(Romanian Orthodox Tradition)
By Fr Nicholas Apostola
While I have been asked to speak from the perspective of the Romanian Orthodox tradition, I can’t really say that there is a specifically or uniquely Romanian Orthodox outlook on this issue. Historically, there has been a sizable Armenian community in Romania. The relations between the two Churches have been warm and friendly. Many Oriental Orthodox theologians have studied in Romania. A Catholicos of the Armenian Church was born and educated in Romania. Throughout, the Romanian Church has been an enthusiastic supporter of the dialogue. So, rather than restate the obvious, I would like to make two observations and proposals about how to proceed from this point.
There is a real need for a common understanding of our history. Usually, when we enter into a dialogue, there is a period when each side presents its perspective on the issues at hand. This is normal. It is in fact what a dialogue is. A kind of parallel documentation is made. This is the process that we have used here today.
However, there comes a time – and I believe we are at that time – when each side sufficiently understands the issues, the history, and the mistakes that might have been made, and decides to move forward. How do we do that?
It is not even for us to present a parallel historical and dogmatic account. We must begin to prepare a common historical account. This means that we would no longer present the Eastern Orthodox version and then the Oriental Orthodox version. Rather, we would present one version, one account. The history would be a unified history.
This requires a shift in cognitive location. We stop thinking of ourselves as representing two separate Churches with two separate Traditions. And we begin thinking of ourselves as one Church with one Tradition. This process will have a subtle, but powerful effect. It will create in the consciousness of a new generation of theologians and faithful a different way of viewing what now we take for granted are two separate Churches. This approach has been tried in other Ecumenical settings and has had remarkable results. For our two Churches who share so much, I can only see this as a real method for healing.
The second issue I would like to raise is that of our different liturgical traditions. As theologians and clergy we recognize the rich and varied liturgical rites that the Church has used throughout the centuries. For most people, however, the lex orandi in a very real way is the lex credendi. In the minds of many, both clergy and faithful, the particular liturgical tradition they celebrate becomes the only proper way in which to celebrate. In other words, a community’s liturgical rite becomes equated with its dogma.
This is not a problem in places where one Church tradition dominates, or where ethnic/religious communities have an essentially segregated existence. But in a society such as ours that is pluralistic, and where we have a decidedly minority status, there will be two opposing pressures. One will be increasingly to conform both to the larger society and the greater tradition. The other will be to push each of us further into a kind of sectarian mindset in order to reaffirm our identity. To be sure, this is a superficial generalization, but we can see elements of this already operating in our Churches.
As we work toward fully restoring the unity of our Church, we must be focused on not only the larger theological and historical questions, but how the resolution of these questions will be understood at the parish level and integrated into the life of the Church.
[Source: St. Nersess Theological Review 3:1-2 (1998) 61-62]