Category Archives: Ecumenism

The Plight of Churches in the Middle East – Revisited

ravennaxcTheologians and bishops from the Catholic and Orthodox Church meet frequently to discuss topics of mutual concern fostering not only good friendships but also doing some intellectual work in an effort to know what each other holds to be to true and how each Church works pastorally.

There are times one gets the impression that these consultations are great for mutual understanding but lack an identifiable concrete plan for full, visible and concrete unity. Statements, discussions, lunches and other collaborative efforts are noble and worth supporting. Who could pass up good food and discussion. Yet, there has to be more. This is especially helpful in humanitarian efforts and developing a friendship in Christ as a brothers and sisters. But can we ask, what the concrete goal is for the theological consultations like this one?

What follows is the Statement of the Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, Mississauga, Ontario October 26, 2013.

In 2011 we, the members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation* deplored the devastating losses in the Christian communities of the Middle East in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring.” Today the situation of many of the Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine has become catastrophic.

Together with the 2013 Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, we repudiate all violence and demand action by responsible authorities to end the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Christians and all civilians. We also appeal for the release of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both of Aleppo, Syria.

Pope Francis in exhorting the international community “to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation… May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”

As the Canadian Council of Churches has stated, “We are concerned for the safety and security of all the people in the region, but in particular, the weak, vulnerable and powerless. The spread of sectarian violence puts all generations throughout the region at risk and is a menace to the hopes and dreams of the younger generations.”

With the Clergy-Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, we “deplore the wanton destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, convents, orphanages and hospitals throughout the Middle East….We call upon the leaders of our nation to protest these unspeakable acts of terror and to work unceasingly to bring to an end the heinous genocide of our brethren.”

When one part of the body suffers, all suffer (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). As Orthodox and Catholic Christians, we therefore have the responsibility to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters. We call upon our communities to continue to pray for the churches and for peace in this part of the world. We urge the leadership of our churches to continue to intervene vigorously in behalf of the Christians of the Middle East, who live in fear for their lives, their communities, and the very future of Christianity in the region.

*The members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation are appointed by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America and, on the Catholic side, by both the Canadian and United States Conferences of Catholic Bishops.

Some notes:

Members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation of meet every five years in Canada. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted this year’s meeting.

The Consultation was co-chaired by Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, and by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

The Consultation engaged in discussions pertinent to Orthodox – Catholic relations around such matters as synodality, papal primacy, priestly celibacy and the role of the laity.

Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Ph.D., of Brown University and Sr. Susan K. Wood, SC, of Marquette University provided a summary of papers already presented on the role of the laity in the two churches; Father John Erickson, emeritus dean and professor of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, presented his paper on “Conciliarity or Synodality? Historical Notes on a Modern Issue”; Father John Galvin, of The Catholic University of America, presented a paper by Msgr. Thomas J. Green, “Lay Ministries in the Church: Comparative Reflections on the Eastern and Latin Codes”; and Father Peter Galadza, of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute summarized previously published papers on celibacy, marriage and the priesthood.

The Consultation reports that a panel discussion and meeting between seminarians from St. Augustine’s Seminary (Catholic) and The Greek Orthodox Theological Academy of Toronto. Among the many things shared, there were reflections on the Consultation’s 2010 agreed statement, “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future.”

Metropolitan Sotirios, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto host lunch and Cardinal Thomas Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto also encouraged the seminarians and members of the Consultation in their important work. The next meeting is scheduled for June 2-4, 2014.

Russian Patriarch gives interview on Orthodox presence in England

Pontifical characters are giving interviews and responding to personal questions these days: Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, the Ukrainian Major Archbishop and now the Russian Patriarch, Kirill of Moscow.

Patriarch Kirill answers questions about the Orthodoxy in Great Britain, Christian life after the Great Schism of 1054, the sainthood of Edward the Confessor, the presences of Russians in England today, and the supposed interest of Prince Charles in Orthodoxy.

Indeed, an interesting interview. The Patriarch was far more neutral than I would’ve thought, especially around history and the question of conversion to Orthodoxy. His Holiness washes over how Catholics and Protestants come into communion with Orthodox Church.

As a point of fact, the “conversion” of Catholics to Orthodoxy is unique to each Orthodox diocese; some bishops handle the situation as the early Church handled schismatics (e.g., Donatists), and others look to the way Peter Mogila handled various denominations in 16th century Russia. As friend said, generally speaking, Oriental Orthodox come in through confession, Catholics come in through a profession of faith, Trinitarian professing Protestants come in through chrismation, and everyone else comes in through baptism and Chrismation. Plus, it is noted, some liturgical books have different formulas of things people have to renounce and accept for different types of Christians converting. So, for example, a Catholic would have to renounce the authority of the Pope, but a Methodist would not.

The interview is in Russian with English subtitles. At least one era is noted: Christians don’t worship saints, they venerate (honor) them.

Watch the 18 minute video.



Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue in Agreement on the nature of Marriage: between a man and a woman

This morning I saw this headline and eye-catching paragraph on the Pro Ecclesia site:

The International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue Just Came to an Important Agreement on the nature of Marriage:

Continuing its focus on Christian anthropology, specifically what it means to be a human person created in the image and likeness of God, the Commission devoted significant efforts to the review of the draft of its joint theological work on the subject. Reflection on the theology of the glory of creation and the uniqueness of humanity in the created order drew the Commission into deep discussion. Further, the Commission worked at length on the specific expression of image and likeness, considering the thematic components of the subject, with particular attention to its scriptural basis. As part of the discussion of human relationships, the Commission observed that it is the teaching of all the Orthodox and Anglican churches that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The first part doesn’t surprise me as much as the last sentence: that the Anglican churches understand marriage to be between a man and woman. The Anglican communion is not known for its consistent and coherent formulation of a Christian doctrine these days. That is, they tend to be at odds with mainstream Christianity (not only Catholics, but some Lutheran, Evangelical and Baptist communities). Certainly the Anglican openness to allow for contraception and in many places gay marriage and women’s ordination raises the question of what is happening herein.

Read the entire press release here.

The desire of the joint commission which met 4-11 September 2013 at the invitation of Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej was to study the nature of man and woman being made in God’s image and likeness from a perspective of theological anthropology. This is a weighty and yet necessary conversation that needs to be investigated with a telos in mind, God’s telos, that is. Knowing particulars of what it means to a human person can’t be overlooked, dismissed or rearranged because of ideology.

Brother Jeffrey Gros, RIP

Prayers for Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC who died yesterday. He’s been living with cancer.

Brother Jeffrey was a terrific leader in the ecumenical movement in the USA for many years. Brother was indeed, a public thinker in theology, ecumenics, and catechesis; numerous academic papers fill his CV.

May the Holy Mother of God and Saint John Baptist de la Salle assist Brother Jeffrey before the Throne of Grace.

Eternal memory!

Popes of Rome and Alexandria meet: Francis and Tawadros

Rome and Alexandria popes.jpg

A rare meeting between two Popes, that is, between the Patriarch of the West and the Patriarch of Alexandria happened earlier today in Rome when Pope Francis received Pope Tawadros of Alexandria, who heads the largest Christian Church in the Middle East. The first meeting between the two churches happened 40 years ago to the day with the Servant of God Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III; at that meeting a Christological agreement was signed and a hope expressed to find a path to unity. Tawadros is on his first pilgrimage outside of Egypt since becoming the head of the Coptic Church in November. He is in Italy for 5 days. 

Pope Tawadros proposed that 10 May each year should be marked as a day of celebration between the two churches. He also invited Francis to visit his Church, founded by Saint Mark the Evangelist around the middle of the First century.

Here is Pope Francis’ address:

For me it is a great joy and a truly graced moment to be able to receive all of you here, at the tomb of Saint Peter, as we recall that historic meeting forty years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and the late Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mutual distrust. So it is with deep affection that I welcome Your Holiness and the distinguished members of your delegation, and I thank you for your words. Through you, I extend my cordial greetings in the Lord to the bishops, the clergy, the monks and the whole Coptic Orthodox Church.

Today’s visit strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that already exist between the See of Peter and the See of Mark, heir to an inestimable heritage of martyrs, theologians, holy monks and faithful disciples of Christ, who have borne witness to the Gospel from generation to generation, often in situations of great adversity.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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