VATICAN - ORTHODOX
Orthodox and Catholics together to respond to the world's challenges, says
by NAT da Polishttp://www.asianews.it/main.php?l=en
The ecumenical patriarch delivers a masterful inaugural lecture for the 90th
anniversary of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Metropolitan of Pergamon
Ioannis Zizioulas talks about the isolation of the Russian Orthodox Church
who, in name of tradition, finds itself unable to face the modern world.
Rome (AsiaNews) - A great love for Catholic-Orthodox unity as the only way
to face the challenges of the modern world and a profound sadness for the
self-imposed isolation of the Russian Orthodox Church are the main points
Ecumenical Greek-Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I raised in his address to
the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. They are also the main thrust in
Metropolitan of Pergamon Ioannis Zizioulas' comments to AsiaNews about the
patriarch's speech. For the latter the attitude of the Russian Orthodox
Church is one of "conservatism," showing an inability to meet "the
challenges of the modern world."
Bartholomew I was invited to Rome for the 90th anniversary of the Institute,
an institution that includes the well-known Faculties of Eastern Church
Studies and Eastern Canon Law.
The Patriarch spoke about what the Orthodox Church expects from this
institution as service to the contemporary world. In his inaugural lecture
titled Theology, Liturgy, and Silence - Fundamental Insights from the
Eastern Fathers for the Modern World, he stressed the importance to the
theology of the great Fathers of the Church, those of the united Church of
the first millennium, whose spirit lives on as a solid basis for the
document elaborated in Ravenna, which is the Sister Churches' response to
the challenges of the contemporary world.
What word of salvation can the Eastern Church's theology bring to the modern
world? To this initial question, Bartholomew answered by starting with
Patristic theology, explaining that such a theology cannot be reduced to a
structured system of truth, but is on the contrary the light and grace of
the Holy Spirit which gives life to the whole Church and thus "rejuvenates
the entire world."
A theology that is cut off from Church and society is "a sterile study of
doctrinal formulations, rather than a deifying vision of conviction and
commitment, capable of transforming the whole world."
During the Age of Byzantium, so reviled because misunderstood, when
religious live encompassed every aspect of secular life, when "[t]heological
culture embraced every aspect," he said, every "manifestation, activity,
institution, intuition, and literary achievement in Byzantine society [. .
.] the Church Fathers were primarily pastors, not philosophers. They were
concerned first with reforming the human heart and transforming society, not
with refining concepts or resolving controversies." For the patriarch the
fundamental aspects of Patristic thought can enlighten theology in the modem
First of all, the Fathers of the Church never saw theology as a monopoly of
the professional academic or the official hierarchy. Theology, Bartholomew I
noted, was a communal experience or as St Paul put it, a way "to bring to
light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in
God" (Eph, 3:9). Again this background it is the Church which guarantees
the Apostolic Age's normative continuity, from Patristic times till now. And
when the Church prays as a liturgical assembly it is truly itself.
Thanks to this liturgical aspect Eastern Christians were given courage under
the Ottoman Empire and more recently under post-Revolutionary Russia. "This
profound sense of community must, therefore, also characterize our
theological perception of the world today. This means that no individual can
ever exhaust the fullness of truth in isolation from others, outside the
communion of saints."
The Patriarch also spoke about Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. "With regard to
fraternal relations among our Sister Churches, [if] the two lungs of the
Eastern and Western Churches [. . .] must breathe in harmony, [n]either
should assume provocative initiatives-whether unilaterally or universally-in
its ministry to God's people."
Finally, "[w]e urge you to serve the theological word by breathing the air
of theology and kneeling humbly before the living Creator", Bartholomew
said, invitng the Pontifical Oriental Institute to "play a decisive role in
the rapprochement between the East and the West."
Russian Orthodoxy's insularity
The Metropolitan of Pergamon Ioannis Zizioulas, an eminent Orthodox
theologian, spoke with AsiaNews about the difficult ecumenical path with the
Russian Orthodox Church. This comes just a day after a representative of the
Moscow Patriarchate advised Orthodox believers not to pray with members of
other Christian confessions.
"In the Eastern Church, especially in the Russian Church, there is a degree
of insularity that leads to conservatism. There is an inability to face the
challenges of the modern world, with tradition as an excuse," Metropolitan
The prelate, who accompanied the Patriarch Bartholomew to Rome where he met
Benedict XVI today, said that "the true value of tradition is only reached
when we can reshape our tradition. Tradition as the Christian Church's
message does not mean doing nothing; instead it contains truth's momentum
and does not fear the challenge of the contemporary world."