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A Russian Orthodox View of Papacy, and More (Part 2)

11/9/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

VIENNA, Austria, NOV. 9, 2006 (Zenit) - Catholics and Orthodox should establish a "strategic alliance" for the defense of Christian values in Europe, says an Eastern prelate.

Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions, made this suggestion, and others, in this interview on topics linked to ecumenism.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Wednesday on Catholic Online.

Q: Benedict XVI is looking for the "full and visible unity" of all Christians -- a unity which man cannot "create," but which he may encourage, through his own conversion, through concrete gestures and an open dialogue about fundamental topics. On the basis of which topics can Orthodoxy and Rome strengthen their bonds? How should they be put into praxis?

Bishop Alfeyev: I believe, first of all, that it is necessary to identify several levels of collaboration and then to work for better understanding at each level.

One level relates to the theological conversations that are pursued by the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Commission. These conversations are and will be focused on the dogmatic and ecclesiological disparities between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church.

At this level I can predict many years of exhaustive and difficult work, especially when we come to the issue of universal primacy. Complications will arise not only because of the very different understanding of primacy between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, but also from the fact that there is no unanimous understanding of universal primacy among the Orthodox themselves.

This fact already became evident during the recent session of the Commission in Belgrade, and the internal disagreement within the family of the Orthodox Churches on this particular issue will be manifested in ways more acute and striking in the future. Thus, a long and thorny path lies ahead.

There is, however, another level to which we should set our sights, and here I mean not so much what divides as what unites us. To be specific, this is the level of cooperation in the field of Christian mission.

Personally, I believe that it is quite premature and unrealistic to expect restoration of full Eucharistic communion between East and West in the foreseeable future. Nothing, however, prevents us, both Catholics and Orthodox, from witnessing Christ and his Gospel together to the modern world. We may not be united administratively or ecclesiastically, but we must learn to be partners and allies in the face of common challenges: militant secularism, relativism, atheism, or a militant Islam.

It is for this reason that, since the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I have repeatedly called for the fostering of ties between the Catholics and the Orthodox Churches through the creation of a strategic alliance for the defense of Christian values in Europe. Neither the word "strategic" nor "alliance" has so far been commonly accepted to describe a collaboration such as this.

For me, it is not words that matter but rather the connotation behind them. I used the word "alliance" not in the sense of a "Holy Alliance," but rather as it is employed for "The World Alliance of Reformed Churches," i.e., as a term designating collaboration and partnership without full administrative or ecclesial unity.

I also wanted to avoid pointedly ecclesial terms such as "union," because they will remind the Orthodox of Ferrara-Florence and other similar unfortunate attempts at achieving ecclesial unity without full doctrinal agreement.

Neither an ecclesial "union" nor a hasty doctrinal compromise is needed now, but rather a "strategic" cooperation in the sense of developing a common strategy to combat all the challenges of modernity.

The rationale behind my proposal is this: Our churches are on their way to unity, but one has to be pragmatic and recognize that it will probably take decades, if not centuries, before unity is restored.

In the meantime we desperately need to address the world with a united voice. Without being one Church, could we not act as one Church? Could we not present ourselves to secular society as a unified body?

I strongly believe that it is possible for the two Churches to speak with one voice; there can be a united Catholic-Orthodox response to the challenges of secularism, liberalism and relativism. Also in the dialogue with Islam, Catholics and Orthodox can act together.

I should add that any rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox will in no way undermine those existing mechanisms of ecumenical cooperation that include also Anglicans and Protestants, such as the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European ...

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