Thursday, May 26, 2011

Christians East and West: Our Hope and Prayer

Eastern Christians will immediately recognize that this is an unconventional icon of the Theotokos. It is, in fact, an icon of the Immaculate (Panagia) Heart of Mary, with its imagery and colors taken from the reports of the appearance of the Mother of God to the children of Fatima, Portugal nearly a hundred years ago.

I post this here as an accompaniment to my expression of a sense of urgency for the unity of Christians East and West. My post on Confirmation (Chrismation) provoked some interesting commentary about what divides or appears to some to divide Christians. I believe that as long as the essential elements of the rite are preserved, the celebration of the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments can vary in the rituals that surround them, and in the time and order of their celebration. Eastern and Western Christians can disagree on which form or order of the ritual is more expressive of the meaning of the Mysteries/Sacraments, but they may and ought to respect each other's traditions. It is certainly a blow to Christian unity for Eastern Orthodox Christians to deny the validity of Western (Catholic) Sacraments of Initiation. The Roman Church has always recognized the validity and today even emphasizes the beauty and the theological significance of the Eastern Christian liturgical traditions. This is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents, together, both the Eastern and Western rituals and practices for the administration of the Holy Mysteries/Sacraments, and explains the essential unity that underlies the various differences. Many Eastern Orthodox churches and theologians, bishops, priests, and lay people concur in the recognition of this essential unity.

I am convinced  that, for ecumenism, Ground Zero is the breach between Eastern and Western Christendom. This is the great divide in Christian Europe, a crack in the earth that runs through the whole second millennium of history between the Greek and Slavic East and the Latin West. Its causes are many and varied. Its healing, I hope, will be one of the great blessings of the third millennium, from which will come forth an energy that will vivify a new evangelization of the world, and a renewal of the roots and identity of Europe and its peoples. I don't know how this unity will be achieved in historical circumstances, but I am certain that God wills it and therefore we must do everything we can in good conscience to foster it. This certainly includes the mutual acceptance and appreciation of the profound bonds that already unite us, as well as respect for the legitimate differences that do not really divide us. It means prayer to the Holy Spirit, and to the Mother of God who is so deeply loved by both East and West, and has shown her abundant blessings to all her children.

At Fatima, the Mother of God hinted that Russia was destined to play a special role in modern history: that Russia's errors would be a source of great sufferings, but its conversion an occasion for a period of peace. And indeed the twentieth century saw those errors and those sufferings. It also saw the beginning of hope, and the first stirrings of an anticipated conversion. Still, today, it is western secularism--the older, weaker, but still dangerous cousin of the atheistic communist monster--that sweeps over the world, and over the ruins of Russia and the still emerging nations of Eastern Europe. Two men have risen to critique secularism's "dictatorship of relativism" in our time, and there is much affinity between them in their personalities, ideas and aspirations: Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Benedict XVI.

Let us examine ourselves and put aside all unnecessary sources of division. Let us long for unity, and pray to Christ Our God and His Immaculate, All-Holy Mother for a fraternal embrace and a kiss of peace that will heal the wounds of a thousand years and give renewed light to the world.