A Joint Orthodox-Catholic Forgiveness Vespers? A Response on “Liberal Engagement”

When the blog Red River Orthodox announced a change in format in order to attempt a “liberal engagement with the ‘West,'” many of us were both intrigued with the hopeful possibilities of such an endeavor but troubled at what might actually occur.  Now that a number of posts have been published, I would like to take this opportunity to reexamine the notion “liberal engagement” for fear that an authentic “liberal engagement” has not in fact occurred.

In a recent post, Orthodox priest Fr. Oliver Herbel asks why Orthodox Christians would not participate in a suggested joint Orthodox-Catholic service of Forgiveness Vespers. His reply is a vitriolic assertion that Orthodox bishops and priests simply don’t have “the guts” to do so.  In referencing Eastern Catholic scholar Adam DeVille’s original suggestion of the idea, we find that he intends it as an effort to “heal the divisions of the dead, and moreover, the memory of those divisions among the living.”

So I ask the question: Is this a true, liberal engagement with “the other”? May Catholics and Orthodox engage each other authentically with such a service?  In order to extrapolate this question, we must delve further into the concept of “liberal engagement.”

What does a “liberal engagement” actually look like?  I propose we tackle the issue by expressing it in simpler terms, terms that I encountered and embraced while an undergraduate student at a Southern Baptist liberal arts university – the integration of faith and learning.

The impetus behind this concept is to help students successfully navigate the turbulent waters of education, being hemmed in, as it were, by the Scylla of agnosticism or atheism and the Charybdis of fundamentalism.  The former represents an extreme acceptance of secular learning to the exclusion of faith claims, and the latter represents an extreme rejection of secular learning because of perceived conflicts with faith claims. Both are irrational distortions of reality and are driven by fearful reluctance to engage the other. The integration of faith and learning is guided by the axiom “All truth is God’s truth,” and while this axiom may not be epistemologically satisfying (it does not answer the riddle of how we actually determine what is truth), it does go a long way in assuaging the fear of the unknown. Wherever we might encounter something we deem to be truth, we can be assured that it is God’s truth as well; that is, it will fit within the general framework of our religious faith.

When conflict between faith and learning is encountered, one is forced to conclude either that  there is error or misunderstanding in what has been learned, or there is error or misunderstanding in one’s religious beliefs (not necessarily in the religion itself, but in one’s subjective holding of that faith).  These waters remain turbulent, as there is no formula for resolving these difficulties with ease.  It requires authentic faith and true learning—diligent work, time, and above all, humility.

But there are other obstacles in the water besides the extremes at either end.  There is a giant boulder in the middle of the water that threatens to stop all progress, the boulder of indifference to both faith and learning.  I suggest that this indifference is the result of what may be pejoratively called “ecumenism.”  To be sure, there are beneficial forms of ecumenism that do seek to integrate faith and learning, yet what often passes for liberal engagement of other belief systems, especially those more similar to one’s own, ends up being neither liberal nor an engagement.  It is not liberal, because it restricts one from fully operating within the fullness of his or her own faith tradition.  The person indifferent to his or her own faith tradition and indifferent to the acquisition of authentic knowledge of the other will compromise his or her own faith tradition. This places one on the periphery of that faith tradition or causes one to abandon it altogether.  In such a case, one ceases to be a faithful representative of that faith tradition, and because of this, no real engagement with the “other” can happen. If a Roman Catholic and an Eastern Orthodox Christian come together for an ecumenical gesture, and either one or the other compromises the integrity of his or her own tradition, a tertium quid (“third entity”) is created that is neither Catholic nor Orthodox – no true engagement between Catholicism or Orthodoxy may then occur.

This may become a litmus test of sorts whereby we might judge whether or not an ecumenical encounter is genuinely beneficial.  Is one free to operate within the fullness of his or her own faith tradition, or is one required to ignore some aspect of it for the encounter to happen? Is one engaging with a truly authentic representation of “the other” or rather with some overly progressive or overly conservative version of it?  Finally one might ask what the end result of such an ecumenical encounter might be – will it bring true engagement, i.e. the integration of faith and learning, or rather indifference for the sake of the appearance of union?

Let us then take the example of the proposed joint Orthodox-Catholic Forgiveness Vespers service proposed by Adam DeVille.  Would an Orthodox attendee be free to operate within the fullness of the Orthodox tradition?  I argue that he or she would not, for the purpose of Forgiveness Vespers is to provide a corporate expression of repentance for sins committed against the Church, the Body of Christ, and Roman Catholics are not acknowledged to be within that covenant community, which is signified by the union of the Chalice, for their union is a union different than the one we confess. A rite intended to express the mutual repentance of members of the Body of Christ should not be bent toward the intention of expressing rapprochement between two rival claimants of that title.

Of course, it is not as though a non-Orthodox person would be barred from participating in the rite of forgiveness, for there is no sacramental action being performed.  In such a case, however, forgiveness would be exchanged for general sins against the world, for the failure of the Church to faithfully engage the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But an explicitly Orthodox-Catholic joint rite of forgiveness would fail to bring together authentic expressions of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and thus it would fail to truly engage the other on authentic terms.  Nothing could then be accomplished by such a ritual. To participate in such an ecumenical service would be a sin against the Church and a sin against the “other,” because it would fail to engage the other authentically, that is, to engage the real issues that bring division between us. And because the doors of the house of faith would be explicitly opened to those who are not members of the family, the intimacy of the rite is also cheapened and ultimately discarded.

And herein lies the problem with many gestures of ecumenism, that one or more party believes the other to be really more or less the same, and any difference between the two is not so serious. Some Roman Catholics (certainly not all would agree, lest I be accused of creating a straw man) might claim that the Orthodox are truly, authentically Catholic, but they are merely being stubbornly independent in their irrational rejection the Roman papacy.  In this case, such a Roman Catholic would fail to engage the Orthodox as authentically Orthodox, but assume something about him or her that is not shared.  The real fissure in theological belief is not engaged. No authentic learning of the other can take place. DeVille’s language quoted above suggests that the divisions are only “of the dead” or simply “memories of divisions among the living.” In other words, there are no real divisions. Such an expression is not an authentic engagement of Orthodoxy, nor is it liberal, for it disallows the Orthodox to maintain that there are in fact real divisions between us.

True liberal engagement with the “other” is a quest to learn about the other with true and transparent authenticity, which is followed by the integration of the knowledge gained from the other with the faith that one holds in his or her own heart.  Real healing and real forgiveness can only occur within this context, within a true liberal engagement of the other.

Eric Jobe

About Eric Jobe

Eric Jobe earned his Ph.D. in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He specializes in Hebrew poetry, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Second Temple Judaism. He is also an instructor of Bible and biblical languages for the St. Macrina Orthodox Institute.



  1. My first thoughts on reading this over a couple of times is that there will–Lord willing–be a day when a service of repentance and forgiveness is served between East and West and our ancient wounds truly begin to heal. Until that day, though, is it not better to appear to err in favor of Charybdis than to actually stray too far into the jaws of Scylla? As the author points out, it is not a matter of fear or “having guts,” but of being truthful. We cannot simply ignore the historic divisions of East and West, and we cannot truly engage each other and bring healing if the ontological truth of what that division means for the Church worldwide.

  2. A carefully and wisely thought-out post. Many have come to Holy Orthodoxy because it does not cave in to such false liberalism. I have come to see the wisdom in the ancient proscription of joint prayer with schismatic or heretical groups.

  3. Eric, your argumentation in paragraph 9 beginning “Let us take then” seems to me valid but unsound. It is true that if Roman Catholics are not acknowledged to be within the covenant community, then a covenant-community rite expressing joint forgiveness of each other is not a genuine encounter with the other. This is arguably a valid conclusion.

    However, your argument runs into trouble when you claim that the covenant community is “signified by the union of the chalice.” If by “signified” you mean to affirm the semiotics of modernism known as “correspondence theory,” you should know that you are espousing one of many possible alternative ecclesiologies which are currently being studied in the Orthodox Church. That is a complex way of saying something very simple: don’t be so sure you know “where the Church is not” (cf. Met. Kallistos Ware).

    An ecclesiology like the one you espouse would seem to lead to a few absurdities. For starters, after the mutual excommunications of 1054, both Constantinople and Rome, though out of communion with each other, were both in communion with Antioch. Could Constantinople, Rome, and Antioch co-celebrate a forgiveness vespers together in 1055? I’ll let you puzzle that one out.

    While you’re at it, you can consider the history of ROCOR in the 20th century. Here’s a refresher: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Orthodox_Church_Outside_Russia. Now I ask you: would you consider it a “genuine encounter with the other” if Russian families who were members of parishes in temporary schism with one another attended each other’s forgiveness vespers? It seems pretty genuine to me, even if their unity was celebrated proleptically, in anticipation of the coming rapprochement with other ROCOR factions. And if you disagree, I’ll let you talk to some of the old Russian women I know. You can try telling them that they were not part of the same body of Christ with the other old Russian women who lived four streets over from them. They will give you a few shots of vodka and some pierogi and then set you straight.

    There is no need to multiply examples in a blog comment.

    Is it so hard for you to imagine some modern application of the truths which can be gleaned from these historical realities, only for Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics? I’m not saying I have a watertight case in canon law. I’m just saying that you don’t either, at least not enough to be as sure of your argument as you are. So unless there’s some other reason to fear praying with Catholics…I think Dr. DeVille is on to something here.

    1. In my statement about the union signified by the chalice, I certainly did not intend to get into the nuances of various schismatic relationships, but rather to highlight the fundamental, unifying nature of the Eucharist, whereby we become literal communicants of the Body of Christ. A breech in that communion is a serious one, and such schisms even among Orthodox Churches should be considered serious threats to the union of the one with the whole Church.

      My post was naturally focused upon the nature of the joint Forgiveness vespers as it pertains to “liberal engagement.” I did not touch upon the enormous pastoral ramifications that would arise by such a service. Neither am I arguing from canon law, and while I acknowledge some variety of interpretation of those canons, it seems fairly well established that such joint prayer gatherings would be seen as a breech of the canons, if not by all, at least by the majority. In such a case, it would result in a great offense against the greater body of the Church.

      Would that one day we would be able to hold a service to express mutual forgiveness, but such a service should be based upon a common faith – because only with a common faith can we both see the full extent of the sins we have committed. Otherwise, we’re just playing games.

      1. Eric,

        I am not only talking about the pastoral ramifications in my response, so your response that I am off-topic is incorrect. Also, your claim of what is “fairly well-established” in canon law is quite risible. But the question of how many Orthodox worldwide push for a strict interpretation of some canon or other from the Rudder is neither here nor there. As we all know, Orthodox Canon Law is always applied on a case-by-case basis. It functions slightly differently than Roman Catholic law in that regard.

        Your claims about the “covenant community” and the seriousness of breeches in communion I cannot take seriously. Not only did you fail to solve my puzzle about Forgiveness Sunday, 1055, you also ended by calling a joint prayer service between Catholics and Orthodox “playing games.” Rather than start with my counter-argument against your position, I will ask you to clarify your position in a way that will tell me more precisely where you stand: let’s leave Forgiveness Sunday aside for a moment. How would your article have been different if Dr. DeVille had been proposing just a joint vespers service? As in, Father X of St. Y Orthdox Church calls up Frs. A, B, and C of Sts. D, E, and F Catholic Churches. He tells them he wants to start up the practice of a weekly vespers service where the Catholics come to St. Y for vespers on Friday. Tell me your opinion of this idea, and I will be able to provide a more nuanced critique of your position.

        1. …your response that I am off-topic is incorrect.

          With all due respect, the moderators and authors on this site get to decide which comments are off-topic.

          I’d also suggest you alter your tone to make it a bit more respectful. Thanks.

        2. A joint prayer service is “playing games” *if* it is not based upon unity of faith. It is against the Orthodox canons as put into practice by the vast majority of bishops. It simply isn’t a canonical reality regardless of what an outlier might want to do – and that’s what such a one would be – an outlier. Fr. X Orthodox can’t just call up Fr. A Catholic and celebrate a joint vespers without being suspended from his priestly duties.

          As for your puzzle, canonical status changes and is fluid from time to time and from place to place. We have to deal with the canonical situation now, not in 1055.

          1. One way a joint prayer service could be based upon unity of faith is that it would make Catholics and Orthodox in America aware of each other in a human, Christian way (not in a “stuff I read on the internet” sort of way). This would lead to a dialogue based upon unity of faith (not glossing over differences) because more voices would be interested in joining the dialogue, and more resources would therefore be devoted to making it as sharp and theologically lofty as possible.

            As you say, canonical status changes and is fluid from time to time and place to place. However, like good Orthodox, we should deal with the canonical situation now IN LIGHT OF the past, not BY IGNORING the past. Only by understanding Orthodoxy’s past can we understand Orthodoxy’s present and future. Those who would forbid praying with Catholics should look closely at the many ways throughout history those particular canons have been understood. They should also consider carefully which element in that historical dispute they want to side with.

          2. Seeing each other as “human” is not a matter of unity of the faith – it is a matter of moral decency. The differences that remain are precisely why such services cannot be based on the unity of faith – it doesn’t exist. Dialogue is fine in such cases, concelebration of services is not.

            When I say that we make canonical decisions based upon current canonical status, I do not mean at the ignorance of history, and I hardly think our bishops and canonists are ignorant of history.

          3. Part of dialogue is prayer. It has to be. We’re Christians, after all. It’s just that simple.

            As for your use of the term “concelebration” please see my discussion below with Father Damick.

          4. Andrew, I’m just a simple fellow so I don’t pretend to understand many of your points here. But I do have to ask, if you’re a RC (or Orthodox for that matter), then why not just trust your Church and follow along with it? This is a question I have for so many people. What’s the appeal of these joint prayer services?

  4. This article may be missing the point of Forgiveness Vespers and Forgiveness Sunday. Although we acknowledge a cosmic dimension of our sin, our sin affects the entire cosmos, the beauty of the Rite of Forgiveness is a local community embracing each other in forgiveness in order to start out the Lenten Journey in peace, Clean. The ecumenical impulse to be all inclusive seems to be trying to do something else with it. All the people who participate in this service are not in their own parish forgiving and being forgiven by the very people to whom it is most significant. Perhaps they could do this in addition, but why? When we ask forgiveness in our parishes are we not also asking for forgiveness from the whole world? This impulse to do this and to ask forgivenss on Facebook is another example of well intentioned people moving one thing into a new context where it doesn’t quite fit. Maybe it makes people feel better. Isn’t this what its all about?

    1. Fr. Stephen, I agree with your assessment completely. My post was limited to discussing the joint service as it concerns “liberal engagement,” which is certainly not the only reason that such a joint service would be ill-advised. The pastoral ramifications would be enormous.

    2. Dear Fr. Stephen,

      You are right to say that the Forgiveness Vespers is for your local parish (or originally, “village”) community. However, you should remember that the pastoral situation is not the same everywhere. What would in some places be a quaint oddity (“we had a get-together with some Catholics this year!”) would in others be a beautiful expression of togetherness. Yes, (*gasp*) some Orthodox already hang out with Byzantine Catholics during the week. They are part of a single community. In that context, joint Forgiveness Vespers makes perfect sense pastorally.

      1. But what is this other than an appeal simply to how people feel about each other? In many families in the Middle East, there are numerous relatives who are Christians of various sorts, but also plenty of Muslims scattered in together. Surely actual blood relations who live and work together are even closer to each other than Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics who hang out during the week. Should such Multi-Christian/Muslim families be encouraged to get their local priests, ministers and imams together for Forgiveness Vespers?

        Just because people like each other and even hang out all the time does not make them part of the same household of faith. Equating parish with village only makes sense when the two are really identical. But one doesn’t see that kind of fuzzy, permeable ecclesiology in the tradition of the Church. Indeed, it’s only relatively recent for Rome herself.

        1. Unfortunately, Father Andrew, your argument proves too much. One of the things that happens in countries with multiple Orthodox jurisdictions is that Orthodox parishes will celebrate what is called “Pan-Orthodox Vespers” on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This is common practice all over the country. Are you telling me that Russians need not attend because their faith is not “really identical” with the Greeks? If you think they are identical, I would recommend you read the vast disparity of the recent statements released by the Moscow Patriarchate on their idea of primacy in the church, and then compare them to the Phanar. (Also note that this very question, primacy, is the EXACT thing that brooks the most disagreement between Catholics and Orthodox.)

          I understand where you’re coming from. You don’t want to “rush in” to ecumenical dialogue. However, you jump too quickly to equate the Catholic-Orthodox difference with the Orthodox-Muslim difference. I think joint prayer services with Catholics are a perfect way to start off ecumenical dialogue on the right foot (rather than bringing each other a list of grievances, accepting that East and West are both forms of ancient Christianity, and praying to our common savior for unity, in our capacity as divided laypeople).

          It’s ok, Father Andrew, we can pray together. I promise that Holy Orthodoxy will not be compromised.

          1. The differences in understanding of primacy that exist between the Orthodox churches that are in communion with each other are not equivalent to the differences in ecclesiology (not just primacy) that exist between Rome and the Orthodox. If they really were the same, we’d probably be in communion. But we’re not.

            It’s ok, Father Andrew, we can pray together. I promise that Holy Orthodoxy will not be compromised.

            So why should we believe you rather than our own Church, including thousands of years of tradition that forbid concelebrations with those with whom one is not in communion?

            There’s a difference between dialogue and concelebration. One does not do the latter without doctrinal unity. One is not likely to find it without the former. One does not “play house” in order to start a marriage off right. One gets married first.

          2. “Concelebration” as formally used typically refers to eucharistic celebrations.

            For you, perhaps, but not for us. In any event, the canons are clearer and prohibit allowing a clergyman with whom one is not in communion from performing any clerical office at all.

            For the Orthodox, one cannot serve any service at all with someone with whom one cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy. So the distinction you’re making is really meaningless for us. “This, but not that” is a violation of our whole liturgical ethos.

          3. “For you, perhaps, but not for us…So the distinction you’re making is really meaningless for us.”

            Who is this “us” that you’re referring to? Orthodox? Our own Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew has participated in joint prayer services with Pope Benedict XVI. And we all know that Patriarch Athenagoras celebrated similar services with Paul VI. Are they not Orthodox?

            I’m asking this not to attack you, Father Damick, but just because I am curious…are you part of one of those schismatic groups who believes the EP has fallen into heresy and is no longer rightly dividing the word of truth?

            I looked up your parish online and it says you are Antiochian. Are you still there, or have you left? If you are still Antiochian, did you know that your current Patriarch John X has participated together in a prayer service with Patriarch Bechara of the Maronite Catholic Church? Is he not Orthodox?

            I only mention these things because your internet profile says you are a priest, and as such you are not only giving your own private opinion on these matters, but you are responsible to give the position of the hierarchy as well, in a clear and unbiased manner.

          4. I can’t comment on what exactly those bishops did, since I was not there. I rather doubt that they vested and concelebrated together at any altars, though, since I imagine I would have seen pictures of something like that. One has to be precise when throwing out terms like “prayer service.”

            Anyway, as to “us,” I had gotten the impression from your comments that you were a Roman Catholic.

      2. Father, when you mention “altars,” as a priest you are aware that vespers can be held without the use of the eucharistic altar, correct? The currently enthroned Patriarchs who both held joint prayer services with Catholics were doing exactly what Adam DeVille suggested: a non-eucharistic service held formally and jointly with Catholics.

        It is all too easy for those of us who live in America to develop an “embattled” mentality against Christians who are not Orthodox. Similarly, I would guess that in Russia it is easy to develop a “Pollyana” mentality because when you live in St. Petersburg, it feels like the whole world is Orthodox. However, to avoid extremism (if you’ll pardon my use of the word), I would recommend to Eric that he open his eyes to the wider world and make himself aware of the realities of Catholic-Orthodox relations. If he has already done so, I sincerely question his judgment in this situation.

        Alternatively, there is always an open spot on Mount Athos.

        1. Alternatively, there is always an open spot on Mount Athos.

          You were asked to keep your tone respectful. You decided not to do that, so no more of your comments will be published.

          And yes, certainly, I am aware that Vespers can be served without a consecrated altar. But it can’t be served without an altar table of any kind, even a makeshift, temporary one. That isn’t the point, though.

  5. Please consider refraining from calling us “Roman” Catholics. In addition to several Latin Rites there are 22 Eastern Rites. We are all just “Catholics”. Admittedly Simon, whose name Our Lord changed to Rock and Saul who’s name became Paul left there mortal bodies in Rome. So Rome is a special place in the Church that He (Jesus) said he would build. But the Universal Church is not defined by the word “Roman”.

    1. For whatever it may be worth, Orthodox Christians regard themselves as uniquely Catholic. Using Roman Catholic is not intended as some sort of insult, but just simply a designation for the people who answer to Rome. What you’re asking is for us to cede Catholic to you, when it’s really a word we reserve for ourselves. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

      (And in a further bit of irony, even Roman is a word used by the Orthodox for themselves, especially around the Mediterranean in the local languages. The terms used thereabouts for what in English we call “Roman Catholics” are “Latins” and “Franks.” Indeed, a priest in Greece who shaves his beard off is called “Phrankopapa”!)

      Anyway, it’s true that there are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches and one Latin (“Roman”) Church, but the latter makes up 98.6% of the whole communion, so one can hardly be blamed for seeing the forest more than the little handful of trees off in a corner.

      1. Thank you for responding Father. I don’t think we really need to have you cede anything to us. I did not know that you had reserved the word Catholic and the word Roman for yourselves. But, I for one am not content with what you’ve left us. I’m sure that the 15 to 20 million Eastern Rite Catholics probably aren’t either. I just can’t see any of them answering to the appellation of Latins or Franks. Your church seems to be very fond of naming your branches after existing or defunct nation states. We on the other hand do have an allegiance to our Holy Father who resides in Vatican City which of course is surrounded by Rome. So, if you and your 300 or so million faithful must refer to us by the name of the empire that His Church superseded and in effect replaced — well then, so be it.

  6. In July 2008 at the Orientale Lumen Conference in Detroit we see Fr. Seraphim Gan of ROCOR serve Vespers where Byzantine Catholic bishops, priests, and laity are together praying with him. If ROCOR can do this then the times they are a changing.


    1. There’s nothing particularly unusual about what’s in that video. This isn’t a joint service. This is an Orthodox service that some non-Orthodox people are attending. No one’s saying that non-Orthodox people can’t attend Orthodox services.

  7. Fr. Andrew,

    The website of the Orientale Lumen Conferences states:

    Welcome to the website of the Orientale Lumen Conferences. Started in 1997 in Washington, DC, these ecumenical conferences are a “grass roots” movement among lay persons and clergy to provide a forum for Christians to learn about the “light from the east.” They allow Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics to meet and pray together, learn from each other’s traditions, and become friends together searching for a common goal: “that they all may be one” in the One Church of Christ.

    Thus Orthodox clergy go there with the intention of praying with Roman and Eastern Catholics at their services too.

    1. So the Orthodox clergy have their intentions determined by what is written on a website? In any event, if one is present at such a service, I hope that one is praying, if only because we should pray at all times. It would hardly make sense to stop just because one is in the presence of other Christians. But that is still not the same thing as joint services. Are they really concelebrating? I can’t imagine they were, and that’s certainly not what was happening in that video.

      In any event, I get the impression that some are looking to insist that Orthodox clergy are violating the tradition of the Church and will define and redefine what that means by almost any means necessary—though some approve of that violation and some do not. But why? This equivocation is really not the right way to approach these things.

  8. Out of curiosity, how does the Ravenna Declaration fit into this? Given that Ravenna asserted that the Pope is the protos, would that not technically imply, that, for the churches who participated it (obviously excluding the Moscow Patriarchate), the Roman church is at the very least technically not schismatic? Did the Bishops at the Ravenna conference, such as Kallistos Ware, pray with their Roman Catholic counterparts?

    Note that I myself understand how sensitive an issue this is, especially in light of the MP’s dissension from it, and this is doubtless an issue that won’t be properly resolved on the Orthodox side until, at the very least, the next pan-Orthodox council scheduled for 2016, and I’m certainly not in favor of doing anything that could impair the authentic Orthodoxy of our churches which Rome at present is still clearly deficient in (and indeed, it is possible that as Fr. Damick suggests, these differences may be insurmountable, but we can perhaps at least pray that they might be resolved, through prudent leadership by our bishops, without compromising the Orthodox faith, but rather in a manner that helps the Roman church to reacquire those Orthodox doctrines it has lost, ideally before the anniversary of the Great Schism in 1054).

      1. It seems to me then, correct me if I’m wrong, that the problem with what is proposed here, is that, whereas a patriarch or other high level bishop may, in extraordinary circumstances, such as the Ravenna conference, or the Ecumenical Patriarch visiting the Pope, pray with a schismatic, but under normal conditions, a normal liturgical service, even one that is not eucharistic, such as vespers, cannot be concelebrated with any clergy not in communion with the Orthodox Church, and that for an ordinary parish priest or even a diocesan bishop not directly involved in, for example, ecumenical negotiations, should not even propose such a thing; to actually hold such a forgiveness vespers would be legitimate grounds for the clergyman to be deposed. This seems to me to be entirely reasonable given the current state of ecclesiastical separation.

        On a related note, the liberal engagement that prompted this post, on the Red River blog, has made a related post, which seems to be quite beyond the Pale, in which a desire for communion with the Episcopal Church, USA, in its present state, is implied, citing an alleged example of a small grouping of Syro-Lebanese Orthodox being encouraged to attend their services. It seems to me that the idea of liberal engagement in general at present might be a very slippery slope; the idea of any engagement at all with the Episcopal Church, at present, other than to warn them about the heresy they have declined into (with many clergy embracing Gnosticism, for example), would be hugely inappropriate.

        Perhaps the best form of engagement for the Orthodox might be disengagement; to simply document for each non-Orthodox church the changes it must make to enter into communion, as you have done with the Roman Catholic church, and then prayerfully wait that they will, at some point in the future, see the wisdom of making those changes, and rejoining the Orthodox faith, which is truly the Catholic Christian church of the Apostles. Perhaps a book might be written as a sequel to Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, as a sort of epistle to leadership of the schismatic and heretical churches, outlining in very general terms a path they might follow if they wish to return to the apostolic faith and enter into communion.

  9. If you want to change the world around you change yourself first. If you go down this difficult path it will wear you down but, in the midst of the struggle, when you come up for a breath of air, you may notice that those around you have noticed a change in you; a change that seems to come from within, which they are attracted to and want to know more about. All you can do is tell them to start their own journey and to stick with it. Then you can tell them not to become discouraged because there is a whole cloud of witnesses who have been down this road and they came out at the other end truly changed, truly forgiving. The Orthodox Church, better than any other, can help them because she knows who those others were; she remembers as many of them as she can and she has their written witness, the road maps they bequeathed to us to guide us. That is how change is effected. C.S. Lewis said that a Christian was a statue come to life. What you are proposing here will result in an articulated statue that moves somewhat like a real human but you will accept that and, sadly, “celebrate” it because it’s a pretty good approximation of what you had in mind and hey, nobody’s perfect.
    There used to be a poster or bumper sticker that said “No Jesus; no peace. Know Jesus; know peace.” In a discussion with some acquaintances who are liberal R.C. and heavily into social justice, a friend re-phrased it by pointing out to our R.C. friends that Jesus will get you social justice. Social justice (as an end in itself)will not get you Jesus and, at best, will only get you mediocre social justice. If, having done the ascetic work, you do not have a personal knowledge of Jesus, all was for nought and your “liberal engagement” will fail.

  10. I’m jumping into this discussion a bit late. While I agree with Eric’s objections to the joint prayer service, I can understand the ironic tone of Andrew Cuff, because it is undeniable that many Orthodox hierarchs and clergy play fast and loose with the canons on joint prayer. This is a scandal that either needs to be justified theologically (i.e. providing a sound explanation for suspending those canons, temporally or indefinitely) or stopped. It is even worse that in certain jurisdictions Eucharistic intercommunion is officially permitted — the Patriarchate of Antioch, I regret to say, is one of them, with a synodical decision in force for two decades now permitting intercommunion between Orthodox and Monophysites. In many Greek parishes in the US and Europe Ethiopians and Eritreans (“Tewahedo” i.e. Monophysite) are also allowed to receive communion.

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