An Orthodox view of Rome and Christian Unity

Father Thomas Hopko has produced a very significant statement of what is outstanding between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. I have plucked four paragraphs from a nine-page document.

The pope would also make it clear that Christ’s crucifixion was not a payment of the debt of punishment that humans allegedly owe to God for their sins. He would rather teach that Christ’s self-offering to his Father was the saving, atoning and redeeming payment of the perfect love, trust, obedience, gratitude and glory that humans owe to God, which is all that God desires of them for their salvation.


‚??The pope would also assure all Christians that the bishop of Rome will never do or teach anything on his own authority, “from himself and not from the consensus of the church (ex sese et non ex consensu ecclesiae).” He would promise to serve in his presidency solely as the spokesperson for all the bishops in apostolic succession who govern communities of believers who have chosen them to serve, and whose validity and legitimacy as bishops depend solely on their fidelity to the Gospel in communion with their predecessors in the episcopal office, and with each other.‚??


‚??The bishop of Rome would be chosen by the church of Rome. His election, because of his church’s unique position among the churches, and his position in the world, may have to be affirmed in some way by the patriarchs and the primates of autocephalous (i.e. self-governing) archbishoprics and metropolias throughout the world. But like the election of all Christian bishops, the pope’s selection and installation would be the canonical action of the community that he oversees. A “college of cardinals” appointed by the pope and having nominal ministries in Rome would no longer exist.‚??


‚??The pope would not select and appoint bishops in any churches. He would, however, affirm them in their ministries, and may even do so in some formal manner, as every bishop is called to affirm his brothers with whom he holds the one episcopate in solidum‚?¶‚??


This new and more modest Rome might change everything for the Protestant mainline denominations. If so many historic Protestant objections to Rome are removed perhaps we would see an ecumenical avalanche. Perhaps the Protestant churches would be unable to stay away from the ongoing ecumenical council that would be the new (or restored) form of the worldwide church. Or, perhaps, without a Catholic Church centralized on a strong Rome we will see anarchy ‚?? but that would be a faithless fear.

Enormous goodwill, energy and time would be necessary to refashion the papacy so that the Pope of Rome might be Christianity’s world leader as the bishop whose church “presides in love” among all the churches of orthodox faith and catholic tradition. And, as recent popes have insisted, radical repentance would be also be required, beginning with the Roman church itself whose calling, as first among Christian churches, is to show the way to all others.

The Orthodox churches would surely have to undergo many humbling changes in attitude, structure and behavior to be in sacramental communion with the Roman church and to recognize its presidency among the churches in the person of its pope. The Orthodox would certainly have to overcome their own inner struggles over ecclesiastical power and privilege. They would have to candidly admit their sinful contributions to Christian division and disunity, and to repent of them sincerely. They would also have to forego all desires or demands for other churches to repent publicly of their past errors and sins, being willing to allow God to consign everything of the past to oblivion for the sake of bringing about the reconciliation and reunion of Christians at the present time.

In a word, the Orthodox would have to sacrifice everything, excepting only the faith itself, for the sake of building a common future together with Christians who are willing and able to do so with them. Like Roman Catholics and Protestants, they would have to be willing to die with Christ to themselves and their personal, cultural and ecclesiastical interests for the sake of being in full unity with all who desire to be saved by the crucified Lord in the one holy church “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1.23), that is “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1Tim 3.15)

Fr. Thomas Hopko Roman Presidency and Christian Unity in our Time

With thanks, as ever, to Pontifications