by Brent Kostyniuk
For six years now, this column has worked at spreading the message of St. John Paul II who proclaimed that the Church – that is you and I – should breathe through both lungs, East and West. One who breathes through both lungs is Fr. Mark Woodruff a priest with bi-ritual faculties serving both the Latin and Ukrainian Catholic Churches in London, England. Having previously explained how he came to his deep appreciation for the East, Fr. Mark now offers his views and experience of East and West. Moreover, based on that experience, he challenges us to go beyond simply breathing with both lungs.
Fr. Mark was asked what East has to offer to the West. “In my view, this is the wrong question. Too much ecumenism is about how we can make others come round to our way of thinking and so be more like us as the precondition for rapprochement. This is not standing up for principles; instead it’s forcing ourselves on others, actively and passively – it’s manipulation and even bullying. Pope Francis has just said that evangelization is not proselytizing, with its undertone of pressured persuasion – the Gospel gains its response by attraction. So, instead, it is important for the West to identify what it can learn from the East and thus what it lacks at the moment to be more truly itself. Christianity is, after all, an Eastern religion in origin. By the same token, the East needs to identify what it can learn from the West. We talk about Orientale Lumen a lot – but some of my Orthodox friends also say, at least privately, that they need some Occidentale Lumen.
Fr. Mark next considers how East and West might grow closer together. “The more we go on saying, ‘they have nothing to teach us,’ or ‘all they need to do is to acknowledge they are heretics, give up their error and conform to the true faith,’ whether that comes from Latins or Orientals, the more fixed will be our separation. I believe that, largely speaking, the matters of dogmatic difference between East and West have been addressed thoroughly through dialogue, and if they have not been resolved then they are still being talked through towards that end, or else they are not necessarily Church-dividing. Sadly, the perspective of some on one side or the other can be that they alone must prevail to the exclusion of the other. This gets us nowhere other than confirmed in an opposition that is native to neither Catholic nor Orthodox traditions.”
“Neither Orthodoxy nor Catholicism as we understand them now is an end in itself but aspects of the same, single reality of the universal Church that both are to manifest. We tend to use these terms to describe the distinct Church communions contained within the boundaries of ‘Roman Catholic’ and ‘Orthodox.’ But Orthodoxy should explicitly be a mark of the Catholic Church no less than Catholicity should mark the Orthodox Church. A very eminent Orthodox priest made this point very strongly to me a few years ago, saying that the trouble with the schism meant that he could not describe himself as ‘a Catholic priest’ in England because that would be misunderstood. Yet, he said, being a priest of the universal Catholic and Orthodox Church he was indeed a Catholic priest, but in no exclusive or denominational sense, just as by the same token I am an Orthodox priest. This brought me up short and I found it quite humbling.”
Our respective Church organizations seem to be making exclusive truth claims; but I often think that these only make sense in terms of the unified life we will have after reconciliation and reunion, and which were the conditions for existence prior to the emergence of Byzantine and Latin, Catholic and Orthodox as distinct traditions and ecclesiastical realities. Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras removed the anathemas between the Roman and Constantinopolitan patriarchates – so even though we have not finally resolved our theological differences or achieved the restoration of communion, nonetheless we have said what holds us apart is not, in the end, necessarily church-dividing – the mutual out-casting has gone.” Fr. Mark adds our distinct ritual and spiritual-theological approaches can be preserved as full manifestations of the Gospel and the life of the one Church. “We have much to learn from each other because God has given his gifts within each of the Churches for the benefit and perfection of all.”
The road ahead, however, will not be without difficulties. “What we have yet to learn is how to take down the barriers erected through human failure, so that we are no longer prevented from freely and fully receiving what he has given, as well as freely and humbly offering everything that we are in the hope that it will be fully accepted. There are principles, and as the faculty for bi-ritualism points out, there is no place for syncretism and mixing everything up – we must respect each other’s integrity too. Diversity is the measure of the universality of one Church with one faith.”
“The image of the two lungs East and West is very striking, and it instantly makes its point – that we are self-incapacitating by separation. But I have never felt it was figuratively accurate. But what of the lungs of the Syriac, Assyrian, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopic traditions? I prefer the image of Paul Couturier, the great and holy French Catholic priest who encountered the Russian refugees in camps around the city of Lyons after World War One and was so moved that he transformed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from being an Octave of well intentioned, but counterproductive, prayer to get others to conform to Roman Catholicism, to an exercise in seeking ever greater sanctification by imitating the holiness of other Christians in their pursuit of union with and in Christ. He called it ‘spiritual emulation’ and this is what is meant by ‘spiritual ecumenism,’ also a phrase of his that found its way into the Decree on Ecumenism at Vatican II.”
“How is this achieved, he asked? He made up yet another word: parallelaboration, by which he meant working things out together as we hurry eagerly along the road together side by side to the same destination: two close tracks alongside each other that almost unnoticed converge in effective reality now, as they do from a distance, at the same place, namely in the same Person – union in and with Christ. Christ prayed for us to be one so that the world would believe it was the Father who sent Him, after all.”
“But rather than speaking of each side struggling with one lung with all the depleted effort that implies, I’d rather think of the two as the excited disciples who were so inseparable in their discussion and zeal as they made their way to Emmaus consumed with the news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, that they did not realize that their twin paths beside each other had actually converged upon the Risen Lord Himself, making Himself know to them in the Breaking of Bread. So – not so much two lungs, as two disciples who race after and fix their eyes on the Pioneer, and who meet in him – even collide – as the Perfecter of their faiths” (Hebrews 12).
“Ecumenism is not a diversion from the main business of being the Church where God has set us. It is the joy of being free of the encumbrance that keeps us apart and of the sin that tangles us up.”
Breathing through Both Lungs. Walking together. Will this column have to change its title?
This piece first appeared in The Prairie Messenger. Reprinted with permission.