CNEWA Sponsors Rome Conference

Eastern Catholic and Orthodox scholars gathered for an international conference in Rome, 15-16 November, to discuss the role of the Eastern Catholic churches in advancing ecumenical dialogue, in particular with the Orthodox churches. Presenters included theologians from across Europe, North America and Lebanon.

The conference, entitled “Eastern Catholics’ Ecumenical Vision in Dialogue with the Orthodox,” was organized by the Institute of Ecumenical Studies of the Catholic University of Lviv, in collaboration with the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where it was held. The event was sponsored by CNEWA and L’Oeuvre d’Orient.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the opening remarks.

“From an ecumenical perspective, this conference is an important sign of hope and trust in today’s world, which is stigmatized by terrible wars, and in the ecumenical situation, which is painfully affected by these wars,” he said.

He cited the conciliar decree, “Orientalium Ecclesiarum,” which states that Eastern Catholic churches “have a special duty of promoting the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern Christians.”

The Reverend Mark Morozowich, associate professor of liturgy at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., spoke about how the churches are linked by their liturgical heritage and by the mutual desire to renew the liturgical life of the church through its shared liturgical theology.

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Job of Pisidia pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship” and the document “For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church,” issued by the Orthodox church three years ago, as demonstrating the unanimity in the social teaching of the two churches, based on the shared commitment to the principle of human dignity, in addressing various issues.

Several speakers explored approaches to ecumenism. The Reverend Iwan Dacko, member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, said the Eastern Catholic churches today “do not recognize so-called uniatism as either a method or a model of unity between Rome and the Orthodox churches.”

Uniatism refers to Eastern Christian churches that have entered full communion with the bishop of Rome and formed a sui iuris churches within the Catholic communion of churches. At the same time, Father Dacko said the existence of Eastern Catholic churches and their development as autonomous (sui iuris) churches in communion with the Rome “must be recognized and protected by both the Catholic and Orthodox sides.”

Dimitrios Keramidas, professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), presented the Orthodox perspective on this point. He cited “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” a document issued from the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Churches in 2016, which indicates that theological dialogue among churches “should always be accompanied by witness to the world through acts expressing mutual understanding and love … eschewing every act of proselytism, uniatism or other provocative act of interconfessional competition.”

“What the council rejects,” he explained, “is uniatism as the method and the model of the unity, not the existence of the Eastern Catholic churches.”

Other speakers presented concrete examples of ecumenical dialogue at the local level. The Reverend Roman Fihas, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest and director of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies in Lviv, spoke about the challenges and perspectives of ecumenical dialogue in the context of the war.

Religious life in Ukraine began to flourish only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said. A specific trait of Ukrainian Christianity was “the absence of one monopolistic Christian community, that could dictate terms to other denominations.

“Such diversity created a certain tension and competition between denominations,” he said. “At the same time, it created the basis for the dialogicity and openness of Ukrainian Christianity.”

Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine has made dialogue between the two countries “impossible” at different levels and has created a huge obstacle for dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church of Russia, he continued.

“However,” he noted, “dialogue and bridging the gaps are possible within Ukraine, as well as with external world centers and communities that are ready to listen and communicate.”

Souraya Bechealany, former secretary general of the Middle East Council of Churches, highlighted the importance of ecumenical dialogue at the regional level. The council was founded in 1974 by the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches and evangelical communities. The Catholic Church joined in 1990.

In the Middle East, Christian communities “will be together or they won’t be,” she said.

“It’s not a matter of theological discourse, it’s a matter of life and death for the mission in the Middle East.”

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