Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Russians' opinion of the Romans

Zenit has an interview with Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev on the Orthodox view of the Pope. Most of it is pretty standard stuff, but the title-by-title remarks on the Pope's titles are a good recap of the Eastern view.

[After explaining Constantinople's position in Eastern Orthodoxy] I believe that, alongside with contacts with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, it is equally important for the Roman Catholic Church to develop bilateral relations with other Orthodox Churches, notably with the Russian Orthodox Church. The latter, being the second largest Christian Church in the world -- its membership comprises some 160 million believers worldwide -- is eager to develop such relations, especially in the field of common Christian witness to secularized society.

Q: The Pope did away with the title "Patriarch of the Occident." What does this gesture mean? Is there any ecumenical meaning to it?

Bishop Alfeyev: Well, I was the first Orthodox hierarch that happened to comment on this gesture. Several weeks later, official comments were also made by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In my remarks I argued that repudiation of the title "Patriarch of the Occident" is likely to be considered by the Orthodox as confirming the claim, reflected in the pope's other titles, to universal Church jurisdiction.

Among the many designations of the Pontiff, that of "Bishop of Rome" remains the most acceptable for the Orthodox Churches, since it points to the Pope's role as diocesan bishop of the city of Rome.

A title such as "Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province" shows that the Pope's jurisdiction includes not only the city of Rome, but also the province.

"Primate of Italy" indicates that the Bishop of Rome is "first among equals" among the bishops of Italy, i.e., using Orthodox language, primate of a local Church. Following this understanding, none of the three titles would pose a problem for the Orthodox in the event of a re-establishment of Eucharistic communion between East and West.

The main obstacle to ecclesial unity between East and West, according to many Orthodox theologians, is the teaching on the universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. Within this context -- unacceptable and even scandalous, from the Orthodox point of view -- are precisely those titles that remain in the list, such as Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.

According to Orthodox teaching, Christ has no "vicar" to govern the universal Church in his name.

The title "Successor of the Prince of the Apostles" refers to the Roman Catholic doctrine on the primacy of Peter which, when passed on to the Bishop of Rome, secured for him governance over the universal Church. This teaching has been criticized in Orthodox polemical literature from Byzantine time onward.

The title "Supreme Pontiff" -- "Pontifex Maximus" -- originally belonged to the pagan emperors of ancient Rome. It was not rejected by the Emperor Constantine when he converted to Christianity.

With respect to the Pope of Rome, "Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" is a designation that points to the Pope's universal jurisdiction -- a level of authority which is not recognized by the Orthodox Churches. It is precisely this title that should have been dropped first, had the move been motivated by the quest for "ecumenical progress" and desire for the amelioration of Catholic-Orthodox relations.

The bishop's see is that of Vienna and Austria. He is considered to be the chief example of the Russian Orthodox hypocrisy when it comes to condemning Catholic inroads in Orthodox lands while at the same time appointing bishops for traditional Catholic lands.

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