Posts Tagged ‘Great Schism’

(Opinion Alert: Just a few ruminations.) 

Was it an accident that Rome and Constantinople’s break in communion of 1054 became permanent?  Like I’ve said, there were previous ones.  Doctrinal divergence?  Even this hadn’t prevented patching-up differences previously.  And between 1054 and 1453 there were several attempts to do so again.  The last one actually resulted in a brief reunion: the final service in Hagia Sophia as Constantinople was falling to the Turks – without the promised help from the West – included Latins and Orthodox.  The Union of Florence was repudiated by the Russians, Greek monastics and laity, and finally the Greek episcopate.

According to their official position historically, Rome continued seeking to ‘make real’ that Union by signing local unions with Orthodox communities under various conditions, not all of them voluntary or truthful.  (These are the Eastern Catholic Churches, aka Uniates or Uniats.)  At the same time ISTM the sense of doctrinal divergence pointed to as early as the 1200s by Orthodox canonist and Patriarch of Antioch Theodore Balsamon, and at the time of the Council of Florence itself by the Metropolitan of Ephesus, St. Mark Eugenicos, grew on other Orthodox as time wore on.  Some say that as long as the Latin Church hasn’t been condemned officially by a council of the whole Orthodox Church, that doesn’t matter … but ISTM that hasn’t been the sense of most Orthodox Christians.  To Orthodox, some things are established by tradition, which we strive to make the Life of the Spirit of God in the Body of Christ, the whole Orthodox Church, even in the absence of a universally-denominated “ecumenical synod.”  There certainly weren’t any “ecumenical councils” before Nicea!

So that may be a human evaluation of how we got where we got.

Yesterday was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Apostles. The Gospel reading for Divine Liturgy was Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, Matthew 16:13-19 (here, from the NAB).

13
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
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He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
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Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
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Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
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And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
19
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

IMHO, it’s clear from the text that Peter indeed is the Rock on which the Lord says He will build His Church, in the context of Peter’s o/Orthodox confession of faith, a faithfulness revealed to him in his experience of the Father, as happens to anyone who experiences Glorification in the Trinity’s Uncreated Energies. It is Christ’s Orthodox Church on which the gates of Hades will not finally close-in — not one local Church in particular, but the Whole Church in general, again, in the context of witness to o/Orthodox f/Faith. (In fact, if we consider that the Church is the Body of Christ, then on Great Saturday the gates of Hades failed to prevail against it/Him; He arose on Pascha/Easter morning.) The Greek makes it clear that it is to Peter individually that the Lord says He will give the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever Peter binds or looses on earth will be so in Heaven — a responsibility extended shortly after to all the Twelve at Matthew 18:18.

Orthodoxy affirms that Peter held a special place among the early Christians, though not over them like an absolute lord (Matthew 20:26-28). (In Acts 15:13-21, James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, ‘clerked‘ the Council of Jerusalem, while Peter testified.) Historically St. Peter has been associated with the foundations of the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, Italy. To none of these ‘successors’ does the Lord say Peter will ‘hand-off’ the keys. But as if to illustrate a lasting role potential, during many of the theological controversies that convulsed the Universal Church in the first millenium, in spite of its own beginning theological drifting, Rome’s local Church did indeed provide a sufficient anchor of o/Orthodoxy within the Church Universal, like Peter did at Jerusalem. And remember that the Gospels, Acts, and Paul do not fail to depict a very imperfect Peter, one with whom all of us can identify, however low or high.

But if Rome should ever fall from Orthodoxy, ie, from the faith- and Truth-giving (John 16:13) experience of Glorification and ministry of service-leadership, Petrine ministry as described above will remain with the Orthodox Church, the other Petrine Sees, and the other Apostolic Sees; from AD 1100-1500, Constantinople, and from 1500-1900, effectively Moscow. All Orthodox Churches are equal, and the Council of Jerusalem remains the Biblical model for Orthodox decisionmaking in the Body of Christ. And a council can prevail upon any bishop, even a Patriarch, even the “First Among Equals.”

I’m trying to keep the light on Orthodoxy alone, but it has to be said that Rome has taught increasingly that authoritative revelation is given only to one of its adherents, the Pope of Rome, forgetting that Pentecost and Glorification — Orthodoxy just celebrated Pentecost and All Saints Sundays — are offered to the Whole Orthodox Church, not only to one person. Conciliarity may be messier, but it’s where the Holy Spirit is presumed to act — nay, experienced acting, historically — in the Whole Church, not just certain leaders. The things that Rome forgets continue to be taught by Orthodoxy.

Lord have mercy on us!

(In the event of reunification, Orthodoxy will require Rome to re-embrace o/Orthodox theology and conciliarity. Yes, sadly, we think we’re farther apart than Rome does!)