Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Coptic Martyrs of ISIS

          Many have heard the dramatic story of the twenty-one Coptic Orthodox Christians working in Libya who were captured and beheaded by ISIS as part of their ongoing campaign of provocation and terror.  What may not be as well known in the media is that all twenty-one were offered the chance to save their lives by embracing Islam, and that all twenty-one refused, confessing Christ and dying for Him as true Christian martyrs.  Indeed it appears that the Coptic Orthodox Church has already canonized them (i.e. declared them to be saints), and some ask what response the Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches should make as regards these courageous Christians.  The question involves a look at the evolving practice of official canonization in the church.
            People are most familiar with the process of canonization in the Roman Catholic Church, since the Roman communion is the best-known and largest church in the west.  Over the years that church has developed a complicated system and lengthy process which must be followed before anyone can be officially declared a saint.  Previous to that, declarations of sainthood happened more informally and locally.  But by the tenth century the pope had secured control of all church canonizations, for in 1181 Pope Innocent III reserved all such declarations of sainthood to himself.  Even then it was not until the time of the Counter-Reformation in 1634 that a full process for canonization emerged, with nominations, judges, advocates, counter-advocates (the so-called “devil’s advocates”), trials, and the final verdict.  And of course the whole process, as well as taking years, also took money to amass testimonials and keep the cause alive.  A certain number of authenticated miracles were also required to push a candidate along the long path to being called “Blessed” (a kind of lesser rank of holiness) and then further along yet to actual sainthood.  It was all very formal, and organized, and official, and lengthy, and expensive.
            It was also very different than it was in the early church.  The term “saint” of course simply means “holy one” (Greek agios), and was used by St. Paul to describe any baptized and faithful Christian.  Certain people whose Christian faith was clearly authentic and whose lives merited wider attention, were called saints, or described as “holy” (e.g. not just “Paul”, but “holy Paul”).  This of course included the martyrs, believers who had suffered for their Lord.  There was no process of canonization required; the conviction and declaration of the local church that these people were truly holy was sufficient.  Such was the credibility of the laity’s testimony, and the Church’s confidence that its faithful could discern true holiness when they saw it.  If a church’s bishop was martyred, for example, the faithful treasured story of their bishop’s heroic end and accorded him the appropriate honour.  They would keep and venerate his relics, celebrate his martyrdom at its yearly anniversary, and ask for his heavenly intercession.  It was a strictly local affair, and if other churches from neighbouring cities didn’t want to join in the acknowledgment of that bishop, they didn’t have to and one tried to make them.  But examples of heroic holiness were rare enough, and usually the neighbouring churches were all too happy to acknowledge the sanctity and tell the story of any martyr.  Such stories were shared with Christians in other cities, and sometimes relics were also shared, so that the martyr’s anniversary celebration in one city was sometimes kept in neighbouring cities as well.
            Orthodoxy is heir to this local and informal practice of the early church.  We are somewhat more formal than our ancestors were.  Nowadays a potential saint is discussed by the local synod of bishops and discussions are held about whether or not to canonize him or her.  Then the liturgical services are written and the icon painted and the day for official canonization (called the saint’s “glorification”) arrives.  The final memorial service is said for him, and then prayers are no longer said for him, but rather to him.  But even before this final episcopal process begins, the people still know whether or not the “candidate” is a saint.  Like in the earlier days, the Church still recognizes holiness when it sees it, and local “unofficial” veneration always precedes the “official” one.  After all, it is God who makes saints, not bishops.  And it seems clear enough that God has made twenty-one new saints in Libya lately.  Whether or not the bishops give their official stamp of liturgical approval is almost irrelevant insofar as goes the love and veneration of the people of God.  It seems likely that the bishops, whose divine task it is to lead the Church and be its liturgical voice, will respond by officially glorifying these martyrs.  The laity have said Axios! and the bishops may well respond Amen!



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Teach Your Children Well

          All parents in every generation worry about their kids, and try to keep them safe.  They not only do this by not letting them play in traffic or jab sharp sticks into hornets’ nests, but also by warning them against perennial dangers.  In my gentler generation, my parents warned me about traffic dangers, urging me to look both ways before I crossed the street, and to extend my hand while crossing, making sure that the cars had stopped.  When older I was warned against the dangers of “taking drugs”, a warning echoed in the wider culture (“Just Say No to Drugs”).  A younger generation (my kids) were exhorted not to talk to strangers, and not to get into a car with them, even if they did promise you candy and they seemed nice.  I even taught my kids a secret password, in case anyone came to get them at school claiming to be sent by me; if they did not give the password, our kids knew those claiming to be sent by me or their mother were lying.   Increasing availability of drugs and increased reports of child abductions on the six o’clock news told us we were living in dangerous times.  We needed to teach our children well if they were to survive, and grow up strong and healthy.
            The times have become even more dangerous for children as we descend further and further into spiritual barbarism and as every last trace of Christian faith and morals is banned and banished from our western culture.  It was physically dangerous to live in Europe during the time when the Black Death  raged unchecked throughout the land; it is spiritually dangerous to live in North America now during this time of moral decay, and of these two dangers, the latter danger is the worse.  Indeed, there is probably no more dangerous place on earth to live than in North America right now.
            The dangers are many and varied, but here I refer to the danger that comes from the flood of pornography which sweeps our land like a demonic tsunami—or, to vary the metaphor, like an unchecked and raging pandemic.  Lust was always a temptation for both genders, though some would argue that the temptation affected men more violently.  Accordingly in every generation prostitutes plied their trade, winning the dubious accolade as “the world’s oldest profession”.  (If the Genesis creation stories have anything to teach us, they teach us that farming is actually the world’s oldest profession, but never mind.)  Also accordingly, previous generations bought pornographic images.  In my day what passed for pornography consisted of pictures of naked women, posed coyly behind beach balls or draped over furniture.  Playboy magazine specialized in such, and did its best to make such images mainstream and acceptable.  I remember a Hustler magazine editor heatedly denying that what he published in his magazines was pornography.  He claimed it was “art”.  It was nonsense, of course, and his aim was simply to make money through the commodification of the female body (a form of visual prostitution).  Even the people buying the stuff knew that it was not art but pornography, which is why it was often mailed to them in the advertised “plain brown wrapper”, and which is why stores selling it kept it behind the counter.   The satisfaction of lust was the aim, and no one ever really read Playboy for the stories, no matter what they claimed.
            But times have changed, and not for the better.  Now the pornographic industry specializes not so much in coy images of naked women, but in sexual violence and female degradation.  Women are referred to by a host of names no Christian should ever use, and subjected to practices that any sane person would regard as torture.  Such things are not the occasional exceptions on the fringes for the pornographic industry.  They are now the norm.  And all this has become freely available through the internet.  No one now needs to steel oneself to go into a store and ask for the naughty magazine kept behind the counter.  One only needs access to a computer and with the click of a key or two, a multitude of images come flooding into one’s private room for free.  And with the availability of “smart phones” able to access the internet anywhere, one doesn’t even need a private room.  One can download images in school or at McDonald’s.
            The danger and problem with this freely available porn is not just that it is sinful.  It is sinful, of course, but the problem is graver than that.  The real danger is that our young boys are feeding on such images at a younger and younger age, before they begin to have real relationships with girls, and these pornographic images and practices badly skew their developing understanding of sexuality.  When therefore they later come to relate to girls and women, they will not regard the female as a person worthy of respect, self-sacrifice, and gallantry.  The pornographic images will have dehumanized the female, and sex will not be about relationship, but about cruelty, debasement and the infliction of pain upon the vulnerable.  Please note that I said “the vulnerable”, and not necessarily “the adult vulnerable”.   All pornography eventually ends in child pornography, for none are more vulnerable than children.  Pornography is addictive, for one becomes quickly and increasingly desensitized, and to get the same psychic “kick” one requires ever more explicit and shocking images, ever greater hardcore cruelty.  The defenders of Fifty Shades of Grey should take note, for the book and its movie are symptoms of a new sickness, and an impetus for further descent into the degradation of women.  That the book has been written, and the movie directed by women reveals just how badly feminism has lost its way.
            The current availability of hardcore porn for young boys represents a frontal assault on their healthy development as men.  It is now possible that an entire generation of men will arise who regard sexuality simply as an instrument for debasing women, and who make “Bros before hoes” their unspoken motto.  Part of our task as parents is to warn our children of this danger, and to help them regard pornography as a dangerous temptation in the same way that ingesting crystal meth or heroin is a dangerous temptation.  It must be avoided for the same reason—because it is addictive and will harm you.  In this dangerous world, we must teach our children well.  And the first step to teaching them well is to practice what we preach.  If we would warn them of the dangers of porn, we must keep our hearts clean, and have nothing to do with it ourselves.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Billy and Chuck: a Tale of Two Evangelists

In the middle of the twentieth century, two men shared a deep friendship, based on their mutual love of Christ and belief in the Scriptures:  Charles (Chuck) Templeton, and Billy Graham.  Odds are you have heard of the latter; probably not the former.
            Chuck Templeton was nonetheless someone to whom the young Billy Graham looked up (as Billy admits in his autobiography Just As I Am).  They shared rooms together as well as their dedication to Jesus and their determination to preach the Gospel.  Together Billy and Chuck worked with the early “Youth for Christ” movement, and when Billy was about to go on stage to preach the Gospel to 20,000 teens in a Youth for Christ rally in the Chicago Stadium in 1945, he leaned over to Chuck saying to his buddy, “Pray for me Chuck; I’m scared to death.”  Chuck did.
Nonetheless, Chuck and Billy eventually chose very different roads.  Chuck attended Princeton Theological Seminary, and was exposed there to the biblical liberalism then sweeping through the theological colleges of America.  For him, the supposed conflict between Science and Religion loomed very large.  The front line then was the account of creation in the Book of Genesis and its supposed incompatibility with Science.  Chuck remonstrated with his old friend, “Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe the biblical account of creation.  The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years.  It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.”  In his autobiography, Graham recounted that he honestly struggled with the arguments of his friend, finally resolving the conflict by simply taking the historical reliability of the Genesis account, as he says, “on faith”.
            Billy Graham never looked back, which is in part why we all recognize his name.  It was otherwise with Chuck.  His studies at Princeton, coming after his fundamentalist upbringing, led him inescapably to the conclusion that the Bible was wrong.   Being a man of integrity he resigned his evangelistic ministry, and began a new life and job in the secular world.  He became famous in that world as a broadcaster with Pierre Burton on CFRB radio in Toronto, and published a book outlining his life story, entitled appropriately enough Farewell to God.  After a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease he died in 2001, after confiding in a journalist, “I miss Jesus.”
            Standing at a distance from both men, I think I can see both what they shared in common as well as the matters in which they differed.  As men born and bred in Protestant fundamentalism, both equated “truth” with “historical truth as currently defined by historians”.  That is, the Bible story about (for example) Jonah was true, and therefore the story about Jonah must be historically true in the sense that present day historians define historical truth.  The story of Jonah cannot be historical fiction, or allegory, or parable, or anything other than a recounting of historical events according to the present journalistic canons for accurate reporting, otherwise it would not be true.   Both men applied this understanding of truth in their interpretation of the entire Bible, including the creation accounts of Genesis.  Billy looked at these Genesis accounts and the differences from them in the accounts of modern science, saw the discrepancies, and rejected “on faith” the conclusions of modern science.  Chuck saw the same differences and the same discrepancies, and rejected the Bible in the name of modern science.  Neither man was prepared to question their equation of “truth” with “historical history as defined by modern historians”.  And that is too bad.   Resisting the equation might have secured a greater measure of credibility for Billy.  And it might have allowed Chuck to retain a belief in the authority of the Bible, and to remain in the Christian Faith.  Maybe Chuck needn’t have missed Jesus after all.
            The tale of the two evangelists is a cautionary tale.  Perhaps confession of the Bible as the authoritative and infallible Word of God doesn’t necessarily commit one to belief in the creation of the earth “over a period of days a few thousand years ago” after all.  Chuck probably would have said that he left the Christian faith because he didn’t want to become a victim of fundamentalism.  The irony is that in his rejection of the Faith he was a victim of such a fundamentalism after all.  


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Repentance of the Prodigal

We’ve all had moments like that—the moment where you wake up with a start and realize you’ve been a complete moron.   The Prodigal Son had one such moment when he realized he was being idiotic and stupid, (or in the more elegant language of the parable, “ when he came to himself”).  He had left home for a far country in a fever of determination to break free from the old dull ways of domesticity and to taste all that the world had to offer.  After a whirlwind of parties and “loose living”, he found that all that the world had to offer him now was poverty, hunger, sickness, and degradation.  Yes, degradation:  he was so desperate for food that he took a job from a local farmer feeding his pigs.  For a Jew, there was not much further down to go.
            Then he had his moment:  here he was working himself to death and still starving, while his father’s servants were not working as hard and eating quite well.  That was when he decided he would swallow what was left of his pride and go and humble himself before his father and ask for a job.  He even rehearsed his speech—he would kneel before the old man and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”  He might be refused a job or even run off the property (or worse yet, meet his elder brother), but it was worth a shot.  The alternative was starvation and death in a foreign land.
            When he returned home, he found a surprise waiting for him.  When his father saw him approaching from a distance, “he ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 RSV).  The original Greek and the original culture make the father’s response even more amazing.  The Greek doesn’t simply say he “embraced” him, but “fell on his neck”.  And it doesn’t say he “kissed” him (which would be phileo in the Greek), but the more intensive kataphileo—he kissed him repeatedly, covered him with kisses.  And don’t miss the significance of the fact that the father ran to him, for dignified adult men like this did not run—and certainly not run to their children.  But this father ran.
            More than that, the father didn’t even let him finish his well-rehearsed speech.  The boy got as far as stammering out, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son”; he didn’t get to add the crucial bit about “treat me as one of your hired servants”.  Instead his father reinstated the boy utterly and completely, clothing him as befit his true son—with a fine robe, and shoes for his bare and blistered feet, and a ring of authority on his finger. 
            The repentance of the prodigal reveals the true nature of repentance.  Repentance is not simply feeling bad over having broken God’s rules or violated Kant’s Categorical Imperative.  It is a return to yourself and a return to your home.
            It is a return to yourself and to sanity because sin is essentially stupid.  God offers us life and joy, a continuous stream of the divine Presence flowing into our lives if only we will constantly lift up our hearts to Him and seek His face, a flow which not even death can stop.  Sin bids us choose something else instead—devotion to lust, or ambition, or the thousand other alternatives to God we can manage to find—and we choose that, even though whatever fleeting pleasure we can take from it will cease with our death, if not long before we die.  How dumb is that?  Repentance means wisening up, and coming to our senses.
            Repentance is also a return to our true home in our Father’s house.  We were created to be His children, with all the privilege that implies—being free from fear, free from death, free to walk through life trusting in Him to provide what we need and to lead us where we should go.  Why wander far from home when the wide world cannot offer us anything comparable?  Repentance means we return to the embrace of the Father, and to His humbling love, and to a house of feasting and music and joy.                             
          Returning to sanity, and to the Father’s embrace—sounds like a plan.  Great Lent is coming, and it tells us we have been feeding the pigs long enough.  Let’s all go home.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Covering the Massacre

          Newspapers are always happy to cover bad news—as the old saying has it:  “If it bleeds, it leads”.  Stories of kindness and heroism are not considered news in the same way as are stories of atrocity and disaster—and massacre.  Consider the coverage given to the slaughter in Paris of late associated with the Charlie Hebdo magazine.  Consider the slaughter of innocents in Syria at the hands of ISIS.  Consider the massacre of children at the hands of Boko Haram in Nigeria.  All of these receive coverage from our western media, and accordingly arouse moral indignation and demands that something be done to make the massacres cease—and rightly so.  Newspapers can be counted upon to cover a massacre.
            Except, of course, when the massacre involves the unborn.  Then they can be counted upon to toe the cultural party line and largely ignore the whole thing.  To take one example among many:  in my own part of the Vancouver lower mainland, if a dozen women congregate to protest government cutbacks to a Women’s Shelter, or march together in a “Take Back the Night” event to protest violence against women, this gets coverage.  But when literally hundreds and thousands line the roads annually in a peaceful prolife demonstration, it has as if it never happened.  For this there is no coverage at all.  It seems that in my neck of the western woods anyway, the amount of newspaper attention something receives depends upon its degree of political correctness.
            The journalistic double-standard is especially stunning when one considers the numbers of the unborn whom we annually massacre.  Consider the following:  though Canada has a much smaller population than does the United States, it reported that in 2004 it aborted 100,039 children.  (That figure does not include, presumably, the unreported abortions, classified as D & C’s.)  That is the size of a small city (the population of Rialto, California, for example, in 2010 was 99,171.)  Thus, in Canada, every year we massacre the equivalent of a small city, funded (in Canada anyway) by tax dollars through our medical system.  And speaking of statistics, the leading cause of death now is not heart disease, or cancer.  It is abortion.
            Does anyone doubt that if similar numbers in the U.S. or Canada were massacred by terrorists that there would be a tremendous and continual outcry from every newspaper, Facebook and Twitter account in the country?  Or that if such numbers of people perished through an epidemic (say Ebola) that no price would be considered too steep to bring the death rate to a halt?

            But the slaughter of the unborn continues more or less unabated in the west, and our newspapers utter not a peep.  What does this mean?  It means that our countries have forfeited the right to regard themselves as civilized, and that we have as nations descended into moral barbarism.  We naively regard ourselves as civilized because we are technologically advanced.  But think of such stories as that told in the novels The Hunger Games:  those in charge of the Capitol were very technologically advanced, especially compared with those in the Districts, and yet they were morally bereft.  One can measure the degree to which a people is civilized by their treatment of their weakest and most vulnerable.  And by that test, America and Canada fail utterly.  And the scariest bit?—that God is not mocked.  He is the avenger of the widow and the orphan—and the unborn.  All who regard themselves as civilized must do all they can to reverse our cultural commitment to such massacre—whether the newspapers will cover our efforts or not.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Orthodox Response to the Roman Catholic "Decree on Ecumenism"

On Saturday January 17 I had the pleasure of being part of an ecumenical panel and giving a response from the Orthodox perspective on a keynote address on Roman Catholic ecumenism.  The year 2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism from the Second Vatican Council, and the day was marked by a conference held at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Vancouver.  Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, gave the morning keynote address on the conference’s topic, “Christian Unity:  Have We Answered the Call?”, and a number of people were asked to give a brief response, including Dr. Hans Boersma of Regent College, and Dr. Richard Leggett, of the Anglican Church of Canada.  My own response is printed below.

It is a great joy for me to be with you at this ecumenical conference which celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism.  I often think that the best ecumenism is done in the catacombs.  That is, as the world around us grows ever darker, ever more secular, and ever more hostile to the historic and traditional Christian Faith, we can discover more easily what it is that unites us and makes us different from the world.  After all, when the world marginalizes, mocks, or even persecutes Christians, it doesn’t much care whether or not they are Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant.  A martyr is a martyr is a martyr, whatever denominational confession he makes and whatever team jersey he wears.  The persecuting world cares more about our common Christian Faith than it does about our confessional differences and distinctives.   All the more reason for us to learn more about each other now.  We may possibly be sharing a cave together in the future.  That is not to suggest that these distinguishing distinctives do not matter.  They do.  And they will give us something to talk about if we ever find ourselves huddling together in that cave.
            For the present however we are not huddling in any cave, but holding our heads high in Vancouver.  And we have come together to talk about the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, and to discuss the question “Christian Unity:  Have We Answered the Call?”  Perhaps rather than sharing my rather minimal experience with our ecumenical partners (I gave a talk on icons once in a Roman Catholic church in New Westminster, give a lecture on Orthodoxy each year in Regent College, and attended the local Coptic church when their Pope visited last year—all told, a rather slim portfolio) it might serve our time better if I offered some reflections on the Decree on Ecumenism and the progress made since its promulgation fifty years ago from an Orthodox point of view.
            The first step of course is to examine Christian Unity as defined by the Decree on Ecumenism.  As an Orthodox, I would also like to look at the Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches from the Second Vatican Council, and also the 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint.
            It is hard not to like the original Decree on Ecumenism.  Prior to this Orthodox and non-Catholics were classified as heretics and schismatics, and were confidently consigned to hell.  I remember an anecdote shared with me by an Eastern Rite Catholic priest (which anecdote may be apocryphal) of some Protestants having an audience with the Pope in the days prior to Vatican II.  They asked him to offer a prayer for them, and in response he prayed in Latin the prayer offered over incense in the Mass, “May you burn for His glory”.  Since the prayer was offered in its original Latin, the Protestant pilgrims had no clue as to its meaning, but were delighted that the Pontiff took the time to pray with them.  Apocryphal or not, the story does give a sense of the flavour of the bad ol’ days of what passed for ecumenism before the Second Vatican Council.  So the change from “heretic” to “separated brother” and even “sister church” is a welcome one.  One especially appreciates the graciousness and humility of the Decree.  In talking about the separation of Catholic from non-Catholic, the Decree says, “In subsequent centuries more widespread disagreements appeared and quite large Communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church—developments for which, at times, men of both sides were to blame.  However, one cannot impute the sin of separation to those who at present are born into these Communities and are instilled therein with Christ’s faith.  The Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.  For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are brought into a certain though imperfect communion with the Catholic Church”.

            The Decree has especially kind words for us Orthodox.  In that decree we read:  “Everybody also knows with what love the Eastern Christians enact the sacred liturgy, especially the celebration of the Eucharist…in this liturgical worship, the Christians of the East pay high tribute, in very beautiful hymns, to Mary ever Virgin…Although these Churches are separated from us, they possess true sacraments, above all—by apostolic succession—the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in a very close relationship”.

            It is perhaps unnecessary here to rehearse at length the details and history of the ongoing “Dialogue of Love” between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, which began in 1965 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras met together in Jerusalem to pray and to “consign to oblivion” the mutual anathemas of 1054.  The act, of course, had largely symbolic value, since the bishops upon whom anathemas were lifted had been dead for over a thousand years.  But the Orthodox would be the last people to deny the significance of symbolism.  After so many chilly years, such a thaw was very welcome, and it began a theological dialogue between the two communities which remains ongoing. 
            So there has been much progress since the 1960s, and much to celebrate.  But some obstacles remain.  It is tempting, of course, not to mention these obstacles, lest focusing upon continuing disagreements spoil a celebratory atmosphere.  Maybe one should (in the words of the song), “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mister In-Between”.  But there is a cost to refusing to deal with the negative and the remaining obstacles—namely the cost of not actually resolving them.  Surely the best way to celebrate the ecumenical progress made since the promulgation on the Decree on Ecumenism is the keep plugging away so that we make even more progress and draw even closer together.  And this plugging away involves looking at areas of remaining disagreement on the road to restoring Eucharistic communion between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
It might be helpful here to say a brief word about the Orthodox approach to restored communion.  The Orthodox agree with the historic position of our Roman Catholic brethren that Eucharistic communion is the fruit of unity, and not an instrument used to achieve it.  That is, there is no such thing properly as inter-communion, just communion.  According to Orthodox theology, receiving the Eucharist does not just unite us to Christ, but also with His ecclesial Body, re-establishing and reconstituting the communicants each week as the Body of Christ.  In other words the Eucharist is the sacrament of ecclesial incorporation par excellence, so that to receive Communion with someone is to share membership in the same Body, the same Church.  Since the Orthodox regard our ecumenical mandate not simply as manifesting unity which is imperfectly expressed, but rather as recovering unity which was actually lost through schism, we accordingly regard Catholics and Protestants as separated to some degree from the one indivisible Body of Christ, which is Orthodoxy.  In this sense we are in full agreement with the section of the Decree on Ecumenism quoted above, except that we identify “the Catholic Church” with Orthodoxy, not with the Roman Communion.  Until the schism between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism has been overcome and healed, Eucharistic communion between the two communities is not possible.  As previously said, Eucharistic communion is the fruit of unity and the expression of it.  In this way, if you will forgive the analogy, it is like sex in marriage.  Sex is meant to be the expression of matrimonial unity, so that until one is sacramentally united in marriage, one should abstain.  No cheating before the wedding, or opening Christmas gifts before Christmas.  And no receiving the Eucharist together before the two churches have been sacramentally reunited either.  For us Orthodox, inter-communion is like sex before the marriage.  No cheating is allowed.
            There remain some problems to be overcome before Eucharistic communion can be restored between the two communities.  In terms of this Conference’s title, we are still in the process of answering the call to unity, and from the Orthodox perspective, answering it involves dealing with several issues.  I will focus upon what for the Orthodox are the two main ones.  We leave aside for today the long-vexed question of the Filioque.  Briefly, we seem to have reached an agreement that the original form of the Nicene Creed did not have it, and at least one Catholic-Orthodox dialogue group agreed that it might be fruitfully omitted in future Roman Catholic catechetical material.   It may be now regarded as a theologoumenon, or theological opinion.  Whether or not it is a correct opinion we may leave until later.  After all, we need something to discuss if we end up sharing that ecumenical cave.  
            Not surprisingly one obstacle to reunion is that of the papacy and the nature of papal primacy.  Both Orthodox and Roman Catholics acknowledge that Peter was the leader among the Twelve, and that Peter continues to lead the Church.  We differ obviously as to what is now meant by “Peter”.  For our Roman Catholic friends, Peter means the Pope, and the chair of Peter is the Roman See.  For us the chair of Peter lies in every diocese, and every ruling bishop is the successor of St. Peter.  In other words, when Christ said, “You are Peter”, He was not establishing the papacy, but the episcopate.  The Roman Catholic position is of course that by “Peter”, one now means effectively the Bishop of Rome.  This is clear enough in the Decree on Ecumenism, which speaks of “the faithful preaching of the gospel by the apostles and their successors—the bishops with Peter’s successors at their head”.    It is thus in the Bishop of Rome as the head of the bishops that the Church is guided.  Thus in the Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches, those eastern rite Catholic Churches are “entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in supreme governance over the universal Church”.
            This view of papal primacy continues in the 1995 encyclical by Pope John-Paul II Ut Unum Sint.  In that document we read:  “Among all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the Catholic Church is conscious that she has preserved the ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, whom God established as her ‘perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity’ and whom the Spirit sustains in order that he may enable all the others to share in this essential good”.   This papal ministry is essentially an exercise of authority.  We see this from the original Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches when it refers to “the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in supreme governance over the universal Church”.  Note the phrase “supreme governance over the universal Church”.  
          For us Orthodox that is precisely the problem and the fundamental difference between a Roman Catholic mindset and an Orthodox one.  For us, all primacy is exercised not over the Church, but within it.  The preposition is significant, for it witnesses to different and conflicting understandings of primacy and episcopal leadership in general.  It is true that Ut Unum Sint describes this primacy as being situated:  “within the College of all the Pastors”, and that it consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches”.   The encyclical states clearly that, “All this however must always be done in communion. When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also ‘vicars and ambassadors of Christ’.  The Bishop of Rome is a member of the ‘College’, and the Bishops are his brothers in the ministry”.

Fair enough.  But at the end of the day, it seems that it is the Primate of the Church whose will is done.  That is after all what the famous phrase “universal ordinary jurisdiction” of the first Vatican Council means.  It is why at each election of a new Pope the pundits debate where this new Pope will lead the church, since it is recognized that he is the one who does the leading.  Even in Ut Unum Sint, it is still the Pope’s duty “to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith”.  In other words, the Pope is still the boss, the one who does most of the admonishing, the cautioning, and the declaring.
            In any church, there must be both primacy and conciliarity, both a place for leadership and for consensus.  These realities are found both in Roman Catholicism and in Orthodoxy.  The issue for the Orthodox is how they relate to one another.   Specifically, how does primacy interact with conciliarity?  In a perfect world, there would be no conflict—all the bishops of a given locale would meet, led by their primate, and everyone would reach an easy serene consensus.  In this cheery world “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (as in Acts 15:28)—so we all shared a drink and went happily home.  But in the real world, conflicts arise, and consensus is not so serenely achieved.  The Primate may not be on the same page as his episcopal brothers.  So then what?  And even when consensus is achieved among the bishops, what about the agreement and reception by the faithful throughout the world?  What about their consensus?  The Fathers of Nicea reached a consensus among themselves about Arius in 325, but its reception among the faithful was not secured for another generation.  For us Orthodox, no council of bishops could be declared a true or ecumenical council in advance of its worldwide reception and acceptance by the faithful. 
            We see therefore that primacy and conciliarity are not always happy partners.  In the event of conflict, which trumps which?  The Orthodox answer is clear:  conciliarity trumps primacy.  Or put another way, the primacy is there to serve the conciliarity, not the other way round, and the primate can never there correct the assembled council or blue-pencil edit their texts without their blessing.   Our problem with papal primacy as classically exercised is that primacy always seems to trump conciliarity.  We have no problem with a universal primate, but to truly be “the first servant of unity”, he must allow conciliarity to trump his primacy.
            Admittedly, allowing conciliarity to trump primacy makes for messy situations and slow progress.  This perhaps accounts for why the Orthodox seem to move as such a glacial speed.  Orthodoxy can appear to be inefficient and chaotic in certain ways.  But efficiency isn’t everything.  The Emperor once did his best to make us more efficient (for example, by enforcing the decisions of councils with secular force of arms), but it was, not to put too fine a point on it, a mixed blessing.  Not all efficiency is good.  Anyway, papal primacy as currently expressed is the first obstacle to Catholic-Orthodox reunion, and one issue to resolved. 
A second is scarcely less important—that of liturgical phronema, or mindset.   The issue here is not, let me stress, the difference between eastern and western rites, and the question of which one is preferable.  In fact the Orthodox have long protested the reduction of differences between east and west to matters of rite and ritual.  The model of Unia (I avoid the term “Uniate”, since it is now considered derogatory), and the idea that Orthodoxy could happily fit into the Roman Catholic world if allowed to retain its liturgical tradition and its married priests, is indeed problematic, but it is not the problem I addressing here.  I am not now referring to the question of the Unia model for unity, but of what may be described as liturgical minimalism. 
For there to be true unity between Orthodox and Catholics, there does not necessarily need be a common Eucharistic rite.  In a reunited Church, we acknowledge the room for and legitimacy of a plurality of rites.   But Orthodox and Catholics do need a common liturgical approach, so that Orthodox visiting Catholic churches or Catholics visiting Orthodox ones feel they are still living in the same church and are sharing the same approach to liturgy and life.  Currently it seems that our approaches to liturgy are very different and largely incompatible.
One difference of approach can be found in the matter of fasting.  Orthodoxy requires its faithful to abstain from meat, fish, and dairy every Wednesday and Friday, and throughout the four fasting seasons of the Church year.  As well as this, Orthodox must fast entirely from midnight before receiving Holy Communion the next morning.   Such a mindset finds incomprehensible making the Lenten fast optional (as I am told is sometimes done), or reducing the Eucharistic fast to one hour before the Mass.  This latter seems to us a lot like not fasting at all, and more akin to not eating in between meals.   This is not to suggest that all who call themselves Orthodox keep the fast as prescribed, but they know that if they don’t, they are cheating and colouring outside the lines.
Another difference can be found in the current state of the Novus Ordo Mass, which can be served quite casually in about half an hour or so.  In my local experience one often finds no chanting, no incense, casual ceremonial, and (to Orthodox eyes) inappropriate liturgical use of the laity.  This change from the more historic and stately High Mass strikes most Orthodox as essentially the Protestantization of the Mass, and indeed it is sometimes difficult to know whether one is listening to a modern Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Lutheran service.   The only sure way to know whether or not it is a Mass is to listen to see whether or not the celebrant prays for the Pope.  One could mention the famous Clown Masses that sometimes show up on Youtube.   Granted that Clown Masses and their liturgical kin are abuses, their existence seems to witness to a different underlying phronema, a different approach to history and tradition.
            My intention in all this is not polemics.  After all, my own Orthodox house has more than enough glass in it, and we Orthodox are in no position to throw any stones.  My sole purpose in mentioning these things is to identify which things are the real and grass-root obstacles to restoring Eucharistic communion.  If we are going to honour the past by making progress in the future, these difficult issues will have to be faced.  Most Orthodox laity (let’s be honest) do not understand the issues of filioque and would not care much even if they did.  The insertion of the filioque into the Creed would not scandalize most of them so much as would a half hour Liturgy without incense, or the abolition of a fast.  It is good for theologians to talk together, and to produce papers, and to meet together for conferences.  But for a really interesting time, bring together a devout Catholic grandma and a devout Orthodox yaya, and let them talk about their differences.  That would be a dialogue worth recording.  And it would highlight as nothing else could the path to unity we need to tread.
            Having said all that, it is good and needful for us to come together.  Christendom has long since disintegrated around us.  Culture and cultural history no longer unite us.  Only our faith in the living and triumphant Christ does.  We meet together ultimately because we love Him, and because He commands us to love each other.   We cannot yet share the Eucharistic Chalice, but we can share the love of the Lord.  And without that love (dare I say it?) even the Chalice will not save us.  Perhaps I may permitted to end with a last look at the catacomb cave with which we began, and with the words of St. John, the apostle of love:   “Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren…Let us love one another, for love is from God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”