A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

A Russian Orthodox View of Papacy, and More

Part 1

Interview With Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

VIENNA, Austria, 6 NOV. 2006 (ZENIT)

Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox can be fruitful, though many hurdles still exist on the road to Eucharistic communion, says a leading prelate.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, commented in this interview on Benedict XVI's forthcoming visit to Turkey, as well as on other topics.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.

Q: Soon Pope Benedict XVI will visit Turkey, because he wants to strengthen the bonds between Rome and Constantinople. What is the significance of this journey as to the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue?

Bishop Alfeyev: It is to be hoped that this visit will further improve the relations between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople. These two churches broke communion with one another in 1054, therefore it makes them especially responsible to restore unity.

In speaking about the possible impact of this meeting on Orthodox-Catholic relations as a whole, one should remember that the Orthodox Church, insofar as its structure is concerned, is significantly different from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Church has no single primate. It consists of 15 autocephalous churches, each headed by its own patriarch, archbishop or metropolitan.

In this family of Churches the patriarch of Constantinople is "primus inter pares," but his primacy is that of honor, not of jurisdiction, since he has no ecclesial authority over the other Churches. When, therefore, he is presented as the "head" of the Orthodox Church worldwide, it is misleading. It is equally misleading when his meeting with the Pope of Rome is considered to be a meeting of the heads of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Historically, until the schism of 1054, it was the Bishop of Rome who enjoyed a position of primacy among the heads of the Christian Churches. The canons of the Eastern Church — in particular, the famous 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon — ascribe the second, not the first place, to the patriarch of Constantinople.

Moreover, the ground on which this second place was granted to the patriarch of Constantinople was purely political: Once Constantinople became "the second Rome," capital of the Roman — Byzantine — Empire, it was considered that the bishop of Constantinople should occupy the second seat after the Bishop of Rome.

After the breach of communion between Rome and Constantinople, the primacy in the Eastern Orthodox family was shifted to the "second in line," i.e., the patriarch of Constantinople. Thus it was by historical accident that he became "primus inter pares" for the Eastern part of the world Christendom.

I believe that, alongside with contacts with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, it is equally important for the Roman Catholic Church to develop bilateral relations with other Orthodox Churches, notably with the Russian Orthodox Church. The latter, being the second largest Christian Church in the world — its membership comprises some 160 million believers worldwide — is eager to develop such relations, especially in the field of common Christian witness to secularized society.

Q: Do you think that this journey will open new horizons for the talks between the Christian and the Muslim worlds?

Bishop Alfeyev: Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is necessary and timely. It is quite unfortunate that some attempts by Christian leaders to encourage this dialogue have been misinterpreted by certain representatives of the Muslim world.

The recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's academic lecture in Regensburg is a vivid example of such a misinterpretation. The aggressive reaction of a number of Muslim politicians, as well as of many ordinary followers of Islam, has been regarded by some observers as overly exaggerated.

Some analysts asked: Are we not moving toward a world dictatorship of Muslim ideology, when every critical observation of Islam — even within the framework of an academic lecture — is brutally and aggressively opposed, while criticism of other religions, especially Christianity, is permitted and encouraged?

I should add, perhaps, that several theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church, even those normally critical of the Roman Catholic Church, expressed their support for Pope Benedict XVI when the controversy over his Regensburg lecture broke out. They felt that what he said was important, although, indeed, it was not quite in tune with modern unwritten rules of political correctness.

Q: The Pope did away with the title "Patriarch of the Occident." What does this gesture mean? Is there any ecumenical meaning to it?

Bishop Alfeyev: Well, I was the first Orthodox hierarch that happened to comment on this gesture. Several weeks later, official comments were also made by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In my remarks I argued that repudiation of the title "Patriarch of the Occident" is likely to be considered by the Orthodox as confirming the claim, reflected in the pope's other titles, to universal Church jurisdiction.

Among the many designations of the Pontiff, that of "Bishop of Rome" remains the most acceptable for the Orthodox Churches, since it points to the Pope's role as diocesan bishop of the city of Rome.

A title such as "Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province" shows that the Pope's jurisdiction includes not only the city of Rome, but also the province.

"Primate of Italy" indicates that the Bishop of Rome is "first among equals" among the bishops of Italy, i.e., using Orthodox language, primate of a local Church. Following this understanding, none of the three titles would pose a problem for the Orthodox in the event of a re-establishment of Eucharistic communion between East and West.

The main obstacle to ecclesial unity between East and West, according to many Orthodox theologians, is the teaching on the universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. Within this context — unacceptable and even scandalous, from the Orthodox point of view — are precisely those titles that remain in the list, such as Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.

According to Orthodox teaching, Christ has no "vicar" to govern the universal Church in his name.

The title "Successor of the Prince of the Apostles" refers to the Roman Catholic doctrine on the primacy of Peter which, when passed on to the Bishop of Rome, secured for him governance over the universal Church. This teaching has been criticized in Orthodox polemical literature from Byzantine time onward.

The title "Supreme Pontiff" — "Pontifex Maximus" — originally belonged to the pagan emperors of ancient Rome. It was not rejected by the Emperor Constantine when he converted to Christianity.

With respect to the Pope of Rome, "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" is a designation that points to the Pope's universal jurisdiction — a level of authority which is not recognized by the Orthodox Churches. It is precisely this title that should have been dropped first, had the move been motivated by the quest for "ecumenical progress" and desire for the amelioration of Catholic-Orthodox relations. ZE06110620
 


Part 2

Interview With Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

VIENNA, Austria, 7 NOV. 2006 (ZENIT)

Catholics and Orthodox should establish a "strategic alliance" for the defense of Christian values in Europe, says an Eastern prelate.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, made this suggestion, and others, in this interview on topics linked to ecumenism.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.

Q: Benedict XVI is looking for the "full and visible unity" of all Christians — a unity which man cannot "create," but which he may encourage, through his own conversion, through concrete gestures and an open dialogue about fundamental topics. On the basis of which topics can Orthodoxy and Rome strengthen their bonds? How should they be put into praxis?

Bishop Alfeyev: I believe, first of all, that it is necessary to identify several levels of collaboration and then to work for better understanding at each level.

One level relates to the theological conversations that are pursued by the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Commission. These conversations are and will be focused on the dogmatic and ecclesiological disparities between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church.

At this level I can predict many years of exhaustive and difficult work, especially when we come to the issue of universal primacy. Complications will arise not only because of the very different understanding of primacy between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, but also from the fact that there is no unanimous understanding of universal primacy among the Orthodox themselves.

This fact already became evident during the recent session of the Commission in Belgrade, and the internal disagreement within the family of the Orthodox Churches on this particular issue will be manifested in ways more acute and striking in the future. Thus, a long and thorny path lies ahead.

There is, however, another level to which we should set our sights, and here I mean not so much what divides as what unites us. To be specific, this is the level of cooperation in the field of Christian mission.

Personally, I believe that it is quite premature and unrealistic to expect restoration of full Eucharistic communion between East and West in the foreseeable future. Nothing, however, prevents us, both Catholics and Orthodox, from witnessing Christ and his Gospel together to the modern world. We may not be united administratively or ecclesiastically, but we must learn to be partners and allies in the face of common challenges: militant secularism, relativism, atheism, or a militant Islam.

It is for this reason that, since the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I have repeatedly called for the fostering of ties between the Catholics and the Orthodox Churches through the creation of a strategic alliance for the defense of Christian values in Europe. Neither the word "strategic" nor "alliance" has so far been commonly accepted to describe a collaboration such as this.

For me, it is not words that matter but rather the connotation behind them. I used the word "alliance" not in the sense of a "Holy Alliance," but rather as it is employed for "The World Alliance of Reformed Churches," i.e., as a term designating collaboration and partnership without full administrative or ecclesial unity.

I also wanted to avoid pointedly ecclesial terms such as "union," because they will remind the Orthodox of Ferrara-Florence and other similar unfortunate attempts at achieving ecclesial unity without full doctrinal agreement.

Neither an ecclesial "union" nor a hasty doctrinal compromise is needed now, but rather a "strategic" cooperation in the sense of developing a common strategy to combat all the challenges of modernity.

The rationale behind my proposal is this: Our churches are on their way to unity, but one has to be pragmatic and recognize that it will probably take decades, if not centuries, before unity is restored.

In the meantime we desperately need to address the world with a united voice. Without being one Church, could we not act as one Church? Could we not present ourselves to secular society as a unified body?

I strongly believe that it is possible for the two Churches to speak with one voice; there can be a united Catholic-Orthodox response to the challenges of secularism, liberalism and relativism. Also in the dialogue with Islam, Catholics and Orthodox can act together.

I should add that any rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox will in no way undermine those existing mechanisms of ecumenical cooperation that include also Anglicans and Protestants, such as the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches.

However, in the struggle against secularism, liberalism and relativism, as well as in the defense of traditional Christian values, the Roman Catholic Church takes a much more uncompromising stand than many Protestants. In doing so it distances itself from those Protestants whose positions are more in tune with modern developments.

The recent liberalization of doctrine and morality in many Protestant communities, as well as within the Anglican Church, makes cooperation between them and the Churches of Tradition, to which belong both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, ever more difficult.

Yet another level of Catholic-Orthodox cooperation would be that of cultural exchange between the representatives of the two Churches. Many misunderstandings that exist between us have a purely cultural origin.

Better knowledge of each other's cultural heritage would definitely foster our rapprochement. Icon exhibitions, choir concerts, joint literary projects, various conferences on cultural subjects — all this can help us overcome centuries-old prejudices and better understand each other's traditions.

Q: In his letter to the Pope on February 22, the patriarch of Moscow mentions some challenges of the modern world, which should be solved together, and his deep wish to bring back Christian values to society. How can forces be joined, so that the dangers of materialism, consumerism, agnosticism, secularism and relativism could be overcome?

Bishop Alfeyev: These questions were raised during the conference "Giving a Soul to Europe" that took place in Vienna on May 3-5, 2006. The conference was organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Some 50 participants representing the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches gathered together in order to ponder on the challenges facing Christianity in Europe and to develop ways of collaboration in facing them.

It is precisely materialism, consumerism, agnosticism, secularism and relativism, all based on liberal humanist ideology, that constitute a real challenge to Christianity. And it is this liberal humanist ideology that we must counteract if we wish to preserve traditional values for ourselves and for our future generations.

Today Western liberal humanist ideology, standing on the platform of its own, self-made universality, imposes itself on people who have been raised in other spiritual and moral traditions and have different value systems. These people see in the total dictate of Western ideology a threat to their identity.

The evidently anti-religious character of modern liberal humanism brings about non-acceptance and rejection by those whose behavior is religiously motivated and whose spiritual life is founded on religious experience.

There exist several variations on the religious response to the challenges of totalitarian liberalism and militant secularism. The most radical answer has been given by Islamic extremists, who have declared jihad against "post-Christian" Western civilization with all of its so-called common human values.

The phenomenon of Islamic terrorism cannot be understood without full appreciation of the reaction that has arisen in the contemporary Islamic world as a result of attempts in the West to impose its worldview and behavioral standards on it.

So long as the secularized West continues to lay claim to a worldwide monopoly on worldviews, propagating its standards as being without alternative and obligatory for all nations, the sword of Damocles of terrorism will continue to hang above the whole of Western civilization.

Another variation on the religious response to the challenge of secularism is the attempt that is being made to adapt religion itself, including its doctrine and morals, to modern liberal standards.

Some Protestant communities have already gone down this path by having instilled liberal standards into their teaching and church practice over the course of several decades. The result of this process has been an erosion of the dogmatic and moral foundations of Christianity, with priests being allowed to justify or conduct "same-sex marriages," members of the clergy themselves entering into such liaisons, and theologians rewriting the Bible and creating countless versions of politically correct Christianity oriented toward liberal values.

Finally, the third variation on the religious response to secularism is the attempt to enter into a peaceful, non-aggressive dialogue with it, with the aim of achieving a balance between the liberal-democratic model of Western societal structure and the religious way of life. Such a path has been chosen by Christian Churches that have remained faithful to tradition, namely the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Today both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches have the capability to conduct dialogue with secularized society at a high intellectual level. In the social doctrines of both Churches, the problems concerning dialogue with secular humanism on the matter of values have been profoundly examined from all angles.

The Roman Catholic Church has dealt with these questions in many documents of the magisterium, the most recent of which being the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, compiled by the Pontifical Commission "Justitia et Pax" and published in 2004.

In the Orthodox tradition the most significant document of this kind is the "Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church," published in 2000.

Both documents promote the priority of religious values over the interests of secular life. In opposing atheist humanism, they foster instead a humanism guided by spiritual values.

By this is meant a humanism "that is up to the standards of God's plan of love in history," an "integral humanism capable of creating a new social, economic and political order, founded on the dignity and freedom of every human person, to be brought about in peace, justice and solidarity."

Comparison between the two documents reveals striking similarities in the social doctrines of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. If our understanding of social issues is so similar, why can we not join forces in order to defend it?

I believe the time has come for all Christians who choose to follow the traditional line, notably the Catholics and the Orthodox, to form a common front in order to combat secularism and relativism, to conduct responsible dialogue with Islam and the other major world religions, and to defend Christian values against all challenges of modernity. In 20, 30 or 40 years it may simply be too late. ZE06110729
 

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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