Saturday, August 10, 2002

Father Nectarios at Orthopraxis and Gerard Serafin at A Catholic Blog For Lovers have both posted recently on Orthodox-Catholic relations, though from very different perspectives. Father Nectarios links to some interesting and irenic remarks about Eastern Rite Catholics from Metropolitan Nicholas, the hierarch of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese which he had posted earlier. The status of the Eastern Rite, or "Uniates" is a sore point in current Orthodox-Catholic dialogues. Most of today's Eastern Rite Catholics are former Orthodox, brought back into communion with Rome through means which have been the source of centuries-long controversy. The ongoing existence and post-cold war expansion of the Eastern Rite Catholic churches has disrupted dialogue between Rome and several local Orthodox Churches. Most Catholics seem baffled by the vehemence of otherwise ecumenically oriented Orthodox on this point. This situation is, to say the least, complicated, and I would recommend Metropolitan Nicholas' remarks for a fresh perspective.

I once tried to explain the problem to a sympathetic Catholic by suggesting an analogy to the world of business and corporate mergers and acquisitions. For nearly a thousand years Rome approached the East as a kind of corporate raider, attempting to pick up the Orthodox Churches cheap in a series of forced buy outs and hostile takeovers. Since the sixties, Rome has shifted goals, and seems sincerely interested in a negotiated merger with the East. From the Roman standpoint, the Catholic Eastern Rite is a situation that will take care of itself once full communion is restored, much the way overlapping departments are gradually combined and reorganized in any merger. The Patriarch of Constantinople is the prime mover in dialogue with Rome from the Orthodox side. The Patriarchate sees Orthodoxy as living in a hostile environment, troubled by rising secularism on the one hand, and resurgent Islam on the other. While not adverse to merger, that is, to restoration of full communion on proper terms, the Patriarch is more interested in finding support for the survival of Orthodox Christianity in an increasingly hostile world. To follow through with the business metaphor, he is not seeking a merger but rather is trying to negotiate a strategic alliance to reduce competition and preserve market share. From this perspective, the Eastern Rite Catholics are not a problem to be dealt with later, but a chief item on the agenda. If Rome really accepts the Orthodox as "Sister Churches," why are they marketing a competing product in traditionally Orthodox territories? If they continue to do so, does this suggest that talk of merger is really just a cover for yet another takeover attempt?

Needless to say, this explanation of the situation is my own eccentric perspective and should in no way be taken as the "Orthodox" view!

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