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Kardinal Franz König

Pro Oriente

Successful meeting of the PRO ORIENTE Steering Committee for Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue (November)

An atmosphere of respectful cooperation and mutual understanding

First results of the new unofficial dialogue group are planned to be incorporated into the celebration of the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea:
The second meeting of the "PRO ORIENTE Steering Committee for Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue" in Vienna, which ended on November 10, proved to be highly productive.

PRO ORIENTE Secretary-General Bernd Mussinghoff noted that the commission meeting was marked by "an excellent atmosphere of respectful cooperation and mutual understanding": "This way the unofficial ecumenical dialogue can progress step by step, as befits the PRO ORIENTE tradition". The "Healing of Memories" working group, which deals with the particularly sensitive issues of the historical pressures on the relationship of Orthodox and Catholics, will address the specific situations in the Middle East, the Balkans and Eastern Europe in three annual steps from 2021 onwards. The working group "Connecting Dialogues" 3relies strongly on the Internet. It is planned to establish a database that will document in four "Western" and four "Eastern" languages all relevant dialogue papers on the progress of the ecumenical rapprochement of Catholics and Orthodox in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas (including related imagery). The special function of Canon Law played a major role in the deliberations of the working group on “Reception and Inspiration”, which is going to develop new formats for communicating the achieved results of dialogue to the churches and to the public.

The 3rd meeting of the PRO ORIENTE- Commission for Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue will take place in November 2020 in Vienna. In the meantime, the theologians involved in the commission will be working intensively on the realization of the projects of the three working groups. At the second meeting, it was agreed that it would be good if the results of this new unofficial dialogue were included in the celebrations for the 1,700th anniversary of the Nicaea Council (now in Turkish: Iznik). The Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 by Emperor Constantine the Great.

The meeting in Vienna started with a report from the official international joint Orthodox-Catholic dialogue commission. In the report, it became clear that in times of tense inter-Orthodox relations, unofficial settings for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, like the one of PRO ORIENTE, are becoming more than ever important for the continuation and the deepening of the dialogue.

After this presentation, the commission members were informed about the activities of the other dialogue commission of PRO ORIENTE, which concentrate on the dialogue with the oriental churches and the churches of the Syriac tradition. Then, the speakers of the three working groups informed the commission members of their activities since the first meeting in 2018.

Archpriest Vladimir Khulap from the Russian Orthodox Church presented reflections on the need for connecting the manifold Orthodox-Catholic dialogues in several countries and regions. Dr. Katerina K. Bauer from the Orthodox Church of the Czech Republic and Slovakia presented theological reflections on “Reception and Inspiration”, underlining the necessity of permanent reflection on the convergence papers already reached in the various ecumenical dialogues.

Prof. Dr. Myriam Wijlens, who due to a sabbatical was not able to join the meeting in Vienna, gave an online presentation of the current work of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches on “Moral Discernment in the Churches”. She pointed out that issues of individual morality, such as human sexuality, and the different approaches to come to a moral discernment about them, contain a huge potential of conflict also in the single churches. However, she made clear that the tensions in this field do not automatically generate deep divisions inside the various churches, and therefore cannot be regarded as church-divisive.

“Ecumenical dialogue and fundamentalists"

Of particular interest to all participants was the statement by Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Director of the Theological Academy in Volos (Greece), on the question "How to deal with fundamentalists in ecumenical dialogue". The central question, according to Kalaitzidis, is “How far can the dialogue go with people who refuse to dialogue?”, and “what answer to give to the claim by some fundamentalists, that dialogue is not a real dialogue if they are not involved and if people not dare to discuss their criticisms and even their opposition to ecumenism”. Fundamentalists and religious extremists, Kalaitzidis said, rely on pluralism and diversity to combat pluralism and diversity - "as in the political sphere, where the enemies of democracy and human rights use the modern means of communication to fight against modernity". Modernity - with human rights, tolerance, acceptance of diversity - can be seen as one of the elements of ecumenism, rejected by fundamentalists of all sides.

The director of the Volos Academy emphasized his personal conviction that there could be no dialogue without rules and conditions. A fundamental rule of ecumenical dialogue is to respect the "other" in his dignity and Christian identity, while a prerequisite is also the acceptance of the ecclesiality of the other churches. Here one must ask oneself the question of whether the fundamentalists are willing to accept the other Christians as Christians or whether they regard them as "heretics, traitors or apostates".

Pantelis Kalaitzidis developed a multi-point program of both dialogue and confrontation with the fundamentalists, some of which are the following:
• To demonstrate the radical anti-Christian mentality of the opponents of ecumenism by referring to the fidelity to the dialogical ethos of Christianity.
• To demonstrate the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the theological, spiritual and canonical tradition, and the instrumentalization of the historical traumas operated by fundamentalists. A "deconstruction" of the fundamentalist "narrative" based on the biblical, patristic, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions of ecumenism is necessary to this end.
• To make more visible the important steps that have been taken in the ecumenical dialogues.
• To intensify the contacts and exchanges between Eastern and Western faculties, seminaries, dioceses, monasteries, groups of believers.
• To avoid the "double language" practice, which led to an ecumenical "ad extra" communication and to an anti-ecumenical or at least non-ecumenical "ad intra". In connection with this, all models of thinking that deny the "heterodox" ecclesial communities any degree of ecclesiastical status, whether it is the recognition of baptism or mixed confessional marriages, must be overcome.

Finally, the Greek theologian argued for a process of "healing of memories" and overcoming the "burden of history and psychology" through theology and a "truly ecumenical mind". One must see the role of history as a separating factor and at the same time the possibilities of a common ecumenical view of the historical past as a "unifying factor", Kalaitzidis said, and repentance and self-criticism should be seen as central factors on the way to Christian unity and reconciliation.

The members of the PRO ORIENTE-commission are (in alphabetical order):
Dr. Katerina K. Bauer, P. Hyacinthe Destivelle OP, Dr. Regina Elsner, Dipl.-Theol. Christian Föller, Director Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Prof. Dr. Assaad E. Kattan, Archpriest Vladimir Khulap, Ass.-Prof. P. Dr. Ioan Moga, Director Dr. Johannes Oeldemann, Ekaterini Pekridou MA, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Prokschi, M. theol. Georgios Vlantis, Prof. Dr. Myriam Wijlens, P. Dr. Milan Zust.


Section: Vienna

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