2007-05-28 12:12:00

We respect the Patriarch of Constantinople as the first in honor, but we are against viewing him as ‘Pope of the East’

In anticipation of a regular meeting of the Joint Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission to take place in Italy, the Russian Orthodox Church representative to European international organizations Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, in his interview with the Interfax-Religion, has warned in advance that at the forthcoming meeting the Moscow Patriarchate intends to assert its own view of the problem of primacy and conciliarity in church authority.


- When and where will the next round of the Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue take place? What questions are to be considered at it?

- Our meeting will take place in October 2007 in Ravenna, Italy. The meeting will complete the discussion on a document on episcopate and conciliarity in the Church.

This document was originally drafted by the commission at its meeting in 1990 in Moscow. Then the commission put it aside and engaged itself in the theme of Unia for ten years. Then a six-year interruption followed and finally, in September 2006 in Belgrade, the commission revisited this text.

The Belgrade meeting revealed essential differences in the participants’ opinion on one of the document’s paragraphs. Notwithstanding the differences, the commission’s drafting committee met in March. The committee is made up of three Orthodox representatives - Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokletia of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Deacon Ioann Ika of the Rumanian Church and myself - and three Catholics. We managed to change that paragraph to satisfy the both sides. If our amended version suits the plenary commission, the Belgrade incident can be considered settled. I do not doubt though that we are to expect many new difficulties ahead.

- What is it that the Russian Orthodox Church is going to put forward at these talks? What will be the principal idea or basic text it intends to assert during this dialogue?

- We consider the above-mentioned text to be preparatory for a discussion on primacy in the Universal Church. The closing paragraphs of the document deal with this subject directly, and the commission’s meetings to take place after Ravenna are to consider a separate document on the subject. Our principal affirmation is this: primacy in the Church is necessary, also on the universal level, but on the level of the Universal Church it cannot be the primacy of jurisdiction but only the primacy of honour.

- How far is the Russian Orthodox Church ready to discuss the primacy of the Pope of Rome? What will it insist upon in this discussion and what theological compromises it is ready to accept? Does this problem have any prospects at all to be approved by the Orthodox side?

- There can be no compromises whatsoever in this matter. The aim of the theological dialogue is not at all to reach a compromise. Its aim for us is rather to identify the Church’s original view of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. It is the starting point from which to proceed, namely, what place the Bishop of Rome occupied in the early undivided Church.

Historically, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Christian Church, from our point of view, was that of honour, not jurisdiction. That is to say, the jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome was never applied to all the Churches. In the second millennium, the Pope of Rome has become de facto ‘the Patriarch of the West’, with this title reserved for him also de jure until recent times, whereas in the East the Church was headed by four patriarchs of local Orthodox Churches - those of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

After the breakup with Rome, primacy in the family of the Orthodox Churches shifted automatically as it were to Constantinople, though all the early canons ascribe to the Bishop of Constantinople the second place after the Bishop of Rome; no canon speaks of the primacy of Constantinople. Nevertheless, this primacy became an accomplished fact, only we consider it exclusively as primacy of honour, while the See of Constantinople itself tends occasionally to give a broad interpretation to this primacy. These are the questions I believe around which principal problems will emerge.

- Does the Moscow Patriarchate intend to develop a particular finalized theological document for this meeting to express its position on the subject and to be available afterwards?

- His Holiness the Patriarch and the Holy Synod have charged the theological commission with drafting a document to set forth an official point of view of the Moscow Patriarchate on primacy in the Universal Church in general and the primacy of the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople in particular. This document is to become an important landmark in the interpretation of this serious ecclesiological problem and will help me as representative of our Church in the Joint Commission to assert our official point of view.

- Is the algorithm of the consolidated adoption of the final document by the Orthodox Church known already? Will it be adopted by vote or consensus? As far as we can remember, there were arguments at the previous meeting and you came out with a public protest.

- Yes, I protested and will continue to protest if the questions of so important theological and ecclesiological nature are put to vote. What is at stake here is not to identify an opinion of a majority or a minority but to find the truth.

At the previous meeting, when Cardinal Walter Kasper (cochairman of the Joint Commission and president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity - IF), prompted by Metropolitan John Zizioulas (cochairman of the Joint Commission, Patriarchate of Constantinople - IF) put that disputed paragraph to vote, the Moscow Patriarchate representatives proved to be the only ones who voted against it. It was stated that ‘just one Church’ had voted against that formulation. But, in the first place, that ‘just one Church’ is much larger than the rest in the number of the faithful, and, secondly, whatever the size, if at least one Orthodox Church is against a particular formulation, this formulation cannot be adopted. There must be consensus and any voting is inappropriate here.

This is how we in the drafting committee worked. Admittedly, it is much easier for six people to work on a document then for 60 people to discuss it. Perhaps it would be more proper methodologically to divide the bulky plenary commission into several working groups, which meet occasionally for considering final documents. Incidentally, in Baltimore where the future of the Joint Commission was discussed, I said that a 60-member commission is not operable and proposed that it be halved.

- Will representatives of local Orthodox Churches be given the equal right to take part in the discussion? Do you think the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople will insist on its primacy in reflecting in the position of Orthodox Churches?

- The representation system in the Commission fails to reflect the actual distribution of powers and views in the Orthodox world. The millions-strong Russian Church is represented in the Commission by only two delegates, while any other Orthodox Church, even if smaller numerically, is also represented by two delegates. A cochairman of the Commission is a representative of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, so is the secretary. All this represents a certain misbalance. Sometimes the Orthodox cochairman insists on his own point of view, which is not shared by a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate. This was the case in Belgrade where the disputed paragraph of the document was considered.

We see in a cochairman of the Commission first of all a moderator whose task is not to impose his own point of view or the attitude of his own Church on other participants, but to provide equal opportunities for speaking and to lead the Commission to a consensus. We will continue to adhere to this point of view.

- Clearly, the thaw that developed in relations between the Vatican and Moscow under Benedict XVI is primarily of political-diplomatic nature. Can this thaw affect the theological sphere as well to encourage the participants in the theological discussion for greater openness and mutual understanding?

- Relationships between the Vatican and Moscow belong to the sphere of bilateral relations, while the Joint Commission includes all the local Orthodox Church. Therefore, I would not link these two different levels.

As is known, Patriarch Bartholomaios has expressed a wish to attend the meeting in Ravenna and proposed that Pope Benedict XVI come as well. As far as I know, the Vatican has not yet given an official response to this proposal. However, the Joint Commission members I have talked with have a reserved attitude to this initiative.

The point is that when the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople meet, the secular media, who have a poor knowledge of the refinements of Orthodox ecclesiology, tend to present it as a meeting of the heads of the two Churches - Catholic and Orthodox. If the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople attended the meeting of the Joint Commission in Ravenna, it would be understood as if the pope led the Catholic half of the Commission, while the Patriarch of Constantinople the Orthodox half.

However, the Orthodox Church has a structure different was that of the Catholic Church, as we have no single universal primate, since each local Church is headed by its own primate. In other words, in universal Orthodoxy there is no hierarch whose role would be similar to that of the Pope of Rome in the Western Church. There must be no illusion that there is such a hierarch. We respect the Patriarch of Constantinople as the first in honour among the primates of local Orthodox Churches, but we are against regarding him as ‘Pope of the East’.

In the Catholic Church, the pope is the highest doctrinal authority, and in a certain sense, every Catholic who participates in the Joint Commission is a representative of the pope, though he can represent also his own local church or a particular educational institution at the same time. All the Catholic members of the Commission are appointed by the Vatican. But we have a different system as each local Church appoints its own representatives. For instance, if I come to Ravenna, I will represent there not the Patriarch of Constantinople but the Patriarch of Moscow and will do the will of the latter, not the former.

- Will representatives of Uniate Churches participate in the meeting in Italy? Will the theme of Unia as a form of church unity be considered in the discussion? Does the Moscow Patriarchate intend to express its stand on the Uniates, especially on the policy of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church?

- In the Commission there are representatives of the so-called Eastern Rite, who can voice the Greek-Catholic point of view, if there is a discussion on Unia. The discussion on this acute problem has been put off as it were for a time being, since this subject rendered impossible the work of the Commission in Baltimore. It has not been removed from the agenda however, and will have to be revisited sooner or later. We, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, insist that the discussion on this subject should be continued.

Since the Joint Commission has been set up for theological dialogue, not for considering particular situations in particular regions, we will hardly be able to deal with the policy pursued by the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine. But I repeat, the subject of Unia will have to be discussed however much some members of the Commission may wish to avoid it.