Patriarchs meet and pray together

Pope Benedict XVI met today with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's 250 or 300 million Orthodox Christians. They prayed together at the Church of St. George at the Patriarch's headquarters in Istanbul ("Constantinople" before it was conquered and renamed by invading Muslim armies - one of the centers of Christianity in the ancient and medieval world). The Pope as Patriarch of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople represent two of the 5 Ancient Patriarchs who were the most influencial leaders in the Ancient Conciliar Church.

The Orthodox Patriarch has direct jurisdiction over a few dioceses, but his leadership of Orthodox Christians is analogous to the Archbishop of Canterbury's leadership of the Anglican Communion: he is the first among equals of the major bishops, is a sign of unity among the Orthodox, and is looked to for spiritual and moral leadership rather than institutional control.
Christian unity, especially full unity with the Orthodox is a major goal of Benedict's Papacy. The pope called Christian dividedness a "scandal." For more click here; or here.

Since the Bible teaches that only in her unity will the Church truly reflect the love of the persons of the Trinity (in John 17:20-23) and only in unity will the church grow into the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:1-16), and since common sense teaches that our dis-unity is a major reason that people doubt our message or that people use it as an excuse not to commit to discipleship within any church ("Which one is the right one?"), and since disunity is entirely inimical to the fundamental Christian virtues (self-giving/self-sacrificial love and faith/trust) thus making a sham out of our faith and our claim to be filled with the Spirit of Love, and for many other reasons besides, I think Christian unity is an EXTREMELY important goal for us to pursue. When I say unity I mean full organic unity of some kind. I would expect some kind of "Full Communion of Communions" similiar to a larger version of Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

It seems pretty clear that the Pope's role in a reunited Church will have to be more like that of the Ecumenical Patriarch or the Archbishop of Canterbury, though he would no doubt maintain direct jurisdiction over the churches that are already under his jurisdiction. I think many of us Protestants can accept that sort of role for the pope since, let's face it, he is ALREADY the most influencial Christian leader and bishop and pastor in the world anyhow, and people who are not under his jurisdiction (including many Protestants) already look to him as a sort of Christian spokesman in the face of militant secularism and militant Islam. The Papal Encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" has already suggested that the Vatican might be willing to discuss new understandings of papal authority for unity's sake.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

NPR actually had a good news account of the pope's visit this morning. I didn't realize how confined orthodoxy was in Istanbul considering their religious tolerance views. You should check out their Web page and see if they have it listed so you can hear it now. See you on Saturday.--bethany

1:06 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger John T. Meche III said...

I guess the question is how much Truth are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of unity? What about those that don't believe in the resurrection or the virgin birth? I believe there is unity through doctrinal soundness within the church, not in spite of it.

3:14 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

John, I am not willing to sacrifice truth for unity, if you mean explicitly embracing a falsehood (like say, manditory clerical celibacy as I discussed in my last post). On the other hand, I think there are lots of things that ALL Christian Churches who could re-unite (this NEVER applies to all people who call themselves Christians) can and do agree on and such things would certainly include all of the content of the Nicene Creed. Reunion would not require total agreement on all issues or dogmatic definitions that solve all disputes. A communion of communions would require consensus on the fundamentals of the Christian faith and a recognition of one another as true Christians and legitimate parts of the one Universal Church. On the other hand, Unitarians (for example) could never be a part of such a reunited Christian Church (because of so radically different an understanding of God), nor would they want to be. But if you actually look at some of the ecumenical work that has already been done, there is significant consensus across the major Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox divide on many major doctrines - perhaps even some (like Justification?) where it was thought no consensus could occur at all. In some statements from the Vatican, like "Ut Unum Sint" there have actually been suggestions that Rome would be willing to "re-envision" the role of the pope for the sake of unity. The East-West divide will likely be healed within our lifetimes after a thousand years. These are significant developments that we Protestants dare not sneer at with our usual parochial, "seperate and pure" mentalities. There are opportunities before to reunite the Church, the only reason not to take hold of them is because we WANT to live in outside the explicit will of Christ.

10:18 AM, December 01, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good response Daniel. And we were actually talking about the Great Schism and all that was involved with in in class on Wed.--Bethany

11:50 AM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger John T. Meche III said...

i understand what you're saying, and I agree. I just think that denying that the events of the new testament are things that actually happened is not something that I would be prepared to "agree to disagree" on. That God in the form of a man really came to the earth through a virgin birth, that He lived a sinless life, that he performed miracles, that he died on the cross at the hands of sinners, that we was resurrected on the third day and sits at the right hand of God..these things I will not deny the status of historical events for unity. They are fundamental. That's all I'm saying.

7:25 PM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Oh yes, you are completely correct - as I said, if any kind of Christian unity were to happen, it would be on the basis of those doctrines upon which there is already a consensus among the churches, this would include all of "Classical" or "Mere" Christianity specifically the affirmations of the early ecumenical councils which affirm those events that you are thinking of.
Besides, I don't know of any denomination that officially denies these things. Though there are several in the West (including my own) that do not do enough (do anything?) to discipline church "leaders" who do (Joseph Sprague comes to mind...).

As I have thought about this more; I think our dis-unity is even more scandalous than I had previously supposed. We do claim after all that Jesus is our King and that we are formed as a new covenant people, a new Israel in a sense, under this one Lord. We are also a new family adopted through Christ by God the Father. The fact that we cannot even gather round the table together (which is supposed to represent our familial and spiritual unity under the one Lord) is, from the point of view of the world, empirical evidence that points to the falsehood of our claims about the universal Lordship of Christ and the unity of the Spirit of God. This indeed should be scandalous to the Church.

10:20 AM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger methodist monk said...

Daniel is right about this one, the RC willingness to let go of papal authority would go miles in the healing of the east west divide. Yet other things would need to occur as well such as the abolition of the clerical celibacy and the filoquy which is still an insult to the east.

The problem I see with some protestant denominations is our inclusion of women as ordained. I for one am willing to go along with bridging the gap on most everything, but I do not think I could back down from the inclusion of women in ministry. I believe that if the east and west looked back into their own earliest histories they would find women in ministry as well.

10:25 AM, December 04, 2006  
Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

That is a tough one, Stephen. Perhaps we could work out an agree to disagree plan here (as provinces of the Anglican communion have done) but I suppose it would require that a male bishop be an active participant at the ordination/consecration of all future bishops/presbyters. Otherwise they would not be seen as legitimately ordained (and therefore exchagnable) by the majority of the churches (not only Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox). That is to say, if we were to have a shared communion service, it would have to be celebrated by a man who had been ordained by a man, though within some of the individual communions that make up this communion of communions women might be ordained to celebrate sacraments, etc. Anything else, is, I think unrealistic.

Unless all the churches that currently ordain women were to continue their present declines and fade away into non-existence long before this unity occured anyways, in which case it becomes a non-issue. But clearly, I hope that won't happen (as I am employed by one such church)

8:04 PM, November 13, 2007  

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