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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Eastern Catholic Spiritual Renewal: The Byzantine Pope

In speaking once about the Church, the Great Melkite Patriarch, of Blessed Memory, Maximos IV made the criticism that Roman Catholics tend to, “limit their vision to the Latin discipline and Church, as if the Eastern discipline and Church were exceptions”. In my experience, I could say that this has also been a problem for a great many of Eastern Catholics. It seems that there is a prevailing confusion on just what Catholic means. So much so, that Pope Francis recently had to stress that being Catholic does not mean that we are all the same. The difficulty here, for many Byzantine Catholics, is the fear of fully accepting the differences found in our spiritual patrimony. For some, accepting the differences means that they will no longer be Catholic because they will accepting something that’s different from the Latin tradition. What they don’t realize is that they are working against what the very essence of Catholicism by maintaining such a position. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “the union they have already achieved with the Church of Rome must not cause the Eastern Catholic Churches to lose an awareness of their own authenticity and originality”.

When it comes to the differences, in our Catholic traditions, Eastern Catholics find themselves in an important place. In this regard, His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III of the Melkite Catholic church says that Eastern Catholics, “have to speak up, to discover the real Eastern ecclesiology and to develop it, and help the Western mentality to mature in that regard”. This Western mentality that he speaks of came into existence by the many divisions that the Roman church experienced in the last 1000yrs. Consequently, being the central church of history it went on to identify itself as the only true one, which in turn led to Roman Catholics understanding their tradition as superior to all others. As a result, those Eastern churches that wished to continue or reestablish their communion with Rome were pressured into becoming like the Roman church. It is this very pressure or mentality that prevails to this day. To this end, Eastern Catholics need to bring healing to this mentality. This is done by being 100% faithful to our traditions and at the same time fully committed to our communion with the Roman church.

On this topic, the biggest issue that I have experienced is how some of the Eastern Churches understand the ministry of the pope. In the Byzantine Catholic tradition our communion with the Pope of Rome is based on the tradition that he is the First amongst Equals. For example, His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III teaches the following about the papacy, “With all respect for the Petrine office, the patriarchal office is equal to it”. This position of course is not acceptable to the Western mentality that I mentioned. In fact, my own priest has been accused of heresy when sharing this position with Roman Catholics. The truth is, the ministry of Pope is something that can receive further development and such development is not isolated to the Latin tradition. Blessed John Paul the Great himself said to the Patriarch of Constantinople that there was a need to seek together the way in which the Petrine ministry could serve all. Based on this, its justifiable to say that the Latin tradition does not have exclusive rights in developing this ministry that belongs to the whole Church. As the Melkite bishops at the Vatican II council said, concerning the dogma of papal primacy-infallibility, ”the overriding duty of encouraging the unity of the Church must, on the contrary, impel us to want an Eastern formulation of this dogma”.

So is a Byzantine understanding of the ministry of the Pope acceptable? The last few popes were open to further development, so we need not be afraid of what our tradition has to offer. I have the firm conviction that if we remain faithful to our traditions we will eventually see the ministry of the pope healing the divisions that we see today. By saying this, I can’t emphasize more just how important it is for us to be faithful to what makes us Byzantine. As Pope Francis said, "We are not all the same and we shouldn't all be the same, .... Each person has his or her own gifts, qualities and character, which is one of the beauties of the church -- everyone brings what God has given him or her to enrich the others." What God has given our Byzantine tradition is for the mutual enrichment of the whole Church and there is no part of the Church that is closed to such enrichment, not even the papacy.

Eastern Catholic Spiritual Renewal: The Byzantine Pope
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