The mutual committee for the dialogue between our Churches and the Western Churches has stopped working few years ago. Recently, two meetings were held between the two teams in Istanbul and Rome. They decided to restart the dialogues and maybe try to face the big problem which is the presidency of the Roman Pope and his immaculacy. This surely needs a lot of time. It doesn’t seem that the two Churches are interested today in assigning a common date for celebrating Pascha.
Supposedly we solved this issue quickly; this doesn’t change anything in the main difficulties. The Armenians celebrate with the West, but this didn’t lead to a rapprochement in doctrine. Celebrating at the same day between Catholics and Protestants also didn’t lead to a rapprochement. The solution needs patience.
I don’t feel that the unity will come soon. The difficulty of forming one Church with one administration lies in the fact that the Orthodox do not accept, theologically, to be subjected to the Roman Pope because this has never happened before. The Pope has never interfered in the issues of the East. If they accepted the leadership of the Roman Pope over the whole world they would be leaving their heritage and fixating something that they have never known in the past. The doctrine of Orthodox Christians is based on the seven Ecumenical Councils and their Holy Fathers didn’t consider that Peter’s priority over the apostles has been transferred to the Popes or Rome. They do not accept that someone other than Christ could be considered as a head for all the Church through a delegation from Christ. The pastoral care performed by the apostles over the early Church was a communal care in which Peter appeared as a premier. However, this prominence didn’t continue in the form of a sequence.
We believe that every bishop is the head of his local Church and that a group of Churches or archdioceses is led by what we call a Patriarch or Archbishop who would be a premier among equal people. The relationship between the Patriarch and the Bishops is lived in the Holy Synod in a visible form in addition to the life of communion. However, the Patriarch is not a president over any bishop or over all bishops when they meet, but he could interfere or give suggestions if the ecclesiastic life in an archdiocese was ruined. The Patriarchs are also brothers, and the one that is considered as the premier among them after the schism is the Patriarch of Constantinople; if a conciliation was fulfilled then this kind of leadership will be given back to the Pope.
If this Papal presidency stayed as a doctrine, as it was declared by the Vatican Council in 1870, then conciliation is not possible because Eastern Christians would be deviating from their ancient faith. Is there any way out?
Scholars from both Churches have thought about this issue and noticed that the West differentiates between the Seven Ecumenical Councils and the General Councils that they held alone in the second millennium, i.e. after the Great Schism in 1054. The Seven Ecumenical Councils are mandatory and this is our clear statement. As for the Western councils, we cannot force Eastern Christians that didn’t attend and didn’t acknowledge the councils to accept them. However, after discussing we might accept some issues from them and refuse others.
Among these general western councils (non-ecumenical) we mention the First Vatican Council that acknowledged the presidency and immaculacy of the Pope. The Western Church has met in this council as a local or regional Church.
If the West accepted this characteristic to be given to the Vatican Council, then the presidency and immaculacy of the Roman People would not be mandatory for the East. Then, the Pope and the Eastern Patriarchs would communicate by considering the Pope as the bigger brother exactly as the Orthodox Patriarch and his bishops communicate today i.e. he cannot command or decide but they all consult each other.
This is the image of the united Church in the future as it appears to me. This is based on the first millennium without changing anything from it. May God inspire all Christians not to deviate from this mutual heritage.
Translated by Mark Najjar
Original Text: “الوحدة المسيحية إلى أين؟” –Raiati 7- 12.02.2006Continue reading