STEPS TOWARDS A REUNITED CHURCH:
A SKETCH OF AN ORTHODOX-CATHOLIC VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation
Georgetown University, Washington, DC
October 2, 2010
For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world. Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
2. A Central Point of Disagreement.
In the course of our discussions, it has become increasingly clear to us that the most divisive element in our traditions has been a growing diversity, since the late patristic centuries, in the ways we understand the structure of the Church itself, particularly our understanding of the forms of headship that seem essential to the Church’s being at the local, regional and worldwide levels. At the heart of our differences stands the way each of our traditions understands the proper exercise of primacy in the leadership of the Church, both within the various regions of the Christian world and within Christianity as a whole. In order to be the Body of Christ in its fullness -- to be both “Orthodox” and “Catholic” -- does a local community, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, have to be united with the other Churches that share the Apostolic faith, not only through Scripture, doctrine, and tradition, but also through common worldwide structures of authority -- particularly through the practice of a universal synodality in union with the bishop of Rome?
It seems to be no exaggeration, in fact, to say that the root obstacle preventing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from growing steadily towards sacramental and practical unity has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion. While for Catholics, maintaining communion in faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome is considered a necessary criterion for being considered Church in the full sense, for Orthodox, as well as for Protestants, it is precisely the pope’s historic claims to authority in teaching and Church life that are most at variance with the image of the Church presented to us in the New Testament and in early Christian writings. In the carefully understated words of Pope John Paul II, “the Catholic Church's conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections” (Ut Unum Sint
3. Divergent Histories.
The historical roots of this difference in vision go back many centuries. Episcopal and regional structures of leadership have developed in different ways in the Churches of Christ, and are to some extent based on social and political expectations that reach back to early Christianity. In Christian antiquity, the primary reality of the local Church, centered in a city and bound by special concerns to the other Churches of the same province or region, served as the main model for Church unity. The bishop of a province’s metropolitan or capital city came to be recognized early as the one who presided at that province’s regular synods of bishops (see Apostolic Canon
34). Notwithstanding regional structural differences, a sense of shared faith and shared Apostolic origins, expressed in the shared Eucharist and in the mutual recognition of bishops, bound these local communities together in the consciousness of being one Church, while the community in each place saw itself as a full embodiment of the Church of the apostles.Click the link to continue reading the document
: SCOBA: Steps Towards a Reunited Church