News winter 2004

Metropolitan Philip calls for Orthodox unity

Having achieved self-rule for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Metropolitan Philip is looking toward the next goal: unity among Orthodox churches in the United States.

“As long as we are fragmented and known as Antiochians and Greeks and Serbians and Bulgarians and Russians, we will have no impact as a church on this country,” Metropolitan Philip said in November while visiting St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio.

In a press interview, Metropolitan Philip, 72, discussed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the Church’s efforts to preserve the family unit, and the ordination of a homosexual Episcopal bishop.

Metropolitan Philip described U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as “a total failure.”

He called Iraq “a broken society” that has suffered through an embargo and years of war with Iran. “I believe that all the oil of Arabia is not worth one drop of blood of an American soldier,” he said. “It pains me to see these young people dying in Iraq. For what? Iraq does not threaten our nation’s security. We have these young American boys dying every day, every day, every day, every day. How long can the American people tolerate that? This is not a regular war. This is a guerrilla war, the worst kind of war.”

He called for the establishment of a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel.

“Let us not take sides in this conflict. Let us bring these people together and bring peace to the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

Regarding the consecration as bishop of a divorced Episcopal priest now living with a homosexual partner, Metropolitan Philip said the consecration “goes against the teachings of our Church. It’s against the Scripture.” Metropolitan Philip said he created a department of marriage and parish family ministries in order to help preserve the family unit.

Metropolitan Philip said Orthodox unity in the United States will not be achieved soon. “We have been preaching Orthodox unity for more than half a century. The problem which we are facing is that we are ready for it, for example, but others are not.” The U.S. Greek Orthodox Church in particular, he said, is still too connected with their mother Church to achieve autonomy, and without self-rule, churches cannot discuss unity.

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In the 19th century, church members who immigrated from the Middle East used to live near the church so they could speak Arabic and hear the liturgy in their native tongue, he said. “Those days are gone. Our people are totally integrated into American society. What affects society affects us.”

Roman Catholic-Orthodox Accord over Filioque

In an effort to overcome centuries of division, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation has called for “uniform practice” with regard to the ancient Nicene Creed. This means Catholics would use translations only of the original text, dropping the subsequently added “filioque” (“and the Son”) clause, when reciting the Creed at Mass or using it for catechetics.

The dialogue group also called on each side not to describe the other as heretical and said a 13th-century Western council condemnation aimed at the Orthodox should be declared “no longer applicable.”

It urged new joint study and in-depth Catholic-Orthodox dialogue “on the theology of the Holy Spirit, based on the Scriptures and on the whole tradition of Christian theology.”

It said this study and dialogue should “distinguish, as far as possible, the theological issues of the origin of the Holy Spirit from the ecclesiological issues of primacy and doctrinal authority in the Church.”

At the same time, it is “crucially necessary” that “both our churches persist in their efforts to reflect together and separately on the theology of primacy and synodality within the Church’s structures and teaching and pastoral practice,” the group said.

For nearly 1,000 years the Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox churches of the East have had as one source of division the fact that the West inserted the word “filioque” in the profession of faith commonly referred to as the Nicene Creed or more properly as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

That Greek-language creed, which dates to the Council of Constantinople in 381, said the Holy Spirit takes his origin from the Father (in Greek, “ek tou patros ekporeuomenon”). In Latin, the Greek phrase was translated as “ex patre procedit” “proceeds from the Father.” Under the influence of that translation, churches in the West gradually began to insert “filioque” into the creed, saying the Spirit “proceeds from the Father ‘and the Son.’”

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation is an official theological dialogue sponsored by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the Americas, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Its 10,000-word joint statement, “The ‘Filioque’: A Church-Dividing Issue,” was released Oct. 28 following a meeting in Washington Oct. 23-25. It was the result of four years of study and dialogue at the consultation’s twice-yearly meetings, beginning in October 1999.

The statement outlines the long history of the “filioque” controversy, including the 1995 Vatican clarification which affirmed the “conciliar, ecumenical, normative and irrevocable value” of the original Greek version of the creed.

The Vatican document argued that the Latin “procedit” (proceeds) has a slightly different meaning than the Greek “ekporeuomenon” (originates). It sought to explain to the Orthodox that in adding “filioque” after the Latin verb, the church in the West did not intend to and indeed cannot contradict the earlier “expression of faith taught and professed by the undivided church.”

The text pointed out that in the course of growing disagreement over the diverging practices with the creed during the two-and-a-half centuries preceding the East-West schism of 1054, the conflict over the creed became increasingly bound up in “in the growing rivalry between the Carolinian and Byzantine courts, which both now claimed to be the legitimate successors of the Roman Empire.”

Especially after 1014, when “the creed, including the ‘filioque,’ was sung for the first time at a papal Mass,” the issue also got increasingly tied to disputes over the exercise of authority in the church, the statement said.

“Orthodox theology has regarded the ultimate approval by the popes, in the 11th century, of the use of ‘filioque’ in the Latin creed as a usurpation of the dogmatic authority proper to ecumenical councils alone,” it said.

On the other side, it said, “In recognizing the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome in matters of faith and of the service of unity, the Catholic tradition accepts the authority of the pope to confirm the process of conciliar reception and to define what does not conflict with the ‘faith of Nicaea’ and the apostolic tradition. … Catholic theology has seen it (papal adoption of the ‘filioque’ insertion) as a legitimate exercise of his authority to proclaim and clarify the church’s faith.”

The joint statement said Catholic and Orthodox theologians need to work together to seek a way to resolve differences between the Orthodox view of councils or synods as the highest church authority and the Catholic view of the primacy of papal authority. But they said dialogue and study on what the church believes about the origin of the Holy Spirit ought to be methodologically separated from that issue.

The statement noted that Pope John Paul II on three ecumenical occasions has recited the creed without the “filioque” and that in 2000 “Dominus Iesus,” a major document on the church and salvation by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, used the text of the creed without the “filioque.”

“These developments suggest a new awareness on the Catholic side of the unique character of the original Greek text of the creed as the most authentic formulation of the faith that unifies Eastern and Western Christianity,” the statement said.

The Orthodox and Catholic theologians acknowledged that “the Greek and Latin theological traditions clearly remain in some tension with each other on the fundamental issue of the Spirit’s eternal origin as a distinct divine person.”

“These differences, though subtle, are substantial,” they said. Taking their lead from the pope and the doctrinal congregation document, the participants recommended “that the Catholic Church, as a consequence of the normative and irrevocable dogmatic value of the creed of 381, use the original Greek text alone in making translations of that creed for catechetical and liturgical use.”

They also called on the Catholic Church, “following a growing theological consensus,” to declare no longer applicable the condemnation, by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, of those “who presume to deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son.”

They urged that in the future, in light of progress in mutual understanding, “Orthodox and Catholics refrain from labeling as heretical the traditions of the other side on the subject of the procession of the Holy Spirit.” That recommendation was aimed primarily at Orthodox theologians, many of whom continue to regard the “filioque” insertion as a heresy.

They asked theologians on both sides to “distinguish more clearly between the divinity and hypostatic identity of the Holy Spirit, which is a received dogma of our churches, and the manner of the Spirit’s origin, which still awaits full and final ecumenical resolution.”

Chairing the consultation were Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati on the Catholic side and Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh on the Orthodox side.

The next meeting of the consultation, its 66th, is scheduled for June 1-3, 2004, at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass. The consultation has now issued 22 agreed statements since its founding in 1965. All their statements are available at: www.usccb.org/seia/dialogues.htm.

Church of Greece and Constantinople in jurisdiction row

A dispute between the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate over church authority in the northern region of Greece has threatened a “major crisis in relations” between the two church bodies.

The disagreement centers on which of them has the right to name bishops in the northern province of “New Lands”, a region of 1.5 million Orthodox Christians.

The 36 metropolitans of “New Lands”, although living in Greece and receiving Greek state salaries, have been under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1912, when the region was incorporated into Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Based in Istanbul, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is considered the most senior Orthodox prelate.

But the Church of Greece argues that the Ecumenical Patriarchate gave up its right to appoint local bishops when the Greek church’s legal charter was enacted by the Greek parliament in 1977, and that the patriarchate entrusted the region’s administration to the Greek church.

“Some Greeks see the right to administer these territories independent of outside intervention as a vital expression of our church’s independence,” said Protopresbyter Stefanos Avramidis, the secretary for inter-Orthodox and inter-Christian relations of the Church of Greece, which claims the loyalty of 97 per cent of Greece’s 10.5 million inhabitants.

“This is a question of jurisdiction and administration nothing more,” he stressed. “We belong to the same Orthodox church, and we would be very unhappy if relations were severed because of something like this.”

Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch, has dismissed the Greek church’s arguments and accused Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens of attempting to change Greece’s “ecclesiastical regime” and of provoking a “major crisis in relations.”

Problems arose when Bartholomew asserted his right to approve a list of candidates to succeed Metropolitans Panteleimon of Thessaloniki and Evdokimos of Eleftheroupolis after their deaths this summer, and accused the Church of Greece of “usurping privileges” when it refused him.

Talks in Athens between the parties broke down in early November when the patriarch instructed his representative, Metropolitan Zizoulias, to withdraw, and warned the 36 New Lands metropolitans that they would be “accountable to the mother church” if they failed to support his position.

The Church of Greece’s Holy Synod affirmed its rights in a resolution delivered to the patriarchate on 13 November. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, however, has dismissed the Greek church arguments and warned of a “major crisis in relations.”

Bartholomew anticipates reopening Halki theological school

There’s an air of expectancy at the Greek Orthodox theological college on the island of Heybeliada (Halki in Greek) off Istanbul. Neatly folded towels await students at the foot of newly-made up dormitory beds, even though the school has been closed for the past 32 years.

“Everything is ready for us to start up again,” says Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, pointing to the college bedrooms, dining area and classrooms.

Following recent talks with Turkish government ministers, Bartholomew is hopeful the school will be reopened “within the next 12 months.”

Bartholomew credits the shift in Turkish policy to pressure from the European Union. The EU is insisting that Turkey abide by its 1923 Lausanne treaty obligations on the protection of non-Muslim minorities in the country.

The college, the only Christian one in Turkey, was ordered closed by the government in 1971. Since then, the hilltop school, surrounded by gardens and a pine wood, has been kept clean and tidy by a handful of monks who live in the adjacent Holy Trinity monastery, founded more than 11 centuries ago.

“The college was in some ways a victim of the situation in Cyprus” where Turkish-Greek disputes eventually led to the invasion of the northern part of the island by the Turkish army in 1974, according to the white-bearded patriarch.

In November Turkish Education Minister Cemil Huseyin Celik indicated that his government was ready to act, but he went on to urge Greece to make reciprocal gestures to improve the rights of its own Turkish minority.

The reopening of the college is all the more important as the clergy of the now minute Greek community in Turkey is aging fast.

Turkey insists that the Patriarch be a Turkish citizen, though it did make an exception in the 1950s, granting an American citizen Turkish nationality for the purpose.

“More than 1,000 students have been trained in the past at Halki,” says father Dorotheos, one of the monks at the monastery, adding that “12 of them went on to become patriarchs.”

Bartholomew himself is nostalgic about the years he spent on the island which he describes as “a place between heaven and earth.” The day used to start with prayers, followed by morning classes, lunch around a table set for 150 while listening to prayers, the occasional football match in the garden and the compulsory evening walk around the island before a period of silence before bedtime.

Today, the college’s 60,000-book library is used by half a dozen scholars a year who visit in the summer. In the church monastery, an icon of the Virgin Mary is also awaiting government permission to be sent to the New York Metropolitan Museum for an exhibition.

An Orthodox Church in Cuba

The first Orthodox Christian church will open in Havana, Cuba on January 25, 44 years after the Cuban revolution, in the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The church will be dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

The construction of the church, begun two years ago at a UNESCO property in the old Havana harbor, was paid for by the Cuban government.

Archimandrite Timotheos from the Metropolia of Panama, a monk of Cuban origin, stated that the mayor of Havana supported the project because it is Castro’s belief that Havana city should have an Orthodox church because Orthodoxy is “the womb of Christianity.”

Beijing’s last Orthodox priest buried

The funeral service for the last Orthodox priest in the Chinese capital, Archpriest Alexander Du Lifu, took place in Beijing in December, the news service of the Russian Orthodox Church has reported.

A cleric of the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church, Du Lifu died on 16 December, aged 80.

His funeral service took place at the cathedral at Nangtan in southern Beijing with the permission of the government sanctioned Patriotic Catholic bishop of Beijing, Michael Fu Tieshan. The Rev. Dionisy Pozdnyaev of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations conducted the service.

Du Lifu was born in Beijing on 17 January 1923 to a family belonging to the Russian minority in the Chinese capital, known as Albazinians. His entire life was bound with the Russian Orthodox Mission and later with the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church.

In his youth, he attended the mission’s school and in 1950 he was ordained priest by the head of the mission, Archbishop Victor (Svyatin) of Beijing and China. Du Lifu served in churches in Beijing before they were either closed or destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, a time of many purges including against organized religion.

“There are up to 250 Orthodox believers in Beijing,” according to visiting Russian Orthodox priest Father Pozdnyaev. He added, “but the situation for them is so difficult. You cannot even call them an organized community they have no priest now, no church and nowhere to pray.” But he expressed some optimism over the possibility for Chinese Orthodox men to study for the priesthood in Russian theological institutions. “The authorities were positive about this idea.”

Asked whether he was optimistic that Beijing’s Orthodox will soon be able to have their own church once more after nearly four decades, Fr. Pozdnyayev responded: “The situation is very complicated. It is difficult to put any time scale on when they will be able to have their own church.”

The Russian Orthodox Church has tried for years to help the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church revive its activity, which was devastated during the Cultural Revolution. It has requested permission to send priests to the surviving parishes, but has had no success.

In 1998, Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia decorated Du Lifu with the Order of St Innocent of Moscow for his work, and in 2001 he was honored again with a pectoral cross and decoration.

Christodoulos ‘respects Turks’

Backing away from his contention that Turks are “barbarians” who should not be allowed into the European Union, Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, voiced “respect for the Turkish people.”

Speaking at a church in Athens in December, Christodoulos said that Orthodox Christians respect all the peoples of the world, including the Turks. He expressed a desire “to see Turkey adopt democratic sensibilities and European manners,” he said.

In an apparent dig at Christodoulos, Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew, who is engaged in a turf war with the archbishop, said Turkey’s EU prospects would help Greeks and Turks “live in peace, far from myopic approaches.”

Israel-Palestine Peace Plan Unveiled

Senior Israeli and Palestinian political figures unveiled an unofficial peace agreement in Switzerland in December that they portrayed as a way to resolve the main obstacles to Middle East peace and reach a two-state solution.

The treaty, which so far lacks approval of the respective governments, was the fruit of an initiative started about three years ago by Israeli opposition figures, including the peace activist Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister in a Labor government, and Yasir Abed-Rabbo, a former Palestinian information minister.

Known as the Geneva Accord, the treaty does not replace the official Middle East peace plan, known as the Road Map, sponsored by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed the initiative as “useful.”

Beilin and Abed-Rabbo were among the Israeli opposition politicians and senior Palestinian figures who unveiled the plan in Switzerland in December.

A spokesman for Beilin, Uri Zaki, said from Geneva that the two sides decided to forge ahead with negotiations after Ariel Sharon of the right-wing Likud Party was elected prime minister of Israel in 2001.

“They both decided to keep on working informally to reach a draft of a final status agreement,” Zaki said. “During the course of the talks, more people joined, namely from the former security establishment in Israel and from Fatah leaders,” referring to President Yasir Arafat’s mainstream Palestinian movement.

The latest initiative builds on a framework of previous agreements and negotiations, from the Middle East peace process initiated in Madrid in October 1991 to the negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in 2001.

On Oct. 12, 2003, the group concluded their draft for the agreement, which Zaki said was intended to serve as a blueprint of options for a final status agreement complementing, rather than replacing, the road map.

Options in the Geneva Accord include:

Some Jewish settlements in the West Bank would be retained by Israel, and in exchange Israel would give the Palestinians some areas of the Negev desert east of the Gaza Strip.

In Jerusalem, there would be two capitals one Palestinian and one Israeli. The areas under Israeli sovereignty before the 1967 war would form the Israeli capital, while the Arab areas would form the Palestinian capital.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, there would be a division of sovereignty along with some kind of international presence.

The more than three million Palestinian refugees would not have the right of return to Israel, but would have five options, including moving into the newly established Palestinian state, staying where they are or going to Israel under the country’s sovereign decision.

IOCC Airlifting Aid to Iran Quake Survivors

In response to the devastating Dec. 26 earthquake in Bam, Iran, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and several partners sent a container of medical and hygiene supplies to survivors of the devastating earthquake on January 6. IOCC, the humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, joined with Church World Service (CWS) and other partners to deliver the urgently-needed supplies.

Current estimates are that the earthquake killed more than 40,000 people and injured more than 10,000, leaving tens of thousands homeless.

The 20-foot container shipment, valued at $382,000, included supplies that will serve 1,000 people for three months. The shipment included 100 parcels that contain medicines for adults and children, vitamin and mineral supplements, gauze bandages and pads, Amoxicillin, topical antibiotic and anti-fungal agents, anti-anemia drugs, antiseptics and antihistamines. The approximately 5,000 hygiene kits each contain a hand towel, a washcloth, a comb, a metal nail file or nail clipper, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and six Band-Aids.

IOCC and its partners were asked to help by the Iranian Red Crescent through the Middle East Council of Churches.

“We know from experience that natural disasters of this scale create significant health risks for survivors,” said IOCC Executive Director Constantine Triantafilou. “These supplies will go a long way in preventing disease and relieving suffering.”

In addition to the immediate needs, IOCC is assessing the need for long-term reconstruction and development assistance on the part of earthquake survivors.

Previously, IOCC has responded to earthquakes in Turkey and Greece. In the Middle East, IOCC also has programs in Lebanon, Iraq and the West Bank.

To support IOCC’s earthquake relief effort in Iran, please mark donations “Iran Earthquake Relief” and send them to IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, Md. 21263-0225. Donations may also be made online at www.iocc.org or, within the U.S., by calling toll-free 1-877-803-4622.

From the Winter 2004/Theophany issue of In Communion, the quarterly journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. The text is copyrighted by the author and should not be published or reproduced on another web site without the author’s written permission.