Orthodox: Christian Unity Cannot Be Built On Lies

Christian Unity Cannot Be Built on Lies
The Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev not only misrepresents Catholic practice and history,
he also misrepresents Orthodox practice and history

November 17, 2014
By Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille
catholicworldreport.com/Item/3519/christian_unity_cannot_be_built_on_lies.aspx

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign affairs minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, is, as George Weigel observed recently in First Things, a talented man, “charming and witty.” However, the gifted Hilarion, Weigel rightly noted, “does not always speak the truth.” Hilarion is rather like the Energizer Bunny: he goes on and on and on repeating tirelessly whatever pernicious propaganda the Russians want to spread. He has three channels to choose from: tired and outright lies about Ukrainian Catholics, repeated ad nauseam for over a decade now; useful if rather vague calls for Christians to co-operate in addressing the social ills of our time (same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion); and tendentious distortions of his own Orthodox tradition, particularly her ecclesiology. It is the third I wish to address.

Earlier this month, the metropolitan gave a speech at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, New York, about primacy in the Orthodox Church and in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. Since I’ve written the most wide-ranging, up-to-date, and comprehensive survey on both topics—Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame Press 2011)—I was vexed at the ignorance and distortions on display in the metropolitan’s essay. It is absurd, frankly, that he cannot even relay his own Orthodox tradition faithfully and that it fell to me, lowest of the low (for I am a Ukrainian Catholic—one of those horrible old “Uniates” that Alfeyev is forever denouncing), to more faithfully represent and adequately describe the Orthodox tradition than he himself has.

Now, to be sure, I do not suffer from delusions of grandeur and imagine that everyone has eagerly devoured my book, treating it like some Delphic oracle revealing the way to Christian unity. But it has been lauded by many Orthodox for its faithful, wide-ranging, and comprehensive survey of Orthodox positions in all their diversity. For the Orthodox do not speak with one voice on these matters, and they do not speak in one place, either. I gathered dozens of articles and books, most from very obscure places, and put them into one sweeping chapter, which had never been done before. As Fr. John Jillions, a scholar and the Chancellor of the Orthodox Church of America, said to me quite sincerely and gratefully, “At the very least your book will be useful for telling us Orthodox what we say and think!

Had Hilarion read the book, he could have saved himself the embarrassment of uttering such howlers in New York as this:

… we are dealing with two very different models of church administration: one centralized and based on the perception of papal universal jurisdiction; the other decentralized and based on the notion of the communion of autocephalous local Churches.

This is the old mythology, never accurate in the first place, that sees the West as all papal and monarchical, and the East as all patriarchal and synodical. Like all stereotypes, it distorts. For the plain facts are that there is a long history of robust synodality in the Church of Rome going back to the earliest centuries of her history, and there is a long history of Eastern Churches attempting to be heavily centralized and run not in a synodal manner but in a manner that some Orthodox themselves have confessed to be “quasi-papal.” The clearest recent example of a super-centralized Orthodox church run on quasi-papal lines is Alfeyev’s own Russian Church, whose 1945 statutes gave the patriarch of Moscow (for political reasons insisted upon by Stalin) powers that popes of Rome could only dream about. I document all this in great detail in my book. For Alfeyev not to acknowledge any of this makes it clear that his treatment of primacy is grossly tendentious and thus must be dismissed as inaccurate and unreliable.

But it gets worse. Referring rather sweepingly and positively to “Orthodox…polemics,” the metropolitan sums these up as arguing that “in the Universal Church there can be no visible head because Christ Himself is the Head of the Body of the Church.” He recognizes that some Orthodox do not subscribe to such a view, naming the (safely dead) Fr. Alexander Schmemann, former dean of St. Vladimir’s. Tellingly, the metropolitan fails to mention the most important Greek Orthodox theologian alive today, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, who is Orthodox co-chair of the international Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and has argued in favor of universal primacy—as the majority of modern Orthodox theologians also do—exercised in a synodal manner. Zizioulas, moreover, has rightly insisted that universal primacy requires universal synodality, and one cannot speak intelligently about one without the other. Alfeyev’s failure to even mention Zizioulas strikes the reader as thin-skinned and perhaps even motivated by envy—there can be only one prima donna in this town, and c’est moi.

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It is uncharitable and wrong for a Ukrainian Catholic to imply that Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is lying when he is giving a simplified version of the viewpoint of many Orthodox.

So now you slander a beloved Metropolitan by calling him a liar among other things. Apparently there is no level you won’t sink to. If I posted an article saying that Pope Francis “does not always speak the truth” and that the Pope “goes on and on and on repeating tirelessly whatever pernicious propaganda the -]Russians/-] Argentinians want to spread” how you would react? It’s sickening. You should be ashamed of yourself.

What is even more wrong is that this article is appearing in a supposedly reputable Roman Catholic publication. There continue to be differences in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches over the role of the papacy, but it is not very diplomatic to call people liars.

I think if a duck is a duck we should call it a duck if its a duck…Point is no one with holds when the pope miss speaks or is miss understood. I have no problem with the OPs opinion.

Im pretty sure Father Bennedict said something recently about not sacrificing truth for ecuminism!

There continues to be differences in the Eastern Orthodox Churches over the role of the papacy being the point, nor was the OP in relation to calling anyone a liar I have to assume. But certainly unity cannot be built on lies and if there continues to be differences in the Eastern Orthodox Churches over the role of the papacy then why is it these differences can’t be discussed? And if…

If I posted an article saying that Pope Francis “does not always speak the truth” and that the Pope “goes on and on and on repeating tirelessly whatever pernicious propaganda the Russians Argentinians want to spread” how you would react?

I wouldn’t jump to conclusions and assume anyones specific intention is to call the Pope a liar but would view the points addressed to see of what the concern is it that leads to the proposed conclusion. And that is in this case the continued differences in the Eastern Orthodox Churches over the role of the papacy and their merit.

:shrug:

Of course everyone keeps praying for christian unity however man does nothing but pray about it (thats not a bad thing of course). The only path to religious unity will be a return to Catholocism. We can pray about it all we want but unless those who are seperated return by their own free will nothing is going to take place. Im not saying dont pray about it but untill we get off our butts and actually do it then we will remain in a state of non movement. Im getting a bit tired with the “charity” stuff. What im noticing is that this is being used as a false flag. When I hear someone say that wasnt charitable what I really hear is just be silent never say anything and it will all be ok…

If you say someone “does not always speak the truth” there is no other way to interpret it other than you are calling that person a liar.

Quack Quack Whats your point?

Had that been the point of the post thus a specific of the article, but imho that wasn’t the case. Personally I think its selectively reading what you want and insisting its the posters intent.

But its better for him to speak for himself less I assume what the intention is/was. You may be right. :shrug:

Not necessarily; it could just be that a person made an honest to God mistake. Not everything is black and white, and we, as people, should simply learn from this mistake.

Or the Metropolotin was in error and its a fact! Cant always shoot the messanger because his message offended someone!

He goes on in the very next sentence to say:

“He goes on and on and on repeating tirelessly whatever pernicious propaganda the Russians want to spread. He has three channels to choose from: tired and outright lies about Ukrainian Catholics, repeated ad nauseam for over a decade now; useful if rather vague calls for Christians to co-operate in addressing the social ills of our time (same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion); and tendentious distortions of his own Orthodox tradition, particularly her ecclesiology. It is the third I wish to address.”

Either way this is a slanderous thing to post here. It’s a shameful thing. I’m not going to participate in this thread any further except to say if the posters here support this kind of thing then you are not the kind of people I imagined you to be.

Have a great day Merry Christmas!

Dr. DeVille has written a scholarly work which Orthodox theologians have applauded.

Dr. DeVille has written a scholarly work which Orthodox theologians have applauded.

Hilarion next makes another spurious claim:

The notion that a supreme hierarch for the Universal Church is a necessity has been approached from different angles over the last fifty years, but invariably the consensus among the Orthodox is that primacy as expressed in the Western tradition was and remains alien to the East. In other words, the Orthodox are not prepared to have a pope.

Current modes of exercising the papacy may indeed remain “alien to the East” in broad measure, but the second sentence here is, as my book’s survey of twenty-four Orthodox scholars shows, completely bogus. Again and again, modern Orthodox thinkers have recognized that there is a role for the papacy, that they are prepared to have a pope under certain circumstances, and that the papacy, when exercised properly, is a gift and a blessing for all Christians, including the Orthodox! Indeed, the late Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Vsevolod of Chicago bluntly stated, in a 1997 address at Catholic University of America, “the Church needs the Roman primacy.

There is more tiresome nonsense: Hilarion ties up his piece by referring to the statement of the Rusian Church about primacy, adopted on December 26, 2013 (which I debunked in this CWR piece), where it is claimed that“primacy in the Universal Orthodox Church…is the primacy of honor by its very nature rather than that of power.” There are few phrases more vexatious to me than “primacy of honor.” More than twenty years ago now, the widely respected historian Fr. Brian E. Daley, SJ, in an article—““Position and Patronage in the Early Church: The Original Meaning of ‘Primacy of Honour’”—published in Journal of Theological Studies, one of the most prestigious theological journals in the anglophone world, showed that the notion of “primacy of honor” in the early Church did not mean an absence of authority. Such primacy, in fact, was honored precisely because it was authoritative, and the one exercising that primacy could and did call people to account, where necessary coercing and compelling obedience in various circumstances. The primate of “honor,” then, clearly is not a useless avuncular fellow—able to smile and wave and nothing more. He had real teeth—or, to use Alfeyev’s word, “power”.

Jews have applauded Pope Benedict, but that they still say that Jesus is not the Messiah, that God is not a Trinity, and that they will not celebrate Christmas. These are not lies. These are theological differences, and to call them lies indicates that this person has no respect for the Orthodox point of view. When you have a dialog on religious obstacles to reunion, I don’t see where it is productive to call your opponent a liar. Tell us specifically which Orthodox theologians have applauded and what exactly did they applaud? Are these unnamed and anonymous Orthodox theologians representative of Orthodoxy?

Only one is named. Who are the others?

There is perhaps a way to approach these questions, it certainly isn’t by calling others uniates and other various derogatory connotations. It would seem to me there is no clarity from reading the articles on a consensus of thought on the very nature of the Church he speaks of. It is pointless to dispute the nature of the Church or to proclaim to others that you have “found it” if the very truth of what brings one into the very body of Christ is obscured. Which I think we have to admit it is. Further its rather contrary to the Good News with applied connotations when what it is[Church] can’t be defined.

I don’t know much about Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, but it doesn’t appear he is making disciples of Christ or friends on this path. Does it?

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