In the January 2015 issue of Worship, Archimandrite Robert F. Taft, S.J., appealed to Catholic and Orthodox Christians to reinvigorate efforts for an authentic restoration of ecclesial intercommunion between the two Churches. Taft’s article adds another layer to the growing corpus of positive developments in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue at the national and international levels. Taft’s invitation deserves serious responses, and the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II has provided a platform for experts to reflect on this matter from diverse perspectives. I am glad to belong to an institution that is contributing to this discussion by honoring Unitatis Redintegratio, on March 28, in Los Angeles.
As a lifelong member of the Orthodox Church, I am familiar with the opposing views on interfaith efforts to restore communion. Orthodox Christians who desire restoration call for decisive action by the primates of the Orthodox Churches, sometimes citing progress by joint theological commissions on theological issues that have been historically invoked as justifying division (e.g., filioque, purgatory, original sin, the Immaculate Conception, and especially Papal infallibility). Orthodox opposed to interfaith dialogue believe that the Roman See is schismatic and heretical, and would require repentance and the recanting of specific points of faith to be restored to the Orthodox Church. In fact, this Orthodox view has been ritualized, as evidenced by the renunciations required by Catholics in variants of the rite of reception into the Orthodox Church via anointing with Chrism. The interest in ecumenical dialogue and desire for restoring communion differs by region among Orthodox people.
I am an advocate for reunion, and I believe that the a renewed sense of urgency for restoring communion would constitute a more faithful response to the eschatological dimension of the Church, and the constant outpouring of the Holy Spirit received by the people at the Divine Liturgy. In fact, I am among the few who would engage a serious discussion on restoring communion before all of the thorny theological issues are resolved, with the understanding that the ecclesial structures and juridical mechanisms of the Eastern Orthodox Churches would not be subject to revision by Rome.
I have many motivations for choosing a more progressive approach to intercommunion, and I will share one of them here. I beg readers for patience, because I am still in the process of organizing my thoughts and am not advancing this anecdote as THE model for reunion, just a source for reflection.
Every day, I drive my six-year old daughter to her Catholic School. I usually leave right away, and I can hear the school praying “Our Father” or “Hail, Mary.” She prays in class and learns the fundamentals of the Bible, God, Jesus, Trinity, Mary, Lent, and Easter. She has been embraced and invited to participate, and the school and host parish have also welcomed us, inviting us to share prayer. We belong to this community. Last week, her Kindergarten class had a potluck supper. We shared food and fellowship. My wife and I were welcomed; we belong.
Afterwards, I realized that we are a community. We live in the same neighborhoods and have the same concerns as the other parents. Our children break bread together every day, and we do as well. Yet we do not share the Lord’s Supper together. And this troubles me.
Is a Kindergarten potluck the Eucharist? It is not my intention to claim equivalence between a potluck and the Eucharist. I am not saying that theological differences are relative or that commissions should cease their work since there are no longer problems requiring resolution. But I cannot dismiss the potluck as “nothing” or “irrelevant.” The experience of sharing life with others is real and meaningful, even if it is fleeting. If we seriously consider the reality we experience when we participate in community life, we cannot sustain the notion of a chasm dividing Catholics and Orthodox which cannot be bridged until all theological differences are satisfactorily resolved. The reality of a Catholic school which welcomes everyone and folds them into the community is the result of serious ecumenical toil within the Catholic Church to heal wounds for reconciliation. The source of this toil is a genuine love for others, especially estranged brothers and sisters in Christ, and a desire to be one. The result is the creation of a community to which one belongs, even if one is a non-Catholic.
The ecumenical dialogues and theological commissions should continue their rigorous work. But perhaps we might pay greater attention to the smaller living communities that are realities experienced on a daily basis by us and our children. Even a school potluck can communicate the love of Christ that alone has the power to rekindle cold hearts and reconcile those who would prefer to remain in division.