The Importance of Ecumenical Dialogue

The Importance of Ecumenical Dialogue
"Oh PLEASE say I'm the Archbishop of Canterbury!"

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Melkite Catholic Priest Helps Out


Dear Stuart:

As a married Melkite Catholic priest with 2 jobs, I can't begin to blog although I hope someday to start my own. However, I am intrigued by the question that led you to seek me out.

We have a tendency to see history through the lense of the present. Can you imagine anyone asking in the year 675, "Please, could you direct me to the nearest Roman Catholic Church?" There would have been no answer to the request because it didn't exist. The same silence would have met the question "Please, could you direct me to the nearest Orthodox Church?" These distinctions are modern and it seems originated in the late 19th-early 20th century via the Anglicans.

When I was a U.S. Army chaplain, it was always interesting to see how the Army Chaplain Corps included Mormons and other similar heterodox groups under the "Protestant" umbrella. Sometimes, even the Orthodox were drafted under that umbrella. It reflects a confusion that probably existed within Christianity (and maybe in every religion's history). However, there was a "sense" to it in that I noticed that Episcopalians had more in common with Mormons than with Missouri Synod Lutherans! My own case, moving from cradle Baptist, to Episcopalian (ordained 8 years), to Russian Orthodox (ordained 2 years), to the Eastern Catholics (Melkite the last 13 years) reflects a search not so much for pedigree (although it began that way) but to (I hope) a greater spiritual connection with the truth.

Within Orthodoxy I shortly discovered that I was experiencing the same symptoms that I suffered within Protestantism IE a lack of authority. Who has the authority to decide? It seems to me that the Lord Jesus, in His blessed ministry to reveal the Father in His Person, would not have left us-incarnational as He is-without a tangible authoritative structure. Unfortunately, within Orthodoxy I experienced a similar mess as in Protestantism and while the diversity of ortho-doxy was not as pronounced, certainly a case can be made that the diversity of ortho-praxis was for me mind-boggling. There has always been diversity within the Church, but when diversity becomes the main ingredient in the ecclesiastical soup, the devil is probably striving for schism and/or apostasy.

There must be a communion, protected by the Holy Spirit Himself, where diversity is allowed but unity (spiritual, organic and authoritative) is ensured. When I moved to be in communion with Rome via the Melkites, it wasn't a change of faith or even of Church as much as it was a change in discipline, of praxis. The Melkite bishops themselves have come out and said that they agree with everything agreed upon during the first millenium and that they are ready to organizationally cease to exist when Orthodoxy and Catholicism re-unite, securing a movement for Melkites back as Orthodox in communion with Rome. So when I became Melkite, I didn't stop being Orthodox. I began to recognize the Lord's establishment of tangible authoritative structures.

The Orthodox conciliar approach to authority is but one aspect and a modern one at that. How far back (pedigree?) is this idea of the Patriarch of Constantinople as "first among equals"? The ancient canons are clear that Rome and the Petrine See hold first place but it is also clear that we are not talking about an absolute monarchy on earth either (unfortunately it is often seen like that by both sides-and too often practiced like that in Western ecclesiastical history).

So arguments about pedigree are really a-historical. What is happening in orthodox(small "o") ecumenical circles is a realization of this, an understanding that the middle "royal path" is where the living, breathing, Spirit-filled Church is heading (especially in light of the coming persecution). Polemics is a cheap tool of demons.

I have published this comment as a post, as it seemed well worth a read to me. Converts have many varied stories to tell of the paths that they have trodden to finally get home.

No comments: