|Pope Benedict XVI and Eccumenical Patriarch Bartholomew|
|Chart of World Religions based on my own research|
In this post, I dont want to focus on what we need to agree on for unity to take place. I think the two biggest items on that list are obviously going to take time and effort to work through. The question I think is helpful before getting to the "big 2" is this:
What will it not take to achieve unity?
In other words: All else being equal, will my pet issue prevent unity? One thing is for sure: It should not take agreement about beards to achieve unity. Yet believe it or not I have seen this argued about as a reason for continued separation. A "sign" of where the true Church is that Latin's trend toward no beards and Orthodox have them. Stupid, silly, ridiculous, bad reasoning, which completely ignores the Maronites and other "bearded" Eastern Catholics. We need to get beyond it.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with an Orthodox co-worker. Let's call him "Nicholas" (And lest you think I am stereotyping, that really is his name!). For background, we are both "devout" in our respective traditions. I take my Catholicism deadly serious, as he does Orthodoxy. Although it is also his familys heritage, it is not merely that for him. He really cares about his faith. So our discussion gets around to distinctives of our respective "teams". Incorruptible saints bodies, quantity and types of saints, Holy Fire shooting from the Holy Sepulchre, marrying priests, monastic life, beards, ethnicity, nationalism, calendar differences, the Rosary, etc, etc.
After quite a bit of that sort of back and forth (quite congenial I might add), I was struck with the realization that we never quite got around to discussing Papal Primacy or the Filioque. As someone who is very interested in reunion between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, I always find this situation somewhat depressing. It seems comparable to a troubled couple going to marriage counselling and on the top of the list of crucial discussion topics for potential reunion is:
#1. Toothpaste tubes: Rolling or Squeezing?
#2. Toilet seat: To leave up or put down.
#3. Which is better: Mexican food or Thai food?
DUN DUN DUUUUN!
Misses the point eh? Perhaps instead of focusing on this meaningless stuff getting down to the real issues would be nice? Okay, so how to do that? I propose first using this same "non-issue" list as a starting point in narrowing the discussion. The guiding principle should be this:
If issue X were the last issue on the table would it prevent reunion? And if not, forget discussing it.
In other words, if the issues of papal primacy and filioque were resolved, and whatever else is deemed crucial to either side, and all that was left is issue X (beards for instance), would that issue prevent reunion? If the answer is "no", then please for goodness sake, let's ignore that issue from the get-go. So I propose we come up with a list which gives the many worthless, go-nowhere debates that would not and do not needfully separate Catholics and Orthodox. Keep in mind that some of these are worth discussing, and some are even fairly important, but they don't rise to the level of something that separates us from being in full communion with each other.
I would start the list thusly:
THINGS ORTHODOX AND CATHOLICS DO NOT NEED TO AGREE ON FOR REUNION:
#1. Beards. Get over it. No sane Jesus loving Christian would prevent reuinion because of such a triviality.
#2. Celibate priests. This is not a matter of dogma for Catholics, but merely the practice of the latin rite and not even the eastern rite Catholics such as the Maronites. And Orthodoxy would not need to change to accept this practice, they would merely need to allow some (latin rite) Catholics to continue this practice. And the fact that Orthodox priests may not remary, and that their bishops may not be married shows that they understand the latin reasoning to a degree, and should be able to respect and tolerate the Latin Rite on this discipline.
#3. Charisms of religious orders. Some Orthodox criticize Catholic piety for having different religious orders with different callings, unlike the Orthodox who have a more singular vision of what religious life should be like.
#4. Leavened or unleavened bread.
#5. Statues in the round vs. icons only.
#6. Different types of miracles. (Orthodox saints do not have stigmata, while some other miracles seem to only happen to Orthodox or Eastern Catholic saints, such as miracles of uncreated light appearing). Either way, let's agree that we both have holy ones who have miracles, and not disrespect the other side for it's differences.
#7. Differences of devotional practices. This one actually get's me steamed up a little. I have heard Catholics roundly criticized by Orthodox for praying the Rosary or Stations of the Cross. Generally the critique is that prayer focusing on events is not spiritual enough, and the Orthodox are soooo much more spiritual in how they pray. This kind of attitude is toxic for everyone who touches it. Both sides have deep histories of very intense types of prayer, and getting into a spitting contest here is just petty. In defence of the Orthodox critics on this topic, I have often found that they have wrong information about Catholic practices anyway.
#8. Calendar issues. Fact: There are three calendars in use among Orthodox churches who are in communion with each other: Julian, Revised Julian, and Gregorian. This fact should be the end of the discussion if this issue is brought up in the context of reunion. It is currently a controversy in Orthodoxy, and it can continue to be a controversy in a reunited Chruch.
#9. Orthodox crabbing about "proselysing" in "their lands". Give me a break. If I, as a Catholic, lived in a majority Orthodox country (in Eastern Europe or Russia), I would need to go to a Church in communion with the pope. It is as simple as that. The presense of Catholic Churches in these areas is totally legit, and Orthodox need to get over it. Was the way they got there in some cases not a good way? Perhaps. But the fact is that Catholics who wish to recieve the Eucharist from priests in communion with the Apostolic See need somewhere to go. And the fact that Orthodox have churches in America and elsewhere shows that they do the same thing the Catholics have done, yet the Catholics don't gripe one bit about it. I am just fine with there being an Orthodox diocese in my area. Let's each make our case and let people decide which team is right.
These a just a few things that it will not take to achieve unity. Unfortunaltely, that are often the ones most discussed as if they really are an impediment to unity. Anyone have any other items to add to the list?