Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bp+ Hilarion Alfeyev (Russian Orthodox) on the papacy and other things...

Q: Soon Pope Benedict XVI will visit Turkey, because he wants to strengthen the bonds between Rome and Constantinople. What is the significance of this journey as to the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue?

Bishop Alfeyev: It is to be hoped that this visit will further improve the relations between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople. These two churches broke communion with one another in 1054, therefore it makes them especially responsible to restore unity.

In speaking about the possible impact of this meeting on Orthodox-Catholic relations as a whole, one should remember that the Orthodox Church, insofar as its structure is concerned, is significantly different from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Church has no single primate. It consists of 15 autocephalous churches, each headed by its own patriarch, archbishop or metropolitan.

In this family of Churches the patriarch of Constantinople is "primus inter pares," but his primacy is that of honor, not of jurisdiction, since he has no ecclesial authority over the other Churches. When, therefore, he is presented as the "head" of the Orthodox Church worldwide, it is misleading. It is equally misleading when his meeting with the Pope of Rome is considered to be a meeting of the heads of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Historically, until the schism of 1054, it was the Bishop of Rome who enjoyed a position of primacy among the heads of the Christian Churches. The canons of the Eastern Church -- in particular, the famous 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon -- ascribe the second, not the first place, to the patriarch of Constantinople.

Moreover, the ground on which this second place was granted to the patriarch of Constantinople was purely political: Once Constantinople became "the second Rome," capital of the Roman -- Byzantine -- Empire, it was considered that the bishop of Constantinople should occupy the second seat after the Bishop of Rome.

After the breach of communion between Rome and Constantinople, the primacy in the Eastern Orthodox family was shifted to the "second in line," i.e., the patriarch of Constantinople. Thus it was by historical accident that he became "primus inter pares" for the Eastern part of the world Christendom.

I believe that, alongside with contacts with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, it is equally important for the Roman Catholic Church to develop bilateral relations with other Orthodox Churches, notably with the Russian Orthodox Church. The latter, being the second largest Christian Church in the world -- its membership comprises some 160 million believers worldwide -- is eager to develop such relations, especially in the field of common Christian witness to secularized society.

Read the rest here.


- said...

I am a (Roman) Catholic with a question about Orthodoxy:

1) Do the Orthodox only believe that doctrine can be defined when the bishops speak in unison?

2) If the bishops spoke in unison that the Pope has the authority to define doctrine, why is there a problem?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Please pardon my delay in replying. This has been a zoo of a week and I am still trying to write a reply to a couple posts over at Sacramentum Vitae and Pontifications that touch on this subject. You ask…

Do the Orthodox only believe that doctrine can be defined when the bishops speak in unison?

The short answer is no. Authority in Orthodoxy comes from multiple sources. The principal three being Tradition, great councils of the Church, and the reception over time of a doctrine by the Church as a whole. I would recommend Florovky’s essays on tradition and the fathers as also his essay Revelation, Philosophy and Theology. The latter can be found here.

You also ask…

If the bishops spoke in unison that the Pope has the authority to define doctrine, why is there a problem?

I am not aware of this occurring in the history of the Orthodox Church. Could you elaborate on what you are referring to?

Ad Orientem

Visibilium said...

Permit me to summarize succinctly one Orthodox believer's view of "defined doctrines":

"Every Sunday I sing, 'We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit'. I don't need no stinkin' defined doctrines."