Christian Unity and the East-West Divide

Author: ZENIT


Christian Unity and the East-West Divide

Part 1

Interview With Bishop Brian Farrell


To avoid an East-West conflict it is necessary for all Christians to unite, says the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Brian Farrell, who represented the Holy See at the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Brazil, addresses the topic of ecumenism. Part 2 of this interview appears Monday.

Q: A priority of Benedict XVI is to work for Christian unity. What are the specifics of this goal?

Bishop Farrell: It means to serve Christ, who, the night before he died, prayed that his disciples be one, as he and the Father are one. Because of this, the division that exists at present in the Church must be surmounted.

It is a priority of the Church, of the Pope and of all of us, because we cannot consider it as a merely secondary task; it is essential for the Church, which must give witness so that the world will believe. This is what Christ said — "united so that the world will believe."

Q: The Pope will meet in Turkey in November with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, who has invited him to visit his see. What does this mean from the ecumenical point of view?

Bishop Farrell: For some time, we have had a very positive and very cordial relationship with the ecumenical patriarch.

In a certain sense, it is a gesture of recognition and of fraternal love that the Pope goes to meet him in Constantinople.

The patriarch came to Rome on several occasions to visit Pope John Paul II. Now Benedict XVI goes, as John Paul II also did in the first year of his pontificate.

Q: The present work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is focused on promoting union with the Orthodox churches. What is still lacking to achieve this unity?

Bishop Farrell: There are serious difficulties, the result of 1,000 years of division. One thousand years is a long time. And, over the course of the last thousand years, the East and the West have developed differently, with different perceptions and with different doctrinal formulations.

All these things must be examined as a whole, to show that the differences are few, and what divides us today is almost a psychological perception — I would say — cultural, more than a profound theological reason.

However, we do have one specific problem. I am not saying that it is difficult, but it will require an enormous effort on both sides. I am referring to the way of exercising the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

In a certain sense, the Orthodox could recognize him, but the way in which the primacy of Peter has been exercised in the West is not exactly the same as it was exercised in the East during the first millennium. That is why a way must be found.

In his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint," number 95, Pope John Paul II invites Orthodox churches, Catholic theologians and all in general to think of the way in which this primacy may be exercised in an acceptable manner for them, in the service of unity and love.

Q: We witness an East-West division based on the wave of violence staged by the publication of the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. Can the promotion of Christian unity in the East and West be a point of departure for work, so that this division of the world is not extended?

Bishop Farrell: It is certainly necessary that Christians speak and collaborate in only one language. Otherwise, they will be unable to give a common testimony and will not be able to respond to the anxieties of the Muslim world and of the world in general.

Because of this, it is necessary that we Christians make an effort to be more united, so that we are able to participate in the interreligious dialogue, uniting the existing strengths and possibilities, so as to be able to address these problems, which consists in avoiding a conflict of civilizations between East and West.

Q: What is the present state of ecumenism in Europe? Are there results of rapprochement between Christians? In Brazil there are many difficulties among separated brethren ...

Bishop Farrell: Ecumenism is not a single reality; it is different in different situations, in different parts of the world.

In Europe, ecumenism is very important, very profound and, theologically, very motivated, because it is in Europe that all these divisions arose, and it is in Europe that work must be done above all on the theological plane, to surmount them.

I cannot speak of Brazil, but what I have seen in the few days that I have been here is that the ecumenical relationship in Brazil is very different from the one we have in Europe.

Here we are talking about recent communities, Pentecostal charismatic and evangelical communities, which come from traditions that are very different from those of the historical Churches; therefore, these new forms of Christian life must still try to find a way and structure that will allow them to enter into serious theological dialogue, on the basis of their beliefs, as occurs between the historical Churches. ZE06030520

Part 2

Interview With Bishop Brian Farrell of Pontifical Council


The path toward Christian unity has a lot to do with reviewing the painful events of the past in the light of Christ, who reconciles all in one, says a Vatican official.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, talked about the recent assembly of the World Council of Churches, in Brazil, as well as the wider efforts in ecumenism.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Sunday.

Q: How must Catholics understand and live ecumenism in Brazil, where there is a great number of small evangelical sects?

Bishop Farrell: First, valid in ecumenism is the principle by which a person gives witness of his faith. Catholics, therefore, approach dialogue with the faith of the Church, seeking to understand who are the brothers separated from us, what is the basis of their faith, which are the points we have in common, which are the differences and, in the dialogue, attempting to identify the reasons to reach a convergence beyond these differences.

A Catholic who approaches ecumenism, therefore, must be a person of faith, of knowledge, of great spirituality, because ecumenism is not a question of agreements, discussions and issues addressed by experts. Ecumenism is the life of the Church which seeks the will of Christ in all other brethren united to us through baptism.

Q: In his homily for the closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, last January 25, the Pope said that at the base of the ecumenical effort is conversion of heart, as the Second Vatican Council clearly affirmed: "There is no true ecumenism without interior conversion." In the face of this, how would you describe a heart open to union, open to the unity of love?

Bishop Farrell: It means that we will never be united if we are not united in Christ, and to come to live in Christ and of Christ is a question of conversion.

In ecumenism, this has a very concrete application in real situations in which, according to the course of our history, some have been persecuted by others, some have suffered at the hands of others, and the memory of past, painful and difficult questions continues, even after the centuries.

In ecumenism, conversion has much to do with the purification of the memory; that is, of again seeing all these events of the past — which have caused so much suffering and so many divisions — in the light of Christ. Christ reconciles all in one.

Through Christ, approaching Christ, living from Christ, we will obtain the intelligence and the strength — I don't say to forget the past — but to see it in the light of God, and in this discover that, despite what has happened, despite the difficulties, we are and always will be more brothers and sisters in Christ.

Q: Cardinal Kasper said, in regard to the World Council of Churches: "We are not members, but good partners." How is this work done on the whole? Why is the Catholic Church's dialogue with other confessions bilateral and not multilateral?

Bishop Farrell: With a specific confession, for example with the Orthodox, it is bilateral. Our dialogue with Anglicans is bilateral.
The World Council of Churches is like a global forum of many Protestant and Orthodox Churches. We aren't members for many serious reasons, and deep down we cannot be members because we are one, universal Church. The members of the council are national churches or groups of regional churches.

We are not inserted in this context, but we appreciate the work of the World Council of Churches as a magnificent possibility to bring together many Christians and to work with them, and, collaborating with them, to see unity as a whole, and while we seek unity, work to respond in a Christian way to the many problems and difficulties suffered in the entire world.

Q: Is there consensus on the meaning of ecumenism by those who take part in ecumenical dialogue? What are the main obstacles that must be addressed?

Bishop Farrell: There were two aspects in this assembly. The first was a meeting of people from all over the world, different among themselves, who belong to churches that are very different among themselves. All animated by the same issue, which is the search for unity.

Evident in this assembly was faith, the aspiration for unity and the desire to work for unity. We are aware of the profound reasons over which we are divided. Every Church is conscious of the problem.

Naturally, the Catholic Church, as a 2,000-year-old Church of strong tradition, is intensely aware and knows exactly what to believe and what to think about ecumenism. For us the aim of ecumenism is the full and visible unity of all the disciples, of all of Christ's followers.

Other communities often have a different self-awareness, and might have their own objective in the ecumenical endeavor. This is addressed in the multilateral dialogue in the World Council of Churches; an effort is also made to better define the aim of the ecumenical work.

Q: Were attempts made in the assembly for reciprocal recognition of baptism and for the establishment of a common date for Easter, a concern emphasized by Cardinal Walter Kasper?

Bishop Farrell: These concerns were addressed by many individuals. They are problems not only of this assembly, but questions that have been addressed in past decades.

Many studies and dialogues seek to clarify the consequences of a common baptism among Christians. We are all incorporated to Christ through baptism, even if we belong to one or another Church. This means a lot, and it is necessary to discover what this means.

In relation to Easter, the Catholic Church has expressed her willingness to change the way of fixing the date to be in accord with the Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Orthodox on the date, if a common solution can be found. We are willing. It is a very difficult problem.

In the third century of the Church there were discussions on the date of Easter and they continue today. It is a point on which we talk and we will seek a solution. It would be a magnificent testimony before the world that Christians celebrate together, on the same day, the resurrection of Christ, the center of our faith. ZE06030622

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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