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The Church of the East: There can be only one
It has been a big news week. And I already digressed into the area of moral theology and civility to comment on one of the rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court this week, i am not speaking of the rest (though, as a Catholic Christian, i believe universal access health care is a good, and capital punishment is not, so it was a pretty mixed bag all around).
Ecumenically, there have been a few interesting developments.
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ (USA) unanimously approved a full communion agreement with the United Church of Canada yesterday. The UCC and the UCC are both ‘united and uniting’ churches, themselves the products of previous ecumenical reunion efforts. The UCC (USA) already has similar agreements with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Union of Evangelical (read:Lutheran) Churches in Germany, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Two days ago, the Corriere della Sera published an interview with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate. He is quoted as saying that a meeting between Patriarch Kiril and Pope Francis “is getting closer every day”. Though this is his boilerplate response when asked about a meeting between the head of the largest Orthodox church with the bishop of Rome, he alluded that it was actually on the agenda – though no date is set, and it would certainly be in a ‘neutral’ location like
the Austro-Hungarian Empire Austria or Hungary. This meeting has been in discussion for 20 years, since the intended meeting between Alexy II and John Paul II was cancelled at the last minute.
And of course there was the annual delegation from the Phanar to the Vatican on the patronal feast of Rome, Sts. Paul and Peter. Leading the delegation this year was Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, who was also part of the panel presentation of the environmental encyclical Laudato Si. He and Metropolitan Hilarion were both in Rome this week as part of the drafting committee of a statement, “Towards the Understanding of Synodality and Primacy in the Church of the First Millennium” by the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
Probably the most interesting, and potentially most dramatic, however, was the proposal of Patriarch Raphael I (Louis Sako) of Bablyon, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who proposed a plan for a united Church of the East that would entail his own resignation.
The schism between the Church of the East and the rest of the orthodox Christian world is the oldest surviving division in the Church, its origins dating back to the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. It was the Christian Church in the Persian Empire, and has often (wrongly) been called Nestorian. Acknowledging that there is now brief way to do justice to the history of communion and schism between the Church of the East and the Catholic/Orthodox Church(es) in the last 1600 years, suffice it to say that what remains is a very small community based in Baghdad but effectively existing as a diaspora community, with its leaders often in Exile.
There are three current churches succeeding from that original Church of the East, which was founded, according to tradition, by the apostle Thomas and by Mar Addai (Jude/Thaddeus, maybe, or a disciple of Thomas) and Mari, a disciple of Addai.
The Assyrian Church of the East, whose Catholicos (Patriarch) Mar Dinkha IV died in March, consists of about 250,000 faithful, mostly in the U.S., Europe, and Oceania. The election of his successor has been postponed until September. The patriarchate went into exile to the United States in the 1930s. (The Assyrian Church is, to the best of my knowledge, the only ancient apostolic church where priests and deacons have been allowed to marry even after ordination; in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, married men could be ordained, but ordained men could not be married).
The Ancient Church of the East, whose Catholicos is Mar Addai II (since 1970!) numbers about 100,000 faithful and the patriarchate remains in Baghdad. From at least 1450 until 1976, the patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East had become a hereditary office, passing from uncle to nephew. In 1964, some members of the Assyrian Church used the official adoption of the Gregorian calendar as an opportunity to split from the rest, the underlying reason being objection to this hereditary practice and perhaps wanting to keep the hierarchy based in its ancient homeland.
The Chaldean Catholic Church was initially established in 1553 when a similar break-away faction of the Assyrian hierarchy (also objecting to a hereditary patriarchate) sought full communion with Rome, and over the next three centuries there was a great deal of fluidity back and forth, only stabilized about 1830. The Chaldeans number somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000, also mostly in diaspora. Patriarch Raphael I has been the primate of this church since 2013.
For the last three decades, there have been very successful ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, resulting in a Joint Christological Declaration in 1996, resolving the theological issue that had divided the churches of Rome and Persia back in the 5th century. Ten years later an agreement on sacraments was reached but not promulgated due to some internal issues. The only remaining issue holding back full communion was that of common ecclesiastical governance, and this is what Patriarch Raphael of the Chaldean Catholic Church has proposed to resolve now, if he and Patriarch Addy II both resign, and the bishops of all three churches come together to elect a single Catholicos-Patriarch.
Let us pray that this comes to fruition this year!
I would like to share some personal thoughts with those of others, since they may contribute to achieving the project of “the unity of the Church of the East”.
Unity is the commandment of the Lord Jesus, “so that they may be one” (John 17/11), and the demand of Christians who face significant challenges that threaten their existence in diaspora with assimilation, and in the motherland with extinction
I propose that we adopt a single denomination for the church: The Church of the East as it was for many centuries, and that we not maintain the factional denominations. The single denomination will give it strength and momentum, and it can become a model for other churches.
The communion of faith and unity with the Roman See is a fundamental base of unity. It is an increase of power, not a decrease, especially since there is no difference in doctrine, but only in its formal expression. Therefore, to think of disassembling the link of “the Church of the East” with the See of Rome would be a great loss and cause of weakness. Unity does not mean uniformity, nor the melting of our own church identity into one style, but it maintains unity in diversity and we remain one apostolic universal church, the Oriental Church, that maintains its independence of administration, laws and liturgies, traditions and support through respect for the authority of the Patriarch and the Synod of Bishops.
After deliberation and dialogue between the three branches and the acceptance of this communion with Rome:
1. The current Patriarchs: Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Mar Addai II, Patriarch of the ancient Church of the East, would submit their resignations without any conditions, but their desire for unity.
2. The Bishops of the three churches would meet to choose a new Patriarch.
3. The elected Patriarch should have assistants from each branch to enhance the “weft” (the permanent Synod).
4. The Patriarch and the Synod would leave national interests to the laity, because the church should be open to everyone and concerned with the best interests of all.
5. The Patriarch and the Synod would prepare for a General Synod to develop a new road-map for The One Church of the East.
[For the best guide to navigating the byzantine waters of Eastern Christianity, see Ron Roberson, The Eastern Christian Churches, now in its 7th Edition]
English Translation of Ruling on Married Eastern Catholic Priests
Unofficial Translation provided by The Byzantine Forum
This is the document to which i referred in Friday’s post, Married Catholic Priests Coming to a Parish Near You.
ACTS OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE EASTERN CHURCHES
Pontifical Ruling Regarding Married Eastern Clergy
A) Introductory Note
Canon 758 §3 [of the] CCEO (Oriental Code of Canon Law) states that: “Regarding the admission to holy orders of married [men], the particular law of [each] Church sui iuris or special norms established by the Apostolic See are to be observed.”
That allows that each Church sui iuris can decide on the admission of married [men] to holy orders.
At present, all Eastern Catholic Churches may allow married men to the diaconate and the priesthood, except the Syro-Malabarese and Syro-Malankara Churches.
Thus, the Canon provides that the Apostolic See can enact special rules in this regard.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI, in his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (Churches in the Middle East) of 14 September 2012, after having stated that “priestly celibacy is an inestimable gift of God to His Church, which must be accepted with gratitude, both in the East and in the West because it is a prophetic, timeless sign,” reminded that “the ministry of married priests is a component of the ancient Eastern traditions,” and encouraged them because “with their families, [they] are called to holiness in the faithful exercise of their ministry and in their living conditions in difficult times.”
The issue of the ministry of married priests outside the traditional eastern territories dates back to the final decades of the nineteenth century, especially since 1880, when thousands of Ruthenian Catholics emigrated from Sub-Carpathia, as well as western Ukraine, to the United States of America. The presence of their married clergy aroused protests by the Latin Bishops that their presence would cause gravissium scandalum[grave scandal] to the Latin faithful. Thus, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, by decree of October 1, 1890, forbade married Ruthenian clergy to reside in the US.
In 1913, the Holy See decreed that only celibates could be ordained as priests in Canada.
In the years 1929-1930, the then-Congregation for the Eastern Church (CCO) issued three decrees, which prohibited the exercise of ministry by married Eastern priests in certain regions:
1) the Decree Cum Data Fuerit of March 1, 1929, by which [the Congregation] forbade the exercise of ministry by married Ruthenian clergy who emigrated to North America.
2) the Decree Qua Sollerti of 23 December 1929, by which [the Congregation] extended its prohibition of ministry to all married Eastern clergy who emigrated to North or South America, to Canada, or to Australia.
3) the Decree Graeci-Rutheni of 24 May 1930, by which [the Congregation] stated that only celibate men could be admitted to the seminary and promoted to holy orders.
Deprived of ministers of their own rite, a number, estimated at about 200,000, of the Ruthenian faithful passed into Orthodoxy.
The referenced legislation was extended to other territories not considered ‘eastern regions’; exceptions were granted only after hearing from the local Episcopal Conference and receiving permission from the Holy See.
Since the problem persisted, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches involved the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On 20 February 2008, having reviewed the entire matter in Ordinary Session, [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] rendered the following decision: “Considering the existing rule – which binds Eastern priests in pastoral service to the faithful in the diaspora to obligatory celibacy, similarly to Latin priests – in specific and exceptional cases, the possibility of a dispensation exists, [which is] reserved to the Holy See.” The above was approved by the Holy Father Benedict XVI.
It should be noted that, even in the West, in recent times, with the [issuance of the] motu proprio Anglicanorum Coetibus, although not written for the Eastern clergy, a discipline was adopted, [which] considered specific situations of [married] priests and their families coming into Catholic communion.
B) Provisions approved by the Holy Father
The Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, held 19 to 22 November 2013 at the Apostolic Palace, discussed the issue extensively and subsequently presented to the Holy Father a request to concede to their Ecclesiastical Authority the faculty to allow pastoral service by married Eastern clergy outside of the traditional eastern territories.
The Holy Father, in the audience granted to the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, December 23, 2013, approved that request
contrariis quibuslibet minimum ostantibus, (all considerations to the contrary notwithstanding)
according to the following guidelines:
– in the Eastern Administrative Constituencies (Metropolia, Eparchies, Exarchates) constituted outside of the traditional territories, these faculties are conferred on the Eastern Hierarchs, to exercise according to the traditions of their respective Churches. Also, the Ordinary, possessing faculties to ordain married Eastern candidates from a respective region, [has] an obligation to give prior notice, in writing, to the Latin Bishop of the candidate’s place of residence, so as to obtain his opinion and any relevant information [regarding the candidate].
– in Ordinariates for the Eastern faithful who are deprived of their own Hierarchs, the faculty [to ordain married men to the priesthood] is conferred on the Ordinary, and he shall inform the respective Episcopal Conference and this Dicastry of the specific cases in which he exercises [the faculty].
– in territories in which the Eastern faithful are deprived of a specific administrative structure and are entrusted to the care of the Latin Bishops of the place, the faculty [to ordain married men to the priesthood] will continue to be reserved to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, which will pursue specific and exceptional cases after hearing the opinion of the respective Episcopal Conference.
Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, 14 June 2014
Leonardo Cardinal Sandri
Married Catholic Priests Coming to a Parish Near You
Pope Francis has moved to allow more married Catholic priests.
It is just that they are not Roman Catholic priests.
This, according to a document of the Pontifical Congregation for Oriental Churches, leaked today by Sandro Magister, the well-known Italian Vaticanist of La Repubblica.
The Congregation has issued a precept, “Pontificia Praecepta de clero Uxorato Orientali” – signed back in June and with papal approval– which allows the Eastern Churches to ordain married men wherever the Church is found, and to bring in already married priests to serve as needed, throughout the world. [6/106 Acta Apostolica Sedes, 496-99]
Most people know that Catholic priests of the Latin Church (the Roman Catholic Church) must be celibate. The exceptions being, since the 1980’s, former Lutheran or Anglican clergy who come into full communion, who may continue their presbyteral ministry while married.
Most Catholics are at least vaguely aware that this medieval discipline does not apply to most of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches, who do in fact allow married men to become presbyters – it is only their bishops who are necessarily monastic, and therefore celibate. (Deacons are universally allowed to be either married or celibate).
Fewer people are aware of the embarrassing history that has restricted these churches from either ordaining married men “outside their traditional ritual territory” or, in some cases, even sending married priests to serve in these countries. Starting with migrations of Ruthenians in 1880 to the U.S., the Latin bishops (almost entirely Irish) of the States were so scandalized by the idea of married presbyters that they convinced the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to restrict married clergy from following their flocks to the new world. By 1929-30, these limitations were repeated and even expanded to other “Latin territories”.
This move so effectively undercut the sacramental ministry and infrastructure of the Eastern Catholic Churches in the States, that about 200,000 Catholics and their married clergy left communion with Rome, and effectively populated the Orthodox Church of America and other Orthodox jurisdictions.
This is one of many examples of a kind of aggressive Latinization – forcing Eastern Churches to take on Latin/Roman practices – that has occurred over the centuries. The whole idea that Eastern Churches could only follow their own practices within their “traditional territory” is dubious in any case – do we say the same for the Roman Catholics? Is celibacy of diocesan clergy – a particularity of being “Roman” not of being “Catholic” – limited only to the “traditional territory” of the western Roman empire? What sense does it mean in an era when there are more Eastern Catholics outside “traditional territory” than within?
What it really shows is a flawed ecclesiology and a lack of due respect to the autonomy of the diverse practices and patrimony of ancient and apostolic churches in communion with Rome. How, our Orthodox sister churches would ask, is it possible to take Rome seriously on proposals for reunion when she treats Eastern Catholic Churches so inappropriately – flexing her muscles and forcing them to follow her whims (or those of too-easily-scandalized Irish-American bishops). Rome has to show that it remembers that unity does not mean uniformity.
After Vatican II, it was thought this would change. After all, the Eastern Churches were encouraged to return to their proper patrimony and cleanse themselves of any inappropriate Latin influences. Pope Paul VI took the proposal under advisement… and there it remained, sadly, until our own time. The Congregation for Oriental Churches proposed some change in 2008, but with the objection of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to reversing the ban, exceptions were allowed only on a case-by-case basis. You started to see priests ordained back in the “traditional territory” being allowed to serve in the west. Under these “exceptional” situations, it was just this year that the U.S. saw its first married Maronite priest ordained there.
In 2010 the Synod on the Middle East again raised the issue.
Now, finally, we have the restoration of at least this one right to rites.
The Eastern Churches find themselves in three jurisdictional situations, basically, which have different practical consequences:
- First, where there is a regular hierarchy, it is up to the competent ecclesiastical authority – the metropolitan, eparch, or exarch – to ordain according to the traditions of their churches, without restriction from the Latin church.
- Second, where there is an Ordinariate without a bishop or heirarch, such ordinations would be carried out by the ordinary, but while informing the Latin hierarchy. (there are less than a half-dozen countries where this is the case)
- Third, where there are groups of the faithful of an Eastern Church under the pastoral care of a Latin ordinary – such as the Italo-Albanians here in Italy – it continues to be a case-by-case basis.
Still, one more reform on the long list of “no-brainers” that could have been done ages ago without actually challenging either doctrine or even its articulation. It is simply the correction of an historical mistake that ought never have happened in the first place – and certainly ought not to have taken 135 years. It is this kind of thing, no matter how small, that demonstrates real “concrete progress” that the ecumenically minded – both “at home and abroad” are looking for.
Link to Magister article: http://magister.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2014/11/14/francesco-da-il-passaporto-ai-preti-sposati-orientali-valido-in-tutto-il-mondo/
Married Priests: Optional Celibacy among Eastern Catholics – Past and Present
Report on the Chrysostom Seminar at the Domus Australia, Rome
Did you know that there are now more married Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. than Eastern Catholic priests?
I do not actually remember a time when I did not know that there were married Catholic presbyters, so it has always been amusing to encounter people who find this a scandal in some way. The real scandal is that Catholic Churches with a right (and a rite!) to ordain married men are not allowed to do so, basically because of 19th and 20th century anti-immigrant sentiment, in the U.S.
That was not a main theme of the conference this morning, but it was certainly an interesting fact that was new to me.
Of the varied and lively discussion, probably the main take-away theme was this: The Gospel does not coerce, but offers conversion.
In other words, conversion is a response of the heart, whereas coercion is an exercise of power. Any relationship of supposedly sister churches, say, of Rome and of Constantinople – or of New York and Parma, for that matter – which is experienced as a relationship of coercion, becomes a church-dividing issue. This came up repeatedly regarding the imposition of a Latin discipline – mandatory celibacy for diocesan presbyterate – on non-Latin churches.
Speakers for the day included:
- Archpriest Lawrence Cross, Archpriest, Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University
- Rev. Prof. Basilio Petrà, Facoltà Teologica dell’Italia Centrale (Firenze)
- Rev. Thomas Loya, Tabor Life Institute, Chicago:
- Protopresbyter James Dutko, Emeritus Dean of the Orthodox Seminary of Christ the Savior, PA
- Archpriest Peter Galazda, Sheptytsky Institute, Saint Paul University, Ottawa
Archpriest Dr. Lawrence Cross spoke on “Married Clergy: At the Heart of Tradition.” Father Cross opened by stating for the record that the conference here was not a critique on the Latin practice, internally, but a protest against what he described as ‘bullying’ in some parts of the Latin Church against Eastern sister churches in communion with Rome: namely, the requirements in some places (such as the U.S.) that Eastern Catholic churches not allow married clergy because of pressure from the Latin (Roman) Catholic bishops.
Both married and celibate clergy belong to the deep tradition of the church. Though some try to point to the origins of mandatory celibacy as far back as the Council of Trullo in Spain, it is really from the 11th century Gregorian reforms – based on monasticism and coincident with a resurgence of manichaeism in the Church.
One of the results of this, much later, is the novelty, he says, of speaking of an ontological change in ordination, or an ontological configuration to Christ, as in Pastores Dabo Vobis 20, which sees married priesthood as secondary. One US Cardinal, he did not name, has referred to the ontological change of priesthood as analogous to the Incarnation or transubstantiation. The problem with the analogy is that the humanity of Christ is unchanged! Trying to assert an essential link between priesthood and celibacy, something which has been relatively recent in its effort, is problematic.
Indeed, there is no celibacy per se, in the Eastern tradition, just married or monastic life. Both require community, and vows to commit one to that community. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Church 374-5 highlights to mutual blessing that marriage and ordination offer to each other. He wonder why Pope John Paul II, who seemed to have such a high respect for the “primordial sacrament” did not see fit to apply it to the presbyterate.
Professor Basilio Petrà of the Theological Faculty of Central Italy (in Firenze), spoke on the topic of “Married Priests: A Divine Vocation.” Two immediate thoughts he shared were that the Catholic Church has always, officially at least, affirmed married priesthood, and to consider that vocation is always a call of the community and not of the individual. Marriage and priesthood are two separate callings, but both sacraments and therefore complementary not competitive.
Fr. Petrà drew attention to the recent apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which included this paragraph:
48. Priestly celibacy is a priceless gift of God to his Church, one which ought to be received with appreciation in East and West alike, for it represents an ever timely prophetic sign. Mention must also be made of the ministry of married priests, who are an ancient part of the Eastern tradition. I would like to encourage those priests who, along with their families, are called to holiness in the faithful exercise of their ministry and in sometimes difficult living conditions. To all I repeat that the excellence of your priestly life will doubtless raise up new vocations which you are called to cultivate.
While he emphasized the positive nature of the bishop of Rome including the married priesthood as a respected and ancient tradition in the east, it is interesting to note that while celibacy is a priceless gift of God” which “ought to be received in East and West alike,” married priesthood is not categorized as a gift of god but “a part of the tradition” and only in “the East.”
Father Thomas Loya of the Tabor Life Institute in Chicago, and a regular part of EWTN programming, presented on the topic, “Celibacy and the Married Priesthood: Rediscovering the Spousal Mystery.” Married priesthood witnesses to the Catholic tradition of a life that is ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or.’ We need a more integrated approach to monasticism and marriage, and relocating celibacy in its proper monastic context. But the continued practice of requiring eastern Catholic churches to defer to the Latin church hierarchy with respect to married clergy is to act as though the Latin Church is the real Catholic Church and the eastern churches are add-ons – fodder for accusations of uniatism if ever there was.
One of the clear problems of this was that when, in 1929, celibacy was imposed upon eastern churches in the US and elsewhere, married priesthood was part of the strength of these churches. Since then vocations have disappeared, evangelization has all but ceased, and the general life of the churches has withered. After “kicking this pillar of ecclesial life out from under the churches” it offered nothing to hold them up in its place, and the Church is still suffering.
Can you imagine a better seedbed for presbyteral vocations than a presbyteral family? What better way for a woman to know what it would be like to marry a priest than to be the daughter of a priest?
Married priesthood is part of the structure of the Church, but celibacy always belonged to the monasteries. Without a monastic connection, a celibate priest is in a dangerous situation, lacking the vowed relationship of either marriage or monastic life to balance the call to work. Every celibate must be connected to a monastery in some way.
Just as a celibate monastic must be a good husband to the church and community, so too must a married couple be good monastics. The relationship of monasticism and marriage ought to be two sides of the same coin and mutually enriching. The call to service in ordained ministry comes from these two relationships to serve. This would be a sign of an integrated and healthy church.
Protopresbyter James Dutko is retired academic dean and rector of the Orthodox Seminary of Christ the Savior in Johnstown, PA. His topic was “Mandatory Celibacy among Eastern Catholics: A Church-Dividing Issue.” Father Dutko was the only Orthodox presenter on the panel (and the only one without a beard, incidentally…) The bottom line? As long as the Latin Church (that is the Roman Catholic Church) imposes its particular practice on other Churches even within its own communion, there will be no ecumenical unity. Stop the Latinization, and the Eastern Orthodox may be more inclined to restore full communion.