Looking Beyond Doctrinal Agreements

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<ul><li><p>Editor EMILIO CASTRO </p><p>Guest Editor KONDOTHRA M. GEORGE </p><p>Managing Editors JEAN STROMBERG THOMAS F. BEST MARLIN VANELDEREN </p><p>Book Editor THOMAS F. BEST </p><p>Editorial Assistant JOAN CAMBITSIS </p><p>The quarterly of the World Council of Churches </p><p>Editorial </p><p>Looking Beyond Doctrinal Agreements </p><p>As this broken bread was scattered over the mountains, and was then brought together and became one, so may the church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom (eucharistic prayer in The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, late first or early second century) </p><p>The Canberra assembly exposed to the world once again the bleeding wound in the ecumenical movement - the divided eucharist. Christians from all over the world gathered in Canberra in the name of Christ their common Saviour, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to renew the whole creation. Yet in the very midst of the gathering, the table of their common Lord was painfully divided. The very symbol and bond of our unity continues to be a sign of counter-witness. The most joyful celebration of our common faith turns out to be a sad reminder of our sinful divisions. </p><p>Canberra powerfully repeated the call of the earlier assemblies for visible unity of the church in the one eucharistic fellowship. Moved by the Spirit we have learned to walk together towards that goal during the many decades of our ecumenical pilgrim- age. The path has by no means been easy. Now the struggle seems to be to keep aflame the ardour of our common search against all odds. At Canberra, the general secretary, </p><p>0 Fr Kondothra M. George is an associate director of the Programme on Ecumenical Theological EducationlBossey (and is based at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, near Geneva). </p><p>1 </p></li><li><p>THE ECUMENICAL REVIEW </p><p>Dr Emilio Castro, made an impassioned plea to keep alive this nostalgia for the table of the Lord. This should be the last assembly with a divided eucharist, was his cri du coeur. How can we expect to overcome divisions of life and death in the world when we are not even able to offer together the sacrifice of the Lord for the salvation of the world? he asked. In an effort to initiate a discussion around the burning question about the divided eucharist, this issue of The Ecumenical Review brings together perspectives from different traditions and situations to bear on the theme of eucharis- tic hospitality - a term gaining currency in many ecumenical circles, yet still very disputed. </p><p>It is our common conviction that visible unity is by its very nature not simply an eschatological goal, but the presence of the one body of Christ here and now, in the very midst of our history. The question then is: how long should we travel and struggle together in order to accept each other in the spirit of the radical acceptance in which God has accepted us in Christ? Are we to put off the joy of the common table of our Lord to an indefinite future or are we to respond to the kairos of the Spirit here and now? There is pain and impatience among those who are committed to the ecumenical vision. </p><p>We should be grateful to God that our common pilgrimage has so far been fruitful in many ways. The commitment of our churches to the Baptism, Ministry and Eucharist reception process has inspired much hope for the future. The greater involvement of the Roman Catholic Church at national and local levels augurs well. The historic doctrinal reconciliation between the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox churches after fifteen centuries of mutual non-acceptance is definitely the work of the Spirit. The common commitment of our churches to the cause of justice, peace and the integrity of creation is to be interpreted as the sign of the Holy Spirit living in us and moving us to the deeper realization of unity. </p><p>It has become clear to us over the years that doctrinal unity by itself does not produce unity in the one eucharistic fellowship. Our major church traditions - Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant - have not only lived separate histories but have evolved their own paradigms of the church. There have been many encounters between these various models. Some ecumenical interpenetration has certainly hap- pened, but not yet any breakthrough. Ecclesiology is at the heart of the problem of eucharistic communion. </p><p>Theological conversations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches, both at bilateral and multilateral levels, have made it very clear that there is a high degree of doctrinal consensus between them. However, both traditions realistically acknowledge that this consensus is not yet a sufficient ground for mutual eucharistic communion as there are other issues, mostly non-doctrinal, which still stand in the way. The development of the papacy - its nature, authority and role - as an integral part of Roman Catholic ecclesiology is far from a matter of agreement with the Orthodox, who hold on to the ecumenical consensus of the undivided church on the place and role of the bishop of Rome. The doctrinal pronouncement of Rome after the separation with the East and the existence of Uniate churches are also among the major obstacles to be overcome before any serious suggestion of eucharistic communion can be made. Since these issues are fairly clear to both sides, one hardly receives invitations to eucharistic hospitality or hears complaints about closed communion in Roman Catholic-Orthodox meetings. </p><p>2 </p></li><li><p>EDITORIAL </p><p>The ecumenical co-habitation between the Protestant and the Orthodox families of churches within the World Council of Churches over the last forty years has produced much good fruit, though not without struggle. However, eucharistic communion has always remained a distant hope. If the BEM process is any sign, there is a fair degree of convergence in the understanding of the eucharist, though the agreement in the matter of ministry i s far from satisfactory. Here again, the question is whether a doctrinal agreement would by itself be sufficient for taking the ultimate step to communion between these two traditions. Over against the predominant Protestant understanding of an unconditional eucharistic sharing as a means to foster unity, the Orthodox tradition holds that eucharistic theology and practice cannot be understood in isolation from the totality of the churchs experience as the one body of Christ. The great difference between the Orthodox and the Protestant families in the general ethos, spirituality and the ecclesiological understanding of Tradition stands in the way to communion even if doctrinal agreements are signed between them. </p><p>Although Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions appear to be doctrinally closer to each other than Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are theologians who suspect that an ecumenical rapprochement between the two latter traditions is more natural and logical. The Roman Catholic and the Protestant traditions share a common history, and a common cultural and theological matrix in spite of all doctrinal divergences. Often non-doctrinal factors become decisive when it comes to the breaking of communion as well as for its restoration. The suggestion in the above view is that the final ecumenical encounter will bear fruit if it happens between a united Western tradition and a united Eastern tradition rather than between sections of either tradition crossing borders. </p><p>The Orthodox churches and the churches of the Reformation tradition are histori- cally separated from each other by a double alienation, so to speak - the historical- doctrinal alienation between the East and the West already before the Reformation, and the doctrinal alienation between the East and the Reformation churches, which arose within the Western tradition. Historically the Orthodox churches remained outside the world of Reformation and counter-Reformation. However, the modem ecumenical movement has brought together the Orthodox churches of the East and the Western churches of the Reformation to struggle together to overcome the double alienation! The ways of the Spirit do not necessarily conform to the logic of human history! </p><p>Emilio Castro warned the Canberra assembly of the real spiritual danger of prolonging an ecumenism without openness to the surprises of the Spirit. To many it now seems to be the kairos of the Spirit who surprises us by inspiring a renewed vision of the ecumenical future. Are the churches willing to be carried on the wings of the Spirit? Or is it like the banquet in our Lords parable? The feast has been prepared. People have been invited and then reminded of the invitation. Yet they refuse to come, making excuses - apparently legitimate and very reasonable excuses. </p><p>In the ecumenical movement the Orthodox churches have always reminded us of the ecumenical goal of visible unity in the one eucharistic fellowship. They have always insisted on the serious necessity of arriving at doctrinal consensus and faithfully remaining in the continuity of the tradition of the undivided church with all its ministerial, liturgical and spiritual implications as a prerequisite for eucharistic communion between the divided churches. The Orthodox do not see unity in terms of others being converted to Orthodoxy in its historical and cultural reality of the past, but </p><p>3 </p></li><li><p>THE ECUMENICAL REVIEW </p><p>only desire a deepening of each tradition within itself so that it can witness to the apostolic faith of the one undivided church. </p><p>Now, a historic agreement has been signed by the official joint commission appointed by both families of Orthodox churches. After about 25 years of solid theological consultation between them, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families have now come to the conclusion that in spite of the terminological disputes around the council of Chalcedon in 451 and the subsequent breaking of communion, they maintained the common apostolic faith, and a common spiritual and liturgical ethos. The official commission has recommended to the churches the lifting of anathemas and the restoration of eucharistic communion. In this particular case everything humanly possible has been done to prepare for the one eucharistic communion. Yet, to many interested observers outside the Orthodox tradition it would appear that there is no sign of urgency among the churches concerned to seize this moment and make it a historic witness to the visible unity they so passionately advocate. However, most Orthodox are confident that a breakthrough will occur sooner or later in this matter. As Robert Stephanopoulos puts it, this is a realistic and achievable goal in the near term. When it happens a trend may be established which will have far-reaching effects as well. </p><p>In A.D. 1054 Rome and Constantinople anathematized each other, thus breaking communion between the Latin and Greek churches. In 1965 Pope Paul VI of Rome and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople revoked the anathema that lay heavily on Christians ever since the eleventh century. The lifting of this anathema 900 years later did not automatically re-establish communion, The separate histories now stand in the way of final rapprochement. The Latin West and the Greek East had begun to drift apart long before specific doctrinal issues arose and anathemas were mutually imposed. </p><p>Many in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches would think that the churches of the Reformation tradition have to assume a special responsibility for the unity of all Christians though all bear equally the guilt of division. It is in that tradition that divisions and denominations proliferated. Although one may speak of the legitimacy of pluralism, the unresolved conflicts and contradictions within the Protestant tradition might constitute, more often than not, a counter-witness that is not always absolved by an easy access to eucharistic hospitality in which the painful struggle for unity may too easily be laid aside. As British Methodist theologian Geoffrey Wainwright rightly puts it: There is a liberal Protestant exaltation of pluralism which seems to hold that the many become one by the effortless aggregations of separate units, regardless of the inconsistencies and contradictions which characterize them. </p><p>The traditional Orthodox position on eucharistic hospitality has been repeatedly stated in ecumenical meetings. For the Orthodox, communion in the one eucharist is the fruit and ultimate expression of unity and not a means to advance towards it. There is no intercommunion, but only communion in the one body of Christ. You are either in communion or out of communion. There is no half-way house. Orthodox ecclesiol- ogy conceives eucharistic sharing as integrally related to doctrinal unity in the one faith and ecclesial unity in the office of the bishop. </p><p>Yet there are recent examples within Orthodoxy where apparently the pastoral principle of economy (oikoinonia) is applied to qualify the traditional position in certain special situations. The holy synod of the Russian Orthodox Church meeting in </p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>EDITORIAL </p><p>Moscow made the following decision in 1969: In cases where Old Believers and Catholics ask the Orthodox church to administer the holy sacrament to them, this is not forbidden. This was an example of a limited admission to the eucharist in a special situation. Yet it created a vigorous debate in the diaspora though some leading Orthodox hierarchs outside the Russian church indirectly supported the spirit of the Moscow decision. The views of individual Orthodox theologians like Bulgakov, Afanasieff and Zernov have been known to support a partial opening of the Lords table to the Anglicans, for example, on the basis that our sharing in the eucharist will help us discover the deeper levels of the unity which is given to the church by Christ. No amount of doctrinal discussion will lead us to such understanding of unity. </p><p>It is obvious that our Christian commitment to bear each others burdens in the love of Christ has a deep ecclesiological implication. No argument, however solid and venerable, should prevent our churches from accelerating the search for visible unity in one eucharistic fellowship. If our common pilgrimage continues in the hard toil of mutual questioning, in the genuine transparency of the Spirit and with the unswerving vision of unity, we might reach a point where we cannot advance any further by means of theological debate and discursive reasoning. There, we will have to look beyond doctrinal agreements and make the leap of faith holding each others hands. We shall trust in nothing but, in the words of the Orthodox service of ordination, the divine grace, healing what is weak and making up for what is lacking. </p><p>KONDOTHRA M. GEORGE </p><p>NOTE </p><p> The Ecumenical Moment, Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1983, p.26. </p><p>5 </p></li></ul>