Conference Looks at Eastern Catholics’ Role in Ecumenism

The promotion of Christian unity, especially between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, is the “pursuit of catholicity,” that is, of a holistic vision of Christianity that values and safeguards its Western and Eastern traditions, said Msgr. Paul McPartlan.

And within that ecumenical task, he said, the Eastern Catholic churches are “privileged agents of the exchange of gifts that is needed between Catholics and Orthodox,” since they have preserved the Eastern liturgies, spirituality and traditions while also being in full communion with Rome.

Msgr. McPartlan, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington and a longtime member of the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, spoke 15 November on the first day of a two-day conference on “Eastern Catholics’ ecumenical vision in dialogue with the Orthodox” at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

The conference was sponsored jointly by the institute and the Ukrainian Catholic University’s Institute of Ecumenical Studies with support from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Speakers emphasized the ecumenical commitment of the Eastern Catholic churches as well as the role the Eastern Catholic churches play in bringing the gifts of Eastern Christianity to the global Catholic Church. In addition, the conference looked at the way the Eastern Catholic churches can show the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches how they can maintain their Eastern identity while also being in full communion with Rome.

The Eastern Catholic churches, Msgr. McPartlan said, “are uniquely qualified to help both sides in our common quest for catholicity.”

After centuries of developing separately, “all of us, Orthodox and Catholics, both Latin and Eastern, have been emerging from restrictions and limitations, both imposed and self-imposed, in recent decades and seeking our true identity,” he said. “We need to make that journey of discovery and recovery together and doing so in charity and humility will in itself be a precious act of synodality.”

Specifically, he said, “the West is strong on primacy but weaker on synodality. It needs help with synodality from the Christian East. The East is strong on synodality but weaker on primacy, not locally or regionally, but particularly at the universal level. It needs help with that from the West.”

“Over the years, and in recent centuries, there has been a tendency for Catholics and Orthodox, unfortunately, to become more hostile to one another and to draw a clearer line between themselves,” Msgr. McPartlan told Catholic News Service, 15 November. And the Eastern Catholic churches “occupy a very interesting middle position between the West and the East” that can help both the Catholic and Orthodox churches to expand their catholicity or universality.

The Eastern Catholic churches, he said, can “teach both the Latin Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church to understand one another and to realize how they have gifts that can be brought together for the fullness of the church to breathe with both of her lungs,” as St. John Paul II said.

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Job of Pisidia, co-chair of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, spoke to the conference about the commonalities in the social teaching of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Catholic Church.

Looking specifically at Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” and the patriarchate’s 2020 document, “For the Life of the World: Toward a Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church,” Metropolitan Job highlighted their common concerns about “the resurgence of nationalism, violence and war; the potential danger of the digital evolution and of individualism; the issue of migration; the notion of human rights and just economy; and on the necessity of interreligious dialogue.”

In “Fratelli Tutti,” he said, Pope Francis “regrets a certain regression of our contemporary world in which conflicts break out anew due to the rise of extremist and aggressive nationalism.” In a similar way, “For the Life of the World” points out that as far back as 1892, the Orthodox Council of Constantinople condemned “ethnophyletism, a form of subordination of Orthodoxy to ethnic identity and national interest.”

Given the position of the ecumenical patriarchate, a Ukrainian priest at the conference asked Metropolitan Job about the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Both the papal and the Orthodox 2020 documents, the metropolitan responded, take the position “that war is inadmissible on the basis of the Gospel.”

“The source of interpretation given now by (Russian Orthodox) Patriarch Kirill about the war in Ukraine is inspired by nationalism and by the politics of the state,” which “does not reflect the mind and the spirit of the Gospel,” he said.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, said the conference “is an important sign of hope and trust in today’s world, which is stigmatized by terrible wars, and the ecumenical situation, which is painfully affected by these wars.”

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