Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeeyev) Speaks

Bp. Hilarion (Alfeeyev) of Vienna

His Grace Bp. Hilarion of Vienna has of late been the subject of much talk in the OCA and indeed the broader Orthodox world. He has been widely touted as a potential successor to the recently retired Metropolitan Herman. However, in an open letter he has requested that his name be withdrawn from consideration for that post. The reasons he cites are in my opinion weighty, and should be respected.

Now in an October 30th interview posted on Orthodoxy Today (hat tip to the Young Fogey) +Hilarion addresses a wide range of subjects including Orthodoxy in America, the recent problems in the OCA and Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement. On the latter subject I think his comments are very interesting. One can not but take note of his fairly direct criticism of the more liberal Protestant sects and their constantly evolving standards and theology. Perhaps most telling is his view (which I have held for sometime) that serious ecumenical dialogue with anyone other than the Roman Catholics and Oriental Orthodox is pretty much a waste of time. (Roman Catholic readers may find his reference to their sacraments encouraging.) A few of the highlights are below. I encourage the reader to check out the entire interview.

...Within this situation, I believe that the uniqueness of the OCA consists in the fact that it is the first Orthodox Church on the American continent that has declared itself American. It is meant to be not one of the ethnic churches of the “diaspora,” but the national Orthodox church of the USA, Canada and Mexico. It is meant to be the living testimony to the universality of Orthodox Christianity. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware said, “The Orthodox Church is not something exotic or oriental. It is mere Christianity.” So, we can say to whoever wants to join the Orthodox Church: “You don’t need to be or to become Russian, or Greek, or Antiochian in order to be Orthodox. You don’t need to become exotic or oriental. You can be Orthodox while retaining your national and cultural identity.”

…After more than thirteen years of intensive ecumenical involvement I can declare my profound disappointment with the existing forms of “official” ecumenism as represented by the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other similar organizations. My impression is that they have exhausted their initial potential. Theologically they lead us nowhere. They produce texts that, for the most part, are pale and uninspiring. The reason for this is that these organizations include representatives of a wide variety of churches, from the most “conservative” to the most “liberal.” And the diversity of views is so great that they cannot say much in common except for a polite and politically correct talk about “common call to unity,” “mutual commitment” and “shared responsibility.”

I see that there is now a deep-seated discrepancy between those churches which strive to preserve the Holy Tradition and those that constantly revise it to fit modern standards. This divergence is as evident at the level of religious teaching, including doctrine and ecclesiology, as it is at the level of church practice, such as worship and morality.

In my opinion, the recent liberalization of teaching and practice in many Protestant communities has greatly alienated them from both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. It has also undermined the common Christian witness to the secularized world. The voice of Christendom is nowadays deeply disunited: we preach contradictory moral standards, our doctrinal positions are divergent, and our social perspectives vary a great deal. One wonders whether we can still speak at all of “Christianity” or whether it would be more accurate to refer to “Christianities,” that is to say, markedly diverse versions of the Christian faith.

Under these circumstances I am not optimistic about the dialogue with the Protestant communities. I am also far less optimistic about the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue than my beloved teacher Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. In my opinion, the only two promising ecumenical dialogues are between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, and between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families. While there are well-known theological differences between these three traditions, there is also very much in common: we all believe in Christ as fully human and fully divine, we all uphold the apostolic succession of hierarchy and de facto recognize each others’ sacraments.

But even with regard to relations between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, both Eastern and Oriental, we need new forms of dialogue and cooperation. It is not sufficient to come once every two years for a theological discussion on a topic related to controversies that took place fifteen or ten centuries ago. We need to see whether we can form a common front for the defense of traditional Christianity without waiting until all our theological differences will disappear. I call this proposed common front a “strategic alliance” between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. I deliberately avoid calling it a “union” or a “council,” because I want to avoid any historical reminiscences and ecclesiastical connotations. Mine is not a call for yet another “union” on dogmatic and theological matters. I am rather proposing a new type of partnership based on the understanding that we are no longer enemies or competitors: we are allies and partners facing common challenges, such as militant secularism, aggressive Islam and many others. We can face these challenges together and unite our forces in order to protect traditional Christianity with its doctrinal and moral teaching.

1 comment:

Papa Symeon said...

In my personal opinion, true ecumenical dialogue should take primacy between "mainstream" or "World" Orthodoxy and the Traditional Orthodox of Greece, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Western Europe/America, BEFORE bothering with the likes of the Orientals and the Romans.

Fr Symeon