Friday, December 18, 2009

Answers to Tad's Question

In discussions with the non-Orthodox, one often hears, "We need each other." This raises the question, "For what?" Tad, commenting here a day or so ago, expressed great curiosity about how a Catholic might answer that.

So last night, at a meeting (party, really) of the Sts. Cyril & Methodius Society, I asked that question for Tad - and me.

The Society, despite it's grand sounding name, is a handful of Catholics and Orthodox here in Richmond who meet once a month for ecumenical dialogue. It isn't a particularly successful group, having never figured out its reason for being, and having already had every available theological debate several times over. I very seldom attend, but my husband attends every month, so I always go to the Christmas/Advent party with him.

So I asked, "What, in your view, do you need from us, and what, in your view, do we need from you?"

Well, that discussion, as it turned out, occupied the whole evening. I never offered any opinion, being there just for listening. I only tried to keep the group on topic.

The first answer was that we Orthodox need the Catholics to solve our messy jurisdictional issues. They have a central authority that would have taken care of all that years ago. They have, in other words, the pope. That's what we need from them.

The second answer was, "It's not a matter of what we need, but of what Christ wants, and of obedience to Him." Which is true, but instead of being an answer to my question, this response rejects its premise.

Third answer: "I'm not sure anybody official on either side feels his side needs anything from the other - unfortunately." Another non-acceptance of the premise.

Fourth answer: What with the rise of secularism and of Islam, we are very soon no longer going to be able to afford the luxury of schism. We must band together to present a united front to common threats. In other words, we have more clout together than separately.

My husband pointed out that the issue is never how to benefit the Church, but how to bring a human being into Christ, and nobody knew what to say to that.

What the Catholics present last night thought they needed from us was liturgical renewal. They said their mass has become "mundane".

Anyway, apparently the discussion made some of the participants (exactly 4 Catholics and 12 Orthodox) feel more bonded or something, and they thanked me for bringing up such an excellent topic - for which Tad, of course, gets the credit. It literally did make the whole evening, Tad.

Now galvanized, they've decided to have another Party during Bright Week, and have asked me to come up with "another brilliant question."

Er... um... Tad?


Unknown said...


Great question. I'll remember that when I'm at my next Catholic-Orthodox mixer (we don't have an official one, but I'm sure it will come up). You notice how the answers to this question always revolve around authority? "We need the Catholics because they have a pope and that would solve everything is the age-old tried answer" some say. The Catholics agree and say that you can't be the church without the pope and then they get into how much more spiritual they regard the EAstern tradition to be because it hasn't been corrupted. Curious, isn't it, that the main reason that the spirituality and the falling of the mass were caused by none other than the pope? Pope John XXIII to be exact and Vatican II.

Orthodox and Catholics who insist that we need a pope for authoritative purposes are the ones who then balk at what price that authority comes. Such is why Christ is the head of the Church.

Besides as long as the liturgy and offices are served, teh mysteries given to the faithful without the blessing or sanction of a pope, the jurisdictions blur in the eyes of God and we're doing just fine in spite of it.


James the Thickheaded said...

Like both the question and Chris's comment.

Problem with needing the Pope is that the stereotypical RC seems to acknowledge theoretcial be-all-and-end-all authority while practically NOT feeling compelled to pay any attention to him on a whole host of issues. Huh? So we need someone to exercise authority we can ignore or voice our disrespect for? I find the emerging practice of asking folks to not take communion... rather than withholding it (priest) or declining it (parishoner) quite curious. What happened to integrity and taking things seriously?

So I wonder whether anyone's thought that it's fair to say that it is BECAUSE Orthodox take the Pope seriously on his claims that we respectfully stay out of his church. Some have in fact commented that Orthodox tend to give their priest more authority than RC's in practice give the Pope. Something to do with the ability to exercise pastoral care seems to require a more local, direct authority. Ecclesiology is part of it... but I'm not sure we "need" it, or want it.

Our stereotype is squabbling and fighting among ourselves. You have to concede the stereotype and agree it's destroying the church before you agree you have to resolve it. Not seeing the destruction, I guess we're looking at not agreeing that we need something obvious. Do we need something that's not obvious? Okay... ambiguity... hmmm... I dunno.

I'd like to say what I think the RC needs from us, but I think that it would probably be presumptious that we could give what they need... as it would deny something of their free will and suggest that we have more than most of us manage. And Christ has already given what they and we need. I don't know how to distinguish the spirituality of the Western church from the East in all charity... except to note that I find what the East offers is so dynamically from within the heart of the Gospel... that it seemed to me to be a challenge to the spirit of a nature that I was moved to follow, and as somehow more engaged on a personal level. But maybe some of that has more to do with the small mission-size nature of so many Orthodox churches.

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks. Please don't give me much credit -- I've really been pondering that question for a while now, based mostly on everything that you have graciously taught me about Orthodoxy over the years. Now I have an answer thanks to you, even if it seems to be a rather incomplete one.

The jurisdictional disputes need to be resolved on a conciliar level (dare we hope for another Great Council?), or they will becom the force-fit solutions that people fear they will be. I don't see how a central authority figure would help in that, except for additional leadership resources in convening said Council. But that's another topic.

The "What Christ wants" reason is a kind of a dodge, since nobody can agree what Christ wants the resulting reunion to look like. Therefore, all we can agree on is that Christ wants something, and what we have now is probably not it. Not much to go on there....

The third answer is probably an honest assessment of the status quo, which means that the reunification dialogue is mere lip service. So, we could either drop the whole issue, or try to move past it.

The final statement is the only one that seems to have some legs under it. With numerous humans falling under the sway of decepetion, a unified message would definitely help in cutting through the chaos.

So, for the next question: Given that too much has to be conceded by one side to ever achieve true sacramental unity, what unified message could be adopted that would rise above the clamor of our modern age? I think that this is a more difficult question than it seems as face value. But then, I am a cynic at heart....