Feast of St. Josaphat: Time for Full Communion Between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches

 

Deacon Keith Fournier

  Catholic Online
  11/13/2012
 

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - On November 12, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St Josaphat, an Eastern Catholic Bishop (1580 - 1623) who in life - and in death - poured himself out in imitation of Jesus Christ so that the Church would once again be one.

Over the years, Josaphat has been referred to as the "thief of souls". Sadly, his heroic efforts have been misunderstood and misused by some to further the very division between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches which he gave his life to heal.

I propose that heroic man was - in fact - plundering hell itself! The full communion of the One Church, with all of its rich and legitimate diversity within theological orthodoxy(right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice) will unleash the most powerful spiritual renewal in recent Church history.

I must lay all my cards on the table. I long for the full communion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I pray daily for the full communion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I do so because I believe it is the will of God that "All May be One" (John 17: 21).

I believe that the healing of the division between the two sister churches will unleash a profound renewal of the entire Church - at the dawn of what I believe is a new missionary age. I also believe that the gifts found in the whole Church will enrich both East and West, assisting us in the mission which we must face together in our One Lord.

I long for this full communion because I am convinced that, as the West implodes under the fierce ravages of what Pope Benedict XVI properly called a "Dictatorship of Relativism", it is only the true humanism found in the fullness of truth as revealed in Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church, which can save the West - as well as the East - from rushing over a cliff to its own demise.

I long for this full communion because, as a "revert", one who returned to my Catholic faith as a young man, I walked the way home by way of the early Church Fathers. Had I not had been baptized a Catholic of the Latin Rite; I might have become an Eastern Christian.

As the decades of my life have unfolded in theological studies and ordination to the Order of Deacon, my vision and theological viewpoint are still profoundly Eastern. So too is my worship. I have long prayed with icons and love the Divine Liturgy. However, I cherish the unity that comes with the Chair of Peter.

Let me be clear, I am deeply and happily ensconced in the Roman Catholic Church. I am glad that I have authorization to serve the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Church. For a number of years I had the privilege of regularly serving the Divine Liturgy and I miss it. I love the Liturgy, East and West, however I find the depth of the Mystery is beautiful captured in the Liturgy of the East.

There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the whole Church; "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi". It means that the law of prayer or worship is the law of belief and the law of life. Or, even more popularly rendered, as we worship, so will we believe and live!

Worship is not an "add on" for a Catholic or an Orthodox Christian. It is the foundation of Catholic and Orthodox identity; expressing our highest purpose. Worship reveals how we view ourselves in relationship to God, one another and the world into which we are sent to carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.

How the Church worships is a prophetic witness to the truth of what she professes. Good worship becomes a dynamic means of drawing the entire human community into the fullness of life in Jesus Christ, lived out in the communion of the Church. It attracts - through beauty to Beauty. Worship informs and transforms both the person and the community which participates in it. There is reciprocity between worship and life.

Finally, I long for the coming full communion of East and West because my oldest son is an Orthodox Christian. He, his wife and their children are all practicing Orthodox Christians. I must admit that the more I visit them these days the more I appreciate the beauty of the interweaving of faith and life which comes with Eastern Christianity and its practices.

Yet, I experience something else during these visits. As I participate in his family life, the more painful our separation at the Altar also becomes. I believe it gives me a glimpse, perhaps a participation, in the very heart of the Lord who longs for our unity and weeps over our division as He wept over Jerusalem of old.

So, yes, I watch for every sign that the two lungs of the One Church are beginning to fill with the one breath of Divine Life, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can animate the One New Man, Jesus Christ, to heal the division which has gone on for too long in His Body.

All Nations need the witness of the Church in this age which has lost its moral compass. In the ancient words of an anonymous Christian to a pagan inquirer to the faith named Diognetus, "the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body." That the Nations of the this age have lost their soul is obvious. The only real question to be asked is whether Christians will rise to the invitation to resuscitate it with the unified witness of the "new world" of the Church.

Yes, I watch all of this with the eyes of living faith. Some say I see these developments with what they would call "Rose Colored glasses". If I do see through the color of rose, it is because the color symbolizes the hope which comes from faith in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is also because of my bedrock conviction concerning the Lord's plan for His One Church. (John 17:21)

On the Feast of Josaphat, I propose that this Saint of the Latin Church, rather than continuing to be a cause for our division, can come to inspire our efforts to hasten the inevitable and absolutely essential full communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches which awaits us in the Third millennium of Christianity. After all, that is what Josaphat gave his life for.

There is a growing recognition that there is more that joins theologically faithful Catholics and theologically faithful Orthodox than that which separates us. The cultural decline of our age certainly compels our collaboration in Christ. It is leading us to a growing mutual respect which can help to pave the way toward some form of restored communion.

This is an essential task which must be taken up by both Western and Eastern Christians without triumphalism of any kind. In the history of our division there is plenty of room for repentance all around. The real question is whether time will be become a tutor or remain a tyrant. Good theologians and truly holy Church leaders can hasten our full communion. It is time.

We welcomed the selection of Patriarch Kirill as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 2009. It was the first election of a Patriarch since the fall of the atheist Communist regime which governed the former Soviet Union for so many years. We, along with millions the world over, hoped it was a sign of the revitalization of the ancient faith in this critical time in history.

Patriarch Kirill sees the Orthodox and Catholic Churches as sister churches. That is a welcome sign of the work of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict XVI also sees us as sister churches. That is because we are sister churches - and it is time for an expression of that reality.

We published an insightful analysis written for Catholic Online shortly after the Patriarchs enthronement entitled Patriarch Kirill & Pope Benedict: A Tale of Two Leaders for a new Missionary Age The author, Orthodox priest Fr Johannes L. Jacobse, the editor of Orthodoxy Today and President of the American Orthodox Institute is one of a growing number of Orthodox clerics and scholars who are doing the work which must be done.

In that article he opined, "Patriarch Kirill is a theological conservative in the mold of Pope Benedict. Both see religion as the wellspring of culture. Both understand that Europe cannot escape a final capitulation to tyranny if it does not rediscover its Christian roots."

Upon Kirills's enthronement polls in Russia indicated that only 5 percent of Russians were observant in the practice of their Orthodox Christian faith. Less than 30 percent expressed their commitment to following the moral teaching of the Church.

The Patriarch calls for exposing this moral disintegration and remedying its effects on Russian culture through a resurgence of the faith. This urgent call for authentic renewal within the Church and his conviction concerning its call to influence culture is part of what he shares with his brother, Pope Benedict XVI.

Patriarch Kirill, and other Orthodox Church leaders and members, face opposition within the Orthodox Church for dialogue leading toward communion with the Catholic Church. So too, those within the Catholic Church who seek full communion face opposition and are often misunderstood. Fortunately, the effort is being led by Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill show no sign of retreat in their efforts aimed at stemming the growing spread of the culture of death and the sordid fruit of moral relativism. Before he was elevated to the Patriarchate, Kirill was responsible for dialogue with the Holy See. Before he was elevated to the Chair of Peter, Benedict laid a theological ground in his rich ecclesiological and liturgical theological writings which can pave the way toward a form of restored communion.

Pope Benedict XVI sent an especially meaningful gift to the new Patriarch when he was enthroned, a chalice with which the Patriarch now consecrates the blood of Christ at the Divine Liturgy. He expressed his hope in these words, "It is my earnest hope that we will continue to cooperate in finding ways to foster and strengthen communion in the body of Christ in fidelity to our savior's prayer that all may be one so that the world may believe".

Patriarch Kirill has a genuine respect for the Catholic Church. He sees the Orthodox and Catholic Churches as sister churches. Pope Benedict XVI has a genuine respect for the Orthodox Church and shares this conviction. He sees the Orthodox and Catholic Churches as sister churches.This is a welcome sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Orthodox and Catholic Christians face the effects of moral relativism, secularism and the growing hostility toward Christianity which characterizes this age. What will hasten the return of Christian influence in Russia and in the United States? What will stem the tide of the Third Millennial descent into godless ideologies of every sort and turn the world toward Jesus Christ and His Church? Some form of full communion between Eastern and Western Christianity!

The two lungs of Christ's Church must breathe together again in the Third millennium as they did in the First Millennium. That breath is the breath of the Holy Spirit. That breath will fuel a new missionary age of the Church.