Furthermore, the attempted imposition of an externally designed guideline also undermines ecclesiastic order.

The attempts by the theologians representing the Orthodox Church to characterize Roman Catholicism as a Church is a provocation to the Orthodox sentiment."

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