Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Vatican II and the Eastern Churches. Two short comments

The Hammersmith Christian Unity Conference
May 1965

Archbishop Anthony: [1]

FIRST OF ALL, I wish to express my joy at being in your midst again, and the hope that your meeting will proceed with success, and be fruitful, not only intellectually but also spiritually, so that we may grow into an ever deeper understanding in the future. I should also like to share with you a very few impressions and thoughts.

Those of us who have been attentively observing the results of the Vatican Council sessions in the life of the parishes, either here in this country or abroad, cannot help being deeply impressed by the new spirit which we sense and whose fruits are so obvious in inter-church relations. Last year and the year before, I had occasion to take part in ecumenical work in France, where teams of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors were working together; I was impressed by the change of atmosphere which one could note there. One can also feel that a real movement of the Spirit is taking place. One of my Orthodox friends said (was it with pleasure or with a certain fear?) that if Roman Catholicism recaptures the fullness of the truth, then quite certainly the Roman Catholic Church will become Orthodox faster than we!

Yet there is this question of truth, and I think that in that respect you westerners seem to over-simplify things and are over-optimistic, whether you belong to the Roman Communion or not: it seems to us Orthodox that you make light of theological divergencies and that you think much too easily that because you have no particular reason to reject us and our views, we must conversely accept yours. Indeed, I see no reason why Roman Catholicism should not accept the views of Orthodoxy, because we are your own past; but I see quite definitely, as every Orthodox does, that we are in no position to accept indiscriminately the views that have developed in Roman Catho­licism since the separation between east and west, because you are not our past, and this you must always remember. I am not now being either unkind or unfriendly; I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I wish for reunion, but not for a cheap reunion at the cost of those things which generations of people have built up and for which they have given their lives. This is no sentimental approach; it is not because people have given their lives that what they stand for is true, but we cannot reject or accept things which meant everything to generations past without at the same time passing a judgment on their spirituality, their knowledge of God and their life in God; and we must be very careful about this.

This leads me to a last point. There is a great deal of goodwill expressed in the documents of the Vatican Council with regard to us poor separated brethren. We feel grateful for it and happy about it, but we so much wish you to realise that we are not simply a group of people who have been excluded from the communion of Roman Catholicism and who are waiting on the threshold with no other hope but to see the door open for us to come in. Whether we are right or wrong we have definite views about Roman Catho­licism, as you have definite views about us separated brethren. Although we wish as much as you do for the whole of Christendom to become one, we also have our definite convictions which we are not going to jeopardise for the sake of unity as such — because unity can become an idol to replace the Church, God and a great many things. So that when the Roman Catholic Church takes decisions one-sidedly, allowing us to be admitted to sacraments, to be received in a new spirit, do not draw haphazardly hasty conclusions about the reaction of the Orthodox and do not put wrong interpretations on the misgivings which we express. It is not always right to think that the Russian Church is cautious about union because it is under Communist rule. It is not always right to give worldly and temporal explanations for things which to us matter far beyond things temporal or worldly.

I would like to draw your attention, and particularly the attention of the clergy and those lay people who have a wise and responsible contact with the clergy, to the problem of inter-communion. The Vatican Council has given certain rights to Roman Catholics with regard to the Orthodox Church and to the Orthodox with regard to the Roman Catholic Church; but it is not enough for the Vatican Council to have taken this step for it to be effective, for there is the other side. There are the Orthodox, and it is not because we are simply backward in our thoughts, stubborn in our ways or cold in our hearts, that we are not prepared to avail ourselves of what are thought to be advantages. We believe that there can be communion within one Church, but we do not believe that there can be inter-communion between two churches and we think that the differences between Roman Catholicism and us must first be overcome, and then crowned in the marvel and the joy of inter-com­munion.

This is nothing but a short statement which I am not trying to back with reasons, but I beg of you to be aware of this and not to turn to any Orthodox who happens to stray into your parishes where there is no Orthodox church, and invite him to receive Communion, because you are ready to give it to him. He also has a conscience, he also has a responsibility as a member of his Church, he has a duty to you and his Church and he cannot always avail him­self of your openness of heart. Our hearts also are open, but there are diffi­culties which must be solved before the joy of oneness can be both yours and ours.

I hope that what I have said does not sound unfriendly and that these few remarks which are all on the negative side will not be taken by you as an expression of ill will. I think there is often more goodwill in speaking frankly and openly and taking a stand which is completely loyal, than being ready to go farther than one’s conscience allows and one day to have to back out. To conclude, I wish you God’s blessing upon your meetings and I hope that the Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of Sonship, the Spirit of Light, will guide us and give us patience and courage and goodwill, so that one day we can be in God’s own truth, in God’s own fulfilled Church.

Published: Eastern Churches Review. 1966, Spring. Vol. I, n. 1. P. 19-21

[1] First made.


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